Friday, 16 November 2012

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 14: Getting off your boat, alone

I was awoken by a banging on the door, I opened it whilst rubbing the sleep from my eyes to be faced with Maddie. “Wake up, lazy, it’s 11am”. I explained that I’d been up late writing, and she explained that she’d been there since 9am, waiting for the sisters and I to arise and that they were downstairs having breakfast. She left me to get ready and I joined them by the pool soon after, swimming away from yesterday and into a new afternoon. I wrote, then swam, then wrote some more, then had a final swim before going upstairs to shower and get myself ready. The previous evening my darling in London had told me that I must visit the floating village whilst in Siem Reap, as the lake nearby is one of the most peaceful she’d ever been to, so I rolled myself some tweed blazers, smoked half a sleeve, then found a Tony to take me away for $5. I was told it was about an hour away, and during the journey I noticed my driver had Lucky written on the back of his helmet, and since 8 is my lucky number I decided that I’d give him $8 for his services instead. When I got dropped off I was informed by a guy in a booth that it’d cost me a further $20 for a boat ticket, which would then take me another hour down the river. I only had $30 in my wallet, but I begrudgingly handed the guy a twenty, then got whisked away by a kid named Sok across one longboat and onto another, then we were off. As my boat slowly chugged its way up the river I sat writing a story about two fishermen and their friendship, arriving at the village before I could find a suitable happy ending. Not that kind of happy ending, just a written one. I don’t think two mates tossing each other off into a river when they’re meant to be feeding their families would suit any story, except in Brokeback Mountain, but that’s already been done and I don’t like to plagiarise my homo-erotica, I just let it come from the heart. And the penis.

I grabbed hold of some sheet metal roofing and pulled myself into a floating restaurant on the river. It was a very basic building, but enough for them to chuck a few tables and chairs on, selling cold drinks from a cool box. At this point, I was welcomed by a guy who told me that in order to see the floating village and forest I’d need to make a donation to them and be taken on another small raft. I only had $10 left and still owed my driver, but I gave them a high-five in the hope that it would actually reach the village instead of lining the pockets of some tubby rip-off merchant. There was a raft which must’ve measured about ten feet by four, and I slowly sat my big frame behind that of my guides, a tiny teenage girl in a brown floppy hat and orange shirt. I immediately felt like a fat fucking tourist being paddled around by some poor kid whilst drinking coke and talking about forthcoming meetings on a cell phone. I don’t even like waiters pouring my water for me, I see myself as a servant and dislike being served myself, so I wanted to paddle, although if I’d suggested it she wouldn't have understood me, and I’d have probably sunk her clapped out vessel in a matter of minutes anyway. She paddled us through a few tree-tops which looked like bushes in the water, and we soon reached the flooded village. There was a population of around six hundred Cambodians that lived in these houses that were built on high stilts about eight feet above the water level, with stairs going up to each front door and boats anchored underneath most of them. As we paddled down the water street children on either side would wave and say ”Bye bye”, or stare at me with puzzled expressions on their faces as both the adults and I smiled on at each other. They were all grubby and barely clothed, running around playing as I went by, blissfully unaware of anything beyond their simple existence and seemingly happy to be where they were. I couldn't blame them, it was beautiful, the sort of place where community spirit still exists in abundance and trades are made so that everybody had the same. Very little, but equal. I’d be happy if the whole world was like that. As we paddled back through I saw a boat with various supplies delivering orders to the houses as it drifted past them, and a kid no older than four years old trying to row his own boat somewhere. It was infinitely more impressive than “Oh look Bill, Daisy has learnt how to turn on the iPad”. I waved goodbye to the villagers and said “Hello” so as not to upset the status quo, and then removed a sparkler from my packet of cigarettes and took a toke or two as we drifted into the forest. Now this is nature as you’ve never seen it before, the trees were deeply submerged and we made our way past the top branches of each one, through the path that was created by the spaces in-between. It seemed rather haunting, but so peaceful at the same time, both of which were probably enhanced by the stonedness coming down like the sun.

The flooded village of Kompong Pluk

In the ghetto, hanging out on the stoop
Mystic river, setting sun
A forest

It was dusk as I arrived back at the restaurant and the twists and turns of my tummy reminded me that I had forgotten to eat all day, problem was, I was running out of money. I wanted to tip the girl, so I gave her a dollar out of the five I had left for the driver, then gave another two to the woman at the restaurant for a can of Fanta and some home-made sweet potato crisps which I swallowed whole. I jumped back onto the boat and Sok took me out to a spot on the lake so I could watch the sun set and admire the twilight. Sarah was right, it was one of the most peaceful spots I’d ever found myself at, and I stayed there admiring it for a long while until Sok asked if I was ready to return. We were the last boat out on the water and by the time we arrived back it was pitch black, and I had finished my story. I gave him a dollar, then went and bought a water with my last buck, before asking ‘Lucky’ to take me home. When there, I ran into my hotel room and grabbed $10, then ran it outside and explained that because his helmet said Lucky on it, I would give him $8 instead of five. He said he didn’t have any change for the ten, so I told him that he was extra lucky, and he rode off into the night with double the dough we’d originally agreed. After what he’d taken me to go and see, money seemed even more insignificant than it usually does to me. I spoke to Sarah briefly whilst waiting for Katherine and Rachael to return so we could go out for our Mexican dinner date at 8pm, but when they got back they’d only recently eaten and had decided to stay in instead.

I shot off into town feeling pretty starved and tired, but got waylaid by a bright sign which read ‘Night Market’. I went inside and there was a lot going on. I followed the sound of the music to find four young girls doing a traditional dance for forty or something forty-somethings and their offspring. I watched for a while before going into a silver jewellery store and buying a bangle for my baby. There was a tank full of fish and a sign that read ‘20 minutes for $1’ so I stuck my feet in and let them nibble until it became too ticklish to bear, then taking them out for a break before returning them for another round. I don’t know how good it was for the smoothness of my soles, but I enjoyed chatting to the young boy about Cambodian Kings, and The Beatles, which it turned out his English teacher was teaching him about. If only I’d had teachers like that at Kingsmead School, I might have been a musician sooner than a prize fighter. After my time was up I made my way out, past a massage place. I’d still not gotten one and would have considered it after dinner, but I was accosted by one of these masseuses saying “Please come for a massage, handsome man, I have private room” and clinging onto my hand like she was about to fall off of a mountain. I shook her off with my usual ‘I’ll come back tomorrow’ spiel, and she made me promise before letting go that I would. It was a promise that I’d have to break, in order to keep a more important promise to a more important person. By this point, I was ready to pass out from lack of sustenance and I got to the Mexican joint, Viva, just as my legs started to feel weak. I went to check out the menu, then saw that they were showing the previous night’s Arsenal match and walked straight in, ignoring all else. They even turned the volume on so I could follow exactly why my team ended up losing to Norwich, whilst stuffing my face with an amazing array of dishes, drinking extremely strong strawberry margaritas, and not doing the writing which I’d planned to catch up with. By the end of the game I felt sick and woozy, from both the overindulgence of my feast, and my teams underwhelming, average display. I staggered back to my princely suite, washed the delicious grease from my pores and poured the alcohol from out my skull, then tucked my tipsy body in bed. A lovely day spent with myself, now over, I disappeared into tomorrow.

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