Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

It’s Not Always Okay With Mr. Okay

March 10, 2009
by Stuart
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Battambang, Cambodia – When we got off the bus in Battambang, we were surrounded by tuk-tuk drivers offering to take us to different hotels. One guy stood out from the rest and seemed to be a straight-talker so we went with him. His name was Mr. Okay, and whether or not we wanted it, he was going to be our guide the next day.

He dropped us off at the hotel and asked if we had a guide for the next day. We said no, but asked for his card and said we’d call him when we made up our minds what we wanted to do – our usual trick to get out of having to make a commitment on the spot. He looked away and said that most people ask him for cards but never called. And that he was tired of handing them out to people who weren’t serious, especially since it was a waste of his money.

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In the countryside, they use plastic bottles to sell petrol.

After talking a bit, Mr. Okay reluctantly gave us his card and we said we’d call him. He told us he hung out around the Chhaya Hotel and we could find him there if he wasn’t booked. He mentioned the sites he would take us to. We asked about two temples that were farther away. He said he didn’t go there because the roads were in bad shape and really dusty.

The next morning we were walking to a cafe for breakfast and to come up with a plan for the day. On the way there, Mr Okay came speeding down the street, flipped a u-turn, and pulled up next to us. Not wanting to make things awkward, I said we were just going to find him. He said he was on his way to our hotel to see if we had made up our minds. He gave us a good price and even threw in a free ride to the cafe. He was pretty funny and seemed like a good guide, so what the heck.

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Salt of the Earth

February 19, 2009
by Stuart
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Salt fields outside Kampot.

South Coast, Cambodia – We met Oscar not under ideal circumstances. For him at least. When we got our bus tickets to Kampot, we were told be to ready at eight in the morning. So we came downstairs, checked out and was summoned by the tuk-tuk driver to follow him to the tuk-tuk. Oscar had already claimed his spot. Deservedly so since he’d been sitting there for an hour waiting for us. He had been told to be ready at seven and had been waiting in the tuk-tuk for us ever since.

He didn’t say much on the way to the bus station. But when we got on the bus, he insisted that he get to sit where he wanted because he had missed the earlier bus. This caused a bit of a stir among the locals, but my attention was diverted to killing the swarm of mosquitoes on the bus – to great amusement by the women sitting behind me.

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The owner; A drying salt bed.

Right as we were to leave, a woman rushed on board and took the open seat next to Oscar. Her name was Srey, and she was to sweep us up in her net of energy and generosity for the rest of the day. She introduced herself and asked our names and the usual travel information then we started talking about something more interesting: her life.

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Phnom Penh

February 15, 2009
by Stuart
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The bowels of Psar Tuol Tom Pong.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – We got to watch the last four minutes of the Super Bowl as we ate breakfast our first morning in Phnom Penh. And after getting to watch Talladega Nights while eating dinner the previous night, I knew this guesthouse was gonna be alright. But then I saw they charged for toilet paper I was a little dismayed. And they had a weird accounting system: each room had a notebook where you wrote down what you ordered or if you took a drink from the coolers. Then you had to get an employee to put a check mark net to it as some kind of approval. It was kind of a waste of time.

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Pirated dvd collections. Other funny titles where: Tom Cruise: Bold and Passional; Mel Gibson: Bloody Fighter Man; Will Smith: The Whole People Superman.

The first mission of the day was to get more pages added to Tina’s passport. On the way to the US embassy, we stopped off at Wat Ounalom for a visual introduction to classic Khmer architecture – tiered temples topped with pointy towers in a courtyard flanked by smaller towers. From our hotel we can see towers spread across town but this was the first time we got to see one up close.

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The National Museum courtyard; Detail of Khmer statue.

Getting pages added was pretty easy, altho time consuming. In Beijing it took me about 15 minutes, but it took us over an hour to get pages for Tina – partially because all services for US citizens were handled by one window. While Tina was in line, I filled my time eavesdropping on the window where a steady stream of paunchy balding white guys were trying to get paperwork for their soon-to-be Cambodia brides.

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