Thursday June 14th, 2007
Today was a traveling day which meant we would have to wake up early. Today we got up at 620 and I was hurting. I hadn’t gone to bed till 3am as I was up chatting with friends from back home on the free wireless (yes you Brittni) so I was tired when Morrie got up at 620. I also had forgotten to pack the night before, so all my shit was lying all over the floor, and I had to get it all in to the two bags. This was not fun and I was nervous I would leave something behind. I managed to change clothes, pack up my stuff and even make it down to breakfast, albeit half asleep. Morrie handed me the Vegemite, I got my pinwheel cheese, and toasted bread and enjoyed the breakfast. Vegemite has so much Vitamin B that it cures a hangover within minutes. Granted it is an acquired taste, I thoroughly enjoy it and hope to get it in the USA, or maybe have it sent to me from overseas.
Today we were also going to experience something new on our trip, taking a public bus to Cambodia. We jumped on to our tuks tuks that Andy had arranged for us, with my new backpack and the guys took us to our bus. The bus was a regular coach bus, with the all important air conditioning. After going to the bathroom across the street at our travel agency who arranged the tickets we were all set. The bus was not completely full so I was able to get two seats to myself, which was lovely considering the bus ride would take hours (7-8) till we got to Cambodia. This also included the two border stops, the currency exchange and lunch. Andy had told us that the guy on the bus takes care of the visas and the stamps out of Vietnam and in to Cambodia. “Don’t ask questions, just hand the dude your passport, and you will be straight.” Sounded good to me, all this meant was another country under the belt and another two stamps and a visa too boot. The journey would be long and interesting with all the locals and people not in the tour group on the bus.
The border/immigration stop was pretty interesting as well. Andy had told us about the currency exchange women that would run up to you either on the bus or once you got out, to exchange your dong into Riel or US Dollars. She told us to be careful and really wanted to work with us one at a time so that the ladies did not try to rip us off. The current rate was 4000 Riel to 1 US Dollar. I was the first to try it with Andy and boy did the lady try to fuck us. At first she wanted to give me like 3.2 or some ridiculously low rate. Andy said no no, we want 40,000 for 170,000 Dong. The lady then started to hand us money. She would give us 500 and 100 dollar bills in Riel, the local currency of Cambodia to which Andy would respond “Stop handing us this bullshit money, give us real money, give us though 5000 Riel notes!” It was pretty hilarious to watch how Andy dealt with these women, but she had every right too. I would get my 40,000 or almost the rate I was looking for but not before the woman tried to hand me a bill that read “0000,” basically being a fake note, that was worthless. The way that the ladies got you was that you would hand them Dong or US dollars and they would hand you a wad of what looks like good money. Most of the time the wad has lots of 500 and 100 dollar notes, which are basically worthless or worth very little compared to the 10000 and 5000 dollar notes. Also be on the look out for those blue 0000 notes. While one side may appear to say “0000,” before you flip out, turn over the note to see if it has a proper currency amount.
Anyway after the lady tried to hand us a “0000” note, Andy goes “what the fuck is this?” and throws the bill at the lady, the lady doesn’t even appear to care and we continue to bargain hard for the currency rate we want. You even have to bargain for currency in South East Asia, man I love this shit.
After the currency exchange we proceeded to the immigration booth to wait till the people called us up to collect our passport and head to the bus. In Vietnam it was simple, in Cambodia it took a lot longer, all Andy said was “Welcome to Cambodia,” I laughed and just enjoyed the show. Eventually I was called up, grabbed my passport and headed to the bus. Before we got on the bus another immigration officer counted up all of our passports to make sure everyone was accounted for and nobody was trying to do anything funny. The immigration officer eventually called one dude and when the guy came up to take it the immigration officer kept double clutching looking between him and the passport, talking to the guy in some language. Basically the immigration officer did not think the picture on the passport looked like the guy in person. He really was busting his balls about it, but let him go on the bus after some interrogation. He did the same with a few others, but let me go straight away. It was back on the bus and to lunch. Lunch would be had at this rest stop along the half dirt half paved road. The food was surprisingly good and I had chicken curry. I had forgotten how chicken curry was normally served; on the bone with not much meat. The rice held me over, and then after the meal I ordered steamed rice. When it came to paying the lady tried to rip me off by trying to overcharge me by a few thousand Riel. We had to go back and forth several times before she believed me and what I was saying. Again back on the bus, we were in Cambodia and not that far from Phnom Penh (maybe 3 hours). While we were on the ferry boat crossing the once forgotten Mekong River, a certain individual on the bus caught my eye. I saw he was smoking a cigarette and by himself on the bus. I went up to him and introduced myself and asked him where he was from. He said “I am from Nigeria, my name is Dominic.” I said “Nice to meet you Dominic, I am from New York.” From there our friendship was born. We ended up chatting the remaining three hours about Nigeria, America, the world, traveling and other interesting topics. I asked him many questions about Nigeria and told him that I would come visit him one day. He said “you must come to Nigeria even for a little while.” I said “no problem.” And for anyone who knows me, knows I will go to Nigeria and visit my friend Dominic.
Dominic said he would be in Bangkok around the same time I would be there, so I he gave me his email address and his brothers cell phone number in Thailand. I gave him my email address and said I would email him first so that he would have my address, no problem. He said “great, I hope to hear from you soon Josh,” to which I responded “no problem, you definitely will,” and he did. I emailed him some information he would need to get to Bangkok and he responded. I hope to meet Dominic in Thailand just to say hi and make sure everything is ok with him. This is his first time traveling and while he can speak English, he is from Africa, and a little naïve. I gave him some tips about Thailand and Southeast Asia to which I hoped he listened and will remember. Only about taxis and steering clear of locals who randomly come up and talk to you.
Once we arrived in Phnom Penh it was pandemonium. There were hundreds of tuk tuk and motorbike drivers trying to recruit you to take you to your hotel/guesthouse or wherever you wanted to go. Even if they knew that you were with a tour group, they didn’t care. They would ask you where you were from, when you responded they would be like “you need tuk tuk?” No matter what your answer was to their question they would always follow it up with theirs. We had to shove our way to our bags and basically throw people around to get to our bags and then to find our bus. We eventually found our bus and it took a little while to get to our hotel as there was a tremendous amount of traffic. Our hotel was called Indochine 2 and was located very close to the main strip along the river also referred to as the “Riviera,” according to Andy. We had a few hours of free time so I decided to walk around the area, get a feel for Phnom Penh, check my internet and have some more quality interaction with locals. My first interaction was meeting this girl next to me at the internet place. We exchange hellos when I sat down and it would be the first of many times I would run in to this girl. I ended up seeing her randomly like four or five times and the fourth time she was standing at this computer stand so I had to say hello and talk to her. She was from Cambodia and worked at the bakery at the corner of my hotel, how ironic! We had a good chat and she suggested I not walk around the side streets at night by myself and stick to the main strip near my hotel and along the river. I thanked her for the advice, and told her that maybe I would run in to her again, and I did. On my way back to my hotel, a bunch of local boys were playing that shuttlecock game again with their feet. I gave them a look and then jumped right in. They were all laughing and loved that I got in to their game. I was getting better and was able to hold my own, relatively well. I ended up playing with them for about 2 hours until it got dark and with only 15 minutes to spare before I had to meet the group for dinner. At one point during the game I cut the top of my foot pretty well by trying to stab the shuttlecock and scraped my foot along the ground. I continued to play, with not even a flinch and I think it showed them how tough I was and I gained even more respect from them than I already had from merely interacting and playing with them. I think they find it interesting to see westerners, let alone interacting with them and playing a local game. I love it and I hope they do as well.
When I got back to the hotel I was soaking wet with sweat. I quickly ran upstairs, took a shower and made it downstairs for dinner. Tonight Andy would take us to this restaurant that is a non-profit restaurant which uses the money to fund an orphanage that has about 25 kids. We all had no problem going to it because it would support this local orphanage and help the kids out. I ordered beef curry with rice and an appetizer. I had started to order salads with my dinner as it helped the “ebb and flow,” of my internal organs and also because the main dishes really did not consist of enough food to be satisfied after the meal. Dinner was good, I got my food first and scarfed it down pretty quick. I would then have to sit and wait for everyone else to eat theirs, which was fine and I didn’t mind.
Half way through the meal I got in to a little bit of a blowout with Deb. She is impossible to deal with and really just not a fun person. She is always condescending, negative, contrary and just really annoying to be around sometimes. So I decided to put her in her place and take care of business. She wanted to through some of it back to which I responded “I’m not your son, say what you want, I can go all day with this,” she just turned her face, rolled her eyes, and I had to get control of myself. This stuff had been bottling up inside of me for a while now and I wish we weren’t in public otherwise I would have loved to rip her a new asshole. She was so negative about everything it drove me nuts. If you think the beer is too warm, don’t drink it. If you think it is too hot, stay home and inside, but don’t constantly bitch about it on my vacation Jesus Christ!
After that I remained quiet the rest of the night and just watched the television at the restaurant. I had eaten, was full, and feeling fine. Just something that needed to be done in my mind. After dinner everyone headed back to the hotel, but I wasn’t really tired. So I went back to the internet café to check on a few things, and then just walked around a bit. While heading back I again ran into my friend from the internet café. This time we exchange emails and she gave me her phone number in Cambodia. I told her I would call her through skype so she could practice her English no problem. Unfortunately I cannot pronounce her name, or remember really what it was, so when I email her for the first time I will just have to come out and ask her for what her name is, haha, oh well. After our chat, I was then attacked by two little boys who wanted me to buy a book from them. After being stalked by kids all night at dinner I finally gave in and started to negotiate. Oh and I was bargaining with a nine year boy. They may say they are nine but they look like they are 40 and I really had to treat them like anyone else because they are ruthless. I picked up the book I was looking for “First they Killed my Father,” which is the most famous book about the Cambodian Genocide of the mid 70’s. The boy said 8 dollars I laughed and said 3. He tried to bring up the price, but I held to 3 dollars until the end. He finally gave in. At this point the security guards from the bakery came over and one of them asked me how much the boy wanted, I said three dollars and he laughed saying that I should pay 4000 riel or 1 dollar. The boys starting yelling at them and at that point I got mad and ripped my money out of the boys hand and said no deal. The boy started to yell at me and started to hysterically cry. I couldn’t take it anymore. Normally I don’t buy their fake puppy dog faces or their bullshit but this little boy started to cry and while I had the sudden urge to shake the kid because he was so young bartering on the street, I said “fine, fine, I will give you three dollars,” and the tears suddenly stopped. I knew I was getting ripped off and while there is a whole debate as to if you should buy from kids like this on the street, I am in favor of it for my own personal reasons, which I will refrain from going in to. I handed him the money he handed me the book then the other boy wanted me to buy from him. We exchanged some words and then the boy got violent. He picked up a rock with a sharp edge and started hitting me with it on my arm. Andy had warned us about their tendency to get violent if you didn’t buy from them and while Andy told us to just throw them away, I noticed a police officer across the street watching us. And even though this little boy was in the wrong, he was still a little boy, so I just had to make sure I was safe and that he wasn’t really hurting me and just walked away. We started to joke back and forth I ran away as a joke to go to the police to tell him that they were hitting me, but it was all fun and games. I went back to the hotel, read a few pages of the book and called it a night.