Friday, December 25, 2009

Depart Mental

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 21:  A United Airline...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
I don't like leaving places. Even when I am leaving home to go on a journey, I get very emotional.

I have a lovely friend who insists on dropping me off and picking me up at the airport when I undertake these journeys, and more grateful I could not be. However, I don't think that she knows that tears well up in my eyes as I grab the baggage from her trunk and head off in to the unknown.

By the same token, I get very emotional when I leave a country. It is unlikely that I shall ever pass this way again and inevitably the place and the beautiful faces of all the people that I have met there race through my mind as I silently say goodbye. This was the case in Ghana and it is the case in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Saying goodbye is very hard to do when you know that you shall never walk this ground again.

Such is the inherent nature of travel. On the upside an amazing new place awaits while you are on the journey, but eventually the next place is going back home.

Nonetheless, home is a pretty damn good place.

As I walk through customs I see two beautiful friends awaiting me, and all of a sudden it doesn't matter that my luggage is in Washington, D.C., promising to catch up with me.

In an instant I become aware that I haven't had a meaningful conversation in more than a month.

As we head to the car I light a smoke and look at my two friends, grateful to be home, but perplexed by the meaning of my journey.

Yeah, I saw a lot of things, but I have no idea what it means.

It is going to take some time to understand.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Asia Pictures And Videos

 Below are links to some 700 + pictures and twelve videos. I apologize for the shots of my thumb, the ground, and utter blackness, but hopefully there aren't too many of those. I hope you find a few images that convey to you the moments of wonder and astonishment, of horror and joy and the undeniable resiliency of the human spirit that I experienced .

Most especially let me thank you for letting me share this journey with you. The encouragement I have received from so many people means a lot to me.

My best wishes to you and your families.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas Day.


PICTURES (click the text link to see album)


Siem Reap and Temples

Tuol Sleng and The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh To Saigon

Saigon To Hanoi

Halong Bay

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mekong Mini's

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, CambodiaImage by victoriapeckham via Flickr
The following is a short compendium of odds and ends that were not worthy of blog posts, yet somehow struck me as worthy of note.
  • The tractor in Cambodia with the Nebraska plates.
  • Durian fruit expressly forbidden in my Saigon Hotel
  • The "no grenades" policy at my hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Perhaps they had a bad experience
  • Trying to eat a whole crab swimming in sweet chili sauce in the shell with only chopsticks while respecting local dining customs
  • Four people on one scooter, a relatively common sight
  • Cambodia actually has a shopping channel
  • The 60 year old mamsan who worked at my hotel in Siem Reap, calmly joining me at my table to roll a joint as I ate my breakfast
  • The street vendor in Hanoi who proudly displayed the barbecued dogs head as he cut up the meat. I give him points for honesty, but no thanks, I had dog for breakfast. I drew the line at frog, or at least I hope I did.
  • The "psychic" in Thailand who tried to hustle me by telling me I had a "funny face", causing a fellow traveler to laugh out loud as he passed by.
And lastly, this exchange with a girl of about ten, who was trying to sell me bracelets just outside Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Girl: Do you want to buy my bracelets?
Me: No, thank you
Girl: Very nice gift for your wife!
Me: I don't have a wife
Girl: Then nice gift for your girlfriend!
Me:  I don't have a girlfriend
Girl:  Do you know why you don't have a wife or a girlfriend?
Me:  No, I don't
Girl: Because you don't buy my bracelets!

I simply could not argue with that kind of iron clad logic, and, of course I bought a bracelet.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Back In The BeeKayKay

Bangkok ChinatownImage by Not Quite a Photographr via Flickr
Like sand through my fingers, it is all slipping away, and I can only watch the clock helplessly. At this point I have come full circle. The Bangkok that I arrived in is now the Bangkok that will initiate my return to familiar shores. Same city, completely different mindset.

About this, I am somewhat ambivalent. I would love to stay in this region longer, but I am also missing the familiar surroundings and comforts of my home. Nonetheless, I have two precious days left in the magnificence of Bangkok and despite my fatigue, I commit to not wasting these last few hours.

Fortunately for me, Bangkok did most of the heavy lifting in the waning moments. Once again, my greatest move was getting lost. I love walking in unfamiliar cities, but by now I was starting to feel familiar with the little corner of Bangkok that I had come to know.

My mission was take the one hour walk to Khaosan Road, so I could post a blog or two, have a drink and buy some gifts. My wayward sense of direction let me down once again. How is is that I can walk back to a hotel at 1am from this location, but I can't walk from my hotel to this location?

After heading in the right general direction on foot for about an hour, I began to realise that I was not going to Khaosan Road without assistance. Being the stubborn guy that I am, I refused to ask for assistance and kept walking.

Suddenly the crowd began to thicken and I initially began to think that a sporting event had just let out. As i continued to walk, I began to feel like a fish floating upstream.

One thing that puzzled me was the fact that 80% of the people that I passed were wearing pink shirts. In Thailand one should be aware of colours. Yellow represents the current government which came to power through a military coup. Red represents support for the previously democratically elected government. But why am I seeing all these pink shirts?

It turns out that I have unwittingly arrived in Bangkok during a magnificent celebration in honour of the King and Queen. I continue to press upstream against a sea of pink towards the buzz of the crowd, still thinking that I am heading to Khaosan Road.

I begin to hear music. Initially I think that it is yet another ghetto blaster selling stuff, but as I approach the pulse becomes deeper. I realise something is going on and all thoughts of Khaosan Road abandon me. I come upon a deep and wide avenue teeming with humanity. I estimate the crowd to be between 50,000 - 100,000 people.

Nearby are large television screens, and I see an orchestra playing, dancers dancing, and massive images being projected onto a large and majestic building. I turn around and begin to fathom that the events that I am seeing on this screen are happening live about three blocks down this magnifecent and humanity riddled avenue.

I have happened upon an annual celebration of the King and Queen of Thailand.

In Thailand, the king is seen to be empowered by God. He is also seen as a moderating political force. In short, in Thailand, the King is King. One should never climb over anything, as it may contain an image of the King. In Thailand you do not lick a stamp. The stamp contains an image of the King, and only animals lick things.

Needless to say, the celebration was astonishing and another unexpected delight. For two days the Bangkok night lit up with fireworks. Sadly, The King was not able to attend as he has been in hospital since September. Given the love for the King that I saw this weekend, I shudder to think how deep the mourning will be when he passes.

Long Live The King!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Temple Of Literature

{{en}}Văn Miếu (Temple of literature), Hanoi, ...Image via Wikipedia
Today was my last day in Hanoi. Taking my cue from the Lonely Planet guide, I decide to head out to the Temple Of Literature. Built around 1070, the temple is dedicated to Confucius.

I grab a moto from the Old Quarter, put on my helmet, hop aboard and close my eyes for the death ride across town.

As we arrive, I pull out some money to pay the driver, plus a generous tip for not killing me along the way. As I am paying him a small crowd suddenly envelopes us. It seems that I have dropped a small amount of money (at most $3) and one person has lunged forward to step on the wayward bill, acting as if he is just hanging around. Another man explains to me what has happened, and I thank him and the others who have gathered for their honesty.

I turn to the culprit and tell him to move while assessing the situation. Obviously, there is a lot of downside here, with the only upside being that I get my $1-$3 back. Clearly not worth it. I turn to the man and suggest he do something physically impossible involving one of his relatives. I then tell him he is a fine human being and wish him luck in his life. I then pull $10 out of my wallet and give it to the guy who first defended me.

As I shake his hand and walk away, a minor scuffle develops behind me over my misplaced lucre. Sometimes it takes one jerk to make us realise how lovely everyone else is.

Once inside I am again mesmerized by the timelessness of another place. Names of graduates are inscribed in stone dating back through the centuries. Sometimes when I am in places like this my mind boggles as I try and picture the people who walked on this same ground through the ages. I feel a lightning bolt rip through me and the ground pushing up at my feet as I shake my head in wonder.

Indeed, there is more to life than money.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Curious Case Of The Missing Contact Lens Case

Lens cover for storing contact lens.Image via Wikipedia
Unbelievably my contact lens case is missing. Again. After an epic search of Saigon to replace the one I had left behind in Phnom Penh, I am back to square one. I am utterly convinced that the maid in my hotel in Hanoi threw it out.

I wear contact lenses every day and have for years. It is as integral to me as my toothbrush, which was also thrown out, by the way. That is at least forgivable as it was in a squished cardboard sleeve that could easily be mistaken for garbage.

I can only surmise that whoever is cleaning my room does not know what a contact lens case looks like, nor what it is for, and once again I am reduced to using two water bottle caps to store my contacts in. This is not a big problem, until one needs to travel.

After searching fruitlessly through department and drug stores in Saigon, when I finally stumbled upon an eyeglass store that had what I needed I felt like I had won the lottery. I practically wept with joy at the sight of it and briefly considered forming a cult to worship the lady who sold it to me.

And now after an all too brief and mercurial relationship my contact lens case is gone again.

Rest assured I shall never forget its hourglass figure, or the way the threads of your lid meshed perfectly with your circular torso. I'll always remember how left was white and right was purple, the colour of royalty.

Alas, we'll always have Saigon, no one can take that away from us.

I have accepted the fact that while in Asia there will never be another like you. I have stoically accepted the fact that the best I can do in Indochina is two water bottle caps.

Now I will settle for fashioning a lid on my water bottle caps using scotch tape, but using this retrograde receptacle is the equivalent of dating a crack whore after knowing Marylin in the biblical sense.

Farewell contact lense case, surely you were the wind beneath my wings.

Now does anyone know where I can find some scotch tape in this town?
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay from sea levelImage by permanently scatterbrained via Flickr
Today I went to Halong Bay, the final checkmark on my must see list. Halong Bay is a Unesco World Heritage Site, a series of limestone cliffs that jut incomprehensibly out of the ocean.

Located about four hours from Hanoi, this miraculous locale rivals anything that Canada has to offer in terms of sublime natural beauty, a blessing bestowed upon us by nature that is difficult to convey.

In addition, Halong Bay also has cathedral like caves. Sadly, the batteries on my camera died, so no cave pictures available. D'oh!

Just when I think that my jaw could not drop any further, reality unveils another level. I am deeply humbled and grateful to be here in this time and place. I've uploaded a bunch of pics that you can view here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Joy Of Getting Lost

Street scene in the Old Quarter, Hanoi
"Not knowing where you're going is the best way to get somewhere you've never been" -J. Peterman

It happened in Bangkok. It happened in Saigon. And now it is happening in Hanoi. I'm learning to live with it.

I am not particularly directionally challenged, but the labyrinthian nature of these cities makes it very easy to lose oneself. However, once I admit to myself that I am hopelessly lost, it is easy to embrace. Lost is lost, and there are no degrees of being lost. You are either lost or you ain't.

The Old Quarter of Hanoi is the perfect place to get lost. Lord knows I try and remember the way back, but after about the fourth turn, I'm done. I do take some solace that I have yet to take a taxi or moto in this city without the driver having to seek directions from a third party. Its not just me.

On the upside, my nightly ritual of getting lost has led me to finding two places listed in the Lonely Planet that I wanted to get to. Tonights serendipitous find was Mr. Minh's Jazz Bar.

Mr Minh is the capo de capo of jazz in Vietnam, a virtuoso sax player who decided to open a bar to keep the fledgling Hanoi jazz scene alive. Tonight I was hopelessly lost yet again when I stumbled upon the red neon of Mr. Minh's establishment. Suddenly, I don't give a good godamn where my hotel is. (like the remote, its around here somewhere) I saunter in, delighted.

For the next two hours, I am treated to the finest jazz that Indochina has to offer. My advice to you is Get Lost! And my deepest gratitude to Mr. Minh and his band for sharing their prodigious gifts with me.

578 what now????

My plane ticket was a failureImage by kalleboo via Flickr
Given that I am a long way from where I need to be to get my ass home and that I am leaving in less than a week, I decide that today might be a good day to formulate some sort of exit strategy.

Given that it is probably about 3000km overland back to Bangkok, my plan has always been to fly to Thailand. Besides, I'm pretty sure that I read somewhere a few months ago on the internet that regional flights are pretty cheap. I think.

Lucky for me there is a travel agent right next door to my hotel. Of course the Old Quarter of Hanoi seems to be nothing but boutique hotels, travel agents, Pho joints and coffee houses.

I walk into the travel agent and make an enquiry. For some reason travel agents use the phone here, despite the fact that they have a web enabled computer in front of them. Who am I to question local wisdom?

After several attempts, the very nice lady gets a human on the line. After several minutes of Vietnamese banter she hangs up the phone, does a little math and quotes me a price of $578 US.

I do a double take. She explains that the price is for business class, as that is all that is available. I thank her for her time and slink out into the mid afternoon mayhem. Feeling stunned and a little hungry, I find a cafe, order lunch and ponder my options.

There is no way that I am paying $578us for a one way ticket to Bangkok, but this means a journey back from whence I came. Train back to Saigon, some unknown bus arrangement across Cambodia, and yet another bus from the Thai border to Bangkok. As much as I have enjoyed seeing the countryside of all three of these nations, the prospect of re-seeing it is somewhat less palatable.

I finish lunch and head back to my hotel, where there is free net access. After conducting my own research, it appears that I should be able to get a flight for about $200us, which is what I had originally budgeted. Buoyed, I head out to another travel agent and tell them my story.

They shake their head and begin searching. It takes about half an hour, but I eventually leave with ticket in hand, total cost $217.

That feels a lot better.

The City Of The Soaring Dragon

Hanoi street by night with moonImage by judithbluepool via Flickr
I make my way to my hotel in the hope that I can get a room, despite the fact that I am nine hours early. It is around 4:30 am and the hotel is disturbingly dark. I peer in through the door to see a mattress laid out on the floor of the lobby, containing two sleeping bodies. I knock on the door, feeling guilty for disturbing the staff.

I can't help but laugh at the conflagration of my own stupidity that has led to this moment. I originally booked this hotel from a net cafe where the computer date was one day early. Foolishly I believed the computer, as losing track of the day has been common on this journey. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was misreading the train sked and thinking the train was arriving in Hanoi 12 hours later than it actually did.

In this case, these two wrongs actually did make a right. The big mistake was in fixing my mistake. If I had left well enough alone, all would have worked out perfectly. However once I realised that I had the wrong date, I emailed the hotel to change my reservation for the following day, which they kindly did. All of this leads me to darkening their door unexpectedly early.

Having roused them from their slumber, they sleepily let me in. I show them the code from my internet booking, and after much shuffling of paper I am informed that there is no room available. They offer me a computer and a chair. I gladly accept, and they go back to the mattress on the lobby floor.

I laugh in wonderment that someone as stupid as myself managed to get this far. Around 6:30 am someone checks out, and they offer me an uncleaned room so I can at least get some sleep. I lay a blanket over the bed and crash, thankful for the opportunity.


Pho lunchImage by °Florian via Flickr
If you are going to travel in Asia, I strongly reccomend that you cast aside your silly fears and plunge in to the gastronomic treasure trove of cheap eats that abound.

There are only three rules:
  • Be open and adventurous
  • Follow the locals
  • The hotel dining room should only be used for breakfast, only because it represents the closest access to coffee
Throw away all pretensions of dining and you will be richly rewarded. If you are prepared to crouch on a miniscule stool on a sidewalk blessings will rain upon you from the culinary gods above. Not only will you swoon at the cavalcade of flavour, you will save a great deal of money and be given unteachable insights into the local culture.

From a bowl of Tom Yam soup consumed inches from Bangkok traffic, to stellar Khmer barbecue eaten as hookers try to sell me their wares, to a bowl of Vietnamese Pho served in the wee smalls of a drunken evening, the dirt cheap gastronomic riches abound with nary a tablecloth in sight.

Recipes perfected through the centuries and served with a pride that MacDonalds and its mass produced bretheren could never comprehend are ubiquitous. And don't even get me started on the orgasmic delicacy that is Vietnamese iced coffee.

I must confess however that I did break form one evening in Phnom Penh and went for a gnosh at The Foreign Correspondants Club. The very name conjures images of late seventies journalists rushing to get that last dispatch out to the telex as Pol Pot's henchmen come marching down the road. The thing is however, that the joint has only been open for about ten years. The branding was brilliant enough to fool a New York times travel writer, causing a retraction to be subsequently printed. Nonetheless, the gorgeous French Colonial building overlooking the river provided a great ambience while I supped on some Osso Buco.

Gotta run, I'm feeling a little peckish.

North To Hanoi

I board the 7pm train out of Saigon. I have booked a "soft sleeper" ticket, meaning I will be in a berth with three other people.

I find my berth and walk into something completely unexpected. My cabin mates are a family consisting of a husband, a brother in law (I presume)  a very pregnant wife and a cute as a button four or five year old girl. Mercifully she is incredibly well behaved. None of them speak english, and I feel like an uninvited dinner guest.

To make matters worse I have the top bunk. Keep in mind that there is no bar or dining car. My options are to lay on my bunk or stand in the hallway. Thats it. The train pulls out and I feel like a kid who has been sent to his room without any supper. As the train pulls away into the darkness, its endless clacking and gentle rocking soon put me to sleep.

The next morning I wake up at 6am with the sunrise. Shortly thereafter we pull in somewhere and I dash off the train to get a coffee. With all due respect to my Italian friends, the Vietnamese make the best coffee ever, and I am deeply grateful for that.

I hop back on the train to discover that smoking is permitted pretty much everywhere. Things are picking up, I think to myself. We roll on as the sun begins to peek over the mountains. The scenery is an endless montage of ultra green rice paddies and jungle foliage. We pass by villages that appear empty. I soon deduce that this is because everyone is out working in the rice fields.

Eventually the train winds its way to the coast and I let out an audible gasp, overjoyed to see the ocean. And on we go.

I have taken to hanging out in the hallway, smoking with the rest of the bad kids. I strike up a conversation with a few young and very affable Vietnamese guys. At one point I find myself talking hockey with a Russian gentleman. I laugh at the oddity of talking hockey on a train in Northern Vietnam. Indeed, it is a small world after all.

The young girl in my berth and two other young boys have taken a shine to me. We communicate as best we can, which isn't very good at all. At one point a young man acts as interpreter, so I can actually answer a few of their questions.

Eventually we settle on a game where they come running up to me, frantically wave their hands and shout "Hello!". I reply in kind which sends them running down the hall in gales of laughter. This amuses all of us for about 45 minutes. As you can tell, there isn't much to do.

However the scenery rolling by is truly captivating and it climaxes with an ascent into the mountains, just south of Hue. Hundreds of metres below is the rocky coast,desolate with spectacular waves. I quietly thank myself for kicking my own ass onto this locomotive. This is what I came to see and all aggravation, deprivation and discomfort melts away. Simply unforgettable.

As day gives way to dusk I hunker down in my bunk once again. The train stops here and there. People get on, people get off. I wake at 4am with a strange feeling. We are stopped, and there are a lot of people getting off. Suddenly it hits me. My train does not pull into Hanoi at 4pm as I thought, it is pulling in now. I quickly gather my things and disembark.

It is the middle of the night, my hotel reservation is not valid for another nine hours. I'm tired and dazed. I light up a smoke and stare out into the darkness, pondering my next move from the stillness of the train platform. The words of a wise friend pass through my mind, "still here, still alive".

I stamp out my smoke, pick up my bags and move forward into the darkness of the Hanoi night.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tick Tock Stock

V43 staying at a stationImage via Wikipedia
I had this moment in Ghana, and now I'm having it here. Its the attack of the ticking clock, the realisation that deadlines are approaching and goals are unmet. Throw in my own propensity for procrastination and the stage is set for a familiar refrain.

I am sitting on a patio in Saigon, quaffing a few cold ones. A stark glance at the calender has led me to do some soul searching. I am seriously considering ditching Hanoi from my itinerary in favour of a move south to some beach somewhere. I tell myself that it keeps me closer to Bangkok, where I must return to fly back to Toronto.

Then I have an epiphany that almost makes me slap myself in the face. The thing that spurred this entire journey was an article extolling the virtues of the train ride between Saigon and Hanoi. I've come so far and I'm so close, yet I'm actually considering throwing in the towel. I finish my pint, find a travel agent and book a ticket for the following day.

You can't get out of it now, can ya Stock? What a fool.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sigh. Gone.

I know that I left you hanging, but rest assured dear readers, I was finally able to replace my lost contact lens case. You can sleep easy now.

In a few hours one of the more interesting parts of my journey will begin. I am taking a train all the way from Saigon to Hanoi, a trip of some forty plus hours. I am booked in a shared sleeping cabin, which should make for some interesting travels.

I truly enjoy traveling by train, but this is an epic quest. It will also give me a chance to view some spectacular countryside and get some insight into real life in Vietnam.

I wish that I had more time to spend in Saigon, but I am getting to the point where time is becoming a factor, considering that I will have to find a way to get back to Bangkok for my return flight home.

On a personal note, I was shocked to recieve an email today informing me that my cousin Andrew had died in Edmonton. No other details were available. He was twenty four years old.

I did not know Andrew that well, but I will always remember him for his wicked sense of humour. May he rest in peace.

Suddenly I feel very small, and a long way from home.

Watching The Game

Ryan Valentine scores the goal that keeps Wrex...Image via Wikipedia
So after a fruitless search for a contact lens case to replace the one I left behind in Phnom Penh, I throw in the towel and find a small watering hole filled with locals. The place is jammed and I am squeezed into a chair by a wall, using a tiny footstool as my table.

I am the only non Vietnamese person in the joint, which suits me just fine. You don't find places like this from the window of the tour bus. The reason the place is packed is due to a Thailand-Vietnam soccer match, part of an Asian tournament. Of course I am cheering for Vietnam, given my burgeoning respect for the people here and my secret crush on the city of Saigon. Plus the waitresses are devastatingly charming.

Thailand scores in the second half to take a 1-0 lead, and the energy in the bar sinks like a hot air baloon with a very large leak. In the final seconds of regulation Vietnam is awarded a penalty kick, which is successfully executed. The place explodes in bedlam, and I find myself joining the crowd on its feet in celebration. I am glowing with happiness, not for myself, but as an expression of delight at the exuberance around me.

The game ends in a draw, but it feels like a victory. I stumble out into the Saigon night, greeted by a parade of cars and scooters honking and waving flags. For a brief instance I feel like I am back in Toronto during the World Cup.

It may be hard to see sometimes, but there is so much more in this world that bring us together when compared with the few things that keep us apart. I guess its all about perspective.

Bright Lights, Big City

Playing With A Box Of Wonders: A Magic Lantern...Image by postaletrice via Flickr
After a few days of self imposed convalesence in Phnom Penh, I am feeling well enough to travel, but not necessarily well. I catch a late morning bus headed into Vietnam, destination Saigon.

It is about a six hour trip, including the border crossing. After clearing the frontier Saigon should only be a few hours down the road. As the bus drones on into the late afternoon, I begin to doze off, wishing I had a Snickers bar.

Suddenly I wake up and the scene around me causes my eyes to bulge out of my head. I must admit that I had not really done a lot of research on Saigon, which is why I was utterly unprepared for the scene that I awoke to.

It is rush hour, and as we navigate our way through the major urban intersections, it is apparent that the scooter/motorbike rules here. At each red light they idle eight across and thirty deep in all directions.

Saigon makes Bangkok feel small and easily out bustles New York. As for quaint little Toronto, you're very cute,  but fuhgetaboutit.

I have developed a system for crossing the clogged streets here, which I call the Pray n' Go. The fact that there will never be a clear path means that you must conquer the crossing a few feet at a time, trying not to be rattled by the traffic as it swirls around you in all directions. During one such crossing in particularly heavy traffic I was becoming very flustered at my inability to get across when I heard a friendly voice say hi to me. It was a man with his wife and young daughter. He held out his hand to me and motioned for me to take it. He led me across the street and gave me one of my sweetest memories of the trip. Those are the kind of people you run into in Vietnam.

Saigon is a truly magnificent gem, and why anyone would bother with tourist addled Bangkok and all its false nicety when they could be here is beyond comprehension. Viva Saigon!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Adieu, Cambodia

Pol PotImage via Wikipedia
My travels in Cambodia have left my mind filled with images of magnificence, horror, resiliency, and the tragic legacy of long ago rampant insanity.

One of the first things that struck me was the gentle and cajoling nature among the people I saw. The people I met had a great sense of play between one another, and if you get to know them a bit, they will include you. I had a great many laughs with people here as they teased me and I teased them back, all in good fun of course.

While Cambodia has returned to normalcy of a sort, the poverty here is unconcionable. The legacy of landmines from the Khmer Rouge days is still in evidence, as many young people who were not even alive during the Pol Pot years. Missing limbs are everywhere, the victims ranging from the very young to the elderly.

As I was dining one night, I saw one man begging on the patio. It was hard for him to put his hand out to beg as he had to drag his legless torso around with his arms. Without question, it is one of the most gut wrenching sights I have ever scene. Doubtless, he lives on the street. For him, there is no welfare cheque.

After I had given him some money, a fellow diner came over and shook my hand. This made me cringe, as I was literally doing the least I could do.

Another scene I witnessed was two parents sorting through garbage on the street, while their two very young children slept on the sidewalk, curled up beside a building. I could go on and on and on, but you get the idea.

Yet in the face of all this, hope persists, a shred of a thread that maybe things can get better. After all, these folks have taken the very worst that humankind has to offer, and they continue to press on. They will be forever in my heart, and never far from my mind.

Phnom Penh Mannix

MannixImage via Wikipedia
After getting back to my hotel from Tuol Sleng, The Killing Fields, and The Grand Palace, I am happy that I was able to accomplish so much on my first day in Cambodia's capital. I lay on my bed and begin to realise that the weird sensations afflicting me are not the product of emotion and sun exposure. Periodically, I have been having odd head rushes, as if the Purple Microdot is about to kick in. Sadly, it never does.

I have a chronic cough, chills, sweats, and my ears are plugged, making communication even more arduous. In addition, every joint in my body aches. Realising that I cannot continue to travel in this state, I confine myself to my bed for a few days, slithering out from the confines of the Jockey Hotel only when necessary.

On one such sojourn I am dining streetside, look out at the very busy Monivong Blvd. As I gnosh away, I am buoyed to see the staff gather for an evening meal. I like places that feed their staff as it says something about the integrity of the ownership, especially in a country this poor.

I request my bill, glance at it and pull out some Riel to settle. Suddenly, an audible gasp rises from the patio. I look up to see a scooter careening off the small median, struggling to regain its balance. About ten feet behind the scooter I see a pedestrian trying to do the same. Clearly she is stunned and injured.

The scooter, having recovered its equilibrium, begins to race off into the night when out of nowhere a Phnom Penh Mannix runs after him and horsetackles driver and scooter, sending both crashing to the ground in a way that puts me in the mind of The Calgary Stampede.

All of this happens in the span of about eight seconds. I commend the young man, his reaction was not considered, but instinctive, reinforcing my notion that most people do the right thing in the unconsidered instance.

A crowd gathers around both involved parties. One women on a scooter has pulled over and appears to have some medical acumen. The women is laid down on the median, and eventually an ambulance arrives. I hope her injuries are no too serious.

Phnom Penh Mannix, you will never read this, and I will never know who you are, but I am humbled by your instinctive decency. Thank you for teaching me.