Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cambodian Adventure Day Four - Bonne Annee 2009

As an Anglo Saxon growing up on the East Coast of America, my initial concept of a 'colony' was really positive. I was proud that New Jersey was one of the original 13 colonies, and like most kids, enjoyed Thanksgiving celebrations centered around pilgrims and all that jazz. It was only as I got older (much older) that I began to realize that new colonies were generally someone else's home country already. This was my first real experience in a colonized country and it's so hard for me to express how it felt.

Now, Cambodian history is long & complicated to say the least, and I'm in no real position to take sides. But the fact is, after numerous wars with both Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia became a protectorate of France from about 1863 to 1945. On the one hand, from the perspective of someone who's lived in a non-colonized Asian country for the last four months, it was comforting to go someplace where English was widely spoken, and foreign food was available (Baguettes! Cheese! Baguettes and cheese everywhere!) But on the other hand, it just felt wrong - do Khmer people even like baguettes?

Unfortunately the nature of our trip made it impossible for me to find the answer to that question. After factoring in transportation time, we had barely four days to explore the country. And in that time we wanted to fit in some major sight seeing, a little cultural education, and naturally some relaxation. Oh... and of course, find a way to celebrate the New Year as well. We were, perhaps, overly ambitious.

After waking up in the brothel and taking our respective long & wasteful hot showers, we decided to go get some breakfast and then see the sights of the city. We found a trendy looking, (EXPENSIVE) restaurant recommended in the guide book and had omelets and toast. I took the sausage from Bunny the vegetarian's plate... but after one bite regretted it. I can't say with any certainty what it was... but it didn't taste like any sausage I'd ever had.

From breakfast we headed to the Royal Palace. It was gorgeous, but not especially blog friendly... pictures were not allowed inside the Throne Room or the Silver Pagoda, and many other areas of the palace were off limits. Again, years of civil war & the Khmer Rouge had taken their toll, and even in the buildings I could explore, very few Cambodian treasures remain. I didn't see anything worth particular notice (lots of Buddha statues, etc), but walking around the grounds & looking at the beautiful buildings was a nice way to spend the morning.

The Royal Palace

Next we headed to the Russian Market to do some shopping. I have no idea why it's called the Russian Market, it was just another street market, although this one was primarily under a roof if not technically 'indoors'. I only bought three scarves (which I'm fairly sure I could find in Bangkok anyway), a few children's books in both Khmer & English, and a ton of post cards... I'm such a sucker for post cards. I keep literally half of the ones I buy. We followed up our shopping trip with a couple of hours at a riverside cafe sharing a cheese plate and writing post cards. Properly rested and relaxed, we decided to do what we'd been dreading and hired a tuk-tuk to take us to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. After quite a drive around the city we were surprised, but somewhat relieved to find ourselves mistakenly dropped off at the National Museum instead. We took it as a sign and decided to view some ancient sculptures rather than exploring the depths of evil that humans are capable of. It was, after all, New Year's Eve.

Purchasing the ticket, however, was a third-world adventure in and of itself. Check it out people! They were doing construction on the roof of the ticket booth - right overhead - but the ticket window was open and the attendant ushered me under to buy my ticket. Yeah... not something that would happen in the US.

Note the proximity of the welding torch to the ticket counter.

The museum was nice, and a good place to learn more about the different stories and symbols of Hinduism (is that even a word?) and Buddhism. I was excited to recognize Garudas (the bird like guardian), the Naga, Krishna, Hanuman, and of course the Buddha. Although, often it was a statue of a king in a pose similar to the Buddha... so who knows if I'll ever get all sorted out. Again... no pictures were allowed inside, but I did get this picture of the beautiful garden courtyard.

Bobby and Bunny in the background pouring over the guidebook.

We rounded out 2008 with a trip to the trendiest if not the ONLY vegan restaurant in Phnom Penh for a scrumptious feast, then headed back to the riverside to... in theory... go bar hopping. We started at the Foreign Correspondents Club. It was nice, but again, so strongly colonial / ex-pat focused, that it was difficult to really enjoy it. We left after one drink.

Drinks at the FCC

But when we left the bar it started raining and... have I mentioned the monsoons in SE Asia? We were drenched before we even crossed the street. Nevertheless we headed a few blocks down and into ... I can't even remember the name of the bar now. But we stayed there freezing and drinking sub-standard cocktails (mine had fruit juice and ice, and I'm fairly certain it caused the current state of my intestinal tract) to usher in the New Year. They had a C-grade Katoey (lady-boy) show, which was fun if extraordinarily cheesy, then as the time approached a bunch of people just started counting down. Cheers! That was it. It was far from my most exciting New Year's... but it's the first one I rang in while in a foreign country! Still a bit wet and chilled we called an end to the evening a short time later and headed back to our brothel... assuring our tuk-tuk driver once again that *yes* we really did want to go there. They say that however you ring in the New Year will have an effect on the rest of the year... but in this case, I hope it's not quite true.

Happy New Year Everyone!

CAG: Code Sweet Chili Sauce


gl. said...

bonne annee, rebel!

Rebel said...

merci! ;)