I’m all for a bit of culture, me, and I delight in the hilarious ways of people who’re different from us.
Samon, the owner of Samon village guesthouse has the very admirable aim of promoting Khmer culture. The huts and the shelter over the bar area at his resort are built using traditional Khmer methods, the food served is traditional Khmer fare, and on Saturday night, a traditional Khmer band comes along.
Samon made quite a lengthy speech about his wish to keep Khmer traditions alive in the face of the massive cultural changes that happen when people get television and the kids go all hippity hop. Good for you Samon!
The band were a family, led by eMr Chat I think his name was. He played a three stringed upright fiddle which he held in his lap and sawed at with a bow. Another man who may have been his brother played a small drum and sang, and his son and daughter played a sort of dulcimer and a takhe, which is a plucked instrument that looks like an ornate box and takes the bass part.
Mr Chat struck up and his brother sang the first song, and it was lovely in a late night radio 3 way.
All us white men sat there quietly appreciating the beauty and mystery of Khmer culture like ethical consumers, which is what we were, conscientiously appreciating it and smattering polite applause at the end of each song.
I’ve been to Womad and I sometimes listen to world roots on the radio but I would have preferred a bit of foot stomping rock and roll I tell you.
After a while young Mistresses Chat changed into traditional dress and danced the dance of the flowers.
Nel was quite struck with this but I’m sorry to say it was lost on me. She looked beautiful, without a doubt, but to me it was more a slow walk about the stage while holding her head very, very still than dance, and I know there’s no doubt all kinds of eastern symbolism that we missed out on, and the rigidly stylized hand movements all mean something but it’s not really tearing up the dancefloor after a few beers on a Saturday night is it? That’s proper dancing!
It’s a really chilled out place to go but after an hour and a half or so it was beginning to grind. They use different scales to us, and it might make some sense to a virtuoso jazz master but to the average man it sounds discordant and jarring.
The band finished and we all politely clapped our appreciation, and even that feels false and a bit patronizing. Afterwards, Samon put bloody John Lee bleedin Hooker on! Just what I didn’t want after an hour and a half of really slow quiet ethnic music, John Lee bloody Hooker! Motown would have been good, then we could have shown Mr Chat’s daughter how to throw some shapes. Yeah!
Bedtime was a bit strange. There’d been the mix up with bookings and the manager asked if we’d mind sleeping in one of the staff huts, just for the night, and it would be free.
The eight by eight foot poorly built shed we were in was just about big enough for the bed and our bags, the woman whose room it is kept her clothes and toiletries there, and unknown to us, the shed next door was home to two girls for the night.
The partition between the rooms was a loosely woven reed mat, and we could see them moving around in there getting ready for bed. Nel was quite unnerved by this and went to bye byes clothed but I thought bollicks to it, it was overwhelmingly hot and if they wanted to spy on my mosquito ravaged arse they could do. I was just concerned that Nel’s hellish snoring would keep them awake and ruin their holiday.
Yes it was a bit weird but we slept ok and packed up our stuff to leave next morning, which upset the manager because he thought we were angry with him about the mix up, but we told him that’s ok, mistakes happen and that we felt like going somewhere a bit lively after being on the island without electric for a few days.
He was ok then and called a tuk tuk for us.
We’d found a place online called blissful guesthouse so asked for that but they were full so we went next door to this place, the Pepper guesthouse.
Kampot is famous for its pepper plantations. We might take a trip out to see them.
You can hire a bike for five dollars a day, which we’re considering doing. I will be a bit nervous about it but everyone drives slowly here and it’s a real sleepy town, there ain’t much traffic on the roads at all and once you’re out, there’s no traffic we’re told. They do drive on the right here though, it being an old French colony. There are a few roundabouts but they have an entirely different philosophy about them, preferring to view it as just a really really big wide bit of road with a bit of an obstacle in the middle and you just head towards your road by the shortest route, whether that’s left or right, doesn’t really matter. Everyone goes slowly, and leaves a big gap so you can see what’s around you and there don’t seem to be any problems at all that we’ve seen.
The big roundabout in Kampot is a celebration of the fecundity of the landscape and a tribute to fruit, in stone. The centrepiece is a colossal durian fruit. And just when I was liking these Cambodians they go and stick a huge monument to the world’s foulest fruit right where I can see it without binoculars. Did I ever tell you about durian fruit?
A Kampot street walker
There’s a little restaurant just down the end of the road here called Heng Leap where you can spend a day drinking iced tea and meeting people. The blokes who run the place are really great fun who like joke and play about with us westerners, I really like them and the foods not bad too.
They run tours from there too and asked if we’d like to go to see the fireflies down the river, five dollars. Ok, we paid our bill for breakfast and five hours sitting about drinking iced Cambodian lemon tea, which came to nine dollars.
This is a weird thing as well. The Cambodian currency is the Reil, or maybe the Riel, and nobody really uses it except for small change. With the exception of the hundred Riel note, which is apparently more economical to use in the bathroom than toilet paper. More scratchy though, I expect.
One dollar is 4000 Cambodian Riel, which is convenient, because there are no coins at all that we’ve seen, so if you’re buying lovely tasty refreshing iced Cambodian tea, for example, for fifty cents, they’ll give you two thousand Riel as change, so you’re actually using two currencies simultaneously, which is a bit confusing.
Well you can imagine can’t you.
We were picked up outside the cafe at 6.30 yesterday evening and taken down to the river where a precariously narrow wooden boat was waiting for us. This was another long tail boat but it has a tiller to steer with and the ubiquitous red and white Honda engine that runs our genny at home. There’s no gearbox and hence no reverse, so no way of stopping it except drifting, in the dark towards the bank, which we did after travelling down river for about an hour, nine of us, everyone scared to move cos the thing felt like it might tip over really easily.
As we drifted towards the bank we began to see tiny lights flitting around like tiny Will O the Wisp. Tiny tiny tiny lights.
We hit the bank softly and boatman jumped off in the dark to pull the boat in so we could all follow him, in the dark, onto the bank without seeing where we were jumping to. Blind faith.
Fireflies flit about so slowly, they’re quite easy to catch and you stand there delicately cupping this tiny light in your hand like it’s Tinkerbell, grinning your face off and you look up and see the trees twinkling with tiny moving fairy lights like jungly Christmas trees in the dark, geckos and chainsaw insects and god knows what else out there. It didn’t really feel that Christmassy.
The view from a Kampot shed
The world’s largest stone fruit