15 January 2006


I have another week to teach, and then I’ll get two weeks off for Tet. (Lunar New Year). The University takes such a long break because no one would come to class if they did anything less. Everyone travels to their town of origin, (or their parent’s, or grandparent’s hometown). It’s not a paid break, but that’s life in the world of teaching English.

Since I don’t intend to re-visit the land of any of my ancestors, I am going to Cambodia for about five days. Specifically, Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor. After beaches, old ruins are my favorite destination for travel. I’ve been busy reading up on the place, which one needs to do. I had no idea that the temples spread out over 40 miles. And I had thought the whole thing was called Angkor Wat, when, in reality, that is the name of just one temple.

I have also made reservations for a nice, budget hotel, on recommendation from some folks at work. I had been told to try and get something at the Red Piano Hotel and Restaurant. When I went on-line, I found that this popular abode has become even more so, ever since the cast and crew of Laura Croft, Tomb Raider, hung out at the restaurant between shots. (Although I have no doubt that they stayed at a 5 star hotel to sleep).

I was going to buy my ticket at Siem Reap Airlines. I walked the few blocks from the bus stop to their offices, to find an empty shop, the innards being torn out. Back across the street to a travel agent to ask where Siem had moved to. Address in hand, I set out.

A few blocks up the street I saw a man sitting on a small, plastic stool, with a makeshift table in front of him. I could see he was making something out of green bamboo leaves. I walked closer and saw the most incredible grasshoppers made entirely of cut and bent leaves that had been woven together. They were about eight inches long, and suspended from a long stick of cut bamboo leaf. Or maybe it was some other type of leaf.

I really wanted to talk to the man and find out where he learned how to make them. I think I remember hearing that grasshoppers brought good luck. But all I could do was ooh and aah, and buy two of them. He smiled at his grasshoppers and, before giving them to me, he kissed the tips of two fingers then waved them towards the critters. I was so excited about my purchases that I barely noticed the heat and noise of the city.

Arriving at the Siem Reap new offices, I found out that they no longer fly directly to Cambodia, and I had to return to the place where I had gotten the directions. Although in between I ran a couple of errands and almost got on the bus home before realizing I had yet to buy the plane ticket.

Back home, I got on the bike to ride to the supermarket. Once again, the tires were flat. This seems to happen every time I take it out for a spin. It’s not a problem, as I just pushed it a few blocks until I found a repairman. Usually you find them near a main intersection, sitting on a stool with a beat up bag of worn tools and findings.

This time, it was a pair of men, listening to a taped-together radio with really bad reception. They pumped up my tires, and the back one went flat immediately. Several other people, (they all appeared to know each other), came by and offered help and suggestions. When nothing worked, I understood that one would go and buy an inner tube. I sat on a stool, the younger guy took off on his motor bike, and more people joined our group.

Returning with the inner tube they, non-too-gently, threw my bike on the ground, then upside down to get the rear tire off. Then again, this a Vietnamese bike and built like a tank. It would take a lot more than that to damage it. By the time all was said and done, six people were observing and commenting on the progress of it all. I asked if they were there everyday, as I am sure the front tire also needs a new inner tube. I think they understood and I think that that is their corner. I’m sure I will find out soon enough.

The other exciting news is that I can finally see in my kitchen, which runs along a wall with no windows. When I moved in, this apartment was full of either florescent lights or 60 watt bulbs, and I have been slowly replacing them. The problem has been that it is very difficult to find 100 watt bulbs where I live and then once I do, I am not tall enough to change them.

Climbing on chairs and counters this afternoon, I managed to get the mini, 60 watt bulb out of the hanging light fixture. But when I tried to put in the new one, the whole socket came off and I could see it was corroded.

What was I going to do? It was Sunday. Then I remembered where I live and that anything can be done at any time. I sent a text message to my realtor friends and they had the electricians over in ten minutes. It did take another hour before they got back with supplies, but they fixed it in no time.

And I do believe that the dry season has finally arrived. The last rain was New Years Eve, and not a drop since then.