Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
Trip End Apr 22, 2005

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Sunday, January 16, 2005

A lot can said about getting the lay of the land and then letting it all soak in. As a solo traveler who's been trodding down the beaten path for years one of the things that's always appealed to me is falling into a certain routine. I love becoming an instant regular. I was a regular for years off and on at Cafe Beaubourg in Paris, in Marrakesh it was the Cafe de France for a week and last year in Saigon for eight days it was the Allez Boo and that was a virtually morning, noon and very late night affair. In Phnom Penh there was never any question as to where my hang out would be since I'd chosen it months in advance thanks in part to the Internet. It is the Foreign Correspondents Club.

I adapt fairly quickly and can become comfortable in places that just a day prior had seemed so well, foreign to me. On my second night at the FCC I walked right to where I'd sat the night before tossed down my copy of The Economist and before I'd put my bag down ordered a gin and tonic from a passing waiter. Smiling at the guy on the stool next to me I said hello. Within sixty seconds he asked me if I lived here. We talked all night this bloke from London and then four hours later we parted ways and without saying what our plans were ended up in the same spot the following evening. Yes, the same stools and the same cocktails and this time the conversation went from the rise and fall of various empires to the cinema and dining out. Today he's in Saigon and I of course told him to go to my beloved Allez Boo (the most horrible name for the most wonderful hang out). I will more than likely never lay eyes on him again. We didn't swap email addresses and made no plans to ever connect in the future. These are what is called in the traveling world as single-serving friends -- no need for seconds. You meet someone and have a terrific time with them and share wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experiences and then you turn your back and disappear. Sometimes you do reconnect though it's rare and yet these people will always be a part of your trip and you will always think of them when you think of the places you've traveled. I still remember Kim Vanderpayer, a Bostonian who shared a pastry with me on my birthday in Florence thirteen years ago and yet even after we traveled onward to Venice together I never saw or heard from her again. You could call these one-night-stand friends but that would be tawdry and cheap and anyway that would give the wrong message. Anyway as I recall she wore a hair scrunchy and that's a relationship that would certainly have never stood the test of time.

Tonight at the FCC I met a very sweet lesbian couple who are both doctors and one's from the UK and the other I believe was an Afrikaner but I'm not too sure. I couldn't tell they were lesbians at first because when traveling you don't know if they're seriously no-nonsense, no-frills hardcore travelers with short-cropped hair or if they're scissor fighters. And really who cares in the first place I was looking for some single-serving friends and that's exactly what I got. There's a certain protocol that comes along with this situations. One of you will begin hinting about what the other is doing the following day and if they're going somewhere you're not you're off the hook and there's no need to even mention the future in the least. Otherwise if they're heading in the same direction as you and you enjoyed them you test the waters and tentatively decide that, "Seim Reap is a small town I'm sure I'll see yŠll around cocktail hour." After we left the FCC and had a great Khmer dinner of Fish Amok that's where we left it. The company, food and cocktails were delicious and I was full.

Developing a sense of casual familiarity can also have its downsides as I experienced today. This morning as I was checking my email on the computer in my lobby a tour bus of about 12 to 15 French tourists filed into the hotel and all bid me a hearty, "Bonjour!" I welcomed them back and continued typing then five minutes later one of them came up to me and in French asked about using computer. I told her she could use any of them and then she asked me how to turn it on. I got up and showed her and this is when I began to wonder if she thought I was employed by the hotel. Unless she's always nasty to complete strangers who are only trying to help her check her email then she assumed I worked there. She could not get online as asked me again to help her so I got up an came over and clicked on the icon and opened it up to Yahoo for her. I announced voila! signaling that I would be leaving and she got at very irritated and huffed. I went and sat back down and when her husband came by and gruffly asked why it wasn't coming up fast enough for them I snapped back in French "I don't know, I don't care it's slow --shit!" I signed off the computer, slung my bag over my shoulder and walked out and that's when I heard her say, "Oh my God she doesn't work for the hotel!"

The street hawkers normally remember you and if you're lucky and they're paying attention they'll back off or better yet just yell out a familiar greeting as you pass. Tonight however the lesbians bought a book from one of the hawkers who came by an hour later and asked if they wanted to buy a book. He'd already forgotten. They offered to sell him the book back for a dollar more and even when he realized his faux pas he snapped back with, "Postcards--you want postcards?" I finally broke down and even let a boy shine my leather slides for fifty cents hoping that not only would I be getting dust-free shoes back but also a reprieve from the shoe-shiners. No such luck. Two different girls came by and offered and when I told one of them that I'd just had it done one of them looked disapprovingly and asked how much. I told her it cost 2,000 Reils (50 cents) and she seemed to think that was a good price and let me off the hook.

I had planned on staying on a bit longer in Phnom Penh but since I stayed in Bangkok longer than I'd anticipated I need to keep moving until I get caught up. If truth be told though I certainly have seen all of Phnom Penh and I like very much what I saw. Tomorrow after a four to six hour bus ride I'll arrive in Siem Reap where I'll stay for maybe four or five days and see the great temples of Angkor Wats and oh, by the way there's an FCC there, too.

Recommendation: A couple of days ago I went to a wonderful restaurant called Friends that helps street children get off the street and make a better life for themselves. The organization teaches them skills and offers them hope along with shelter and an education. Not only did I have a terrific lunch there I also went next door and bought one of their skirts that the students had made. If you are feeling charitable or just curious I encourage you check out their website:
SALUTATION: Happy Birthday Ange!
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