Soreya, So Khmer, so shabby-chic.

Trip Start Jan 27, 2014
Trip End Feb 24, 2014

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

After a very solid old person type sleep (I went to bed at 9.30...possibly a world first) awoke early to a chilly morning.

No water after an accident between a dog and a pipe in the middle of the night. It's fixed shortly after and J-she has a lazy breakfast whilst we wait contact from our man in school - Soreya. He calls us about 8.30am and says he's on the way. After 4 years and 2 years of paying from afar for his study, we meet our man in Kampot.

He's as lovely as ever and most appreciative, a very sweet guy. And tiny. On arrival he looked me up and down like I was some odd giant, he compared shoe sizes and was amazed at my feet. He sized up against J-she's tiny shoes, a perfect fit ! He explains his name is actually Hor Ya (I knew that) and his mates call him Ya-Ya. I like that.

Soreya took us into town and we bought a few gifts for the family as per the Khmer tradition according to what we have read on the internet, he seemed non plussed by the whole deal of getting the gifts. Here's us trying to 'do the right thing' but things have changed perhaps. Tradition is dead. We buy some fruit and sweets anyway to show our thanks.

On the way he makes a couple of phone calls, I imagine he is calling his parents "Cook more food! This guy is huuuge !"

We follow him out a dusty road on our moto and turn off onto a more dusty road, we pass the little market town of Kadoul Commune, his home town, if you can call a bunch of stalls and shacks lining a dirty road a town, and turn off again onto an increasingly rutted and dusty track, we are most certainly in the boonies now.

Another left onto a narrow track between endless rice paddies and we jolt and weave our way about 2km into the middle of the paddies.The track is so bumpy that it's knocking the air out of the rear tyre, we are now banging our rim on every big bump. Will we ever get there? ,
J-she is groaning with every bump of the rear rim.
We come upon Soreyas family 'compound'. These guys really are poor rural folk, living in the middle of nowhere. This is nothing more than a group of shanties in a dusty patch, a collection of ramshackle animal pens and slat wooden houses on stilts. Pigs and dogs and chickens run everywhere. Cows are grazing in the paddies surrounding the house. You can see for miles all around across the paddies. Nearby hills rise sharply, punctuating the endless flat land.

About 50 metres away from the shacks is a brand new road heaped up, which slices heavily through the paddies. It's not quite finished yet but Soreya is very happy it is there now, he speaks of having to drag his bicycle along the muddy tracks between the rice paddies every day in the rainy season. We used a small portion of the new road coming in but soon realise we could have come all the way along it. We think he just took us this way to show us how bad he used to have it. We experience how Soreya has been traipsing to school and work for the last two years, and longer.

Soreya is very happy to show us his garden and all it's bounties. He climbs the trees to fetch us fresh coconuts and oranges. He proclaims to us he's very happy in his peaceful little world, with his family and community friends scattered across the now dry rice paddies. We think it's pretty cool too.

The folks are lovely and feed us a stupid amount of traditional food, impressing us with their richness, in foods and rice and fruit. It's quiet, peaceful and relaxing. They've cooked some special dishes for us. None of them other than Soreya can speak a word of English, us no Khmer, but we get on just fine. Half a dozen of the local kids hang lazily at the end of our traditional seating platform eyeing us curiously.

We have a couple of beers in the hot afternoon underneath the raised house and then make our way back (directly along the brand new road, so much easier ! ). Soreya has to work at 4pm. The family are keen to provide us all they can and send us on our way with some delectable steamed treats, banana and rice , and a very gooey bean paste and peanut treat. Special Chinese New Year foods made just for us. They also demand we take a bunch of 8 coconuts, they are in abundance in their sweet little compound. But we cant carry a huge load of coconuts ! We're not Khmer and not practiced in carrying massive loads on our little moto at all. Soreya lugs them into town for us.

We drop in and visit our 'fixer' Darren who initially sorted us out in getting Soreya to school. He explains in an abstract way how he came to be in Kampot and we have a couple more beers to see the afternoon out. We joke about the increasing tourism and how the hipsters will discover seedy Kampot soon enough and think it so "shabby-chic" I have visions of second hand clothing shops and fixies plying the streets with mustachioed cool young men atop.

We leave the coconuts with Darren. Trying to carry them home would simply increase our chances of an accident 400% on these already slightly dangerous roads.

On return to our so-frenchy so-chic digs the usual is happening - a bunch of Gallics talking amongst themselves with tacky Frenchy-pop playing whilst the staff smoke joints behind the bar. The beautiful peace of a lovely part of the Kampot river is swamped by stale music, fresh dope smoke and harsh European voices.

We come back to the bar for our dinner, J-she is increasingly incensed with the continuing colonial ways of Cambodia - a bunch of Gallics (and English and Aussies and Russians) re-patronising the country and taking all the opportunity and profits of tourism. J-she comments this is not so the way in Vietnam - where locals run most of the business.
J-she and I had noted the huge number of expats in PP and also in Kampot on our day out today, they are truly taking over the country. It seems neo-colonialism in Cambodia is still just colonialism.

We present the lovely Khmer waitress with our huge burden of very special treats and she is most impressed. "Special Chinese New Year food ! Oh thank you." she excites. She proceeds to slice them up and present them to the Frenchies at the bar who are drinking wine and chatting amongst themselves. They sneer and turn their European noses up (' but this is not fromage !' ) at this most authentic of Khmer foods. The Khmer local girls working here are most impressed, but the Frenchies treat the food with contempt and mistrust. The pommie at the bar would rather eat his chips with tomato sauce. Yeh right on, come thousands of miles to experience Cambodia, but when it's shoved under your nose you reject it as 'weird shit'. This sends J-she into anti-colonial spin. She storms off to the outdoor balcony.

The frenchies don't give a toss, when I reach over to grab some treats myself they go silent and sneer at me like I'm some kind of strange beast. "Whats wrong with chips and pizza?" I can almost hear them thinking as they look at me sideways in complete silence. No sooner I resume my spot at the bar they take up their banter again. I'm an intruder on their little piece of colonial paradise.

We're meeting Soreya again tomorrow and are invited to their special Chinese New Year feast, we're looking forward to eating weird shit, in a locals house, with real Khmers, dirt poor but happy in their lifestyle, in the middle of nowhere. The REAL Cambodia.

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Yvonne on

It's sounding suspiciously like Bali, and definitely dropping from my visit list.

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