The Wicked French Lady, My Stinging Shin, and “Looking Good.”
Today was my first day at my MFI, AMK. Paul, the CEO, is a wonderfully nice guy (the nicest ex-pat I’ve ever met here, in fact). He is from the southern suburbs of Chicago. The utter mention of the words south and Chicago in the same sentence immediately frightened me, as if a sudden and deep philosophical difference suddenly arose between us. Thankfully, and this must have been commanded from on high, he is nonetheless a Cubs fan (see Mark’s objective truth list, #2, “Baseball is the best sport in the world”). I will be his friend even if for this reason only (though I am sure there are many other valid reasons for friendship.
Being here as a Kiva fellow, I felt that my first day’s experience should be mentioned first, but as nothing in this entry’s title really involves my first day at work (except maybe the last part), I’ll move on to the past few days. I will begin with the wicked French lady. As I was reading up on Management Information Systems (not a pleasure read) and visiting with the guys at the Boddhi Tree, I began to take notice of a cantankerous old snot who would not cease whining about everything, loudly, and with a French accent which I believe was intentionally pompous. She had ordered a beer, Anchor, which immediately made me aware that her taste in life’s finer things was poor. When the beer arrived, however, she began ridiculing the staff (my friends) about the glass she had been given. Evidently, the standard, eight ounce beer mug is not suitable for a refined lady such as herself. Did it make her look fat? Like an alcoholic? Uncivilized? I don’t know, but she needed (yes, “needed”) a tall, “smooth,” dainty glass, something that would befit her status as a rich French woman who traveled half the year and never worked a day in her life, which she proudly declared. At this point, I began to consider throwing her off the balcony. But, being principally a nonviolent guy, I decided I could not do this. Being that I would have had to carry her upstairs to the balcony before I could throw her off of it, it also seemed like the timing wasn’t quite right.
The next day was a standard day. I woke up, ate breakfast, read, did some writing (not blogging), went to the market, etc. That evening, though, it rained, poured, inundating (a word I’ll discuss in a later blog entry) the streets. The wicked French lady had peaked my curiosity (rage, actually), so I decided to return to the Boddhi Tree to see if anything else on par with the night before would happen. I sat, prepping myself for something to unfold by reading more about MIS. As the rain came down, the wicked French lady stormed into the guest house with an angry Cambodian behind her. The two were yelling. Evidently, he had been here tuk tuk driver, taking her back to the Boddhi Tree from Street 240. It was about 7:30 in the evening, dark, and wet, really freaking wet. She, of course, was perfectly dry. The tuk tuk driver was demanding that she pay him $2.00 for the ride back, while she insisted that the ride only costs $1.00. Now, for those of you who don’t know, she is what is generally referred to as “full of it.” I would use another word, but I only hazily remember the parameters of my blogging privileges with Kiva, and choose here to substitute an innocent pronoun in the place of a more crass word, truthful though it may be. Anyway, the two yelled at each other, and, frankly, given the conditions outside, she should have paid $3.00. As the yelling became louder (by the way, Cambodians don’t yell much, at all), the tuk tuk driver brought up the Khmer Rouge, S-21 prison, and the Killing Fields, and told the wicked French lady that she did not know Cambodian history, she retorted, declaring that she knew it much better than he. She then said that this whole incident was stupid and that the tuk tuk driver should not be so greedy over a dollar. She would have been over the balcony had she actually been on the balcony, I thought. I also pondered just getting up and giving the guy the extra dollar to set a good example and embarrass her, but then the tuk tuk driver said that she was stupid, and, suddenly recognizing his exceptional powers of perception, I decided to continue watching. Additionally, I think she realized that the tuk tuk driver was probably going to follow her to her room if she did not pay him, and so she finally yelled at Vireak to give the guy a dollar, and he left.
As I sat watching this display of unparalleled stupidity, Vireak text-messaged me about said stupidity. As many of you know, I am text-messaging averse, that is to say that I have never learned how to do it. Given this situation, however, I felt compelled to respond to my friends words of keen observation. Thus, I set out to teach myself how to text message. It took me ten minutes, but I finally typed out “she is crazy,” and hit send. My phone replied simply: “message failed.” Determined not to let my friend’s efforts at communication and subterfuge go in vain, I tried again, and, in spite of myself, was successful. Within twenty seconds I received “you are right, she is crazy” as a reply. This text messaging, I maintain, is the only time that a Cambodian will ever write in English faster than I can. Nonetheless, Vireak had encouraged me to learn something new that evening (don’t ever think it’s okay to text message me though), which is always refreshing.
While I sat watching the wicked French lady sit down, order a beer, and chug it like a baboon guzzling the juice from a coconut, I decided that I had to mock her with my Cambodian friends. I heard Thou outside, and decided to go chat. Thou was chatting with a very drunk moto driver, who had imbibed way too much of his own wine. I declined the offer for a taste. I started up a conversation with them, when my drunken friend said “ooh ae vu”. Mind you, it took me a while to figure out what the hell he was saying, because I was trying to interpret his “words” as being spoken to me in broken English drastically altered by his drunken state. Thou, however, is brilliant, and told me that he wanted to know where I was going, and that he was trying to speak French (oú est vous). Always wanting to practice French, or any language that I don’t know so well, I embraced this less-than-ideal situation and began conversing with my very drunk friend in a language that I was at the present moment comparatively fluent in (those of you in the know about my aptitude with the French language can probably now guage the extent to which he was drunk given my comparative fluency). Then of course Thou decided to break into his French, at which point I suddenly realized I had another opportunity to teach my friend Thou a new word. I asked him if he was familiar with the term bête, which he said he was not. Given the wicked French lady’s wicked French nature, I felt that this was the right word to teach, and so Thou and I laughed at how elle est bête (she is stupid). Mind you, Thou has not mentioned to her that he knows some French, because, as he says, she is like a baby. The less he has to speak with her, the better.
Sadly, the wicked French lady has screwed many Cambodians over, and when confronted with how it might actually be proper to pay them the right price, she says that because she is on holiday for so long, she has to budget, and that those people who stay for less time are making it difficult for her. In “budgeting” (think euphemism for “screw over like a heartless…”), her purchases include a $100.00 pair of shoes, which she financed by not paying for her rides, or paying Thou his fee for extending her visa ($5). Why he extended her visa I have no idea. I would have burned her passport, but that would only increase her stay. She has also stayed in nearly every room at the Boddhi Tree, demanding that she be moved every day because of some problem: rats (i.e. her imagination), mildue (it’s freaking Cambodia), size (too small, to large and thus too expensive). All I have to say is that she is a miserable old woman, and that I hope she never sits upstairs.
Moving on, I will now turn to my stinging shin. Some of you may have guessed that it had something to do with the wicked French lady (Laura’s her name, but as I find Laura to be a pretty name, I decided not to use it, less it be ruined for me). Well, no, my shin has nothing to do with the wicked French lady. Rather, it is the result of children playing in the street. Back in the United States, in the quite streets of our sprawling suburbs, we scold our children for running and playing wildly on the asphalt. Here, in the chaos driven streets of Phnom Penh, this value system does not seem to exist in many cases, or the streets are simply too loud for the kids to hear their parents cautioning them (again, not a lot of yelling here, except for “you need moto bike?!,” which I’ve now analyzed more fully and decided is both imperative and interrogative…again, apologies to non-grammarians). Anyway, as I walked to the internet café, there were two children playing in the street, near what is technically the sidewalk, but functions as a parking lot and place for vendors to sell stuff. In other words, one is forced to walk in the street, and while this may not seem safe, I actually feel pretty safe doing it, more so than in the US. That being said, these two kids were playing badmitten (sp?), though without a net. As I approached them, I noticed a certain glow appear to emanate from me. This certain glow, oddly, differed from my normal, natural glow, and I quickly realized that it was coming from the headlight of a moto fast-approaching from behind. I knew the moto would not hit me, that he’d go around, but I was walking straight into this one little girl’s swing at the birdie with her racquet. I had a choice, make a sudden move and hope the moto driver was still able to go around me, or brace myself for this innocent little girl’s feeble little swing. No contest, I would take a slight nick to my leg, and then laugh with the child, who would be amused and excited about being able to run home and tell mom that she clobbered an American with her racquet. I think I erred in judgment, for that girl swung with such gusto that I nearly fell over and banged my head on an old man’s grill, on which cooked some delicious-smelling grilled bananas. I hopped around on my good leg, while the little girl laughed just as I suspected. Finally, after regaining my composure, I comforted myself with some of those grilled bananas and continued on to the internet café, where I emailed Asawari briefly about my first day.
While the shin incident was a painful experience, the night before was quite pleasant. Sovath and I drove up to Olympic Stadium, where we talked about stadiums in the United States, and about life in general. He asked about the difficulty in finding American girlfriends. Mind you, Sovath understands a great many things, but in terms of my wisdom on such matters he is still lacking a bit in the understanding department. When I tried to explain this lack of wisdom on my part, he did not believe me (and thus I am tempted to take him home with me so he can explain his disbelief to various females). Anyway, as we walked, he came up with the weirdest analogy (simile). He said that I walked like Santa Claus. Impressed though I was with his familiarity with western religious/mythical/capitalistic icons, I was a bit concerned with how a 5’9”, 158-pound guy in his 20s could walk like everyone’s favorite blubbery old soul. I thought that perhaps it was the damage from the girl’s racquet the night before, but as I was not limping I did not want to fib. Rather, we walked over to some bleachers, and sat down. He never said anything, and so I will take that to mean that I do not sit like Santa Claus.
Moving back to my first day at work, I will take this time to comment on my attire. I wore a very sexy pair of grayish-green slacks, a light blue polo shirt, brown belt, and flip-flops. In other words, I looked like a waiter at a posche Hawaiian golf resort, expert at carrying Mai-tais across sandy white beaches to slowly-reddening people dividing their time between the sea and their blackberries. I immediately apologized for my shoes, and explained that my shoe tailor would not have mine ready until the 31st. Paul did not seem to care, probably because from the ankles up I was business casual, or because several other people were wearing sandals, though I was the only one who wore a matching belt.
Upon returning from work to my house, I was met by my friend Ratha, who immediately said, “mmmm, you look good.” Normally, I associate “mmmm” and “good” with a Campbell’s tomato soup commercial, but given the new association with me this evening I was a bit confused as to what my response was supposed to be. “Thank you” seemed appropriate, so I started there. Ratha was truly impressed, apparently, and it immediately became clear that this was not going to be a casual compliment, but a full-fledged conversation. I braced myself. Ratha then said, “I do not speak good English, but, mmmm, good!” He was shaking his head back and forth the whole time, to add emphasis to what he was saying. I commented that my clothes came from the market, but he replied, “yes, but…” and then began showing me how impressed he was that I tucked my shirt in. He touched the fabric, pants and shirt, and just smiled, “mmmm, good!” I said ‘thank you’ again, went upstairs and changed.
In other news, it seems that my friend Khmao has taken what I have taught him about non-violence to heart, as there are now several rats living comfortably (i.e. fattening up) at that wonderful place called the Boddhi Tree. Mind you, there were no rats in any of Laura’s rooms, since there is no place to hide, and so I maintain that she was making this up. Nonetheless, I had another chat with Khmao today and told him that, while nonviolence is important, so is eating three squares a day. Life here continues to be good, and in addition to my lesson with Non about how “sweeping is futile,” Thou and I now have “elle est bête.” I walk like Santa Claus, and look “mmmm, good!” The pork here is outstanding.
Much love to you all,
p.s. The wicked French lady returns to Cambodia in April. I think I’ll buy her a beer, in a regular mug, and have a little chat about how not to be a wicked French lady.