When I was planning my blog before I left the UK last year, it was this song that gave me the idea to pick a soundtrack to accompany each journal entry. So, over nine months later, here it is. And what a cracker it is too.
Having emerged exhausted from Vietnam twelve days earlier I still wasn't feeling any more relaxed, despite having done very little during my time in Phnom Penh. So, I decided to take a beach holiday and put myself on the bus to Sihanoukville. The ride was four hours including a fairly pointless stop for food halfway - can people really not survive on a bus for three and a half hours without stopping at a road-side restaurant? Or, is there some kind of financial tie-in whereby the bus company gets paid a commission for dropping off a few dozen potential customers?
Arriving in the town, you are immediately assaulted by the usual collection of tuk-tuk and motorbike riders. I ignored them all, including the guy who rode down the road alongside me insisting that he wasn't going to go away until I answered his "Where you want to go?" question. I wasn't quite so clever today though as it turned out that the bus station had moved since the guidebook was printed. I was halfway down some quiet, rural dead-end track a kilometre away until a local with a map explained my obvious mistake and sent me back.
Sihanoukville is very spread out into different sections separated by fields so, rather than immediately make the long walk to the beach, the plan was to stay in the city centre for at least the first night. With this in mind, I sought out a Swedish place. The Khmer girl working there must have learnt her English from another Londoner or at least a Brit because, when I said I was happy with the room, she declared "Lovely jubbly!". Having checked in, I was able to borrow a DVD player and a couple of their DVDs to take to my room so I could watch The Killing Fields (well made, acting poor) and The Queen (excellent, Helen Mirren deserved her awards but Michael Sheen's Tony Blair stole the show for me). In between times, I had some dinner downstairs whilst listening to the slightly-drunken owner tell a couple of his bewildered staff that he was going to take a stand on their road safety and dock their pay every time he caught them riding a motorbike without a helmet. This may seem like an obvious precaution to you and I, but in Cambodian society he sounds like a madman.
Checking out in the morning, I walked my bag down to Serendipity Beach. It was pretty hot going, but not unbearable. I checked into a place called Jardin Aux Hibiscus which had a prime location near the beach but whenever I mentioned it to locals and resident ex-pats who asked where I was staying, no one seemed to have heard of it. I think it must have been in the middle of the Bermuda triangle or something.
With this achieved, precious little of narrative value happened for the next eleven days. Most days, my routine would run something like this...
- - Roll out of bed and be showered ready to head outside by midday
- - Walk to the local independent cinema to see what films were being shown that night. It was run by a western guy where he had a big cinema-sized screen in a room with lots of cushioned wicker chairs and sofas etc. He also had a back room with a 55"" TV available for private hire, but that was too pricey for me being just one person. I did go and see a few of the scheduled films though: Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, The Wrestler and The Big Lebowski. The last time I walked in there, he exclaimed "The movie master is here!", explaining that "You always come to see the good films". Nice for my ego, but he probably said that to all his customers.
- - Wander down to the beach and find a bar to sit or lie down outside for the afternoon, eating and dozing
- - Go back to my room for another shower before dinner and probably hanging around the bar outside Thida's guesthouse. It wasn't an obvious choice but the atmosphere with some of the other customers was good, she ensured the football was on the telly when required and, if bloody Jacqueline from Birmingham wasn't working behind the bar, we were allowed to play our own music from our iPods.
Also at Thida's bar I met Eric, an American guy from California. He was nearing the end of a four-month trip that had begun in Indonesia and we spent many an hour playing pool by the beach or discussing the world, philosophy and his firmly nihilistic outlook on life.
Many months previous, I got the idea that it might be good to get an artist in some place I visited to paint a picture as a wedding present for Neil and Laura. I thought that it could incorporate their oak-leaf marriage emblem and possibly some other stuff with some local cultural stylings. The opportunity had never really arisen so far but here I found the Cambodian Children's Painting Project. A charitable organisation run by a guy call Felix. They looked after the local children, fed them, gave them medical care, paid for their schooling, taught them how to paint and then sold their pictures with the proceeds being split between their families and the CCPP itself.
I enquired about the possibility to commissioning a piece (I like the idea that I have commissioned a piece of art) especially for N&L. They were very happy with the idea so all systems were go. I showed them a photo of Laura's rainbow wedding dress, zoomed in to the oak leaves to explained that they were the most important bit, suggested that rainbows might be good but otherwise said that it was up to them to decide what was artistically interesting. After I went, a Canadian lady working there called Sandy made a conceptual design which four of the kids then painted on a large canvas. This was early afternoon and, to my surprise, it was pretty much completed when I came back in the middle of the following morning.
After I left, I was in a shop a couple of doors down the road when a child I had photographed at the CCPP came up and gave me a hug while I looked for something to buy. My first reaction was to check that he wasn't sneakily making a grab for my wallet. Isn't it terrible that I would think like that, eh? Sometimes, maybe it is better to be cheated a bit if it means that you can retain a trusting personality.
For all my time lazing around, I wasn't feeling any more relaxed. Leanne, who ran the excellent New Sea View Villa restaurant with her husband, had recommended a good massage place to me which I visited and thoroughly enjoyed. She also recommended Lazy Beach, a private resort on an island with ten bungalows for hire and a bar/restaurant. She assured me that if I couldn't relax there then I wouldn't relax anywhere, so I decided to follow her advice.
Each bungalow had two double beds and an en-suite bathroom. I booked one at the booking office near my guesthouse for three nights, thinking that this would give me two fully-contained days to spend there. The bungalows were $25 per night, which wasn't a bad price but I was only one person so it was a bit steep for me. I then asked Eric if he would be interested in coming along. He umm-ed and err-ed for three days until the night before when I told him that he was going whether he liked it or not. Even on the morning of departure he asked me if I would be pissed off if he changed his mind. But, he didn't. Or, more likely, he changed it twice. So, off we went.