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Delightful Cambodian Girlfriend (2/7) – First Night, Next Morning



The taxi from the airport drops Norah and me at the hotel. First nights are the delight of my Asian tourist life, but Reunion Games have to wait for a while: In the hotel lobby, two shy school kids beam at us with relief – her niece and her nephew! They will join us for the evening.

I know we will spend some time with relatives and friends first, after that she is free to go out with me alone. That’s their logic. I know she had to fight to go the airport on her own, without a bunch of relatives; she doesn't say so, but I know it. Her niece and nephew are sweet anyway, like any Khmer kids from a decent family; just shy, and I never can remember their difficult names.

— Hotel Room —

The four of us head to the double-room. – "Sorry", asks the receptionist? – "Yes?" – "For the kids, you need extra beds then?" – No, thanks! The youngsters are just here for some after-school entertainment; the night fun will be adults only.

In the room, we quickly find out that everybody is hungry. They insist on bringing pizza to the hote lroom. Funny, they are shy to make me eat Khmer food, and they don't want to go out – just a pizza on the clean parquet floor they want. My ever-anticipatory Norah has already parked her Honda at the hotel; so she is in her shoes and off to "Nike's Pizza".

— Bathroom

Now the kids get even shier, all alone with the big white man in an intimidating hotel room. I have a few small presents for them, marker-pens and a connect-4-game. But these presents I will give to Norah later, she can hand them to the kids; that's more relaxed for everybody. So I open the suitcase, put a few trousers into the wardrobe and go for a shower.

After splashing, Norah is not yet back. The kids play with the TV's remote control, still a bit shy with me alone. – "Everything ok", I ask? – "OK!" – I offer them water, coke and snacks from the minibar, but they decline.

While I move more stuff into the wardrobe, I hear the girl starting to moan a sermon with a high pitched voice. Sounds like a painful complaint. She's about eight. – Boy answers something, I think he's ten. – Moan-moan-moan goes the girl with that high voice. – Boy tries to calm her. – Moan-moan-moan! – I try to simply ignore them. Then they both get up, boy and girl, and make a beeline: towards the toilet they shuffle, past me, boy first, girl follows up closely, and into the loo they disappear. Girl needed a pee, but had been shy to go past me and into the cabinet alone; so for her relief she is guarded by her older brother.

Only now I notice a vase of roses on the sideboard. That's from Norah! She has placed the flowers there before I came. My Khmer Lady!

Norah is back with two pizza boxes and a big bottle of cooled drinking water. – "But you know we have water in the fridge", I tell her. – "Hotel water too expensive", she says resolutely. – "Wow, Norah, you brought roses for us", I go, "thanks, that's wonderful!" – "Ah, no, not important…", murmurs Norah, now shy like the kids.

After a quick pizza on the floor we first make it to the riverside to say hello to Phnom Penh's finest view with the Royal Palace lighted up in front of a setting sun. Then it's another short dash on two motorcycles over to the poor fun fair, where the kids happily ride a few carousels for a few cents. Buddha has an eye on us, as neither carousels nor our chairs break down while we use them.

8.30 p.m. already! Norah calls a tuktuk driver of her trust to ferry niece and nephew back to family. There we stand on the road: Norah and Pothole, suddenly alone together for the first time.

She smiles at me in anticipation. I smile at her in anticipation. Reader: Our hotel room will now be put to good use.

— Handphone —

First morning in Phnom Penh. With a busy local girl in town, you need two handphones and two motorcycles, everything else is stressy. We go to buy my Khmer SIM card first.

I sit on the back of her Honda, as we zoom along Sihanouk Road to one of the many handphone shops with the big "Mobitel" sign. It isn't easy like in Thailand to buy a prepaid SIM card: To get a Khmer SIM card for me, she has to show her passport and fill out a huge form. She advises me not to lose the SIM card, and not to take it out of Cambodia – "maybe problems".

The SIM card alone is 12 USD, with no credit so far. And that's for a dull nondescreipt number. She has searched through long rows of numbers to find any combinations that might be easy to remember, "lucky" or auspicious. To no avail, at least in the cheapest price category: If you want a somewhat prominent number, you pay much more. (Her very handsome number had been really expensive.) We also buy 20 USD credit for me. And while she hops into Lucky Market next door, I manage to buy another 20 USD credit. I will secretly feed it into her handphone later.

— Moto —

With a local girl in Phnom Penh, you need two "motos", as motorcycles are called here. You can rent your two-wheeler from places like "Lucky! Lucky!" or "New! New!". But the machines aren't all that new, and they want to keep your passport or 500 USD deposit.

Norah says she convinced her neighbor to lend me his machine for 3 USD a day – that's cheaper than any shop does it. – "Is it a good moto", I ask? – "Yes, good!" And her neighbor doesn't want any deposit.

Her neighbor's moto resides in a dodgy backyard, but the pitch-black old-fashioned machine itself is even dodgier. At first glimpse, I couldn't even tell the manufacturer. I notice the moto has no basket and no mirrors, and I don't see footrests for the backpassenger. "I do a test trip around the block, ok?" – "Ok!"

After ten meters I realize the lights don't work, the fuel gauge doesn't work, the speedometer doesn't work. The engine seems ok, though; the thing zooms steadily and not to noisily down Monivong Boulevard; I step into the brakes, and they do a good job, too.

Anyway, it's a wreck, I say to Norah when I chuggle back into her courtyard. "You know what I found out: No basket, no mirrors, no footrest. And then: speedo, fuel gauge and light don't work." Her Mr. Neighbor stands two meters off, respectfully awaiting the result of our impromptu conference. Norah gives me a mild grin: "Pothole! You think I didn't check moto before? I know everything already! This moto looks old – good for us, nobody will kill us to get moto! Footrest and mirrors? No need! The light, I talk to neighbor already: He will fix it!" She gives me another mild grin and forces me to decide pro or contra.

We take the rustic thing. In one month, we never had any trouble with either neighbor or machine. I miss it.

Stickman's thoughts:

I don't know what Pnom Penh is like these days, but the comment about getting an old bike because no-one will want to steal it made me laugh.