Stickman Readers' Submissions April 10th, 2006

Delightful Cambodia – Dahlaeyng with Darling and Car

By Hans Meier

"Dahlaeyng", lit. "walk play", is what Cambodians like most: leisure activities out of the house. This time in Phnom Penh, I have not only Norah, my Khmer lover, but also a robust Isuzu jeep – so good chances for delightful dahlaeng
with darling on 4WD. Here are two car trips we do from our Phnom Penh base.

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— En Route on Highway 4 —

We want to spend a day in the higher, cooler reaches of Kirirom National Park. Out of Phnom Penh, I steer our jeep along the airport and onto highway 4. In the town of Kompong Speu I stop the car: Norah hits the market to shop for the obligatory
kilos of fruit, fish, chicken, rice, vegetables, bottled water, soft drinks, sauces, spices, toothpicks, tissues and plastic spoons.

I expect her to be busy for half an hour; so I play with the car radio. First I find only stations with Khmer blah blah or ultra melodramatic Khmer howling music. Finally there is soft western style instrumental music – a calming soundtrack
for the craze on Cambodian highways, so I stay with that station. After a few minutes I hear a short moderation in Vietnamese, then it's back to the old music style. Soon after the Viet DJ reappears and announces more soft western music.

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Norah returns with two hands full of plastic bags. We travel on, and the car fills with all kinds of food smells. This is accompanied by the soft music from my radio station. The now familiar Viet speaker comes back, talks 20 seconds and
has more easy listening music for us. When he returns the next time, Norah abruptly switches the radio to another station. Khmer blah blah.

"So you didn't like the instrumental music before", I ask?

"I liked!"

"So what?"

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"He talked Vietnam – no need!"

"You like to hear the Khmer blah blah now", I ask?


She starts searching the stations on FM: Khmer blah blah – white noise – Khmer howling – white noise – Khmer blah blah – white noise – Khmer howling etc. Then over to AM: Mostly white noise, and a bit of blah blah in assorted languages. Now,
navigating the car along a Cambodian highway full of fanatic suicides, I myself can't look at the radio. So Norah tries FM again: White noise – Khmer howling – white noise – Khmer blah blah – white noise – Khmer howling.

She switches stations for no less than twenty minutes. Khmer howling – white noise – Khmer blah blah – white noise. She doesn't find a program she likes. Our soft agreeable music from Vietnam never reemerges.

— A Trip to the Outskirts —

We want to take a sunset dinner on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Norah knows a nice shady riverside restaurant with hammocks. So around 4.30 p.m., I steer the jeep across the Japanese Bridge and venture north. There is a long string of glittering
entertainment restaurants that serve Khmer food and Khmer live music, but Norah instructs me to go further. Finally we leave the wobbly asphalt road for red-dirt village roads. We drive up and down dusty pistes, but Norah can't find her place.

She calls a relative on her cellphone and learns we have to go six kilometers back on the main road. There we turn into the village area again und see some more dusty backpistes. She calls the relative again and learns we have to ask for
"Wat XY". We ask a chicken farmer who knows we have to go back three kilometers away from Phnom Penh.

Just when we see "Wat XY", now for the third time today, Norah cramps on the front seat and sighs dramatically: "Oh darling, I need bathroom SO MUCH!!" Immediately I steer the Isuzu into the pagoda compound, drive around
the main building and into the hinterlands of the wat full of bushes and obscure small buildings, actually shrines for dead people of rich families.

"Norah – I know this is pagoda land, but can you make water here?"

"Hmmm… can."

She goes out and comes back after 20 seconds, undone. "Darling, this area full of ghosts, cannot make water here!"

"Norah – if I go with you and hold your hand while you make water, you can?"

"Hmmm… can."

She doesn't understand that this was a joke. I ask her back into the jeep and steer back to the pagoda's front gate. While turning the car around I see a monk sitting on the back stairs of the main temple. He had watched us all
the time; he *would* have seen us peeing hand in hand.

Norah wants to search more for her restaurant that according to her must be somewhere near. But I've lost confidence. I am not willing to spend sunset in the car, and I worry for her bladder. On the main road I speed back towards Phnom
Penh up to the first restaurant on the sunset side of the road. It's not at all bad: On stilts five meters over fields and swamps, they have built wooden platforms with floor lounging and hammocks. You can watch the red sun setting behind
sugar palms in the distance and listen to cicadas.

"Norah, you go to bathroom quick", I tell her. "I can order drinks for us, and when you come back we check the menu." Norah wouldn't hear of it: From little hawking kids, she buys sour mango and pineapples, not without
hard negotiating. Then with the waitress she enters into a lengthy discussion about the food on tap. When dinner is sorted out, she checks the hammocks.

"I thought you need bathroom SO MUCH", I ask her?

"Ah, forget already."

We hang out on our platform with great views. We slurp soda lemon, and Norah has sliced a first sweet mango for us. Fish, chicken and several side dishes will appear soon. This is a great relaxing place, I think while lazing on the wooden boards: You
are close to nature, listen to the sounds of the fields, and a delightful cooling breeze plays around you.

Then the karaoke machine from a neighboring restaurant sets in with 250 dB (A). No more talk is possible. It's the usual ultra melodramatic Khmer howling – terrible whether original or karaoke'ed. Our food arrives. At the same time
the karaoke machine in our own restaurant – unnoticed before – jumps from zero into highest gear with another 250 db (A). The sun sets.

We take our sunset dinner with ear-deafening Khmer karaoke howling from two sides.

Stickman's thoughts:

Sometimes Cambodia sounds very similar to Thailand.

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