Delightful Cambodian Girlfriend – More Episodes
— DOCTOR NORAH —
On the riverside for sunset, I feel so sick, I can't make it home by walking or motorcycle taxi. For once I will sit down in a bicycle rikshaw. I figure the price will be 2000 riels [50 US cents].
So I say to the next rikshaw driver: "You take me home for 1000 riels [25 US cents]!" – He answers firmly: "Not possible, sir! Khmer people pay 1500 riels, you barrang [westerner], so you pay 2000 riels."
I feel even sicker as his logic, so I agree dutifully and take the ride. But I make him stop and wait for me as I buy water at a grocery store.
At home, I tear off all dress, crash on the bed and listen to the sweet soothing hum of Panasonic air-conditioning.
Norah watches me worriedly: "Hans, you are sick!"
"Yes, you ARE sick! I go out to buy medicine."
"NO NEED!!", I scream loudlessly into the linen.
Gone she is.
I wake up from feverish dreams when she puts ice-cold towels on me.
"NORAHH!! Crazy! Too cold."
"No – good for you!"
"Why are the towels so cold? This is colder than our tap water. Did you mix it with ice water from the fridge?"
Her shopping bag of medicine includes:
– 1 pack of Paracetamol
– 5 coconuts
She forces me to down three coconuts of juice and two Paracetamols, which she calls "Pará". While I labor on this difficult task, she changes the ice cold towels several times. I scream when the chilly wet rags land on me. Funny, she continues to call towels "kroma"; a kroma is the Khmers' trademark chequered cloth, Khmers wrap their heads or babies into kromas.
I drift off into lala land. Next morning I feel a hand on my forehead.
"Still a little bit hot, my dear."
Two coconuts – now cold from the fridge – and two Paracetamols await me for an early breakfast in bed.
After that, my illness is basically gone and doesn't come back – just as my once healthy appetite for coconut juice.
— SHOOTING —
2 a.m., I am sound asleep. Norah wakes me up. "Did you hear the shooting, Hans? Ten times! Not far!" – "No, Norah, I was sound asleep, but thanks for waking me up." – "NOT far!!"
Once awake, I trek to the bathroom. She follows me, staying in the door. "I don't know…"
She goes to the living room, turns on the light, opens the balcony door and walks out. The alarm of an ambulance can be heard. She says: "It's near the string of Khmer open-air restaurants up the road. 100 meters from here. I see the ambulance light."
I stand inside the room: "Do you think, after a shooting it's a good idea to turn on light and stand on the balcony?"
"OH NO!!" She rushes inside, closes the doors and switches off light.
In bed, she says: "Maybe they got drunk and started shooting."
"I don't believe Khmers need to get drunk to start shooting. Just watch their driving style."
"Okay, tomorrow we read the newspapers." Another ambulance is heard, before we fall asleep again.
Next morning Norah comes back from market: "They say, bad people stole money somewhere and ran away from police. In our road, police gunned them down."
— INSIDE THE BOOM BOOM ROOM
On a moto we bounce through NGO land, a relatively pleasant part of Phnom Penh full of highly fenced villas housing not only many NGOs, but also GOs like the EU development agency.
"You see this", I ask Norah and point to a shop sign?
"'Boom Boom Room'", she reads – "HANS, WHAT IS THIS?!?"
"Norah, you don't know boom boom?"
"Ehm, hm, chaaah, but this is WHAT – a room for boom boom?"
I stop the moto in front of Boom Boom Room. "We go inside", I ask?
"HANS – what is THIS??"
I tell her that this is a shop for pirated audio CDs plus clothing. I explain to her that the manager seems to like hip hop and drum'n'bass and this music only consists of "boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom". This lesson earns me a slap.
For once it's a shop that keeps both of us busy. I study their catalog full of audio CDs and write the albums I need onto the order form; meanwhile, Norah browses the interesting, simple but refined skirts they have, and buys two. "The zipper is not stitched-in very well", she says, "but any tailor can fix this". It's 13 dollars per skirt – not a bargain by Phnom Penh standards, but the skirts look fresh and representable.
One day later I return to Boom Boom Room and get a CD that contains all my requested albums in MP3 format; it's 75 cents per album. At the same time, Norah returns to her tailor who cleaned up the zipper-stitching; it's 75 cents per skirt.
Norah has well and truly got your heart.