Sunday, October 19, 2008

Phnom Penh Prisoner (happy ending)

Friday afternoon, I headed out to Phnom Penh hoping for a night out and some general fun on the town. It was my Pepy buddies' last weekend in Phnom Penh before heading out to their new office in Siem Reap, plus Friday night was the re-opening of the Pontoon, a floating club on the Mekong which sank back in July after a night of too much party.

I made it into town around 6 and headed for Lauren's house. All the occupants were out for the weekend, but they left the keys with their sweetheart landlady Eng. After a twenty minute conversation about the pros and cons of living in the US (Eng lived in Milpitas for over a dozen years), she let me in whereupon I proceeded straightaway to turn on a fan, plop down on the couch and sigh.

I got in touch with Achaya, Allison and Matt to get the rough plan for the night. Since no one was sure about food, I decided to splurge and order pizza delivery. When I come out to Phnom Penh, I tend to indulge in all the pleasures that I just can't get back in the KC, so I only felt a little guilty about vegging out for the next couple of hours with some good reading material and a perfect veggie feta thin-crust pizza.

Eventually around 10, Allison called and told me they were heading over to a bar nearby, so I hopped to, brushed off the crumbs, and started to get ready. 10 minutes later I bounded down the stairs, only to realize that Eng had locked me in. There were two extra heavy duty padlocks on the inside of the house gate. Given my lack of Parkour skills, I was trapped.

Twas a pity, but I was sleepy anyhow, so I curled back into my book, read for awhile, and then headed off for sleep.

The next day, I woke up bright and early, made a quick plan and then headed out to breakfast. First stop was Java cafe where I had a bagel (yum!) and housemade yogurt (double-yum!) and a big mug of coffee. Oh how the little things make such a difference to me here! -- sitting on a cafe balcony on a Saturday morning, surrounded by plants, eating a BAGEL and drinking real coffee. What a delight.

I prolonged the luxury of the experience with a Will Shortz puzzle and amused myself by eavesdropping on the 20-something graphic designer beside me who was giving a friend advice on how to procure Kanye tickets.

Afterwards, I walked out along the river towards Bohr's used book store where I wasted 30 minutes carefully browsing all the titles on their 2 shelves, and finally choosing two (photocopies, of course). As I left the bookshop, the light suddenly changed and the ever-present clouds took on a slightly ominous cast.

I decided it would pass and continued on my planned route to the huge Himawari Hotel where I got myself a day pass and headed out to the glorious pool. In fact the pool wasn't that glorious when I arrived. It was grey and drizzly and I was the only person around. The attendants in their jaunty maroon uniforms came out to rearrange the lounge chair cushions so they'd remain dry. They gave me incredulous looks so that I was afraid they were about to drag me out as a precaution against ... what exactly? not getting wet? But I was left unharrassed, and true to my prediction, the sun came back within 10 minutes and within 20 minutes of that, there were 20 people in and around the pool.

I sat out and read my book and whenever lines of sweat started dripping down my forehead into my eyes, I'd jump back in the pool and swim a few laps in between Korean speedo-boy and aqua-robics hippie lady.

After 3 hours or so, the folks beside me ordered lunch and the smell of french fries reminded me that I had other things to do that day.

I arranged myself and headed off to the Russian market where I bargained and sweated my way into various souveniers for friends and family back home. Since I'm heading back in December, I figured I would rather break up the present-buying affair into a few manageable episodes rather than one, stressful hagglefest. Then, pleased with my fortitude and laden with packages, I grabbed a motoman to take me to pick up my stuff at Lauren's, and then on to post-market relaxation.

True to the indulgence theme, my next stop was my favorite spa in town, Aziadee. For $8, I got 60 minutes of pure bliss from a super-strong Khmer lady who rubbed and pulled and kneaded until I was a happy jelly mess on the mat on the floor.

Once that was done, I was ready to go. I made a quick stop off at Lucky Supermarket for cat litter and one of their awesome custard tarts, and then hopped on the bus home.

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