Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Photo from Buddhist Hell by Miss Stephanie Mee, who is now, alas, in Bali with Juanita The Former Lifestyle Editor

Miss Wanderlust and i are going to Buddhist Hell. This is the place where our souls will be kept in constant torment for misdeeds in our former lifetimes.

All i can say, in our defence, is that we were awfully hot and dusty after that dirt bike ride, and the impromptu shower with the large washing bowl was entirely in order. What was perhaps entirely out of order were our antics with that golden reclining Buddha statue. But he looked so peaceful and happy, almost as if he were begging to be clambered upon.

And although i still believe the photograph has immense artistic merit, it will not be posted here.

I wrapped myself in a Buddhist robe to dry. It was hanging outside one of the monk's cave apartments - although there were no monks to be seen on this part of the mountain. Thank god for small mercies. However I now have it on good authority that we will come back as slugs to be trodden on accidentally by Buddhist monks.

On arrival at the foot of the mountain, before the climb and our well-earned shower, we lay about in a pagoda and chatted with the monks, the nuns, and some random villagers. Well, Miss W did. I just lay almost comatose on a straw mat on the cool tiled floor, resting my poor monkey arse after hours on a combination of dirt bike and Valium, while she chatted away like a native. The nuns then sang her a lovely, lilting Khmer song, and asked her to do the same. Which she did. And did it very well. My oh my, this Miss Wanderlust is a girl of many hidden talents. Although while we were showering, some were perhaps not so well hidden as others. But i digress.

Miss W then translated the villagers' request for me to sing them a number. I sat up and looked about, confused. Are these people insane? Do I look like a Cambodian jukebox? I'm recuperating here, for Buddha's sake. Can't you see i'm having a relapse? But they would not take no for an answer. Not having any Khmer love tunes at the forefront of my repertoire, i figured Mexican was about as close to Cambodian as i was likely to get. At least they are both north of the Equator. So i launched into Warren Zevon's Carmelita:

I hear the Mariachi static on my radio
and the tubes they glow in the dark
and i'm there with her in Ensenada
and i'm here in Echo Park

Oh Carmelita, hold me tighter,
i think i'm sinking down

and i'm all strung out on heroin
on the outskirts of town.

Which seemed as appropriate a song as any. Well, it was either that or the Ramones' I Wanna Be Sedated - but i didn't have my ukelele. The nuns seemed to like it, especially the part where i pawn my Smith Corona and go to meet my man, who hangs out down on Alvarado Street, at the Pioneer Chicken stand.

We climbed the mountain, and met some more nuns on the other side. Miss W somehow convinced them to make us soup.

And we ate it like the ravenous, lost, wandering souls that we are.

Miss u, Miss W.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Thank you, Miss Helen Randy, for your succinct observation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


For some reason, i was thinking we were just going for a quick burn around the village. On the borrowed 250. Maybe say hello to some of Miss Wanderust's Kampuchean friends, then back to the hut to crash out for the rest of the day. But perhaps that was just the Valium talking. And the fact that we'd been up all night. But once we hit the Battambang railway line - after coffee on low stools at a wooden roadhouse shack, hours of meandering dirt roads, rice paddies, coconut palms, and one road that simply ran straight into a lake - i realised i was not going to get any sleep. No. Not today.

Today we are riding out in search of enlightenment, seeking to find our way to a mythical, remote Buddhist mountain to visit monks who live in caves. To meditate, to sit atop boulders and soak up the time-space continuum, like a strawberry daquiri through a giant cosmic straw. If all goes according to plan, that is. Which it doubtless won't. But still, it's good to have a plan.

Miss W stops to ask directions from a couple of locals busily engaged in loading a nori train with sticks. A nori is one of those bamboo rail carts that motor up and down this almost disused railway line. Don't ask me why they are loading it with sticks. I've long since abandoned all hope of understanding how people eke out a living in this country; the whys and wherefores of their quotidian grind generally elude me. These two i suspect of being into speculation. Investors; they've picked up these sticks cheaply while the market is in freefall, only to sit on them and bide their time, waiting for the inevitable recovery of the global stick market.

The couple are friendly, but of course i don't understand a word they are saying. I've been living in the Penh too long, where you can get away with "turn left, turn right" and "watch out!" (an indispensable phrase when riding on the back of a moto) "how much is that?" and "too expensive!" And, of course, mi cha mowan, which is Khmer for chicken and fried noodles. Mmm. Chicken.

But i digress.

When you live in a village, however, it's another story. Wanderlust, over the past year working as a district schoolteacher, has pretty much mastered the tongue. The girl comes back with more vague secondhand directions, points in the direction of some distant mountains, climbs on the back of the bike, and we continue on our confused way. I drop the clutch, throttle on hard, and power away, clicking up through the gears. We're flying again, heading on through the sunshine and light on this benzodiazepam-fuelled dirt path to enlightenment.

It's insanely sunny, this wide open road. Are we literally heading for enlightenment, i wonder? Or just sunburn? Is this the one true path? We are, according to the girl, headed for a Buddhist pagoda, a huge phnom capped by an immense boulder, in the dead centre of nowhere, where monks live in caves, nuns make soup, and all is peace and light. Me? I'm not insensitive - i just don't care. I do love a motorcycle trip, even more so with a girl on the back. I'll just try to avoid running us off this wooden bridge and into that rice paddy, that's the way. Watch those potholes. Ooh, that's a big truck. I'm having fun. Enlightenment? It can wait.

The bike coughs and splutters, and i switch to reserve. There will be a village ahead somewhere with fuel in those one-litre glass cool drink bottles. 3800 riel, or about 90 cents. And maybe we can get some water. I'm parched. We come to a large stone archway over the road, and a T-junction. Turn right! Wanderlust shouts, flailing a vague, checkered-sleeve arm. A few kilometres down the track we come to a small village - in fact nothing much other than a wooden, tin-roofed shack - and pull up in a cloud of dust. Chickens scamper as curious kids appear from nowhere, munching cobs of corn. An old lady smiles us a toothless smile and says something in Khmer. She is clearly happy to see us.

We drink a couple of gallons of water, and stash a litre in Wanderlust's backpack. I down a tin of Red Bull, surprised i haven't yet dozed off at the handlebars. However, i'm not too happy about the sunburn. I've had my bare arms stretched ahead of me in a horizontal position, like some kind of speeding somnambulist, for the past two or three hours under this harsh tropical sun. They have turned a worrying shade of red. And without a helmet, i can feel my face taking on the unappealing incarnadine tinge of a boozed up Brit backpacker on Bondi Beach.

Wanderlust, at least, has a long-sleeved shirt, a pink krama and Jackie O sunglasses to protect her skin; her skin, delicate, young, smooth, soft, supple, elastic...

But i digress.

We fuel up the beast, and she does a bit of bartering with the villagers, managing to procure a long-sleeved shirt, hat, and a scarf for her scorched driver. Laughing, they throw in a rather delightful pink hat to match her krama and shoes. Thus outfitted with fresh supplies and bedecked in the style of your typical Cambodian weekend explorer, we mount the trusty steel steed and sally forth.

The road winds upwards, and slowly increases its rate of climb. There are no more villages, but we see the occasional oxcart and moto. The foliage is beginning to thicken. We pass under another large archway across the road. Beside it, caught in perpetual mid-stride, stands an impressively gigantic concrete elephant, an escapee from some long-forgotten concrete jungle. Two children sit underneath in its mammoth shade. The road continues upward.

Can this really be the path to the Buddhist mountain and enlightenment? Or is the truth far more harsh and tangible?

…/ to be continued

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I’m exhausted, I say to Juanita the Lifestyle Editor. Too much sex. Too many drugs. I think I need a hobby.

Juanita glances at me over the partition between our computers.

Well, she says. How about rock and roll?

Two rounds of tequila shooters at a quarter to five in the morning in a rowdy strip club is a sure sign that I might just be up all night. The taxi to Kampong Chhnang is booked for 5am, and Miss Wanderlust and I are supposed to be in it. I’ve promised her she will be back at her village in time to take her English class at 7. But after a couple of tequilas, my American friend is back on the bar, pole dancing with the girls. She’s leaving next week. She’s going home. She doesn’t want to go.

I sit at a booth with Finch and Syd, who are drinking, and laughing at my attempts to procure a glass of water from the bar girls. No, I’m not buying you a drink, i say. No, I’m not interested in your services. No, i don't want a beer. I’m here to look after my friend. I’d like a glass of water please.

I’m parched. It’s been a long night, and what we haven’t smoked simply isn’t worth smoking.

The taxi will be outside my apartment in five minutes, I shout to Wanderlust on the bar. She nods, continuing to dance, doing the bump with one of the bar girls. Let’s go, I yell.

No, she shouts back over the appalling dance music. I’m staying here. She keeps dancing.


If there’s one word that describes Wanderlust, it is wilful. I met her at Equinox, where she was drinking water, and she appeared completely sane. But it has been one long wilful escapade since she turned up poolside at Blue Lime thirteen hours ago, without a swimsuit, but with some nice off the hook sake. After languid swim, a few swigs from the ceramic Japanese bottle, many many a cocktail, a bite of street food, some 50% rum from the Martinique Islands with coconut and chocolate at Dodo Rhum, followed by a party at Katarina’s apartment, a beer or two at Meta House, where we met the creator of Eastenders, then more cocktails at Fly, then more partying at Katarina's, then more cocktails and machetes at CafĂ© Ya,

followed by more partying at Katarina's, we found ourselves at Candy Bar. But from what I understand, it is crucial that my young friend makes it back to her village to see her students before she gets her flight home in a couple of days. She gyrates her hips with one of the girls. I don’t think she is prioritizing at the moment.

I again attempt to coax Wanderlust down off the bar. Finch and Syd, again, laugh. You’ve got no chance mate, says Syd. My phone rings. It’s Veary. Mr Mark, your taxi is here. He waiting. Where you?

We’ll be there in five, I shout into the cell phone. I return to the pole and take Wanderlust by the arm, and she leans down as i shout into her ear. I’m leaving. See you later.

I head for the door. Mark, wait, she says, climbing down from the bar top. Let’s go. Come see my village.

We ask the taxi driver to stop awhile riverside, as we lie on the low granite wall and wait for the sun to rise over the Tonle Sap. Long wooden boats motor by slowly in the still orange light. The American standard hangs limply overhead, just one of a string of flags that line Sisowath Quay. The sun is taking too long, we decide. Wanderlust flicks her cigarette. We leave in the taxi, eating rambutan, drinking beer. I pop a Valium. I figure I can get a quick nap in the car, and another while Wanderlust takes her class.

You’re my cousin, she tells me on our way up Highway 5. From America. I’ll have to explain you to my adopted Khmer family, she says. An American cousin? Oh god, this is just wholly inappropriate on a whole range of levels. I take another swig of beer. We talk, we eat. We don't sleep.

The taxi arrives gets us in just before seven. I am introduced briefly to the Cambodian family, as Mark, her American cousin, then led up the wooden stairs to Miss Wanderlust’s room. Wide wooden floorboards. Clothes, backpacks, posters, running shoes, food, bottles. A guitar. Make yourself at home, she says. I’ll be back. She changes and leaves in a brief whirlwind. I take another little yellow pill. I imagine it will be a fairly sedate day, pottering about the village. I fall asleep on the bed.

She shakes me awake. Let’s go, she says.

It seems like I’ve only been asleep ten minutes. How long have I been asleep? I ask. Ten minutes, she says.

I sit up and look around. My mind has a fuzzbox connected somewhere between my eyelids and my brain stem. A phaser is inline with my ears.

My class didn’t turn up, she says. But that’s Cambodia. No means yes, and yes means no. She bounces on the bed. Let’s go.

Uh - where are we going?

Well, she says. Can you ride a dirt bike?

…/ to be continued

Friday, July 10, 2009


With thanks to Barb Coddington

Fried bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. I have never made this, and the propane can on my single burner stove is empty and i don't have the necessary 30 cents to have it refilled. But if i did, i would, if i could.

Not take long.

Serves 1
2 slices of bread
1 piece of bacon, rindless if you prefer
Peanut butter, or peanut paste, depending on your hemisphere

A Puligny-Montrachet white should do.

Fry bacon. Butter both sides of the bread with peanut paste. Put bacon in the middle.