This is Professor Pruim blogging from Siem Reap
Sunscreen? Check! Water bottles? Check! Buddy check? … Buuuddy check? … BUDDY CHECK! CHECK! And they’re off!
Today was the biking tour of the city from the hotel down and through the main street of Siem Reap, up to the gate of the Angkor complex, back to the city center, along the river, and out to the International Church before returning our $2/day bicycles. Despite the tire blow out, the broken chain and the very ornery chain that fell off … 10? times, it was a great day. Let me verbally paint some images from our unique tour of this Cambodian City.
Image: the portable food stand
The sparks are flying in every direction as a dark-skinned man stokes his wood. He will grill pieces of meat and fish over hot, hot coals all day long. By the side of the road in the blazing sun, he will prepare and sell his wares and earn his living.
Image: the canal
It hits you squarely as you ride past: the stench of fresh sewage and rotting fish. On the bank of the canal on top of 6-foot-tall stilts sits a box with rippled metal walls and roof. This is someone’s home.
Image: the city’s main drag
Honking is not a sign of anger; it means: “I AM coming up behind you and I am bigger than you, so deal with it.” The White Crocodile Leather Store. Hand-taliored silk-24 hour. The Apsara Spa and Massage. Caltex gas station – 5000 Riel / liter. Trunks, motos (motor cycles), TukTuks (motorcycles pulling open-air passenger boxes, aka “taxis”), cars and more motos. Honk. Honk. Honk!
Image: Apsara preserve
Quite suddenly the hotels, restaurants and stores disappear. Tall thick trees with gnarled bulbous trunks stand in their place. Beyond the streetside foliage scattered lonely palms provide little shade to the occasional rickety metal homes. If you look up and into the trees, you might see a monkey. In a few of the rickety metal homes, the front is open revealing a gallery of large paintings – oil on canvas – iconic images of a country.
Image: along the Siem Reap River
A placid dog lies in our path. Twenty-nine bikes swerve around him. Dried palm fronds are tied together and woven into a frail wooden frame – the walls of another home. Sitting on a simple porch, three children wave and smile: “Hi!” “Hi!” “Hi!” Another group of children are strolling towards us on the bumpy dirt path. One boy is wearing what looks like a set of little-boy winter pajamas. Another young child is naked. Suddenly a concrete wall borders our left and visible above that expanse of white, you can see the bright tiled roof of a mansion. We whizz by the impressive iron bar gate. Immediately afterwards there stands another home with a roof puzzled together with scrap pieces of rippled metal.
A: “So, if you could trade places for a week with any of the nationals you can see right now, would you?”
B: Absolutely. To experience their life.
C: What if we all had to swap lives every few years, like a big lottery?
A: What if? I wonder how that would make us do things differently – if we knew that at the next lottery we could become a CEO of a big company or … a pauper.