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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cambodia & Thailand

As an Orthodox Christian, I’m not supposed to believe in destiny, fate, omens, and the like. We’re supposed to believe in Free Will & Co., which is fine by me.
However, as a slightly superstitious, anything-is-possible, there-must-be-some-sort-of-hidden-meaning-to-this sort of person, I have three philosophies:
  1. Everything happens for a reason.
  2. Everything has some sort of hidden meaning and
  3. If you figure out the hidden meaning, everything will turn out well in the end (the end, however, may come later than you think).
And this was beautifully demonstrated this morning at 4 am. But to explain, we must go to the beginning.

We left Cambodia, which is gorgeous, but there isn’t much to say. I will say it here, though, as I have no intention of writing an entire blogpost about it.
We met a group of adults who taught English in the southern part of China, who were traveling for a few weeks around Southeast Asia, and at least three out of five of them had been homeschooled. Later, we saw them again with monkeys climbing all over them. I would have borrowed one, but they weren’t exactly tame, and I had no inclination to go back to the bathroom to wash my hands, then spend the next few days picking monkey fur off of my clothes. One of the women was later bitten by a mother monkey for picking up the baby monkey. After that we left the monkeys alone.
Also, Angkor Wat is possibly the most boring temple in all the Angkor Wat complex, if not the world.
More interesting things that happened in Cambodia was that, one morning I was talking with Gabriel, who asked me if I wanted to go home. I replied, ‘YES’ and gave my reasons. Later that day I was at a restaurant, eating my delicious stir-fry noodles with pork when it literally hit me. I rocked back and forth* as if I’d been hit in the head [and as Tae Kwon Do student who used to spar every Saturday morning as a kid, I would know the feeling very well...] and I realised, why would I go home? What would I do home? Sure, I say I’m going to start composing and become reacquainted with my piano, but I’m always saying things. Sure, I say I’ll take a long, long, long walk outside every day [does wonders for the complexion], but I’m not that sure I will. No sir, I will not be returning home ahead of schedule.
*I tend to get dizzy very easily. Running in circles, tire-swings, standing up too quickly, mad-crazy heat... So I suppose it was coincidence that the heat hit me at the same time as my little ‘eureka!’ moment.
Also, we got a pedicure from some flesh-eating fish [which is actually better than I just made it sound] and met Patrick (also known as ‘Patty’) and Sam, two Britishers traveling around Southeast Asia for six weeks, and had a very nice long conversation with them.
We also later visited a land mine museum.
We left Cambodia by bus, in the wee hours of the morning. We stood waiting with a group of people also going to Bangkok, Thailand, expecting a boring ride in a big van, spent reading, listening to music, perhaps talking with the rest of your family (if you had a family), or, in Ioan’s case, killing battery on various games that I was not aware existed. He has developed a habit of surfing iTunes looking for interesting apps, then somehow convincing Dad to download them. I don’t know how he does it. I wish I did.
Anyway, we were right—we spent the ride in the vans not caring for our neighbours, as there was no reason to, and then, just a few kilometers from the border, we stopped.
Scene I, Act I: A Comedy of Scammers.
A guy came and said we had to buy a red circular sticker from him, and that we had to give him our bus tickets to Bangkok. No-one understood why we had to give our tickets—our only form of proof that we had bought tickets for the bus—to this man, and when asked he didn’t give any satisfactory answers.
Now I, as a child going through her own, non-serious, version of Peter Pan’s Syndrome, did not pay much attention to what was going on between the adults, and followed their lead. When Daddy came handing out red stickers, I put them on. Of course, I asked why, and received the answer that we had to, or else the bus people wouldn’t recognize us. Then another guy, an American from the second van, came up to us and said, ‘No. It’s a scam. They’re taking your tickets so you have to buy a second ticket when you get there. It’s a scam, get your tickets back.’ So we took the stickers off and gave them to Dad, who, along with some of our neighbours, managed, after a long time, to convince the guy to give our tickets back.
Scene II, Act I.
Now, as this was going on, I was as usual, listening to music (but not Guns N’ Roses, shockingly enough—to the songs of the Alternate Genre, a playlist of 100+ songs, from my previous post. I was right, though, I did manage to finish all those songs before the post was finished.), but then along came a little boy, about two years old, maybe more, maybe less. He climbed in our van, walked around, played with the seats, got out, got in again, noticed the van door was open and closed it. We opened it later, and he came back again to close it. We opened it again.
Beside the door was a young Korean woman, with long brown hair and big, square, black-rimmed glasses. When the baby came again to close the door for the third time, she quickly grabbed the door handle from the inside and made sure the door stayed open. The baby pushed and pushed, but he couldn’t close the door. Confused as to why the door would not close this time while it had been in proper working condition before, he came round to see what was wrong. Very quickly, the girl took her hand off the handle and placed it in her lap. Seeing no problem, the baby returned to his work of door-shutting. Immediately she grabbed the door handle and once more there was a brief battle of wills, which she won (barely—she was laughing too hard). The boy came round again, trying to see what was wrong, but again there was nothing to show any sort of problem. So he went back to the door and she grabbed the handle again. This time it lasted longer, but eventually, the baby gave up, assuming the door had simply died.
He kept coming back to the van, though, as Maria, Ioan and I kept playing with him. Finally, I got out of the van and picked him up. I felt so proud—it’s a baby and I was holding him properly!
He looked at me with his big eyes and plump face, with a look that said, ‘You are a human. I shall endure this strange turn of events until you put me down, but I prefer you put me down now.’ I was smiling at him, bounced him once or twice, making the usual cute baby noises, saying nonsense like, ‘Hello, hello! You are so cute, blah blah blah.’
Now, if you smile at a girl baby, the chances she will smile back are much bigger than if you smile at a boy baby, and, knowing this, I didn’t think much of the fact that, even though my smile was as wide as wide could be, he stared at me like that aunt that’s always pinching your cheeks.
So it really came as a shock to me when he lifted up his pudgy little fist and punched me in the face.
Now, if you assume that a baby’s punches have no weight, you would be correct. But it is rather annoying to have a baby punch you twice and then slap you for good measure.
I quickly put him down, rather shocked but still finding the whole situation absurd, and got back in the van. He climbed in after me and then pulled back to punch Ioan, who caught it. Then he went on to Maria, but luckily he was taken out of the van by—his father? Anyway, he left us alone after that.
‘Wow, Ileana,’ said Ioan. ‘You were just punched in the face by a baby. I can’t believe you couldn’t defend a punch from a baby!’
Of course I couldn’t defend a punch from a baby. First off, I am a girl who, upon seeing a cute baby, exclaims to Maria about the overall cuteness of that baby, which is, more often than not, agreed with, and the two of us shall make wistful comments along the lines of ‘I wish I were pregnant/I wish I had a baby.’ (The first is usually mine—being pregnant means I can be fat and eat way more than I should. Also, it means that the rest of the world is automatically my slave.) Secondly, I am rather insecure about the whole holding-a-baby thing, so I would rather have both hands on the baby I am holding. To defend a punch from a baby, I would have to either dodge it (not possible without a giraffe neck), or take one of my hands off the baby and then take appropriate measures.
As you may have already deducted from previous paragraphs, due to my lack of giraffe neck I ended up taking the punches.
Scene I, Act II.
After we finally left the baby and the man who may or may not have been scamming us, we reached the border and looked for our bus. We stood in lines, got to know each other. There was an Australian who was actually from New Zealand, and he had brought his guitar with him. Discovering that I also played guitar, we had a conversation in which he gave me some tips on improving. There was the American, Derrick, who had warned us about the scam, and taught world history back in California. Then, of course, was the Korean girl, and a family from Czech Republic. They had kept their red stickers, so when the people came saying about a bus to Bangkok, us sticker-less people opted to follow them down the rabbit hole. However, like the white rabbit, the man leading us (or, more correctly, the Czechs) to the bus had no consideration for the slower people of the group, an old Israelite woman traveling with her daughter. The daughter would keep shouting, ‘Excuse me, could you please go slower? Excuse me, please slow down!’ and then angrily exclaim to us, ‘I can’t believe it! He has no consideration for the older people of the group! My mother is way back there, she can’t keep up.’ They had been on the bus with Mr. Derrick. We finally reached the ‘bus’, which was actually a van, and watched as the Czechs got it and rode off into the noonday sun.
Scene II, Act II.
Now the comedy really begins. The Israelite woman went up to one of the men working at the bus-center and started talking to him, saying how her money had been stolen and she wanted the police. She started getting louder and louder, and pretty soon was shouting at him. Mr. Derrick, trying to be helpful, came up and explained very nicely that they had been scammed, that they wanted their money back, they wanted the police... The man was listening to Mr. Derrick, not the Israelite, which I found slightly sexist, but had to agree with. I myself know very well that shouting, violence and tantrum-throwing is not a very effective way of getting things done. Putting it into practice, however, is surprisingly difficult.
‘I want the police! Who is the man with the bus? I want to know his name!’ the Israelite woman shouted, referring to one of the scammers.
‘I don’t understand why you are attacking me,’ the man from the bus-center said, which is normally the best thing to do when you are dealing with an angry person.
‘Why I’m attacking you? Ever since I came here, all I hear is screaming, screaming, screaming! My money has been stolen, I want to know the driver’s name. I want the police to arrest him!’ She shouted angrily.
The Australian-from-New-Zealand walked around, minding his own business, getting a new bus. Mr. Derrick also walked around, trying to find a way to Bangkok. The man talked with his coworkers. The Israelite women talked with us calmly about various things. The money, the scammers, why this is happening, how is it happening, how they made money off of it, where are you from, how Romanians have Israelite students at the Universities, before charging off into battle, switching from their gregarious, lovely selves into she-demons, angrily shouting at the other scammers. The police came, they explained to him, did some more shouting, and between this they would come to us to talk some more.
‘A little fight is good,’ the mother said, smiling. They were enjoying themselves...
Mom and I watched, also enjoying ourselves at how worked up they would get, and how quickly they would switch to normal, friendly people. While they would be off causing a ruckus, Mom and I would be discussing them.
I hate complaints and negative comments. It really messes up my day. And because I hate hearing these sort of things, I try to avoid saying them. So, to me, causing an incredibly huge ruckus about how your money has been stolen and how you want the man arrested and this bad thing happened and that bad thing happened and you want it all fixed, is not something I would do, or something that I fully understand.
Mom, on the other hand, says that it is good that they are making a ruckus (maybe she doesn’t agree with their shouting and angry gesticulating, but she agrees that at least someone should be protesting this ‘scam’), because if enough people make a scene at this bus-center, then they will eventually have to close down, which will be good for future travelers, because then they won’t get scammed. This went into my ‘for the greater good’ category, which includes tourists exercising self-restraint as they go on night-safaris to watch lions, and refuse the urge get out of the jeep and really close to the lions, for the sake of future tourists. Because if you do get out of the jeep, the lions will no longer see the jeep and assume it is one single wickedly ugly animal. Instead, they will see the jeep and assume it is a jeep full of tourists, which may be eaten. And so, even if the lions don’t eat you, who got out of the jeep, they will eventually eat a different tourist, for no reason other than tourists are much slower than gazelles, and probably more nutritional.
And so, with this to compare to, I let the Israelites shout their way to I’m not sure what end, but I think that they may have succeeded, I don’t know, but we did end up on a bus to Bangkok, and then on a second bus to Ayutthaya, and then we were in a hotel room enjoying ourselves.
Tourist destinations were visited, temples that were climbed on in the hot noonday sun, museums full of sculptures and fans, and more temples to top it off. Then a bus was taken to Bangkok where we had another hotel room and my iTouch, iLeana, had great difficulty in connecting to internet, which resulted in much anger on my part in those moments in which internet was absolutely critical (which, I’ll admit, is never, really, because internet is not actually that important to human survival, unless, of course, you are Shane Schofield from Ice Station, by Matthew Reilly. Then, in that case, it is sorta critical).
We slept in the first day, then woke up early the next, so we could visit a very shiny palace or temple or whatsit, because I wasn’t really too clear on that (I think you have understood by now that there are few things I’m clear on), but it was interesting and... shiny.
Then we waited in our hotel lobby for a taxi and I saw a very interesting book cover (they say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, and they may be right, but I will continue to pick up blue books) at the bookshelf—it was royal blue and had a combination of real leaves and golden vines on the cover, a few insects, and in the front, a dragonfly that wasn’t really a dragonfly. It mostly had the body of a dragonfly, but where its head should have been was a green statue of a naked woman, showing only her head (which seemed to be helmeted, but turned out to have the dragonfly’s eyes on either side) down to her waist. And the moment I saw that dragonfly I thought, ‘Oh damn.’
Because I had this book at home, in a very thick hardcover edition. And I had tried very hard to read it and understood nothing.
It was not a romance. It was not a thriller, nor an adventure, nor a fantasy, nor anything I could think of. It was about the lives of various people in 19th century England as they went about their lives, various people who were all connected to each other.
The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt.
‘Oh, what the heck?’ I thought to myself. ‘You did say that you should reread it when your older. Well, you’re older now.’ So I sat down and started reading.
I now blame all of my nonunderstanding to the hardcover. Because I really don’t like hardcover. What I don’t understand, however, is how my copy is so thick, and how this copy is so thin. Because they both have small font and, besides the thickness and the fact that this ‘new’ copy is a soft-cover, there really is no difference (that I can recall).
So, an hour later, you see me waiting for my Hepatitis A vaccine while reading a book that now intensely interests me.
The vaccine was surprisingly painless, but took such a long time that I finally had to open my tightly-shut eyes, stop reciting the alphabet and check if the needle was still in my arm. It was. I did not appreciate it.
Finally the vaccines were over and done with and we went to the train station to get on our train to Koh Tao. We mostly stayed at a restaurant, even after we’d finished lunch, except for when we went to KFC for ice cream and later for the bathroom. I managed to convince Dad to give me five baht (the Thai currency) for a machine that would tell you your fortune. You’d put in your money, a little slave would turn a numbered wheel, and a huge magician would hold a stick over the turning wheel. When the wheel stopped turning, the stick would fall onto a number (in my case, 6). Beneath this whole ‘magic act’ was a shelf with differently numbered slots, and depending on which number you got (6), that slot held your fortune. It was rather similar to my (mis)fortune from Nara, Japan, where you’d shake a box of sticks, and depending on which one fell out you ended up with a fortune. Hoping for something more optimistic than Japan (or my horoscopes for 2012, which include, you guessed it, more misfortune for both Pisces and the Ox), I took a sheet of paper from Slot 6 (six being, along with four, one of the numbers I for some strange, unknown reason, just plain and simple do not like), looked at it, and burst out laughing. I showed it Dad and Ioan, then went back to our table at the restaurant to show Mom.
‘Mom, you know that fortuneteller thing down by the stairs?’ I asked her. ‘Well, Dad gave me some money to try it out.’
‘What does it say?’ She asked.
‘Here, read for yourself!’ and I showed her the paper. She too burst out laughing, because it was all in Thai, with no English translation. It’s here in my pocket as I write, because I have a sneaking suspicion that Jim, an English diving instructor living here in Koh Tao, may speak Thai and might be able to translate my fortune.*
*I never did ask him. Now it is in my other pocket, waiting for someone else to translate it.
Finally we got on the train and settled down. We ate a few crackers. Read some. I stayed up until 9.07 pm with a flashlight strapped to my head, skimming through the political events of 1896, itching to find out what happens to Philip (who, even though he is an important character, is not the main character. In fact, there is no main character, which means that I will read about Philip and Dorothy, my two favorite characters, but I shall also have to read about Olive and Dobbin, two characters who I find excruciatingly boring), but instead put the book down and settled down to sleep. I pulled my blanket out of its plastic bag. It looked and felt more like a towel, but it kept me warm and smelled like something that had been washed perhaps a week ago, but hadn’t had the opportunity to smell otherwise. It smelled clean, but in a dusty sort of way.
I put in my earbuds and listened to Guns N’ Roses (I had discovered on the first night in Bangkok, that, much as I loved my Alternate songs, I had actually missed Guns N’ Roses, more than I’d realised), then woke up after I’d listened to all my songs at least once, and turned the music off.
I woke up a second time at 12.30, and again at 3.36.
I stared at iLeana’s screen contemplatively. Then, ‘Yeah, you can probably sleep for another 20 minutes.’ The next thing I knew, I was being shaken desperately, as if being silently told that if I did not wake up immediately, honey badgers would eat all of humanity. This terrible image resulted in me sitting up so fast that I cracked my back, saying in a whispered scream, ‘Oh my God oh my God oh my God!’ repeatedly.
It turned out that honey badgers were not eating all of humanity, and that we’d simply arrived at our station at the allotted time, 4 am. I put Book in my backpack, gave Dad back the flashlight, loaded up my stuff and walked out of the train.
As an Orthodox Christian, I’m not supposed to believe in destiny, fate, omens, and the like. We’re supposed to believe in Free Will & Co., which is fine by me.
However, as a slightly superstitious, anything-is-possible, there-must-be-some-sort-of-hidden-meaning-to-this sort of person, I have three philosophies:
  1. Everything happens for a reason.
  2. Everything has some sort of hidden meaning and
  3. If you figure out the hidden meaning, everything will turn out well in the end (the end, however, may come later than you think).
As I walked out of the train, a man in his ‘compartment’ asked me what the time was. And I, knowing that we’d be arriving at our station at four in the morning, and that I’d woken up at 3.36 earlier, told him, ‘Oh, about four.’ He thanked me and went back into his little cocoon.
I know you knew the time, my Inner Self said to me, but shouldn’t you have checked to give him the exact time? (Because I am one of those people who, if it is 1.47, will say ‘1.47’, not ‘1.45’ or ‘1.50’.)
Yeah, I said back to my Inner Self, but he just wanted a general idea of the time, not an exact number. Besides, it’s not like I had time to stop and pull out my iPod.
At this point, I was already out of the train and had dropped my backpack on the pavement.
Do I even have my iPod...? One self asked the other (because, seeing as I’m the same person, it’s very hard to keep track of who is who). We patted down our pockets to check, because I had a feeling that I hadn’t put it in my backpack.
‘OH MY GOD,’ I said.
‘What?’ Everyone said back.
‘OH MY GOD.’ Everyone said back.
And so the next scene includes me and Mom rushing like madwomen back to my compartment and successfully rescuing iLeana from whatever terrible future awaited it.
Which has effectively proved my philosophies true.
(What? You can provide evidence proving them wrong? Just wait a bit longer, you’ll see that I’m right. You may have to wait a very long time though.)
We waited until seven to get on a bus to the docks, where we got on a boat to Koh Tao, where we met Jim, the English diving instructor. I am currently in my little bungalow with Maria and Ioan, writing this incredibly long blogpost, and in about six minutes we should be going off to eat.
PS: Yes, The Children’s Book is written by a British authoress. The spelling and single quotation marks totally didn’t give it away. Besides, the British know that words like ‘honour’, ‘colour’, ‘neighbour’ are spelled with ‘u’s in them.

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