Thursday, February 19, 2009
The moto driver is back at 10:30 in the morning. I jump on to the back and he takes me to a village of Muslim fishermen, of Cham enthnicity, who are apparently descendents of the ancient kingdom of Champa that once covered the south and central Vietnam and north eastern Cambodia.
The villagers are thrilled to have their photos taken.
I was offered a glass of sweet cold tea. The children are a bundle of laughter as they pour over my camera to see their portraits.
The young woman who serves me tea is not at all shy. Though she had her hair out at first, after a while she takes out a black scarf and puts it around her hair, all the while smiling at me while I take her photos, her husband glad to be included in the photo.
I go to Kampot town and have a late lunch, of lemon soup with prawn. What a fantastic soup—spicy hot and sour, light and huge, with some 10 huge prawns. The restaurant is totally Khmer run, and extends into the river beside the new bridge. The old bridge was evidently destroyed by bombing or by artillery fire—only a third of the span still exists, the remainder of the bridge is a pontoon.
I return to Utopia and take a nap. In the evening, I chat with Peter and Max.
Max suggests I rent a motorbike and ride it. Apparently these are all 100cc bikes that are semi-automatic, with no clutch but they have four gears. So I get a bike. Max instructs me how to ride one.
I roll on, tentatively. I try the foot break and the hand break, and try to think through the reflexes in case of a quick response if needed. I leave the guest house, wobbling badly on the sandy stretch. I dare not go above the second gear on this stretch, but as I hit a stretch of deep sand I fall. I clamber up again, and get the bike straightened and start again. Upon hitting the road, I try my breaking reflexes again and again, and try out a bit of dodging potholes and gear changes, both up and down. It seems fine, but I still dare not go to the third on the road which is mostly gravel. Then the stretch with the construction zone come, where I take the right hand strip of dirt trail, with other motor bikes zooming past me. I survive that stretch, some three kilometers long, then the road is nice and paved. I go to town, first to the restaurant where I ate lunch yesterday, and order the same items. After a sumptuous meal of spice sour soup with prawn, I decide to explore the town a bit. I discover a used bookstore, Kepler, and get a book called The Lost Excecutioner, by Nic Dunlop, a photojournalist who tracked down the Commandant of S-21 (Suol Sleng), and a book by Noam Chomsky written in the 60s (and since updated with appendices) on the folly of US policies in South East Asia.
Just beside Kepler is a nice café, where I order an iced tea with lemon. After a hot day, sweating with tension at trying to drive the motorbike for the first time with a swollen ankle and a raw heel, the iced tea tastes heavenly. I begin to read The Lost Executioner.
A gripping account.
By early afternoon I return to Utopia, take a shower, then back to reading the book.