In Part 3, my tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) offered me to take to his friend’s wedding in central Cambodia near Kampong Thom. I had agreed. This post is going to be a long one as I will cover my trip to Kampong thom and the wedding.
So, me and Kea boarded a bus from Siem Reap to Kampong Thom. Guess which movie was played on the bus? Rambo – first blood! Kea says it’s one of his favorite movies. Of course – who doesn’t like Rambo – first blood? When the movie starts I notice something strange, Sly speaks in a weird high pitched tone in a language that he probably doesn’t know exists – Khmer . It is still an awesome movie to re-watch.
We arrived in Kampong Thom a few hours later. Now, this is not a place that is frequented by tourists and you can tell. Kea puts me up in a Guesthouse that costs me 7$ a night. The room is spartan if clean. At least there aren’t taps here that require advanced degrees to operate.
The room was on the first floor with there was restaurant of sorts on the ground floor. The next day morning, I come down to this restaurant for breakfast. While the restaurant looked deserted the evening I arrived, it was now packed full. It was filled with people who looked like they did hard physical labor in their day jobs. They were eating various dishes that looked all exotic to me; while watching WWE on television: the audio, of course, was Khmer.
I ask the waitress for some food for breakfast. This being not a very touristy region, it was not surprising that she didn’t speak any English. She suggests the various options I have by pointing at stuff people are eating. Most of these look like pieces of meat in some sort of soup or some sort of minced-meat and fried rice. One of these dishes looks like a clear soup served with a large fluffy bread. I ask her what that dish is.
Fortunately, there was a cow walking past on the street. She points at it. Oh, this must be beef soup and bread. I ask her to get me the bread and forget the Soup – not a trivial task in Sign language. She confirms this with me a couple of times with “are you really really sure” look on her face. I imagine her to be thinking on the lines of “This guy is nuts! He wants to pay full price and eat the bread not eat the delicious beef soup! Oh well, good business for me, anyway..” So it came to pass that I ate a large piece of fluffy bread messily for breakfast.
Post breakfast I give Kea a call. He picks me up on his scooterette. He takes me to a relative’s place in town. They all treat me graciously – like an important guest. But of course, the only person who speaks English is Kea, so only when he’s around could I attempt any sort of conversation.
After a while a few of his friends show up, one at a time. All in all there were 6 of us and 2 vehicles that looked like Bajaj M80. We triple rode – first to a few scenic places nearby. One of this places is a small reservoir of sorts. One of Kea’s friend’s mom had a small shop next to this reservoir. Here, kea and his friends munched on some shelled creatures while I ate fried mushrooms.
We then rode onwards to our destination which is a good half an hour on the highway and another half an hour on dirt roads.
Finally we got to the village where the wedding was going to be. Kea visited a lot of his relatives including his Grandmom. Apparently he hadn’t been back here in a couple of years. Every relative he visited, he paid a few dollars. May be that’s the reason he was absconding for couple of years
Most Cambodian houses I’ve seen are like typical houses hoisted on top of six to eight poles. I never found out the reason for this. On one of the relative-visits, we went to Kea’s uncles place. We were stting on a cot under the house, yes I mean under the house – as in where ground floor would’ve been. Kea’s uncle used to be a history teacher. I wondered how he survived the Khmer rouge regime, given that they killed most people thought to be “intellectual”, who in their definition was anyone who could comprehend the concept of alphabet. I thought it would be extremely impolite to bring this up, so kept my musing to myself.
They were having some animated discussion among themselves and Kea introduced me as an Indian. Kea’s uncle immediately said “Ah India, Indira Gandhi!”. That’s how he remembered India from his teaching days, presumably. All the while there was a duck roaming around under the cot which was under the impression that my legs were some sort of delicacy.
So about half a day of this kind of wandering, we arrive at the wedding location. I could tell we were close even before I could see the place. Guess how? The sound of course. They had gen-set powered, house sized, speakers in what looked like a cart under the house where the wedding was on.
We enter the house and the ceremony is on. Kea stuffs $$ notes into an envelope to present it to the couple. I carefully eye how much he is stuffing as I want to appear to be neither showing off nor sponging off him when I make my own contribution
Kea then introduced me to Groom’s parents. They were a very gracious hosts. Before the feast was to begin I mentioned to them that I was a vegetarian and they were like “What? Are you a monk?”. They went out of their way, however, to provide me with monk food – which was some sort of papaya salad with peanuts. Most delicious stuff that I ever tasted in Cambodia.
Then there was, of course, beer. As I mentioned in one of the previous posts, I am not a big fan of getting sloshed. But here not getting drunk was not an option. Every time my glass was even half empty, it was refilled for me. Kea’s friends would not let me drink slowly either! So after a short while of keeping this I was beginning to feel the effect. I was never a heavy drinker nor do I have high tolerance for alcohol. So to give myself respite, I took off and went on a walk. As soon as I got back, Kea’s friends were like “Dude, Are you sad? Why aren’t you getting drunk? This is Cambodia! Drink up! Nothing’s gonna happen.” Whatever trauma their country has gone through, no one can accuse the Cambodians of being an unhappy people. For, in my experience, they have fun every opportunity they get.
By late evening, everyone was drunk. The groom’s dad, the host, remained ever gracious, though. He made his rounds asking people if there was something they wanted, and everytime he saw me he broke into a big warm smile, made an OK sign and asked “All OK?”. I was floored by all the hospitality of all people here. In reality, I was nobody. Someone, who when the Bride and Groom showed their wedding pictures to their children, they’ll probably point out to me and be like “Who the hell is this guy?”. But they treated me like I was an esteemed foreign dignitary gracing upon their wedding.
Anyway, towards the night the dancing begins and the speakers are on full volume. It is now that I appreciate all the beer, for if I were fully sober, my eardrums might have burst.
All the songs played were famous pop songs like “I know you want me, you know I want cha” except that they were dubbed into Khmer. People danced to the music while going in a large circle. It did not matter how you danced or what steps you took as long as you went around in the circle!
The dancing stopped a while when the bride and groom cut a “cake” made completely of fruits, the parents of both of them cheered each other with beer and chugged it down. Then the dancing began all over again. This went on till about 11 in the night, when Kea dropped me back to my hotel.
I used my iPhone as a camera during most of the trip and the quality of pictures has suffered for it. I apologize for the quality of pictures in the travelogue.
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