Oh! I forgot to tell a story about the actual Chinese New Year in Sihanoukville. I should tell that before I get to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
So anyway, in Sihanoukville on the beach I saw this group of Asian dudes who didn’t look Cambodian in the least, so I kind of edged over and listened to them speaking and lo and behold it was mandarin. I hadn’t heard or been able to speak Chinese in a few weeks so I ran over and said ‘HEY where are you from?’ in Chinese and they stared at me and then went ‘ohhh we are from Tianjin! Why do you speak Chinese?’, so we all got to talking and they gave me some mangos to eat. I asked them where they were staying and they kind of pointed over to the port in the distance. I figured there was some sort of hotel over there or something, but since the word ‘bed’ and ‘boat’ sound almost the same in Chinese; I couldn’t be sure since they looked like a bunch of young college students on vacation, not a bunch of sailors. The next day I saw them and they yelled at me to come over and said ‘Happy New Year!! Come to have dinner with us on our boat!’ and they pointed and said ‘That big black one over there!’, and sure enough there was a massive cargo ship in the harbor unloading giant bags of something. Bo and Peter were heading back to our guesthouse, so I decided I would go on an adventure with these sailors to see the cargo ship.
We walked all the way down the beach and down a small road to a side entrance to the pier where there was a security guard sitting in the shade. He looked at them and looked at me and said ‘no way josé,’ Or something along those lines, then we begged him and told him it was Chinese new year and that it was just for dinner, and then I said ‘please’ in Khmer to try to woo him with his native language. Finally he said I could go onto the pier but I had better be out before he is off his shift by 9 or he and the sailors and I would be in big trouble, so we skipped off to the ship. There was a really narrow wobbly gangplank to get onto the ship, and there were these big bags of limestone dust swinging around over my head, but a big jump got me onto the ship. I was getting a lot of stares, probably because my kind isn’t a very common sight on a Chinese boat in a Cambodian cargo port.
When we all got on the boat they gave me a quick tour of all their living quarters, which was bigger than I expected, but they told me there is only 20 of them on the ship. After we ate some watermelon we went to find bowls and chopsticks and went to the place where they eat. The cook had made a massive and insanely tasty meal, and as with any Chinese feast there were big bottles of beer and baijiu (rice wine) on the tables. Everyone sat down and started scarfing down the meal and forcing food on whoever was older than them, and me because I was a guest, but I didn’t mind because it was so good. Then the toasting began, and everyone kept going back and forth between the tables to make sure they toasted everyone and the old men on the ship the most. Some of them just finished their food and dumped some beer into their bowl because they didn’t have a cup. Shrimp beer..hmm…
After everyone was a little red-faced and full, they ushered me off to show me the engine room. We went down a bunch of flights of stairs and into the ‘authorized personnel only’ zone (which was covered with red and gold New Year’s decorations). The engine room was really cool and there we all sorts of pistons and pipes and greasy things. In the engine control room there was a lever that said ‘Fast, Slow, Dead Slow’, I thought that was pretty funny. They took a zillion pictures with my camera, and then we went to eat more watermelon and download the pictures onto one of their computers. When that was done we went to wrap some dumplings for them to eat at midnight (a Chinese new year tradition, you aren’t supposed to sleep that night as well). We must have made three hundred dumplings and the chef still kept bringing out more ingredients. It was almost 9 so we had to get out of there soon. One of the sailors had a laptop, so they were going to go into town and find an internet cable so they could to talk to their families on the internet, and also so they could watch china’s spring festival celebrations in Beijing. (Speaking of that, check this out: http://chinageeks.org/2010/02/yakexi-the-new-years-hottest-internet-slang/ ).
There was another guard at the door by then and he was looking really grumpy, but we told him the same thing as the last guy and I yelled a few more Khmer words, and we were on our way.
There was a little street with tiny bars and internet cafes near the harbor so we went there. I wanted to go check on Bo and Peter and see what they were up to, so I went to get my moped to go back. Two of the sailors wanted to go for a ride, so the three of us packed onto the moped and drove downtown, with me squashed in the middle (I trusted a seasoned Chinese moped driver, rather than my wobbly skills + two extra people). We got there safe and sound after a lot of hooting and horn honking and yellings of ‘Happy new year!’ from the guy on the back of the moped all through town, which got a few Khmer people looking at us like we were nuts. Bo and Peter were at the guesthouse and Bo was just waking up from a nap so I told them where we were going to be and if they wanted to come later. They said sure, so we drove back to find the other guys, and Bo and Peter came a little later. I watched a bunch of games of pool, a few of which, Bo was winning fair and square against one of the more gruff sailors, and he was getting really competitive and horrified that he would lose against a girl.
A little later an old drunk Japanese man came in and we found out he was a retired aikido master, and there was another guy there who was trained in Israeli military martial arts, so me and Bo and peter talked to them for a while. The old Japanese guy showed us some techniques, to the horror of the bar owner who said that he gets a little careless when intoxicated, and we should watch out for broken arms. I still have some weird bruises on the inside of my arm that won’t go away, and it’s been about a month and a half.
There were some interesting people coming in and out of that bar all evening, and when I went down the road to get some rice to eat I was invited to sit with some people from Australia and England who turned out to be really interesting as well. One of the guys had a daughter in Cambodia somehow who has the same name as me.
After that Bo, Peter and I hung around a bit more then decided to go home and get some sleep.
That’s about it for that story, so the next entry will be Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. I’d also like to post the rest of my pictures on Facebook, since I’ve only gotten to about half-way with that as well since it takes about 20 minutes per 5 pictures with the proxy service that I’m using…. Maybe I will write and post pictures about Siem Reap simultaneously….