Kimleng and the Cambodian Silk Scarves, Part 3

February 21, 2013

I had not even posted pictures of the scarves here in Mysterious Orientations before queries started trickling in: one from the UK, two from Canada, one from Tennessee, another from Japan. All of this transpired after I left Siem Reap, so as of Valentine’s Day, I had not had a chance to tell Kimleng about it.

As it happened, however, I would see Kimleng one last time this trip, as the only bus I was able to find north from Sihanoukville was bound for Siem Reap. She and two of her brothers met me at the bus station, where an undoubtedly bedraggled figure awaited them. She had secured a hotel room for me at the nearby Mandalay Inn, not that I got a lot of use out of it; she and I sat up on the front porch of her shop, chatting until the wee small hours of the morning. Occasionally a customer would drop by for a Coke, a pack of smokes, or a fresh coconut, hand husked by Kimleng with a speed and strength that belied her small stature.

At one point, an English fellow named Morgan brought a guitar over, and the two of us put on an impromptu show for Kimleng and her customers, handing off the guitar to one another after each song. After he left, Kimleng mentioned in passing that it was the first time she had seen or heard anyone play the guitar in person. On TV, of course, but never before in person. Morgan was quite talented, and he wrote some great tunes; he was, however, close to passing out, and although I gave him my business card, and we parted with promises to get in touch, I haven’t heard from him yet. I hope he writes; I would really like to write and/or perform with him again.

I had to be up at 6am for my bus/minivan ride back to Bangkok. Kimleng walked over to the bus station with me, and we said goodbye for the second time of my holiday, after which she hopped onto her mom’s scooter, and went off to school.

As of this writing, enough of the scarves have sold to pay for all the ones we have already bought, and we have perhaps forty left; when I get back to Japan, I will send her an order for a bunch more, and perhaps try a couple of different materials and/or designs. And then we will keep our fingers crossed!

What Happens in Sihanoukville, Stays in Sihanoukville (Mostly…)

February 21, 2013

While I was in Siem Reap finalizing details of the scarf venture with Kimleng (see blog posts entitled “Kimleng and the Cambodian Silk Scarves, Parts One and Two), I got an email from my friend Frank, a fellow Maritimer who teaches biology in a Shanghai high school. He had some time off around Chinese New Year, and he was interested in joining me for a few days in Cambodia. I had been thinking to go north to Laos, but I am nothing if not flexible when it comes to strange travel suggestions–and so it was that I found myself (in the company of my new brother-of-the-road, Doug) meeting Frank’s flight at Phnom Penh International Airport. Frank had evidently taken full advantage of the free libations aboard the plane, and thus was in full-on holiday spirits (or vice versa, haha) when we met in the exit hall.

The dusty, bumpy, and altogether too-long bus ride to Sihanoukville, on Cambodia’s southern coast, put paid to his high spirits (and Doug’s and mine), the cute and loquacious Cambodian girl seated alongside us notwithstanding. By the time we got there, Frank wanted nothing more than a shower, a beer, and the beach, in no particular order.

Doug surveys truckload of chickens also bound for Sihanoukville...

Sihanoukville is well known among old Asia hands for its party atmosphere, some of the finest Western food in Cambodia, 50-cent beer, and its ladies of, um, less than Presbyterian levels of virtue. It seemed that all of these could be found in abundance at every turn. And, as Frank might say, given that he can rarely resist an awful pun, the girls were in a-bun-dance.

The party atmosphere had bubbled to a high rolling boil by the time we got there, thanks to the synchronicity of spring break and the Chinese lunar new year. Virtually any excuse will suffice to throw a party in Southeast Asia, and this the Cambodians excelled at: fireworks galore; barbecued baby squid en brochette; fruit trays in a riot of colors; and kids running around everywhere.

Golden Lion Circle; note four people on motor scooter!

The food was a cornucopia of excess, with restaurants representing the four corners of the world (that is really a weird expression, when you think about it…): Greece; Italy (several entrants); Poland; Russia; India; France; Thailand; China; I know I am missing some. Those so inclined could secure a real American breakfast (a rarity in SE Asia outside the pricey hotels that cater to Yankees): bacon; pancakes with real maple syrup; eggs over easy; sausages that would hold their own against anything in a Brooklyn deli.

Great eats, and some more of that 50-cent beer!

Roasted peanut vendor (peanuts were roasted, not vendor...)


Burgers, BBQ, Pizza and (of course) 50-cent beer!


Gilligan's Ireland...


The 50-cent beer had every attribute you might expect: it was 50 cents, and it was beer. Cambodia runs on the US dollar (even the ATMs dispense funds in US currency). with 4000 Cambodian riel to one dollar. There are no coins used, either US or Cambodian, so if you buy a 50-cent beer and pay with one US dollar, you will get 2000 Cambodian riel in change. Because riel notes go all the way down to 20-riel denominations, you can easily see that it would be little problem to amass a prodigious quantity of Cambodian notes, with which you could not buy so much as a can of Coke (which typically costs more than a can of beer, by the way).

Remi sports lates fashion accessory, necklace made of beer pull-tabs...

Last but not least, there were the sun-bronzed Cambodian beach bunnies–easy on the eyes, friendly and flirtatious to a fault, and present in numbers to boggle the minds of libidinous Western males. And that’s really all I am going to say about that, because, as I promised to Frank and Doug (particularly when it comes to chronicling events in a blog), what happens in Sihanoukville, stays in Sihanoukville…