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Monday, February 07, 2005

In Cambodia

Well, Chinese New Year is under way, and we have made it to Cambodia. It was a bit of a rough start, though. In Taipei, the airport was packed as people took advantage of the first day of the holiday. This is the first time Ive seen the airport so busy...usually you can get there an hour, hour and a half before a flight and not worry too much about getting through. Saturday looked more like an two days before Christmas in the States.
Anyway, we got through on time, and then had to wait for about a half hour due to mechanical preparations. Meanwhile, Natalia was confessing to having a bad feeling about the trip (we couldnt find the passport photos we thought we would need but didnt, and she had been told by her boss that Cambodia was extremely dangerous and that she would not make it back to Taipei...).
The flight was uneventful, but as soon as we landed in Phnom Penh, the fun began. First, there were two separate lines for people applying for Visas, one for white foreigners and one for Asian foreigners (there were no signs denoting this, however, and it seemed quite strange). I zipped through the white people line while Natalia moved back over to the Asian line and waited again. Then, as I waited for my passport to be returned with the visa, I noticed that people who had gone after me were getting their passports back first...I looked down the line of people processing them (a ridiculous assembly line of five people doing different things that one person could have done just as easily and much more quickly) and could not see mine. Natalia was given her passport back and still I did not see mine. Finally a man called me over. He informed me that I have no pages left in my passport and that this was a problem..I then pointed out that while in Laos I had been given several extra pages (I had been somewhat illprepared then, and had to pay 10 US for the pages). The man in Cambodia kindly pointed out that those pages could not be used here because they were from Laos...I disagreed, but he would not listen.. His face, was indeed, expectant and disinterested at once, as he suggested I get on the next flight back to Taipei, or to somewhere else where I could visit a US consulate to get more pages...I pointed out that this would be a bit of an extreme measure given that I was here for eight days...I suggested - much to my chagrin - that perhaps I could give him a few dollars to help me...He paused, pulled on this really long, coarse hair growing from a mole on his face, and suggested that this one time he might be able to accomodate me...He suggested I give him as much as I thought was appropriate, so I gave him a five and was on my way...
Then we had to wait another half hour in line at the immigration counter because the man there made natalia go back to the end of the line after she explained that someone else had taken her immigration form, and instead of letting here fill it out while he processed me, he waited until I was done, then gave her the form, and then we waited...
Anyway, we finally made it out of the airport after the hassle and entered into a sight familiar in all of these Southeast Asia nations and their airports...the taxi drivers and bike drivers crowding you, offering their assistance in any way possible...we got in a cab and off we went.

We have been here for two and a half days now, the first day spent in PP, and yesterday and today on the coast where it is sunny and hot...full of cheap guesthouses that will provide any tourist service you might desire, and restaurants serving pizza, omelets, "real" khmer food, italian, and every other conceivable dish a foreigner mightwant - in other words, the generic menu of backpacker geared sights all around asia.
A few impressions thus far...the light is phenomenal...especially in PP, as the sun goes down or up, and the orangish light it cast on exposed parts of buildings...somehow adding to the overall impression of a city in decay...roads full of trash, roosters strolling around pecking at garbage, cows eating from woven baskets of trash...the way the red of coke cans at road side drink leaps at you from as the bus approaches, and sweating water bottles gleam.
The thing that resounds with me most thus far is the quiet, especially here on the coast, where even the sounds of the motorbikes seem absorbed into the atmosphere...I havent heard cocks crowing or dogs barking...And as we walked along the coast this morning, and then onto a white sand beach where we were just about the only ones, it seemed that we were in another time, or a time that has been in an unchanged state for a long time...


Anonymous Natalia said...

I really feel it was discrimination what they did at the airport,yet, it's odd to think Cambodians can do such a thing. A line for Asians and another one for white people?? Come on!

11:58 AM  

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