Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cambodia

Fifty cent draft beer.

Seriously -- a decent-sized glass of mediocre (but not terrible) draft beer for US$0.50. So what do you expect us to do with our evenings?

Actually, we've been having a reasonably productive time. We were able to take three days to tour Angkor Wat, Erin's been interviewing people and researching crap for her story, and I've been muddling along in my work life in my own muddled way.

We rented bikes for one of our days of touring Angkor. We got some real classics -- old style bikes where you sit perfectly erect and view the countryside from a dignified, upright position. I can now actually see the point of this kind of bike, although they're built for a completely different kind of riding than we normally do.


If you're not going too far (although we comfortably rode more than 30 km) and if you don't expect to go fast (maybe 15 km/h) this kind of old style bicycle can be a great way to go. You don't have to crouch down in a super athletic position, so it'd be good for people with back issues, and sitting upright makes it much easier to look around and take in the view. With the gearing we had on our bikes, we couldn't go fast anyway, so the level of exertion was comparable to walking, and with the little speed we had we generated our own breeze, so it was actually much cooler than walking. I can't help but think that this style of bike would be very popular at home if it weren't for all the hills. You just can't expect people to want to ride a 40-pound bike with no gears in Vancouver.

We're now in Phnom Penh. This city is seriously entertaining, but when I first got here I felt a little trapped. The city is too big and too hot to consider walking long distances, and the last thing I want to do is haggle with a tuk-tuk driver every time I want to go somewhere. Then I rented a shitty little Honda motorbike and the whole world has changed. Now we can go anywhere we want, if we're willing to deal with the terror of getting there.

I've never seen a city where traffic is more chaotic than here. I was here 7 years ago and I thought the same thing then, and my thoughts haven't changed. They do this thing here that I like to call the "Cambodian left turn". You usually do it on a motorbike, but some people try to do it in cars.

When you're turning left from one busy road onto another, you start about 100 meters back from the intersection by veering left through oncoming traffic to get to the left shoulder of the road. Then you round the corner on the left shoulder and repeat the process, veering right through oncoming traffic to return to the right side of the road.

Erin and I did one today. I rented my moto yesterday and I was having so much fun scaring the hell out of myself and Erin was having so little fun having the hell scared by my driving, that she decided to get her own. On our way back from the rental place, we were forced to perform (or commit?) a Cambodian left turn onto a busy road. It's less terrifying than you might think. Drivers here are completely prepared for this kind of nonsense, and they'll get out of your way, as long as you don't do anything sudden.

Driving here is very Buddhist and can be summarized in four noble truths:
1. The essence of traffic is suffering.
2. The origin of traffic-suffering is attachment to the rules of the road.
3. The cessation of traffic-suffering is attainable by means other than stopping driving.
4. The path to the cessation of traffic-suffering is ignoring all traffic laws as they apply to both yourself and others; this means never letting the illegality of a manoeuvre prevent you from doing it, and never getting the slightest bit annoyed at another driver, no matter how illegally or stupidly they're driving.

I have no photos of Phnom Penh or how people drive here. Instead, enjoy these photos of Angkor. And check out the video -- it's pretty cool.




video

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