More Cambodia

As I sit here at my Wi-Fi hotspot, just having logged in, there’s two Khmer sitting behind me.  Two ladies in late middle-age.  One of them is cradling the other, who has her head on her friend’s shoulder, and is crying disconsolately.

I haven’t seen anyone cry like that for a long time.  Sometimes it turns into keening, sometimes sobbing.  And she’s talking to her friend the whole time, explaining something in Khmer.  And then catching her breath suddenly.  Like a child.

I don’t know if her kid died, or her man left her, or what.

Oh — some black guy, sounding Carribean and dressed like a pimp, swaggered in and told them something in Khmer.  The woman had stopped crying; they both sat there passively.  And then they got up and followed him upstairs, to the other dining floor.


Khmer treat all traffic laws as strictly advisory.  I’ve seen traffic stopped at a stop light, hemmed in on one side by a traffic island, where guys on motorbikes come to the back of the line, decide they don’t want to wait, and cut across oncoming traffic, drive to the intersection, then cut back across oncoming traffic to stop laterally, across the guys in the front of the line, directly under the traffic light.

The way to make a left-hand turn on a motorbike when traffic’s too heavy is to just turn left before the stream of traffic, so as to create your own lane next to the sidewalk.  Then when there’s a break in traffic you cut across and re-merge with your own lane.

Khmer often drive like this, against traffic right next to the sidewalk.  They do all kinds of things no Westerner in his right mind would consider, and generally pull them off.  They dodge and weave around slower motorbikes or bicycles, shifting their weight on the saddle and bringing the bike to a sharp angle with the road to execute tight turns.

They pull these things off because they’ve been driving motorbikes their whole lives, or just about.  On the other hand, those who drive cars are very ginger and timid (except for accelerating at pedestrians), for example about making simple turns, because all the motorbikes are whizzing by and because they have little experience driving a car.

There was a collision right next to me as I was walking here today.  Nobody was injured.  This is what happened:

The sidewalk is often cluttered, because it’s used to park motorbikes and SUVs, and bicycles, and vendor carts and sometimes you also find piles of garbage, or stacks of refrigerators or potted plants, or other weird random shit.  And that often detours me off the sidewalk onto the street.

Today I had to squeeze between an SUV that was parked and one that was pooping along with traffic.  I just got through the narrow space between them when a fast motorbike zoomed between me and the moving SUV, only to slam on the brakes and hit a slower motorbike that had been driving against traffic behind me.

They hit each other right next to and behind me.  I could have reached over and touched them.  The fast motorbike had two guys on it.  The one who wasn’t driving dropped something in the collision, and he hopped off to retrieve it.  The driver of the slow motorbike, that had been going against traffic, grinned and nodded, grinned and nodded and laughed.

Neither of the other two were laughing.

Traffic picked up and went around them, including another slow motorbike that was going against traffic behind the one in the collision.  Neither bike looked damaged.  I kept walking.

I was about a half a block further down when the slow motorbike from the collision cruised up alongside me.

“Hey man,” the driver asked:  “Need a taxi?”

Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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