Part 7: To Svay Rieng
On Friday, ten of us went to Svay Rieng. It's about 125km from Phnom Penh, and the trip took about three and a half hours. On the way, Huot talked about the evacuation of the cities in 1975. One never cried over the death of a loved one. The Khmer Rouge taunted them: "You love your husband? You want to be together? OK, you can be together." And then they would kill the wife, too. "Old people die, children die," Huot said. "OK, die here, throw here," she said, gesturing into the ditch at the side of the road. Then she gestured to the opposite side of the road. "Die there, throw there."
At Neak Loung, we took a ferry across the Mekong. The banks are crowded with beggars and amputees. There are many Vietnamese, too. Beyond Neak Loung, close to Kompong Trabek, children line the roads, often clasping their hands or shouting "Prahm riel! Prahm riel!" ("Five riels!"). Chanbo and Huot and Yan and Srey all toss ten-riel notes and lotus pods (which can be eaten) out the windows as we drove, and the children scrambled after them, laughing. Closer to Svay Rieng, however, tossing out the lotus pods just produced a bewildered glance. Why are these idiots throwing things out of the car?
From appearances, Svay Rieng is relatively prosperous. There were no beggars at the market, and things generally had a cleaner appearance than in Phnom Penh. I wandered into a woodworking shop; three Vietnamese were working there, building furniture by hand. One man was planing a board, and another was cutting angled grooves into the side of a long post. Another set of boards was on the floor. The man working on them crouched on top of them, holding them in place with his bare feet.
On the way back from Svay Rieng, we had to wait about an hour for the ferry at Neak Loung. The heat was scorching. Again, I'm shocked by the number of amputees. They, more than anyone else, are the people I pity in this country. They are constant reminders of an endless, unobserved war. At one point, as Huot and I waited in the shade near a sidewalk vendor, a man came up to me and began talking. At first I thought he was speaking Vietnamese, but I couldn't be certain. He was fairly short, with very dark skin, and he was covered with dry, dusty filth. He wore only a single cloth wrapped around his waist and between his legs, like a loin cloth. Then he lost interest in me and turned to a nearby vendor. He grabbed a single prawn off her cart despite her protests, and then he marched away. She looked at us, smiling in bewilderment, and we all began to laugh.
When we got back to Phnom Penh, we stopped at a restaurant, where a waiter accidently poured orange soda all over my leg, and into the shoe where I had hidden a fifty dollar bill. Before we went home I paid our driver $30, and Yan gave him another $10. He was delighted, since Yan had told him in the morning that he would be paid only $20.
Later in the day, I saw two more cyclo crashes: one where a cyclo had tipped over, and another that had hit a motorcycle.
This article contains nine parts:
Part One: Half the Fun, My Ass
Part Two: And Then, Things Stopped Going So Smoothly
Part Three: To Laos and Beyond
Part Four: In An Unhealed Land
Part Five: Into the Countryside
Part Six: Around Phnom Penh
· Part Seven: To Svay Rieng ·
Part Eight: Relaxing Days, Very Quiet Nights
Part Nine: A Tale Ten Years in the Telling