I met Smang shortly after I bought my ticket to Sihanouk Ville. From what I could tell he was the polar opposite of the first Khmer motorcycle taxi driver I met. He politely waited for me to be finished with purchasing my ticket. He even waited for me to ask him if he knew any place that sold pizza before saying anything. He thought about it for a moment and said "I know a place but it is about two kilometers away, want me to take you there, only one dollar." I could not help but be won over his professionalism and easy going attitude. I had noticed him there earlier and reckoned that quite possibly he had been there most of the day. "Hey would you like to have a beer?" I asked. He agreed and drove me to the pizza place.
The pizza place was a little more than two kilometers and the street was not well lit, in fact it was only lit by storefronts. As we went past the stores I noticed the Khmer women, and some of the men, wore their Pajamas at night, much like they do in Vietnam. We stopped at the pizza place and it was more than that. It offered great sounding meals at a reasonable price. A foreign man ran the pizza establishment and warmly welcomed me. I ordered two beers and sat down with Smang. We started chatting. The pizza was being warmed up. After the owner got done getting the pizza set in the oven he came and sat with us also. We started talking, mostly chit chat, no questions about wanting boom- boom or marijuana. Out of nowhere the owner asked "So what do you think about Germans." Judging by his Australian accent I answered truthfully. "Well" I said "the ones I met in Thailand are a strange bunch" he laughed approvingly so I continued "you have to understand I have been in Thailand nearly three years and all the Germans I met tend to be overweight, have a bad habit of wearing Speedos and have a shit eating grin when you walk past them with their arms around two bar girls." He laughed heartily and then said "Ha!I am German" Okay originally I thought I was going to be ransomed by Khmer drug dealers back to my family, but right then I realized I was going to be killed by a smiling German. He continued laughing. Okay maybe I wouldn't be killed.
We talked about two hours before the power went out. This happens with some frequency in Koh Kong apparently. It fell silent. I turned to my new German friend and said "You know I thought it was peaceful here but wow, listen to that." He said he heard nothing and I smiled. He sent his waitress to get some candles and when she left he related to me how it was her first day working and she got a two-thousand riel tip, about fifty cents, and was quite excited by this. I responded by silence. I was contemplating. I had been in Cambodia not even twelve hours and I realized how hard working these people are. If the Cambodian government ever realizes this, and starts going for the outsourcing jobs that currently go to India and the Philippines, then not only jobs in Bombay and Manila will be in trouble, but also jobs in Detroit and Los Angeles.
When the young woman returned she claimed that the person across the street had sold it to her for ten Baht. The pizza owner had rebuffed this price and said he would not give it to her. She looked disappointed and I thought that actually it did cost ten Baht and leaned in to the pizza owner's ear and whispered told him just to add it to my bill. He looked at me like I was an idiot, and there are many arguments from people much smarter then I, that this is in fact, true.
We sat and were talking a bit when I realized how quiet the area had become with no televisions on and no radios playing Khmer or American pop music. I am used to a lot of noise. My apartment in Thailand is right under the nighttime flight path of inbound flights to Suvrabhumi International Airport. I also live near Sukhimvit road and my ears are under constant audio assault. If you add my music, and the music of my neighbors my living area is still very quiet. Actually compared to Bangkok, a mere forty minutes down Sukhimvit my apartment area is nearly a graveyard. So when I arrived in Koh Kong I thought to myself "Wow this place is pretty quiet" until the power went out. Then I knew quiet. This was defiantly more quiet than I had experienced since the early morning hours in Danang nearly a year ago. My ears thanked me for the respite in eardrum busting noises. The owner didn't talk, and neither did I. Smang however was another case he was getting restless. And probably bored. First he played some music on his mobile phone and when we both kind of glared at him he turned it off.
Then he tried to start a conversation.
"Tell me how to say Marjuana in English" he asked me
"Marijuana" I replied
"Any other words?"
"Erm...Pot...Weed.." I replied
"Can you spell it?' He asked.
Eventually the power came on and with it a sense of being tired overtook my body. I was ready to call it a night but not really. I was also curious to explore Koh Kong. I sat and sipped on my beer for a little bit and chatted with some of the owner's friends who had found their way to his restaurant. I listened as the swapped war stories from Thailand and Cambodia. I quickly gathered that the war stories consisted mainly of rehashing the last twenty-four hours. Some of it was interesting. I also found an opportunity to ask a question I had been dying to know.
"Just how dangerous is Cambodia?"
The German smiled. He had heard this question many times before I suppose.
"Not dangerous at all, you have to watch out for the foreigners though. Lots of them will steal your things." That answered my next question about Khmer Rouge , which according to some of my friends, foreign and Thai, still roamed around Cambodia blissfully unaware that the war against the government was long over. No land mines to worry about either. Except on the border and in some of the poorer areas where the UN decided it was not worth the effort to send in mine removal teams. Part of me was relieved. Part of me was disappointed. After all this was supposed to be my chance to and stare death in the face. But mostly I was relieved because getting hacked to bits by a drug dealer ( a problem in Cambodia but not as bad as some websites make it seem) was actually a worry of mine. Which is not to say things are totally safe. Some Khmer friends would tell me later that traveling by myself was inviting trouble.
We ate and drank and were basically merry and Smang was bored. Again he started to ask me if I wanted to meet some girls. I ignored his request. I asked the German what time it was and he paused before answering.
"Before I tell you, did you bring a watch?"
"No, I replied."
"Then it is best to remember why you are here." Good quote. Had the words been mixed around it would have been good enough to be credited to Yoda. But the truth was I didn't know why I was here. Well I did, but I knew the reason was something bigger than that. There was something I needed from this trip and to be honest I didn't know what it was.
Eventually I decided it was time to leave. I was tired. I had promised Smang that I would let him take me to the disco. He had other things in mind and as soon as I realized what it was I got annoyed. As we drove down the never-ending dirt road I tapped on his shoulder. "Take me back to the hotel." He may have been disappointed, but it was not why I was there.
I went into the hotel. I didn't even change or do more than turn on the air conditioner and television.. It had been a long day. Perhaps my body sensed tomorrow would be longer.