The Scam

Brief aan Lonely Planet over gebeurtenis van 23-12-2006;

We should have known. The energetic black man wearing glasses was uninterruptedly boasting funny facts in a voice that reached a convivial depth when laughing and an annoying high pitch when trying to get attention. The white couple behind him was more reserved when it came to letting the whole bus know how enthusiastic they were about all these petty oddities of travelling abroad. Nonetheless, they were participating in what had started as a mere one-man-show. Compared to these three (who had actually just met but heavily enjoyed their shared national background) the rest of the fistful of passengers was very calm and silent. They seemed to be a reflective compensation for the ongoing stream of loud anti-communication taking place on my left hand side. When the bus finally left bordertown Poipet to head for Siem Reap, some kind of silence set in. I suppose the shocks of the bumpy trajectory cradled the steamy occidentals. And of course, the trip was a long tiring one. And of course, to lengthen the journey, the Cambodian middlemen proposed several "toilet stops" near eateries and restaurants. And of course, they had to replace a flat tyre while it was already dark and all the passengers could see that the replaced tyre was intact. By that time the word "scam" circulated gently through the conversations of the visitors. But not too loud, not too self-assured. We reached Siem Reap about six hours later. It was only nine in the evening, the cosely illuminated city prepared for hot Christmas nights and passengers who had made a little nap found themselves in a good mood and shape to arrive. I had held and overheard some conversations and I can say that most of us endulged the "show" with a sense of ironic and relaxed patience. And yes, the three "loud ones" had probably gone through an exhausting trip from Bangkok, while my girlfriend and I only smoothly toured since the morning from Khorat. And yes, the word "scam" had now appeared many times and had maybe more strongly empoisened some during their short but rough snooze while speeding through the rural darkness. But many others too came directly from Bangkok. And most of all, none of this excuses the course clash of self-supposed civilizations that followed. As said it was about nine p.m. Two hispanic travellers had hopped off with some Cambodian passengers before entering town. Mightless, the middlemen saw the possible overnighters escape, for, of course, the strategy of exhaustion and late arrival was directed on weakening the will of the visitors, so that at least some of them would stay at the middlemen's guesthouse. There was no cunning in this plan, as most of us already described it as a "scam" (read the guide books) and the middlemen openly adverted for their accomodation, at which place they also said the bus would eventually stop. So, while we drove southwards along the well-lit hotels, the white, red-freckled male of the couple had collected all his frustration and let it errupt in a tragicomic exposure of boldly misplaced manhood. "Okay, right, stop the bus right now," he shouted. The small Cambodian:"No, sir, we are in traffic, we can't stop here, we'll stop in town." Quite zen. The the same useless dialogue with rising irritation. The tall jock went to sit down, defeated by the tiny Asiatic and the shushing of his own girlfriend. Besides her big bossom I noticed he ironically wore a t-shirt branded "Independent", well known by skaters, with some kind of Maltese cross on it, originally the symbol of the Cruisaders, which is less known by skaters, I presume. All that time the rest of the bus shut up, my girlfriend shut up, I shut up. That made it even more ridiculous. We were watching a play of low acting quality. "Scam" was pounding in the young man's head, in his veins and finally in his tongue. Then he charged again; "Stop now! Stop at the lights!" The asiatic David reacted fiercily against the occidental Goliath, while in their hearts they both felt Davids, shitting their pants as I could see their nervous gazes. Anger and angst. Then the white man held a tirade with words as "scam", "ripp off", "fuck", "if this happened in my country". There was a pause wherein I intervened. Stupidly, I reacted as a true 21st century rationalistic pacifist, asking him to stay calm, adding that we we're all on the same bus, on the same "scam", though we knew off since the start, that he shouldn't compromise us all and that, besides, I doubted that his guesthouse was north of town and that the driver was bringing us straight to the East Bank, which was very near to the centre. I trembled inside. Irritation and fear. I could have wacked him. He could have hit me. For treason or stepping on his manhood. He shut up and ruminated. We were both big fellas. Then on arrival the irritated Cambodian called us to understand the situation; that this was not a "scam", that, yes, they brought us here but it was better than at the pushy bus station, and most of all, that they didn't force our minds. We were free to go. Upon aking us to pass the backpacks from the back to the front in order to ease leaving the bus, the white independent heeded us all not to follow that advice. Another clash followed between David and Goliath, there were two mutual pushes, then again some heavy words including "you dishonnor you're country" towards the middleman. The rest of us cleared the scene. I was last man standing and while Mr. Independent probably sneered off some tuktuk drivers, my girlfriend and I started a chat with the middle men. The black traveller interrupted us very unpolitely to add his share of frustration to the salty situation. What for? Ask him. Scam or not, I do not utter judgement on that. Everybody knew off, that's what I say. They dropped us off right in the center, near a cheap and seemingly cozy guesthouse, theirs or not, in a quiet neighbourhood, that's what I saw. They were just trying to make a honest living in a dogpoor and warscarred country, that's what the middleman said. They did not force our minds, that's what he said. They did not force our bodies either, that's what I thought, but you can't always expect to have it your way just because you paid ten bucks in what happens to be "your" currency, with thereon the faces of your dead presidents. We were not droven off to concentration camps or killing fields, that's what I thought, just to a small town near one of the seven world wonders. So, was it worth going nationalistic about it and dropping background expectations and customs on a foreign context? Was it righteous to call someone who holds as much pride and patriotism (for that's about all that's left) a "dishonnor to his country"? Was it smart to create conflict in a culture that does all to avoid it and tries to keep "face" and harmony? Could he as well have stepped upon his head? Besides, was it right to compromise us all, to put us all in the same basket while we were only in the same bus? Did someone ask him to speek in our names? Had we all lost our speech, except for that one word?

The day after that I found myself staring at some bossom in the center of town, just to notice the couple looking away from me, both speechless.

Van de rimboe naar de ruïnes van de wat.

Gezien een weekje vergleden is sinds mijn laatste bericht en wij heel wat opgeschoten zijn, zowel geografisch (we zitten in Cambodja) als medisch (Tine is over haar buikkrampen en diarree), moet ik mijn relaas samentrekken. En dat gaat als volgt; we volgden in het nationaal park Kao Yai de rode markeringen op een pad in de rimboe tot die verdwenen en we enkel stroomopwaarts van een watervallenrijke rivier de beschaving konden terugvinden. We volgden sluikstortafval en blanke toeristenkuiten en bevonden ons algauw op een ander pad waar "rode" markeringen zijn verdwenen, dat naar het land van de Khmers. Geregeld duikt nog een historische index op, weliswaar in absensu; een been of twee tekort. Van de rimboe naar de ruïnes van Angkor Wat, wat werkelijk een wereldwonder is. Vooral een wonder dat het er nog staat gezien de stroom overlopende toeristen. We mesten ons intussen wat vet en poppelen om Phnom Penh.



De drukte van Bangkok ingewisseld voor de provinciale kalmte van Ayuthaya, 200 km noordwaarts ofte 3 uur gezapig sporen door randsteden en overstroomde rijstvelden. Bijzonder weinig te vertellen over Ayuthaya maar ik had nog enkele minuten in dit cybercafe te 'vergelden'. Dus onthoud; mooi weer, toffe buddha's, vele ruines.


Sin City

Bangkok. Ten eerste, bedankt aan de vrienden die nog een mailtje of een sms stuurden of iets op mijn voice mail inspraken. Sorry dat ik niet antwoordde. Bij deze gebeurt dat minder persoonlijk maar gebeurt het toch. De anderen, bedankt om me in de 'drukke' voorbereidingen niet te storen. Bangkok dus. We zijn toegekomen, we hebben nauwelijks een cultuurshock gevoeld maar vooral koude airco's. En dan tot 15h geslapen. Zwaar gejetlagged natuurlijk. Intussen gans ondergedompeld in het warme toerisme, de knipogen bij het gemeenschappelijk opmerken van sextoeristen, het gemeenschappelijk wegkijken bij de miserabelen in de minder aantrekkelijke steegjes, de gemeenschappelijke tevredenheid over de beperkte irritatie in een sterk vermoeid koppel. Bangkok. Ofte Krungthep en ellenlange woorden daarna. City of Angels. City of sins. Verder loop ik precies in de verfilming van The Perfume. Maar spotgoedkoop dan.


The starting blog

De nodige vaccinaties zijn voltooid. Diverse ziektes verloren de laatste twee maanden een gehandicapt toernooi met mijn lichaam. Het was unfair. Het was geënsceneerd spel. Het was een omgekochte match. De dokter was voor de betrokken viri een ware gokchinees. Bovendien speelden mijn antilichaampjes een thuismatch. Ik kan niet garanderen of mijn immuniteitsstelsel het zo goed zal doen op verplaatsing. Ik sta achter de prognostieken van het tropisch instituut.

De papieren zijn in orde. Of toch grotendeels. Of dat denken Tine en ik. We zouden tot in Bangkok moeten geraken. We zouden probleemloos door het land en het land daarna kunnen reizen. Tot een machtswellustige militair op een regenachtige nacht ons liever de wanden van de grenspost laat aflikken. Wie weet? Ik althans niet. We hebben besloten suiker, waspoeder en zout thuis te laten om elke verwarring te vermijden. En om de douaniers te charmeren heb ik besloten een oranje klaproos op mijn hemd te spelden. Met bloemen doe je nooit verkeerd.

Mijn zak is nog niet gemaakt. Daarover zal ik ook helemaal niet berichten. Ik zal uw meer zinvolle activiteiten pas verstoren wanneer ik wat kan opscheppen over geografisch verantwoord naakt.