Siem Reap is a town built for tourists. The logic goes: You’ve come to see Angkor Wat, the famed temples, and now you will also get a massage, a 75-cent beer, and a ride in a tuk-tuk. Also you will get your feet eaten up by fish.
Janelle and I saw many temples on the first day, became severely templed out on the second day, and by the third day were ready for more adventuring. We thought we’d hire a driver to take us to sunrise at Angkor Wat and to a few other spots.
I’ve been trying to describe this driver but keep failing. Here’s some facts: 44 years old, maybe 5’6″, slicked-back greasy black hair, wiry frame, smokes cigarettes with a James Dean squint, talks to everyone who will converse with him, speaks just a few English words, mostly: same, big, small, hello, like, love, thank you.
As Janelle said, it was kind of like having a dad around. He went to all the temples with us, whereas most drivers would just park and wait. He pointed out great angles to shoot our photos. He taught us as much Khmer as we could handle. Which was not very much. I now know how to count to three and say “thank you very much.”
He drove a red Toyota Corolla. He got lost a lot. Most of the time he mumbled the few English words he knew, in rapid succession: I like you, hello, small small, same. At one point he got stuck on the phrase: I love you for about five minutes.
I realized this is probably how I sounded practicing Chinese.
He tried to set us up with all of his nephews. We politely declined.
We took one of many wrong turns when he turned into the parking lot of Wat Thmey. We were looking for a fashion designer who makes his chique little silk clothing outpost in a dusty corner of Siem Reap. Instead we came upon a memorial to the survivors of the Khmer Rouge and – hell, why not take a rest and read the display. Our driver had been in work camp during that time, at age 14, and he missed a lot of school, and it was very bad.
Ok, we couldn’t understand much of what he said. But we stood there at the memorial, next to a glass box the size of a washing machine full of skulls and bones, and learned just a little more about humanity.