Hey there, little insect

As I sit here munching contentedly on a rather large bowl of Coco Pops (the more observant among you may wonder ‘ how strange, at 6 o’ clock in the evening…’, but the reason will be revealed… later!) my thoughts meander in the direction of food. I know Coco Pops are not really ‘good’ for you, but I feel they are a real comfort food. They help me to get through the feeling-sorry-for-myself times, such as now, when I am really, really missing my wonderful wife and my beautiful baby. Yes, I do have feelings and I am not ashamed to admit to them. I hope you are beginning to sniff a little, and are blinking back that tear forming in the corner of your eye. I did warn you all that things might become a little maudlin over the next week or so, so you really ought to have stocked up on the Kleenex…
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, food… a colleague who had traveled to our office in Kampong Thom came back the other day with a gift for Rivann and Maly, my two female project officers here in Phnom Penh. And what did he bring… some perfume? Some silk? Some beautiful flowers?
No. He brought a bag of fried insects. Crickets, to be precise. Oh wow. However, the women were over the moon. Apparently there is something about the Kampong Thom crickets, they have that little ‘je ne sais quoi’ that sets the little fried beasties apart from the other delicacies that abound in Cambodia (chicken feet, anyone? Come on, lets not fight over the beak… tell you what, I’ll swap you two deep fried tarantulas for one duck embryo – look, it’s got little tiny feathers on its wings… yummy!) . The reality, of course, is that the ‘eat anything that crawls, swims, flies or walks – and waste no part of it’ approach is very much rooted in the poverty that still grips much of Cambodia.
Poverty is no excuse for well-fed westerners ‘though, and I have to confess that my experience of insect eating is very limited. I have accidently swallowed a couple of midges and a few flies in the UK; over here I have managed one cricket (eaten under the influence of beer), and a handful of ants (not recommended – Mowgli, don’t listen to Baloo!). I still find it a little disconcerting watching people munch away on things that most people in the west veer away from as scary and/or disgusting…
Rivann invited Maly and I for lunch today. Not really being much enamoured with the thought of snake gizzard or frog liver (do frogs have livers?) I was relieved to find we were lunching at the Paragon Centre, a shiny new(ish) shopping mall near the centre of town. It does not remind me in any way of what must be the greatest shopping experience in the world, the Paragon in Bangkok. I will blog another time on the wonders of the Bangkok Paragon. For now, let us return to its smaller and quirkier little brother, here in Phnom Penh. My $2 plate of fettuccini with stir fried vegetables and pepper pork was substantial and wholesome, and washed down with a large glass of chocolate iced coffee, which ensured that I hurtled through the afternoon with manic intensity and eyes pinned like a speedfreak. And that is why I am unable to manage any more than a bowl of CP’s tonight. Or perhaps just two bowls. Uh-oh, I can feel the steely glare emanating across the miles between from A even as I munch…

…. and I forgot to mention fish head soup… but that is a story for another time….

listenng to – ‘dancing days’ Led Zeppelin
‘roll on down the highway’ Bert Jansch

missing – my sweetheart and my little boy… so much

Lonely Planet Boy

So it was Otis’ blessing and naming party on Saturday, and things went really well, I’m happy (and very relieved) to say. Friends, colleagues, monks, Chapei players – all showed up and played their important roles in what was a really wonderful day and one that I’m sure Otis will appreciate and marvel at when he looks back at the record of events that we made for him (book, video, photos – he’s one of the most heavily documented people on earth, I fear). The weather stayed dry, with, as Eric Olthwaite might say, the only precipitation occuring indoors – from the monks when they blessed him with water – he looked slightly startled for a moment, then very surprised when it then started raining not just water but also Jasmine flowers and sweets…) The food was excellent and plentiful, the mood was relaxed and happy and young Otis was looking particularly fetching in blue (accessorized at the party by flowers from the MAG ladies, who were queuing up to pose with him!) and behaved himself pretty much immaculately all day. He had not poo-poo-ed for nearly a week, so we had visions of apocalyptic floods of liquid slurry sweeping all before them as the little O decided to evacuate his bowels either at the blessing or the party, but no, bless him, he saved it all for Sunday…

I take back my comments in the last blog entry – the Chapei player, Master Pe, was an absolute gentleman and absolutely brilliant. I have to confess to leading you all astray when I said it was a 2-stringed instrument – it’s actually 3 strings, 2 of which are drones. The blind master had us all spellbound with his technique and the immense humor in his delivery – I have to thank Mr. Chhourn for translating ‘on the run’ for me. It was very humbling to be in the presence of a master musician, one who has been taught by ear, who has no concept of the formal structures we impose on music, yet who is so inherently musical.

 

The blessing was held in our house, and again I found it to be very profound and moving. When the monks began to chant I found myself flowing with the sound and becoming lost within it (no, I had not drunk any alcohol at this point). I am so pleased we decided to hold a celebration that brought the two cultures together in such a way to celebrate our wonderful little son, and we were so pleased that everyone said how much they had enjoyed the day. Happiness flowed as freely as the Asahi, all had more than enough to eat and drink, and the day ended with a philosophical argument (discussion?) between Uncle Dave, myself and Anita on radical feminism, which Anita won on points. Well, OK, she won on a TKO. Oh alright then, she wiped the floor with us, chewed us up and spat us out into the corner….

 

My beautiful (and long-suffering – you try living with me…!) wife and my beautiful little boy are en route to the UK as I write this, so you can expect the next few week’s postings to be maudlin, moping and full of self-pity (‘so what’s different?’, I’m sure you all ask) until I can  jet off to join them. I have been given a box set of ‘Heroes’ for father’s day from Otis, so I have plenty to keep me occupied until joining them in three weeks. Once I have ploughed through that I shall also probably revert to some serious watching of Cambodian television, which believe me is an unbounded joy and one that I feel I ought to share my musings on with the world… lets hide behind a tree, he said, enigmatically… maybe the next few postings won’t be quite so maudlin after all…

 

Listening to – Telegram Sam (T.Rex), Claire de Lune (Debussy) and Curtis Mayfield Anthology

Reading – the Coco Pops box

Favourite phrase or saying of the moment – ‘Pretentious? Moi?’ 

 

 

down on the corner

nanny interviewing… a difficult task. not all are Mary Poppins it seems… we are trying to do the best for Otis in this but unfortunately we don’t really understand the nuances of his high pitched screaming (does it mean he likes her, or do it mean he don’t…?) Then there’s this whole unspoken dialogue behind the look in his potential nanny’s eyes – ‘my god, he is SO big, he must be 5 years old not 5 months… he is so WHITE… do they bathe him in bleach?’ Otis could definitely be the pin-up baby boy for skin-whitening products in SE Asia(ladies – want your skin to be as white as this cute little chubby’s botty? Then use new Bleach-o- White wonder cream! At a stall near you NOW!) As much as many westerners obsess over being brown(er), the ideal of beauty for the Cambodian woman is to be white(r). God must be a marketing man, as I swear to him that you cannot buy anything vaguely cosmetic here that does not have some skin-whitening effect. Thank the lord that at least Coco Pops still turn the milk brown…
The lesson for y’all today is to discover, or re-discover, Creeedence Clearwater Revival. Honest and raw, rock and roll. It came out of the sky. Now find where it landed and plug in – any album will do, even the so-called heinous Mardi Gras (worst album ever by a major band? Nah – that honour goes to… that Duran Duran covers record, whose name thankfully escapes me) which holds the wondrous ‘sweet hitchiker’. Listen and enjoy and get a little excited. There’s a Bad Moon Risin’ around my house tonight… thank you Mr. Fogerty…
…see you down on the corner

‘who’ll stop the rain?’ (Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos/Iraq)