I’m Only Sleeping

I am slowly and fuzzily emerging from several days of viral infection which has, quite frankly, knocked me for six. To be honest, I imagined at one point that I actually had sleeping sickness, as I was endlessly tired, but I don’t think that the Tsetse Fly is endemic to Cambodia – or is it? Anyway, I appear to be gradually on the mend now. Still sleeping a great deal though. And dreaming. Some very unusual dreams indeed. The sleep of reason may well produce monsters, but dreams about pitching songs to Liam Gallagher??? Very strange…

Sleeping is popular in Cambodia. Well of course it is, it’s a global phenomena, innit? Cambodians are really good at it though. Motodops, for example, who stretch out, perfectly balanced, along their bike in the heat of the mid-day sun. Our inestimable Chairman Mao, tuk-tuk driver extraordinaire, is an absolute expert who can literally sleep anywhere, and in any position, at the drop of a hat. Others are quite extraordinary too, in particular staff of shops/restaurants/cinemas, and during working hours. A and I have encountered sleeping staff in many establishments we have visited over the years, often in fairly precarious positions in the remotest corners of the establishment, or in the toilets. I’ve seen men and women sleeping in supermarket aisles, on supermarket shelves, draped over exercise machines, in between giant stuffed animals, slumped over bannisters, even once in the corner of a lift. I did check the last one as I wasn’t sure if she was actually alive, and got some withering looks and dark mutterings for my trouble.

‘Please, don’t wake me, no, don’t shake me
Leave me where I am, I’m only sleeping…’

Last week Oti and I went to Iron Man at one of the local 3D cinemas and it was so goshdarned exciting that we had to visit the toilet about 30 minutes before the end. Every cubicle was occupied, with the unmistakable sound of snoring emanating from two, and the unmistakable sound of a teenage cellphone conversation emanating from the other…

Iron Man. Ah yes, always my favourite… the films are pretty good, and Charlie Chaplin makes a pretty good iron fist of wisecracking Tony Stark, but they will never match up to the comics in my opinion. My relationship with Iron Man began back in 1967, and was nurtured through a comic called ‘Fantastic’. Believe me, it was. Alongside ‘TV Century 21’, the Gerry Anderson spin-off comic, it was the next significant step up from the Beezer and Beano and Eagle. The first issue (oh how I wish I had kept them all!) featured the origin of Iron Man (and Thor) and was so exciting that I immediately cancelled all my other comics just to ensure I could get it every week – they were 3d each (Thats 3d, not 3D. Three old pence… ask an old British person for clarification – they can help with the lyric above too… seems so distant now) and ‘Fantastic’ was 9d.
A particular Christmas highlight from a few years back was receiving an early Iron Man anthology as a present from A… wish I had that here right now and I could bore Oti to tears reading it to him… although I rather suspect he would actually enjoy it. We are pretty similar in many ways, I have to say… both fascinated by the Fantastic-al!

I Travel

This coming weekend one old ruin is going to drag himself along to see another bunch of old ruins, albeit much more awe-inspiring and significant than him. Yes, to celebrate his 52 years on planet earth (feet on the ground, head in the stars!), Ani is taking James and Otis to Angkor Wat for a weekend of temples and relaxation. Which is absolutely wonderful, and will be an undoubted highlight of what will have been a few weeks of pretty intense traveling for your humble correspondent. April saw visits to Laos and Sri Lanka, both beautiful yet troubled countries. Laos was work, but there was the opportunity to travel to the Plain of Jars in the north where my organization is conducting archaeo-clearance operations and to be awestruck by the extent of the aerial bombardment of this tranquil place, that in its green hills and craggy scenery in many ways reminded me of my homeland, the Highlands of Scotland. I stood in a scrapyard where literally thousands of potentially deadly projectiles, mortars, grenades, cluster bombs and other ordnance were scattered around the ground or stacked up in rusting piles awaiting disposal… I saw many things that will be difficult to forget in both of these places, but also met up with many, many good people who are simply trying to make things better by getting on with it. We were absolutely delighted to find that a good friend, G.G., had survived the Sri Lankan Tsunami and had restarted his tour business (G.G. Happy Tours, Unawatuna, Sri Lanka – gg@gghappytours.com – highly recommended if you are visiting Sri Lanka!). We had not been able to get in touch with him after the disaster and had assumed the worst, but thankfully he had not been at his shop in Unawatuna on that morning. Of course he has been deeply affected by events; he seems to have lost much of the faux-wide-boy sparkle he had previously, but one can only imagine the terrible things he must have seen and dealt with in the days following the deadly waves. He was also lamenting the effect that the conflict in the north and the bombs in Colombo and elsewhere were having on tourism… it was true that we saw very few other foreign faces this time compared to previous visits. We said our goodbyes and went back to our hotel a few kilometers away, the Sri Geminu, a wonderfully friendly family run enterprise situated in a staggeringly beautiful location. It was hard to equate the unfolding horror of the images we had watched on our TV screens only a few years ago with the gently lapping waves in the lagoon near our hotel, where we introduced Otis to the sea…
‘Oti – this is the sea’
I have to admit he wasn’t too keen at first on what must have appeared to him to be a giant infinity pool, or indeed on this ‘sand’ stuff, but after a few days he settled into the pace of life on the beach with the ease of a sun-bleached traveler, even doing his peculiarly individual take on dancing to the riddums of Bob Marley, ears right up against the bass speaker at a tumbledown beach shack, underneath a huge Rasta flag pinned to the wall. He became a firm favourite of the staff at the hotel for his funny little ways (his favourite activity was playing with the tap next to the steps leading down to the beach – who needs beautiful azure lagoons when you have your own controllable source of water?), and they were as sad to see us leave as we were to be going… on the last morning they had decorated our tablecloth with flowers and leaves spelling out ‘goodbye’… it almost brought tears to the eyes of this hardened old cynic. Almost. Our last day was largely spent in Colombo, shopping under the watchful gaze of the heavily armed military patrolling the streets and then spending sunset and early evening at the magnificent Galle Face Hotel, haunt of the late Arthur C. Clarke and many other iconic personages, where again the little O worked his charm on the staff as a spectacular thunderstorm began to develop around us…
Mentioning Mr. Clarke (whom I had not realized at that time had recently died… it’s so easy to become disconnected from world events when on holiday) reminds me in a fairly convoluted way (which I shall spare you the details of, dear reader) that it won’t be long until the release of ‘Iron Man’ the movie. I have to confess that I am looking forward to that in a way that is not really befitting the dignified aura that should surround a man of my age. As a young chap I was an avid reader of comics, and of one in particular called ‘Fantastic’, which was a weekly British compilation of stories from the U.S. Marvel Comics group, which at that time were quite difficult to obtain in the UK. My absolute favourite was ‘Iron Man’, the story of how billionaire scientist and all round playboy/dodgy character Anthony Stark became a force for good as a metal clad superhero. The writing and illustration were uniformly superb, and I have long thought that it would make a magnificent movie if the right balance were struck between the action elements and the usual Marvel character soul-searching that took place in the finely etched frames of the stories. Robert Downey Jr. seems a really good choice for the main role (troubled, intense, hedonistic, dry of wit – yes, ticks all the boxes), and I am so pleased that they are planning to use, hurrah!! ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath as the theme… one of the all time great truly heavy metal riffs… the countdown is on to it’s release, and I daresay a dodgy DVD version will be on sale moments after I have finished typing this – that’s right, I’ll be first in the queue!
… and so to this weekend, where I shall follow in the footsteps of such great explorers and archaeologists as Angelina Jolie, and, with thumping techno soundtrack thrusting me forward, elbow many thousands of Korean tourists out of the way as I dodge huge stone balls rolling toward me and poison tipped spears whistling past my ears, clambering through the vine bedecked chambers of the ancient temples, halting only to shoot hundreds of digital photographs in search of capturing that elusive yet defining ‘moment’…. No, no, no, I really must try to pause, to breathe in, to breathe out, to stop the frantic world spinning around me, to put down the camera, put aside the trappings of this materialistic world that we only appear to live in and to take time, seconds, minutes, perhaps even hours to actually savour the experience, and to share the unique communion of one ancient ruin with another…
Cosmic, dudes!!!

senses working overtime

The other day I watched with interest as a couple of barang (foreigners) struggled manfully across the busy riverside road lugging a large Cambodian urn between them. It got me thinking about Morecambe and Wise. Not that they were indulging in any humorous bantering interplay between themselves, indeed far from it. They were hissing from between gritted teeth at the barrage of ‘hello – you want tuk-tuk’s’ that they were subjected to from the riverside posse. Judging by how much they were sweating they had been lugging and naysaying for a long time and were pretty much fed up. They did not even resemble Morecambe and Wise, they were in fact clean-cut-t-shirt-wearing-college-boy look-alikes. So why did the humorous twosome spring to mind? Because in the random morass of neurons and thingies that zoom around in the grey(ing) matter that passes for my brain I thought of a ‘joke’ that I am certain Eric Morecambe once used, albeit with a different locational content.

But we’ll get to that later. The grey matter shoots off in a different direction and lands upon things that make me very happy. I spoke to my beautiful wife and baby boy today courtesy of the Thunderbirds videophone that I have disguised as a Macbook. They are both well and happy, and despite the tendency for the digital pixilation to occasionally turn them into a David Hockney-esque explosion of colours, they are looking good. One week to go, yippee! and I can see them in person – I truly am very, very excited by that.

The bad weather here seems to have severely scrambled television signals, so I am unable to watch hours of Khmer karaoke videos as I had hoped. Severely disappointing, but if the weather and signals improve then be prepared for a blog on the finer points of how to create the perfect Khmer karaoke video. So you can put in some preparation, it might be useful to seek out the following – a tree, three people (either two men, one woman, or two women, one man), a shop selling jewellery, a motorbike, and a long path to stroll down (preferably adjacent to the tree.). This masterclass will continue when the reception gets better…

So I have actually been watching some DVDs of late. Here are my thoughts on the last couple. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ – my kind of movie. Fantastic, in the truest sense of the word, beautifully shot and acted, and in Spanish, which always makes the dialogue more portentous. ‘Volver’ – as above. Today I also bought the first season of ‘The Outer Limits’ – $13 for 8 discs, and oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy, am I inordinately excited about that… the man in the shop tried to put me off by telling me that for some obscure reason the first disc is dubbed into French with no subtitles, but you know something? I DON’T CARE. Now if I could only find a set of ‘Journey into the Unknown’ I’d be ecstatic…

The Khmer grunge outfit that performed on Friday night were rather sweet actually. They were about as grunge as Josie and the Pussycats, but immensely likeable, and played their own stuff, so three cheers for that. I think that the music scene is really showing signs of developing here, which is so encouraging. I think I’ll try and keep out of the way musically, as I don’t want to set things back 10 years or so with my noodlings…

What might Eric have said? Maybe something like this –
Eric ‘look – there are two blokes, lugging a Cambodian Urn…’
Ernie – ‘what’s a Cambodian Urn?’
Eric – ‘just over a dollar a day, based on the GNI of $380 per capita. Boom Boom!’

And before you ask, it was a Big Urn, not a little Ern…

Listening to – ‘Live from Brattles Theatre’ – Evan Dando
‘Iron Man’ – Black Sabbath
‘Highlights from the Plugged Nickel’ – Miles Davis

Eating – Spiced Fish Chowder (Friends Restaurant)
Drinking – Pineapple and Chili Frozen Margarita (as above)

And yes, still really, really, really missing my two beautiful babies, Ani and Oti.