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Day 54 – The Price of Marriage in Cambodia

April 26, 2010

Dateline: Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Monday, April 26, 2010

Another day with no pics. Again, I claim exemption due to illness. (My editor is lovin’ this. Pics lengthen his work process, even more than sickness induced typos.) While I was not feverish, I was far from well. The Battle of Antietam had settled into a firefight between my immune system and the evil sickness’s evil forces. While that’s a mighty step down from formal engagement, my body was still taking casualties, many in the form of brain injuries that force me to draw out tortured analogies to combat. All’s fair in love and digestive war.

While I couldn’t be bothered to take the time to photograph anything today between internal chants of, “Keep it together. Keep it together,” that didn’t make my day free of interesting encounters.

In the wake of my illness I finally got around to visiting Seeing Hands Massage. As the name implies, all the masseuses are blind. It’s a great way for them to earn good money. It’s an awesome way to help me recover. At $6 for an hour, it was also cheaper than a doctor’s visit or any medication that might be prescribed.

Not sure if it was because I was still a little ill or that the masseuse was male or that he was blind or that he was doing shiatsu massage but I am sure that I was flinching a lot more than I normally do. He couldn’t see me flinch (see: blindness), but I know he felt me flinch. Every time I’d involuntarily tense, he’d ease up on the pressure. At one point he said, “Relax.” Oh, buddy, I was trying, it just wasn’t working.

When he was through, I was kicking myself for not trying out the place earlier. I highly recommend it. Also, after you’ve paid your blind masseuse for doing some damn fine work, you’ll feel less guilty when you wave off the legless guy in the wheelchair who’s selling books.

I returned the motorbike today, too, in anticipation of leaving for the south coast of Cambodia the next day. Sihounakville is a 4.5 hour bus ride away and I wanted to get an early start. That meant giving up my wheels in the evening while the rental place was still open.

The young tout who brought me to the shop followed me there to return the bike. The shop was temporarily closed because the cute girl that ran the place was at an English class. When she arrived, I paid my $30 for 5 days. The lady that took my money (the cute girl’s sister), almost reached over the desk and gave me a hug she was so happy. She kept saying, “Thank you.” I don’t think people normally rent bikes from her that long or probably for that much. She’s lucky that men do stupid things of no consequence just because they are in the presence of an attractive woman. Men are idiots. I’m just lucky my idiocy only cost me $5. How can you not love Southeast Asia?

The young tout, Sung Mune–don’t ask me how to spell or say it, I almost just made his name up—made me promise to drink with him later that night. Queasy stomach and all, I agreed. One never hurt.

I sat around the Floating Island lounge reading. When Sung Mune arrived after his English class (75 cents an hour) he sat down with me for a chat. I tried to choke down solid food (fried onion and beef) and we sipped beer. Every few minutes we’d raise our cans and say, “chueng mooi,” which means “Cheers” in Cambodian.

I got through a third of the meal before I had to stop. I couldn’t eat any more. Sung Mune’s friends arrived with food and more drink and we joined them at a larger table. A large platter of barbecued chicken entrails and chicken heads. I so wanted to give them a try. I couldn’t—I’d already abandoned almost a full meal of food. I could only watch as everyone dug in with their fingers. “Chueng mooi!” Beer over ice. It was like New Year’s all over again.

When I’d talked to the young tuk tuk driver two days before he’d told me about how expensive an education was for him. He’d also mentioned that women didn’t want to talk to you if you didn’t have money. I figured this was just the worldwide phenomenon of “no money, no honey.”

Talking with Sung Mune and his friends as they feasted on chicken parts, I realized it was something much more elemental. They told me that you couldn’t get married unless you could give her parents $1,000 or $2,000 dollars. The dowry lives on.

That may not sound like much, but Sung Mune says he earns $40 – $50 a month. That’s Jacob money right there. Seven years of labor, at least. Sung Mune apparently is interested in the cute girl who rented me the motorbike. He said he likes her but every time he tries to woo her, she says, “Talk to my parents.” It’s not that she’s necessarily a gold digga, but her fam ain’t messin’ with no. . .well, you know.

Just another complication in a complicated country. Nothing’s cheap for people here. Everything is, for me. Just a little perspective. It’s one thing to know that some people live on a dollar a day; it’s another to see someone try to get by before your eyes.

Tomorrow I head south for a two-day dive trip. Perhaps I’ll have the wherewithal to take some pictures by then. For now, I rely on my words.

I agree with you—I like pictures better.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. sally permalink
    April 28, 2010 10:49 pm

    Per our conversation, I can say that you are getting the reminders/perspective you wanted re:$.

    • April 29, 2010 6:06 am

      Yup. As I said when I talked with you, I’ve always had the intellectual understanding–I just wanted to regain the visceral understanding.

      Plus, ain’t no woman worth no 2 years of gross salary. That’s ridiculous. She better just get with me because she’s got to have my huge personality.

      • sally permalink
        April 29, 2010 3:49 pm

        Was that my cue to say “among other things”?

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