06.01.2011 - 06.01.2011 36 °C
With an invite from our tuk tuk driver turned friend, to visit his mother’s house for lunch, I was predicting that today would be one of our most memorable experiences in Cambodia. Dragon’s friend Wan was also coming along for the ride and when we jumped in the moto it was Wan that was in the driving seat while Dragon accompanied us in the back and gave us a commentary on the local sights. With a 50kg sack of rice below our feet the moto was a little slower off the mark than usual and when we veered off the main road onto a dirt track, I was having my doubts about whether we would even make it. I wasn’t recognizing a signal part of this journey to the orphanage that we had made the other day “Lighthouse Orphange?” we asked Dragon over and over. He nodded and smiled, like always as we pootled along kicking up clouds of dust. The dreaded words “same same, but different” popped up as we neared the gates of the wrong orphanage. “We want same same” we insisted as Dragon urged the security guard to let us in with our sack of rice. We could only laugh at the situation, I don’t think they even invited ‘farang’ visitors into this orphanage and there we were with our 50kg sack of rice refusing to go inside. “We have lunch first then lighthouse” I said to Dragon, who agreed.
Dragon’s family home was just across the road from the orphanage and moments later he had us sitting on the floor eating various fruit while flicking through family photo albums. He showed us photos of his sister who was living the ‘dream’ of escaping to the western world, with her husband in America. There was also photographic evidence of Dragon’s 3 years spent as a monk lining the walls amongst photos of his siblings and parents. He gave us a tour of the house which consisted of an upper and a lower floor, in the corner of the upstairs room was a metal box full of books that he used to study. Sandwiched between the pages of one of the fusty old text books was a Buddhist charm card which he offered me to keep for good luck on my travels. From the small shrine downstairs he also gave me a tiny wooden Buddha for more good luck. So by now I was brimming with luck.
We sat cross-legged on the cool tile floor with another photo album as Dragon prepared food and Wan popped off to the market for more supplies. An unusual looking soup, lukewarm, was placed in front of us. It was a Chinese soup, which to us British would probably imply chicken and sweetcorn or hot and sour. If only. In this cauldron lurked every part of every animal I think they could find, some parts were unrecognizable. I wasn’t feeling on top form as it was that day, so I pushed the soup about my bowl, trying to appear as though it was the best thing since sliced bread.
Relief, the rest of the food turned up to take the attention away from the soup; chickens feet and a sad looking fish. It turned out the fish was great and there was more to nibble than just the bony chicken feet. This was all accompanied by Chilled Angkor Beer and music. Good times.
We stayed for hours chatting; so long in fact, there wouldn’t be time to visit Lighthouse Orphanage.
On the way back, Dragon took us to his Silver Pagoda, where he lived as a monk for 3 years; a beautiful shining temple in the middle of the Cambodian dust.
He was proud to introduce us to all of his monk friends and I had to remember not to reach out to shake their hands as the guys did. “Sorry, I cannot touch the hand of the woman” apologised one young monk, so I smiled and assured him I didn’t think he was being rude. Dragon even took us to meet the highest monk ‘father monk’ and we offered him some money and received a blessing in return. I really had no idea what I was supposed to be doing; kneeling, standing, looking, not looking. I only know the basics of monk etiquette! But he smiled and followed us down the stairs. In the courtyard were a group of ancient woman who care for the monks, sitting, chewing betel nuts and smiling up at us with red stained teeth. The father monk then came to our tuk tuk with some holy water and flowers and drenched us and the tuk tuk, while giving a blessing. He then did a brilliant thing; he reached in his pocket and pulled out the money we had donated and spoke to us in Khmer. Dragon had told him about the rice we were taking to the orphans and so he wanted us to take the money for them. We rolled out of the temple with big smiles on our faces and wet, but blessed bums.