Show And Tell

09 Feb 2008

This is why we ride the local bus.

True, we did it by accident; if you don't specify "super VIP luxury" when you buy the ticket, you'll default to an ordinary long-distance bus that stops everywhere and often does include a chicken in the aisle. It's half the price, but that doesn't make any difference to us.

But now I'm in a mute show-and-tell session with a curious local sitting in the aisle. My backpack's shoved under the seat, but I have a lap full of amusements for the six-hour ride, and he's examining each in turn.

Unlike most people here, he speaks no english at all. When he picks up a novel, he examines it upside down.

My acquaintance isn't poor by Cambodian standards; his khaki jacket and business trousers are mismatched but clean. He's around 20, but looks the same as many of the others on the bus to me. I identify him by his red baseball cap.

High technology can't be totally new to him. Still, he's fascinated by my phone, acting as a book (right-way-up this time), mp3 player (he prefers the Hilltop Hoods to London Lounge), and camera. My compass-watch also gets an inspection. He's nonplussed by my phrasebook, so I don't try to use it; I've learnt that until you know the basics of correct pronunciation, it's more harm than good. Sign language is working just fine.

The bus pulls over at a 'roadhouse', and we share a bag of sweet pineapple. I pick up some cashews for later at the same time. Back on the bus, I'm out of toys and out of energy.

I'm just waking up when Red Cap takes the bag of cashews from the seat-back, rips off the top, eats a few, then walks up the aisle with the bag, still eating.

Okaay. Massive cultural difference? Or was I just robbed? I'm not too worried, and anyway, he's gone. I go back to my book.

When I pull my backpack out from under the seat at Siem Reap, my thongs, normally strapped to the outside, are missing.

I check under the seat, where they'd have fallen, but they're not there either.

Lyn's furious, convinced that my mystery friend has stolen them. I'm not so sure.

But I know he took my cashews.