Friday, July 8, 2011

A three hour tour with drunk military leaders

 I had the strangest boat ride today.  It all began days ago.  Apparently there was a holiday in Cambodia on Thursday.  But, this story begins on Wednesday.  That evening two of the five members of MCC on Koh Rong were missing, our German intern, Daniel, and our local director/dive instructor, Kylie.  They were gone most of the evening and stumbled in that night.  The next morning they told their tale.  They were being held a very polite sort of way.  One of the village leaders, we'll call him Sandcat, (one of the three people on the island that we greet in a different, more respectful way) was back and he wanted to drink.  Daniel and Kylie happened to be at the bar when Sandcat was around and they were asked to join him for a drink.  They couldn't turn down the offer, so each time he said to finish their drink they did.  Drink, after drink, after drink.  The next morning Daniel, not feeling all that well from the heavy drinking from the night before, walked through the village to buy some bread.  Sandcat was in the bar that morning and invited Daniel to join him for a drink.  Of course, he could not refuse.  I figure that Daniel went MIA in Cambodia at 0900.  A few hours later Kylie received a call from the captive Daniel and was instructed to go to the Karaoke bar.  Presumably if he wanted to see Daniel.  Kylie could not refuse.  Upon arriving at the bar, he was given beer and instructed to drink which would please Sandcat.  Around this time, the Karaoke began to ring loudly throughout the village (Khmer people seem to love Karaoke).  I heard the same song over and over and over.  It was torture and I was a hundred yards or more away!
  With two members missing, the rest of us were left with little to do and no boat to escape in.  We knew what our fellow members were going through, but we were hesitant to rush in only to be cut down in the same fashion.  I decided to sleep on it.  I took a nap.  When I awoke, I was all alone.  The other two members must have attempted a rescue.  Now my team was all in danger, but I was powerless to save them from the free drinks and requests to chug cheap Thai beer and eat dog.  I decided to sit and wait.  Perhaps a plan would come to mind or Sandcat would take pity on my team.  I sat outside our house and began to read.  It wasn't long before I was completely surrounded.  At least a dozen members of the village, ages 4 to 12, surrounded me.  I was backed into a corner.  I could hardly move.  Their hands grabbed at me and they looked carefully at what I was reading (the bibliography of the book, actually) and they said, "Hello! How are you?"  Not knowing what to do, I replied with what we had taught them, "I am fine, thank you." That seemed to work.  They followed by asking what my name was.  I thought that it could be a trick because they had asked me this at least a dozen times before.  Then, completely unexpected, they began pointing to their body parts and started naming them.  "Nose!", they cried.  "Head!" rang out.  Soon a chorus of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes."  I thought that everything was going to be OK.  Suddenly though, they switched to Khmer.  They wanted me to reply in Khmer, to mimic them.  I tried and they were soon exasperated.  I was obviously not pronouncing things as well as they had hoped.  Some of them began to drift away only to be replaced by others.  Soon I was surrounded by a half-dozen boys age 8-14.  They looked at me and then looked at the poster, written in Khmer, behind me.  The poster depicted many of the organisms of the coral reef.  They knew these organisms, but they didn't know their names in English.  They began pointing at pictures and asking names.  "Urchin," I said.  Followed by "Coral"and "fish" and "Coral"and "Coral" and "giant clam" and "anemone." They wanted more.  Each gave me their notebook so that I could write the names for each of the creatures.  Once supplied with the names, they put down the Khmer name and the Khmer letters that would create sounds like urchin and coral.  Then, it all switched on me again, they wanted me to learn the Khmer names.  Their eyes were rolling and they slowed the names to speeds that were clearly painful for them, hoping that I might at least get close.  By this time, it was 5:40pm.  My team was still in trouble.  Minutes seemed like hours and then, finally, I saw them.  They looked rough.  They stumbled down the boardwalk and I knew that they were safe.  Fortunately, they were just in time to help me teach the kids English for a half hour.
   That brings us to this morning.  We were planning on getting an early dive in to search for sea grass beds in the bay and then planned to leave for the mainland at 1200.  The morning dive went very well (it will be another post), but after the dive Kylie's phone rang.  It was Sandcat.  It was still morning.  It was time for more beer.  Our departure was delayed and then delayed and then we were informed that Sandcat and a number of members from the Cambodian Navy were to join us on our trip.  We loaded onto the boat.  Daniel came aboard and told us that there was a very high-ranking officer from the Navy that was going to join us on our trip.  This officer was to be greeted with the high form of greeting.  I was about to experience the same fate that my team had.  He boarded with a case of beer and three other men in uniform.  The cans of beer were immediately distributed and we were all asked to drink.  Thus began our very strange three-hour tour.
  Our boat headed out and we said (in Khmer) "Cheers"over and over.  About 15 minutes into the ride, the officer noticed that we were not heading toward the mainland.  This was true.  We were heading to the neighboring island to pick up a few other volunteers.  He told the boat-driver to stop and take us back.  We convinced him that it would only be for a minute, so the beer began to flow again. 

Embarrassing Photo #1

Daniel and the principle of Koh Rong (also in attendance)
 Fortunately, Ceri and I managed to make most of ours flow over the side of the boat.  As we cruised along the navy people seemed to not recognize that round-bottomed boats tilt A LOT if they are not balanced.  Each time they would stand up and switch sides the boat tilted severely to one side or another.  Fortunately, we did made it to Koh Rong Samloem and docked.  Almost everybody got off.  We all felt trapped.  We were going to have to get back on that boat, and in order to not offend the officer, we would have to continue to drink.  Not only was he a high-powered person in the military, he was carrying a gun.  We had to keep him happy.  Very happy.  We waited and waited for everybody to return.  Finally, after about a half an hour, they returned....with a case of beer.  We got underway and the Anchor beer case was opened.  It contained about 6 cans of Coke and several different kinds of beer.  The beers were distributed.  We said Cheers with the special hand positioning showing respect, although I doubt there was much of it left in the group.  Back underway, the drunks got more drunk and my beer continued to flow into the sea.  Then it really got strange.  The Officer started taking pictures of himself and others in mock embrace.  The Officer stood and fell from one side of the boat to the other to embrace Daniel, a 6 foot plus, 21 year old German.   That was odd.  Then he did it again.  And again.  And again.  He goosed the other men by grabbing between their legs.  He took out his camera phone and took pictures with his arms around the girls on board.  He pretended to be a coy school girl.  This behavior went on and on and on.  I stayed as far away as possible. 

Ceri super happy to be involved in this international incident
I avoided all eye-contact.  The Officer put away his gold camera phone and took out his white an purple smart phone.  I imagined that he was uploading photos to Facebook and playing Farmville.  Our boat lurched and swayed from side to side as the antics progressed and the swell came at us from an angle.  Our engine took on water and we had to stop for the bilge to clear the excess.  We wanted off of this cruise.  We wanted off badly.  Finally, we got close to the port.  Of course, the Officer saw that they party was about to end and he wanted to be sure to keep in touch.  He didn't friend us on Facebook, but he took down some phone numbers.  He added numbers to his phone and offered to take the ladies in his car all around Sihonoukville.  Finally, we made it to the pier.  We got off.  We got a ride in a tuktuk and got out of there before things got any more strange.

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