I needed a bus to Cambodia, so I waited at the bus stop on the edge of Lumpini Park and hoped one would come along. What can I say? All my better plans had already been used up. After about five minutes a plumpish young man with long hair walked up to me and said, “Poipet?” and pointed to a silver van. I’d heard there were vans as well as buses, the price was the same, and so I shoved my bag in the door and climbed in.
Alongside the long haired man was the driver, a grinning guy who was balding, though still young and handsome. A few times he yelled back cheerfully to make sure the music wasn’t too loud and the a/c was all right. He didn’t sound Cambodian. He sounded like a college student from Los Angeles.
As we drove through the city the man with long hair stuck his head out the window and asked, “Poipet?”, but no one else climbed on. The van had seats for twelve and could have fit twenty as least, but it was just me there in back. Then, because I had a feeling that was strange but not bad, I asked, So, do you do this every day?
The driver laughed. No way! We’re from the Philippines! We’re headed to the casino and we thought we’d try to get money for gas! Now I understood why they sounded more American than I did. They did business in Thailand, they did business everywhere, the driver traveled all the time. One business was exporting Thai coffee, but that was just one of his businesses.
The slightly plump man with the long hair was really adorable. He could have been Navajo. He talked a lot, but he didn’t say anything about himself. He talked only about the driver, his traveling, his business. They asked where I was from and what I was doing. Then they wanted to know if I’d ever eaten anything really exotic.
You mean, like beetles and worms? I asked. Yeah, that’s what they meant. But I couldn’t think of anything. Looking back now, I feel sorry I didn’t think to tell them about the rattlesnake my brother caught bare-handed in Florida and served for Christmas dinner. They would have liked to to have heard about that.
I wondered if the man driving had any idea that the man riding shot-gun was completely in love with him. Maybe he just teased him, or maybe he sometimes let the shot-gun guy suck him off. Did they kiss, sometimes, when they were both very drunk? I hoped so.
The driver said the best exotic food in Thailand were the little eggs with embryos inside. Both men urged me to try them. The best way to eat them was warm, with a few bitter green leaves. The driver said, You don’t look, you don’t think, you just pop it in. And you are going to love it!
He ate cobra once, said the man riding shot-gun. You swallow the heart with whiskey.
With vodka! said the driver. You also drink vodka when you drink the cobra’s blood. That blood is like Viagra. You drink the cobra’s blood and you are going to have a boner for two, three days.
Sign me up! I cried, with maybe somewhat too much enthusiasm. Just the same, I felt grateful and lucky. It seemed to me that today life had acted in a very gracious way, both gracious and hospitable, to have provided such comfortable air-conditioned transport to the mad border town of Poipet, with even this friendly nod to my insatiable and all-devouring perversity.
(Siem Reap, 2014)