The ground up. Or as Pol Pot coined it, Year Zero. We dawdled in Siem Reap a few more days to recapture fleeting moments of the Khmer empire. The remnants of the ancient city leaves an aftershock, a ghostly thrumming of its former power, the obsidian stone unmovable, yet holding secrets. Ta Prohm affected me the most, a vicious reminder that we can manipulate nature for so long, until she reclaims what is hers. I can still hear the Banyan tree whispering to me of hidden passages and dense cloth draping to conceal. I know all these feelings play on my psyche, because of my dual nature. During daylight, I play the devout girlfriend, while my nocturnal dreams seek new lovers and a fresh self.

Oh, but now we’re cast back into Phnom Penh awaiting visas for Laos and Vietnam. Yesterday involved multiple events. It was Pippa and Richard’s last night, so we splurged at a swanky restaurant called The Soup Dragon. My nutrition hasn’t been up to par of late, yet my activity level continues to soar. Bad, bad. After rousing conversation, aided by bowls full of hot soup, we capped off the night at a bar called Heart of Darkness. I laugh at how Vietnam is a whitewashed concept here. All of Southeast Asia was not the war, just Nam’, people. It’s the equivalent to a resurgence of Mao iconography at the Chinese gift shops in Chinatown back home. If a cruel, insane control freak can be rendered benign and kitschy, why not war? Leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

What else leaves a bad taste is this horrible guesthouse we ended up at. “Same Same, but Different Different”, more like “Shit Shit, All Day Long”. They first put us into a little crapbox of a room that was hotter than hell. Running to the deck offered no relief either. Don’t build decks with tin, my god – I became swine on a spit. If this is what the netherworld has in store for me, I demand a corner office.  To top off that joy, the food was borderline disgusting. The morning proved to be a crisis, because we were on the fence about going to Laos.  William headed for a meltdown, which was diverted when a nice New Zealand girl stepped in to calm things down. It was somewhat comical, the misery of Same Same. The restaurant staff scowl at you; the proprietor is a surly, pissy German man. He grunts with “ja” or “yeah”. I adore a man who utters one word answers. Poor William has a scorched face and a back full of bed bug bites. Somehow I managed to emerge unscathed. I feel quite sorry for him.

We’re now back at No. 9 Guesthouse, but not without fan fare. Same Same should be renamed Mafia House. These two moto drivers who dropped us there cornered me. Alone. One wanted to be paid for taking me to that house of misery. I managed a “no no, won’t be paying you”, then walked briskly towards the door, but got hit twice when the second driver started hassling me.

He raised his finger, shaking it vigorously at me, screaming,  “You change rooms!!  You change rooms!!” Ahh, I wondered if he might pull a gun right there to force me to stay. Wouldn’t be unrealistic in Cambodia. Back away slowly. His dark eyes narrowed menacingly. I slithered away.

In rabbit quick mode, I trotted down the alley, towards watermelon shakes and breezy decks. This is twice that I’ve had to face a hairy situation by myself with William nowhere to be found. Navigating gaping potholes in the alley afforded me time to absorb recent developments. Mafia House doesn’t sound right to the ear. I anoint you The Armpit of Darkness. Amazingly, I wasn’t rattled. What I’m discovering is a hard edge. And that’s what Pol Pot attempted to do, was rebuild Cambodia. In a weird sense he accomplished that goal, guesthouse mafia was only one example. The people were forced to start from the ground up, because entire generations were wiped out. What that translates to is mere survival and a callous attitude that even children display. I was minutes away from meeting William at the Internet cafe. Lies, starting from the beginning, and wounded hearts swirled in my mind. Like Captain Willard, I selfishly pondered my next trials on this trip, and could only stand by as our relationship teetered towards disaster. There is a jungle, and it’s all around me.

Photo: Ashengrove under Creative Commons