We have been greeted with a number of interesting salutations over the past seven months or so. Hello! Give me money! is one of our favourites, shouted by an arm-less, leg-less man who lived on the beachside boulevard in NhaTrang, Vietnam; and, despite his lack of limbs (and wheelchair) still managed to chase us down the path demanding a contribution.
You can acquire all sorts of crazy things here in Asia, without even venturing into a shop! The store comes to you... on legs or bicycle. For example, lets say you are sitting on the beach and your tummy starts to feel a bit rumbly, no need to worry! Within five minutes a lady selling bananas, mangos, pineapple and watermelon will surely stop by and chop you up a fruit salad right before your eyes. There are dried fruit chips, regular chips, full steamed crabs, ice cream, various varieties of meat on a stick, baguettes, candy, pop, water and beer. All without having to budge your burnt bottom from the beach towel. But let's say you are more in the market for a book, cigarettes, postcards, toys, a broom or a rack of clothing, no worries, all those goodies are readily available and equally as mobile. Just sit back and wait for your purchases to come to you!
We were walking along the boulevard in Phnom Penh one night when a teenage boy ran up to us with a bird cage. 'Buy a bird?' he asked, motioning to the three tiny sparrows that had, no doubt, been enjoying freedom not so very long ago. From what we read, in Buddhism paying for one of these birds to be released would be a popular way to buy yourself some good favour in your next life. It is called buying merit. The fact that these birds were free before being captured is of no consequence. 'No, thanks,' we said. He was persistent. 'Come on! Buy a bird!' he demanded. Smiling goes a long way. 'No, thanks. I don't need a bird. What would I do with a bird?' I laughed, feigning innocence. He smiled and looked confused as though he was actually pondering the question. When he couldn't come up with a reasonable answer he simply tried his luck one last time. 'Awww, buy a bird!' We started to walk away chuckling. He reached forward and touched my arm to get my attention. 'Ok, how about a turtle then?'
Another funny incident occurred while we were relaxing on the beach in NhaTrang. One of the ladies from the constant stream of fruit sellers stopped behind us and knelt down in the shade giving her back a break from the heavy load of fruit she was carting around. Jonathan was lying on his side, with his back to the fruit lady. She crawled up behind us and knelt behind Jonathan. She looked around. She made some noises to get our attention. When she wasn't getting the results that she had been hoping for, she stepped her game up a knotch. She slapped Jonathan on the butt. It was shocking enough to be hilarious. Most vendors wait for you to shake your head and then move on pretty quickly. Not this lady. She had on her game face. After the bum tap she declared 'You want mango!!' It wasn't so much a question as a command. We were laughing. At least this was something different. 'No, thanks,' Jonathan answered. 'You buy mango from me, or I kill you!' was her next line. It would have been creepy and maybe a little worrying if she didn't follow her death threat up with a song: "Mango! Banana! Pineapple! Mango! Banana! Pineapple!' She started to dance. But this song required back up dancers as well so she grabbed Jonathan's shoulders and started shaking him around to the beat of her song. It was so entertaining that I caught myself humming along. 'YAAA Mango! Banana! Pineapple!' What a tune. After the musical interlude she forgot all about her fruity focus and turned her attention to Jonathan's beard. 'Ohhhhh!' she hummed as she ran her fingers through his excessively large, red, facial hair, fluffing it up until it covered practically his whole face, humming to herself the whole time. Finally satisfied with all her hard work she suddenly shot up to her feet. 'Ok! See you later!' she sang, waving goodbye. Seriously, this happened.
Most entertaining, for me at least, are the numerous roadside barbers who will practically bulldoze anything, and anyone that poses an obstacle between themselves and the werewolf (or walking dollar sign) they see walking beside me. Their eyes bulge when they see all the excess hair they could chop off and later form into a small stuffed dog for their kids to play with. Maybe they charge per strand? 'Cut! Shave!!' they call enthusiastically as they trip over their barber seats trying to get Jonathan's attention. They run out on to the street wielding scissors in one hand and a rusty metal razor in the other. Jonathan shakes his head gravely, dashing their hopes of snipping. 'Good luck with that one. I'm with you!' I shake my head and warn them that they are wasting their time chasing us down the street. But, needless to say, chase gives way. '(Because) how can it be? How does this hairy beast not want a little snipity snip under my experienced snippity snip snippers?' They must wonder. The only possible reason that this man looks like this must be because he has been somewhere deep in the jungle for a very long time. Or, he just really likes to irritate his wife...
Not everything you can get on the street costs money though, we discovered. We were walking down the sidewalk along a park in Saigon and noticed a big purple truck advertising a fancy kind of toilet paper. There were two employees on the sidewalk and they appeared to be handing out full roles of toilet paper to passers-bys, mostly foreigners. This was super exciting! Free, soft, fancy toilet paper! What a luxury! If you are lucky enough for your hotel to include toilet paper it is of the tissue paper variety and not luxuriously Cottonelle (I think it is actually Cashmere now) in any way. Plus, as I've mentioned before, carrying around your own supply of toilet paper is a must as there is a 70/30 shot that there won't be any in any given bathroom. 70% of the time being that there is none. Unlike all the other times when we maneuver our way to the other side of the road to avoid persistent street vendors, we made a beeline to the lovely people handing out the free toilet paper. What a strange, yet wonderful thing to be handing out on the street! The smiley employees happily handed us each our very own ginormous, plush roll! Woohoo! As I was caressing my roll with enthusiasm I happened to notice that everyone sitting on the benches on the edge of the park was giggling at us. Ok, yes, we were fondling our toilet paper. But then I thought, what if we were on the Vietnamese version of 'Just for Laughs' or 'Candid Camera?' Ha! They would be having a hoot. Watching us crazy foreigners go all googly eyed over a roll of toilet paper would be great entertainment... So everyone stay tuned to their favorite Vietnamese channel and keep an eye out for us!
Siem Reap, Cambodia has an absolutely fantastic night market. I don't really know exactly what sets it apart from all the other night markets in all the other cities, but I absolutely loved how quaint and colourful it was. The vendors were friendly, not pushy and it just had a fantastic energy. The Cambodian silk scarves were irresistible and I tried on more than a few simple cotton dresses. Since we were in Siem Reap for so long, volunteering, we had the luxury of frequenting the night market. Foot massages and back massages were $2 for twenty minutes and $3/hour. Its impossible to pass up, really. It would be bad for your health. My favourite thing to do was set Jonathan up with an hour massage and then skip off into the night market to stroke silk scarves and practice my bargaining skills. Anyways, the funny thing about the markets were the dress sellers. Pretty much all Cambodian women are tiny, but their dresses were made for tourists. Therefore, all the dresses were the 'one size fits most' variety with a scrunchy elastic back that expanded significantly, if need be. A vendor would notice me eyeballing one of their dresses and rush over. 'We have your size!' they would exclaim excitedly as they plucked down one of the dresses and proceeded to demonstrate just how wide the elastic on the back could be stretched. Jonathan's favourite pastime, (and the main reason he usually ended up being deposited in massage daycare before I went shopping) was to ask poor, hopeful dress sellers, 'And what size is that?' 'Big size! Good for you! It will even fit you!' They would declare proudly and he would laugh and laugh and I would glare at him. Mostly its funny because none of the ladies realize how unappreciated this whole exchange would be back home. Just like how the first three things every person you meet on the streets asks unabashedly are 'How old are you? Are you married? and Why don't you have children yet?' (In disbelief, with the shake of their heads- I mean REALLY, you've been married TWO years!!) One of the more savvy dress ladies, when asked by Jonathan what size it was that she had for me, smiled knowingly... 'Ummm.. Medium?'
Anyone who has been on Angkor Wat can tell you about the absolute onslaught of vendors that going into attack mode the second your tuk tuk slows down in front of a temple. It must be like what being a movie star is like. The tuk tuk, with absolutely no exaggeration, is surrounded by a crowd of at least twenty vendors, adults and children alike, pushing scarves, books, water, trinkets, bracelets and a variety of other tacky souvenirs and musical instruments.
Its sad to see the children pushing goods for a living. They really have their stories down to an art though. Apparently word has gotten out that foreigners want children to get an education. So, if its the morning and you ask them why they aren't in school they say that they go in the afternoon and then in the afternoon, its visa versa. Mothers with stalls in temples send their tiny two year old children out to wander the ancient, tourist filled corridors armed with an armful of bracelets to sell. The older children are witty and well informed. First, they ask you where you are from. Once you answer, you're doomed. Eventually we started telling everyone that we were from 'Niagara.' It worked well because not only had no one heard of it, but the response threw them so off that we had a chance to sneak off and actually enjoy the temples while they stood there thinking what to say next. Their whole plan blown. 'Canada,' I answered a few times. 'Ohhh Canada,' they will say, 'Very beautiful! Capital is Ottawa. Big cities are Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto! You have a population of ....'and their speal goes on. It's quite impressive. So much so that you feel compelled to buy whatever it is that they have in their little baskets. They did, after all, just spend the last five minutes spewing off random Canadian facts. You didn't even have to break your stride, they just scurried along side of you this whole time. Sometimes we would just have conversations with the kids for fun. One time a girl, about ten years old, followed me all the way down a path to the lake. 'You can come, but I'm not going to buy anything,' I told her. We got to the lookout and this weird looking flying contraption flew by. I interrupted her Canadian history lesson. 'What's that?' I asked. She glanced up quickly, not wanting to get distracted from her lecture. 'Oh, that's a flying motorbike. Anyways...' without a blink of an eye. A flying motorbike?! I burst out laughing. A flying motorbike? I watched the contraption pass by. It did sort of look exactly like a flying motorbike... I laughed all the way back to the temple. It was an Ultralite Jonathan told me later. Well that's boring! I like the flying motorbike response much better. 'Ok, now you need cold water!' the girl declared as we neared her mother's stall. 'No, thanks,' I replied for the millionth time. 'Ok, maybe when you come back (from inside the temple). It's ok if you change your mind!' She shouted at our backs. haha
p.s: Happy Birthday, Marta!!