Friday, May 28, 2010

Pizza on the Mekong

“How happy would you like your pizza?”, the waitress asks.

I look up from my table in downtown Phnom Penh. Five kids are lurking near the gutter braving the security to run up and tout me books, motorcycles are veering crazily along the street. The most bizarre collection of ex-pats sits around me, one looking the spitting image of a Cuban military general, cigar, uniform and all, sitting authoritatively amongst his sharply contrasting comrades.

“We have Happy, Very Happy, and Super Happy..” She continues.

The fellow we are sitting with has given me some trouble, he seems friendly, but many guest house lurkers are. I’ve been eyeing him with suspicion all night, he’s keen on heading to Martini’s which has an infamous name in Phenom Penh.

He clams to have arrived from Wales a couple days ago, had bragged about his 1.3 million pounds in the bank and his successful pharmaceutical business. I’ve seen the type, and now I’m trying to figure out what he wants with us, what his game is. A few points in his story don’t check out.

He was a nice deep tan, more than two days worth – especially out of England. He has dry skin patches on his elbows, something a man who owns two drugstores would take care of on his own, promptly. His shirt was bought yesterday, he claimed, but it was easily over two days old, and his shoes looked too worn to have from straight from the UK.

No, he was feeding us a line, I’d already warned Clem, my travelling buddy on this trip, but he wasn’t convinced.

“Just lightly happy”, I tell the waitress giving the mysterious fellow across from me an appraising glance. I confirm “Light Ganja – No mushrooms”, “of course, sir..” she replies professionally, insulted that I should question her on the difference between ‘happy’ and ‘super happy’.

A stunning, European woman walks in, in an evening gown and an elegant black hat. She looks like something out of Paris in the 1930′s. I’m in love with this place already, this collection of bizarre freaks. I’m secure in my own ability to avoid notice at this point, I’m dressed like a typical two month circuit runner, with my Khao Sahn ‘Same same… but different shirt. Nobody suspects I’m on a spy mission to asses this town as a possible home for a year or more. I’m sold already.

I make it clear to the weirdo clinging to the respectability of my little group that we and not going to Martini’s with him. He starts bitching bitterly about the bill, as someone would when they’ve spent money on a bad investment, and he takes off. I was thinking of calling him on it, and demanding his passport, I would have even put a $50 on it, but such confrontation is not usually wise, I let him know subtly that he’s not outsmarting me, and chase him off with my attitude and demeanor.

I think I like this place, and I think I’ll be back, in six months…

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