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Sunday, August 06, 2006


Big speaker, small brain

I moved house this week. The move went smoothly and I was in good spirits. The removalist was a motorcycle taxi driver with a trailer that he held on with a folded sack that he sat on. The trailer was falling apart and I thought I would lose everything. I rode behind on my bicycle and nothing fell out. The move took two trips. How quickly we acquire possessions. He charged me 3,000 reil ($A1) for the job. I gave him another 2,000 as a tip.

I am amazed at how quiet my street is. One side has virtually no houses and on my side there are four or five in the block.

After the removalist and my friend, Vana, had left I set about setting up my new home. An early priority was to put the mosquito net over my bed. Sarun, the owner, had provided a wardrobe for me but in an inconvenient place in relation to the net. When I say wardrobe, don't think wardrobe. Think of a tubular steel frame covered in cloth, made with sufficient steel to be almost stable. The one I had in my other room had developed a 15° lean by time I left and fell apart regularly. I pushed this wardrobe to one side a little. OK, so I wasn't practising mindfulness—one strut in the frame became dislocated. Later I decided to move it right out of the way. It has a masonite shelf about five foot off the ground. The shelf fell end on onto my big toe.

It was extremely painful—and still is—the toe is now blue under the nail and reddish-black around it. I have refused to allow this mishap to dampen my good spirits.

Sarun's sisters, and perhaps all their descendants, live on either side. There is very little contact on one side but family members on the other side come and go all day as if it is their place. There are so many of them. And Sarun continues to teach classes under the house. My house! There are so many people coming and going and I often don't know who anyone is. I think there are two reasons Sarun wanted to stay on in the house. One is so that he could continue to use the classroom and the second is that he is paranoid. He wants to be around to make sure I don't do anything to his house.

Before he went to bed on my first night he showed me how to lock up. I think he could teach the Bank of Cambodia a thing or two. The padlock that is normally used on the kitchen door during the daytime goes through two flimsy rings. A decent kick and they'd be gone. But he showed me how to put wooden props against the inside and then he showed me that he had a metal rod upstairs that slides through a hole in the floorboards down through three solid metal rings and into a hole in the concrete. I'm thinking 'What's this all about?' And I realized. Sarun is about my age. I don't know much about his family. Perhaps he had kids in this house in the seventies. Perhaps all this was to protect his family from the Khmer Rouge. And he still hasn't got over it.

There are internal stairs (steep and narrow) from the kitchen to the upstairs level and a hinged opening that can be held closed by two bolts.

I had been wary of opening the house up during the evening as I was paranoid about Cambodia's other scourge—mosquitos. By time I'd gone upstairs it was dark and I hadn't memorized where the light switches were. Cambodians don't put them in places that are logical to Westerners. The only one I could find was in my bedroom. Some rooms in these traditional houses are built with a wooden threshold that is six inches high. I kept kicking my sore toe against these. They're not logical to a Westerner either.

Without light I couldn't do much unpacking or anything else. I decided to go to bed early. Sarun had put a new mattress on my bed. Unlike the ones that are common in this country this one was firm—'just right' as Goldilocks said.

I got up early next moring and did my meditation. I had moved onto my exercise regime. At seven o'clock it started. Khmer music (it's horrible), followed by someone talking over an incredibly strong loudspeaker. There was a funeral in the next block and this is how they are celebrated here.

Sarun had an early class when I went downstairs. I don't know how Sarun and his students manage to concentrate with the noise being broadcast but obviously the Cambodians think that the spirit of the deceased is more important than the education of their children. I got a break from it after breakfast by making my morning trip to the market which is out of hearing range. I thought when I got back I'd grab my camera and ride somewhere out of earshot. However just as I was returning from the market it started raining. This noise continued on and off until early afternoon when we saw the Wat Xam hearse coming up the street. It is a truck with cut out wooden dragons on each side. 'It's over now,' said Sarun. But it wasn't. After the cremation they returned and the noise started up again. Fortunately it didn't go on into the night but it did start again Friday morning at 5.15 am and continued until late morning.

Since then there have been two weddings within earshot, one on either side, competing for my attention. One started this morning at 5.15. I'm determined to get on top of this and stay here. I've invented a slogan, 'Big speaker, small brain', just got to get someone to translate it into Khmer for me.

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