Parallel U
pt. II

Number 21–Talking shit and more

A few days before returning to Portland last June I ate some testy tasting old squid in a night market in Thailand which now requires me to rescind my earlier statement that I never get waylayed by Thai food. One serious episode in all the times I've eaten there is not bad, but this one really was.

It refused to give up; months after I returned that crusty old squid was still keeping my stomach in turmoil, or so I had to believe, having no other reasonable explanation. I had even read a book a short time previously about a guy who ate a fish that carried a toxin that never quite could be beaten and wondered if my fate was similar. I thought maybe I was turning a corner, getting old and falling apart. Even preparing for the flight back I was concerned whether I'd be able to hold it together.

Sidetrack: You wonder, Why is he putting us through his not-very- pleasant-to-think-about intestinal disorders? And why is he baring the workings of his very innards for the world to see? Answer: It's my job, I'm a writer. I'm supposed to live outside myself, aloof, indifferent, unaffected, describing the world as if someone else were writing. The grody, the lame, the revealing, all part of a day's work.

Besides, everybody wants to know about third world shits. Just like tropical bug problems, they want the shit lowdown. Well, miraculously, almost literally the moment I stepped on the plane it was over, finished, kaput. Mere coincidence that that nasty squid stayed with me the whole time in the states only to give up as I was boarding the plane? Or was it actually more a first world shitstorm than food of the funkyworld? Could it be American frankenfoods? They kill butterflies, can't be too awfully good for me, can they? Hormones? The many unpronounceably-named chemicals Americans ingest in the guise of food?

Cambodia's less than pristine food has been trying to work its uncomfortable magic on my innards, but still I'm coastin'... what a relief.

It takes me nearly a week to get over jet lag from a flight that involves more than 24 hours of flying time – sleeping in an upright seat is nearly impossible for me. As a result, I spent three days in Bangkok before I could even think about moving.

On my second day, on an outing to buy colorful Indonesian wall hangings, which I mysteriously, call it stupidly, left in a hotel room somewhere, I found a table in an outdoor restaurant on Kao San Road just before a typical tropical deluge. I love the rain here. At any rate, this one was so heavy it flooded the storm sewers and in the process drove a colony of giant roaches out of their daytime retreat. And right towards safety in the restaurant. Quite a scene – with some expert foot stomping and broom wielding not more than a few managed to escape.

And I made it to the beach. Went to the remotest of the seven Thai islands that I've had the pleasure to visit. Small island, more than three hours boat ride from the mainland and nearly deserted because of rainy season – half of the bungalow resorts were closed. Personally I almost prefer the beach during the rainy times. It's cloudy and cooler (but still warm), which means less likelihood of skin cancer, but the water is still nearly bathtub comfortable. The stormy weather adds interest to the day but the actual rain never lasts too long. There’re fewer people and it’s more laid back, as if anything could be more laid back than Thai beaches anytime of year.

I arrived in Phnom Penh on a Thursday and had a work assignment for Monday. Saturday, however, I came down with an eye infection. By early Sunday morning, just a day before my 7AM class, it was looking pretty bad (pun intended); my right eye was almost swollen shut. In fact, I was pretty close to deciding to see a doctor but thankfully it repaired itself just enough for me to be relieved of the doctor thing. I've gone the doctor route about 4 times in 40 years, so obviously, I'm not too fond of the experience and want to stretch out my record as far as possible. I wore sunglasses the first two days of class and was gifted with antibiotic eyedrops by a friend. Of course I purposely don't take them according to instructions – the whole course, four times a day for a week, gotta get ém all you know. Not me, I just take a little here a little there and let my body work it out.

I had two classes right off. A fourth year education class for future teachers, and what they call core English which turned out to be – oh no – grammar. I didn't last long at that one. After the second class, in which I bombed miserably, I went right down to the office to beg off. It seems they, unwittingly I'm sure, picked an extremely difficult text for their third year students. Easy grammar I can tough out, though all of it gives me a headache. Excruciatingly brain-cell-bending, stupyfyingly difficult grammar; no thank you please.

Fortunately after just two days teaching, a three day holiday, the Kings birthday, then another three days off because of a big ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit so my eyes were all together by next class time. I went to Cambodia's beach town to rest up, as if I needed it. And now just two weeks later I might even go back for two nights – another holiday. Many holidays – good for the lazy, bad for the wallet.