Parallel U
pt. II

Number 22–You Don’t Need a Weatherman...

... to know it’s hotting up out there. Twenty ought two was the second hottest year on record (1998 the winner). The ten highest have all happened since 1986.

Cyclone Zoe, which two weeks ago shredded every leaf on every tree it didn’t blow down in two of the Soloman Islands, clocked winds of 223 miles an hour (360kph) – strongest ever recorded in the Pacific. When you consider it’s impossible to stand up in winds of half that velocity, and that category five storms (the highest level) start way down at 155 mph, we’re talking off the scale.

And why not, this is the age of excess, which we very well better get used to since even if the moronic level of politics we enjoy today weren’t so debased and extreme, the global warming fast freight train is already barreling down the track way out of control at breakneck speed. Slam on the brakes and it’ll still take a long time to stop. And, of course, we’re not even feathering the brakes; au contraire, we’re gladhandedly leadfooting (talk about mixing metaphors) the accelerator all the way.

Thankfully, almost every country in the world aside from the US, the worst offender, is now at least paying lip service to the looming global meltdown. You have to start somewhere and why make it that much more difficult for our children and grandchildren. The civilized, enlightened world will, if nothing else, have a minimal head start over the US of Consumption..... in the process of adapting and coping.

And here in Cambodia we’ve even missed our ‘cold’ season. All things being relative we’re supposed to get some nights in the mid sixties, but only in the last few days has it dipped below 70. El Nino, they say, the culprit... however, you don’t need a weatherman...

And also however, contrary to past erroneous spoutings from your intrepid wandering weatherman, i.e., that it’s always hot and uncomfortable here, it’s actually quite pleasant this time of year. Blame it on the lack of a thermometer. (Why don’t I know those degrees by heart, feel them in my innermost soul?) I never got around to realizing how important thermometers are to me until hot season last year. So I’m now fully prepared – I even managed to score one that not only reads in both Fahrenheit and Celsius but does it to the tenth degree – and here’s the scoop; for the past two weeks, lows between 68 and 72, highs 77 to 81. And it’s been remarkably consistent, for the two previous weeks, just add two to three degrees to both.

Much, much has happened since my last email but till now too, too busy to settle into writing. Though I enjoyed the money, they were working me way to hard at old Parallel U. They’ve been seriously short of teachers. However, I just bought a beater (plenty good enough for my needs) computer (with some of all that extra money) and this is the first time I’m using it. So happy writer am I.

I had a whole rainy season story roiling around my synapses for weeks but the last rain fell nearly a month ago so it’s over for bringing back the feeling. But I must get you caught up a bit since the main event of the wet season, the Water Festival, is something I only need do once. It’s a three day national holiday which took place this year from November 18 to 20.

It’s supposed to mark the time at the end of the rainy season when the Tonle Sap river changes direction and heads back downhill. This year, however, it had already been flowing in the logical direction for more than a month before the festival because of a freak drought which kept most of Cambodia bone dry for 6 weeks when it should have been coming down in buckets. Starting about the time I arrived in mid-October, the weather turned normal. Tropical rain is cool fun, it’s high powered but short duration and still very warm so you don’t mind much getting wet and besides here in PP it keeps the dust down.

Phnom Penh’s population doubles for the event which lends a special quality to its everyday humdrum mayhem. I love how a police spokesperson blamed some traffic problems on up-country drivers who don’t know the city’s parking rules. Parking rules? I’m at a loss to think of anything farther from obeying a parking rule than locals who double park to save 10 steps and then leave the car in place for an hour or two after the vehicles parked on the curb have left.

The only requirement I can discern from a year’s observation is that any kind of parking is okay as long as you leave just enough room for one car to get through, which often enough leads to patient queues of vehicles trying to squeeze through the bottleneck. And the wonder is that nobody feels the necessity to erupt in an uncontrollable fury over being delayed for 30 seconds. What is it with these third world dufurs? Don’t they know road rage is a mark of an advanced society?

Being as I live a five minute walk from the river and most of the events take place there, I enjoyed a bird’s eye view of a constant stream of festival traffic. They came by every possible conveyance, including truckload. Literally, stake bed trucks groaning under the weight of nearly unimaginable numbers – 30, 40, 50, 60, who knows, maybe more – of people standing shoulder to shoulder, butt to butt, for the sometimes grueling trip into town. When you consider that the entire country has only about 300 miles of paved highways, none with more than two lanes, that they’re consistently rife with driving hazards and a million and a half other people were also sharing the same roads, they might have spent many good long hours squeezed tight, standing up, being gratuitously jostled about.

It’s definitely bumpkin time in Phnom Penh and a lot of expats and locals abandon the city to them and head for the beach or the provinces.

The big event is the dragon boat races. They’re long narrow boats accommodating 71 rowers and more than 400 teams participated. My new apartment has a sliver of the river view but that was as close as I cared to get considering the intensity of the crowding. As it turned out when I tried to get a better view of the other main attraction, being near the river was an experience in itself.

Once I caught a glimpse of the light show, through my river, sliver view, I couldn’t resist trying to brave the crowd. Half a dozen barges were adorned with awesome light sculptures, or light paintings, if you will. The displays are about fifty feet tall and cover the entire length of the boats, which are about 200’ long (17x65 meters). They favor intricate traditional designs mostly in yellow and gold, though one had a map of Cambodia with animals and other pictorials. For several hours every evening they sail up and down the river, so all can see. They passed by my sliver so quickly – about ten seconds per pass – I had to try to get a better view, besides I’m a quarter mile away, it’s just not the same as being close up.

It was mayhem exponentialed. It was slow going flowing with the hordes of people on their way to Sisowath Quay, the street that fronts the river park, but doable, much more doable than trying to drive through. Unthinking drivers got stuck for hours surrounded by a solid mass of people, not one inch could they move. Many streets were blocked off, but some drivers, mostly motorcycle drivers, for the price of a small bribe, were able to get through the barriers and managed to find themselves trying to go through dense stands of bodies.

Once I reached Sisowath, I started encountering moments when I no longer had control of my whereabouts, literally goin’ with the flow. It was nearly all in good humor, they were having a great time. Groups and families, all holding hands in a chain, clung to each other with fierce determination. However, esthetically, I wasn’t enjoying it one bit. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to get a decent close up view of those fantastic boats.

I didn’t get far. Loss of control was accelerating. Now I’m personally aware of the precursor to situations where people get trampled to death. There was no time I felt in real danger absent a cause for panic, but just the same I wouldn’t voluntarily put myself in that situation again. They were having a great old time, but I wasn’t enjoying it even one bit, except for the sheer experience, that is.