Teaching in Thailand has many of the same perks as teaching in America does. The best, in my opinion, is the vacation time. In the States, most teachers get holidays and the summer months off. In Thailand, we’re off from the beginning of March to mid-May (Thai summer is hot, especially with no A/C and 55 students per class), as well as all of October (when the rainy season hits the hardest). This bonus allowed me to travel for four weeks last month, paid. I went diving in Koh Tao, raged in Bangkok, experienced the filthy skeeze that is Pattaya, watched a fire show in Koh Samet (my eyebrows were nearly singed by a disobedient, flaming bow-staff that decided my face was a better landing target than its owner’s hands), and hiked a five-tier waterfall in Kanchanaburi. I don’t have the memory (thank you, Singha beer) nor the patience to write about each and every one of these places. I do, however, want to share a little bit about final leg of my October travels, which was to Cambodia.
I was only able to spend about a week in good ol’ Cambo and I wish that I’d had more time. To me it’s the wild west of SE Asia. Still recovering from the atrocities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, it is not nearly as developed as its neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. The air is constantly filled with dust from the unpaved roads, waterways flood because of the lacking infrastructure, and there’s evidence everywhere illuminating the unbelievably widespread poverty. My roommate, co-worker, and travel dude-bro, Ryan gave a pretty accurate, yet not-so-delicate description, “Cambodia is a dirtier, cheaper version of Thailand”. This is true, but Cambodia is also a lot more.
Everywhere I went the people were exceedingly friendly and genuinely happy. In guesthouses and restaurants the service was far better than in Thailand (but the food didn’t hold a candle). Everything costs a dollar or less. Everything. Draft beer, 50 cents. Food, a dollar. Tuk-tuk, a dollar. You can even find dorm-style hostels to stay in for… a dollar.
Because of the floods and my loathing of 15-hour bus rides, I decided to pay the extra 50 bucks and take a flight from big, bad Bangkok to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The flight only took 55 minutes, but short of crashing into the Gulf, it couldn’t have been much worse.
Part I: GETTING THERE
As I waited to board the plane in Suvarnaphumi International Airport, I couldn’t help but notice a fat, sweaty, googly-eyed, middle-aged European oaf bumbling around the gate. Air Asia is known for its tiny seats and I instantly felt bad for whoever had to sit next to this caricature of an oversized troll, probably named Igor or Bruno or something of the like. I will say that he had the most vicious, greasy, salt-and-pepper mullet that I have ever seen. Gotta respect the mullet.
The plane began to board at 5:00 p.m. Two stereotypically beautiful Thai stewardesses greeted me with fake smiles, Sawadee Kaa, as I entered the aircraft. 23F. Sweet, a window seat. I sat down and buckled up. The ogre looked confused as he lurched and searched for his assigned accommodation, getting closer and closer to me, struggling to ram his way down the aisle, invading the space of everyone he passed with his protruding side-fat. I already knew where he would end up.
Bruno Trolldude stowed away his carry-on after a brief struggle with the overhead compartment. I don’t know what he had in there. Probably a small assortment of Speedos to show off his impressive Euro-body, a camera so he could show pictures to his friends back home of the beautiful Asian women that he didn’t pay for, and maybe a bottle of his favorite vodka recently purchased at the airport duty-free shop. Whatever was in the bag, it definitely wasn’t deodorant.
He sat down in the seat next to me; amazingly fitting between the two armrests, yet instantly overflowing in to my bubble, trapping me against the window. He then raised his tentacle revealing a beautiful sweaty armpit that smelled like Cheetos, so that he could make sure that all of the air conditioning fans above were on blast and pointed directly at his perspiring dome piece. Suck it up, I thought. It would only be an hour-long flight and at least I’d have a nice view of the smog as I ascended out of Bangkok at twilight.
It was like watching a drunken turtle on its back as he thrashed about trying to reach the seatbelt underneath him. I could smell the booze as he took short, heavy breaths the way that only overweight, two-pack-a-day smokers do. Fortunately, the wheezing only lasted ten minutes. Then, the ogre slept. Unfortunately, the snoring began. Ugh, the snoring. I’ve had the experience of standing on a runway for the take-off of a fighter jet, endured booming thunderstorms, shot machine guns, and it all pales in comparison to the roaring rumble that came from that congested nasal passageway.
Within a few minutes, everyone in proximity was marveling at the sight and sounds of seat 23E. First, the other passengers shook their heads and delivered dirty looks. Then, they stared. Then, they laughed and pointed. Some people yelled indicative comments, but nothing would wake up Bear-pig-man. I figured that once the plane took off, he’d wake up and reset. 30 minutes in to Air Asia flight FD-3081, this proved false. Eventually, two young English guys across the aisle began blowing up the paper barf bags provided by the airline, and popping them next to his ear, laughing hysterically the whole time. Still nothing. Even the airhostess that served my $5 Coke to me, attempted to wake him with a polite nudge, but gave up quickly, probably for fear that he might eat her. At that point people stopped looking at him and started looking at me. With pity, I assume.
The only thing that could wake the beast was itself. Eventually, it was his own coughing fit that would bring him out of slumber. It was one of the grossest things I’ve ever witnessed… and I’ve seen some grimy shit. It began with a single cough. Probably a piece of phlegm stuck in Fatboy’s windpipe. Then, a short-lived pause as he inhaled oxygen signified the end of the snoring and the beginning of a violent session that would ultimately serve as an alarm clock to his mile-high siesta.
At the beginning of the coughing fit/seizure/Discovery Channel special, he was still asleep. His arms flailed, hitting me at least twice. His legs bucked, pressing his already fully reclined seat even further back in to the knees of the old lady behind him. He mumbled unrecognizable nothings in a language that I can only imagine to be Hobgoblin. Fee Fi Fo Fum. Every gulp of air he sucked in was immediately followed by a crackling cough as he sprayed entire lungfuls of phlegm on to the seatback in front of him. It lasted maybe two minutes and as he finally came to consciousness he noticed that all eyes were on him, but didn’t seem to care. He panted and gasped for a moment; clearing his throat and catching his breath as he wiped the drool off his chin and sweat off his horned forehead. The beast was awake. I expected a wave of applause, but there was none. At this point no one was amused, only disgusted. But at least it was all over.
The pilot came on the loudspeaker announcing that we were on our final descent. A stewardess past by and told me that when I finished my $5 Coke (now contaminated), I had to put my tray up. “No problem.” Then a large, furry appendage from beside me reached across and raised my tray, locking it in to position on the seat in front of me… “You put up tray now!”
I nodded. “Sorry to disturb you, Bruno.”