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Battambang

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 4 July 2013 | Views [406]

The desiccated rat lying under the restaurant dining table was, probably, not the worse experience of my life, but it was, nevertheless, an eye opener to the northern Cambodian city of Battambang (pronounced battenbong).
  
It had been a not unpleasant journey from Siem Reap to Battambang. The sun perpetually glinted into the aged bus. Practically clichéd ladies in straw hats rode by on even older bicycles and mid-aged ladies proffered dried chilli fried insects – with curry leaves, which they held aloft, in rattan baskets, to bus travellers. As we ambled past rural Cambodia on roads evidently not used to speed, rice was being harvested in miles of paddy fields and small tractors, with long trailers, heaved weighty loads of rice sacks along the side of the ever dusty Khmer road.
  
The four hour journey (from Siem Reap to Battambang) was laced with intermittent sleep, fields, small villages, the ever-burning bright sun and glimpses of the tastiest baguettes outside of France, or so I was led to believe by one traveller just returned from Paris. Neither the sleepiness of the countryside, the oddness of the cuisine nor the seeming calm everywhere were to prepare me for the under-table deceased rodent, nor for the snub given by a workshop who had forgotten to close their classroom doors.
  
It was a time of learning. It was a time when mindfulness was tested to its limits. However, that mindfulness eased me through minor confrontations without my more natural recourse to choice English words and colourful phrases honed and hammered into shape by the wilds of my not-so-dear Essex (land of white ladies shoes and sparkling white handbags – for dancing around). I resisted the call to use that 15th Century vulgar expletive beginning with ‘F’, or raise my whole bowman’s hand or, indeed, give the one finger salute when one American harpy commanded me and my students to exit from their workshop at Phare Ponleu Selpak. True, and in retrospect, she was only protecting the sanctity of her workshop, but there were no signs to indicate a workshop was taking place, nor their need for privacy. That female had a most rude and offensive manner but, in the fullness of time, we sailed beyond her turbulent maelstrom, past her harpy-clad rocks into the calming waters of that near serene charity art school.
  
One day past the harpy and dead rat incident and I was back at Phare Ponleu Selpak, this time giving my own talk about Art History, or rather a truncated version of 150 years of modern Art condensed into two hours. The student crowd could not have been more attentive as they sat cross-legged on the wooden floorboards. Shafts of light coming through wooden walls gave the room a fantasy ambiance, and made it entirely conducive to the sharing of visual delights. It was a little surreal, however, to be talking about Surrealism and having to stop after each sentence so that my translator (himself an artist and one of the founders of the charity Art School) could relay my thoughts. My gesticulations got lost in the translation process. There was I - all full of gusto and wide gestures, and there was my friendly translator calmly wrangling my meaning into Khmer. I have no idea if the travails of Andre Breton or the Gaudi inspired Salvador Dali actually reached those polite and intense students, I hope they did.
  
When not being translated, I headed to the San Puoy mountain temple and trundled my way up God knows how many steps, past just as many monkeys and eventually was awarded with a stunning view over the flat fields of Battambang. I was lucky. It was nearing sundown, sun rays highlighted gold covered images of Buddha and aspects of his teachings and the whole ambience was just too celestial. I say too celestial as I had to drag myself away and begin the descent, down those worn steps again - in the failing light. It was then, having survived the mountain steps and being driven to a local (now infamous) Cambodian restaurant, that I was confronted by that ignominious dead rat.

Tags: battambang, cambodia

 

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