Waiting For Go…….December 10, 2013
The day is already hot, the air a humid mix of dust and engine fumes billowing from an array of mottos, 4 wheel drives, buses and ropey delivery trucks.
They wait in the shadow of tall glass towers, squatting patiently, swatting away the street sellers offering fried food, imitation leather wallets and fake Raybans. The drivers collect together, t-shirts tied up in a knot to expose pot bellies, leaping with suicidal fervor into the honking mass of traffic, as with surprising speed and agility they chase after tuk-tuks, grab hold of pillion passengers, repeating the mantra time and time again; “Battambang, Battambang!”
Between bouts of sprinting, the drivers and fixers smoke endlessly, and indulge in a spot of male bonding; arms wrap around shoulders, sometimes breaking into full-blown wrestling moves as they jostle and pull each other away to get to the next potential fare- True Bromance.
A casual observer might miss the smiles, the taunts, the backslapping and mistake the mood for full out warfare, as an old lady is wrenched, with her hooky Chanel suitcase from the back of a Honda Dream. A tug of war ensues; questions and suggestions fly through the air like automatic weapon fire. Reunited with her luggage, Auntie joins the group: another head to be ticked off the list in the seemingly infinite wait until the magical number is attained and the road can finally be hit.
The sun bears down hotter as each minute passes; patches of shade commandeered by the blue and khaki shirts of the local law enforcement who watch impassively at the chaos of the street. A cigarette dangles loosely from a fat cop’s lips just as the barrel his short stock AK47 dangles loosely against his hip.
Eating rice is undoubtedly the number one mainstay of Cambodian life, followed by the ability to fall asleep any time, any place, anywhere. Neither are an option in this cut throat world of taxi business, instead everyone indulges in the third most popular act, yabbering into the ever ubiquitous mobile phone. ‘Diddle ooh doo diddle ooh diddle ooh doo do’; the classic Nokia ringtone is answered, with the phone placed backwards to an ear.
The frantic barrage of speech and wild gesticulations could be straight out of Wall Street or the London Stock Exchange instead of a noisy polluted street on the corner of Monivong.
A black Lexus pulls over, blocking half the street. Out jumps a middle aged woman, who in skinny tight jeans, low cut top and excessive makeup tries and fails to be more spring chicken.
“S’ray s’at’ winks a grubby fixer, who lingers about trying to hustle up business – for a fee.
The ladies boot (or trunk for American reader) won’t open, either because the Lexus is faulty or the daft bint hasn’t yet worked out how to use hubby’s car. A group of guys bend down to assist; a driver takes a cocktail stick from between his teeth and stabs one of the guys in his arse. A howl of pain and roars of laughter break out just as the more-money-than-sense woman remembers how to open the split hatchback. A large, well taped up box is removed. Words are spoken; a telephone number is scrawled in marker pen across the lid. No forms, no proof of delivery, no online up-to-the-minute tracking system, no questions asked. Trust here is done on the back of 10 digits.
The heat and smog get more oppressive, still they wait; what else is there to do? That Asian talent of patience, squatting by the side of the street and tuning off from the bedlam all around – nothing to do but plenty of time to kill.
The haranguing of passersby continues without let up. Time marches on, five more minutes becomes another hour. Patience is a virtue well practiced in Cambodia: an ability to ignore the circus around the self and get into the zone. Maybe it’s a spiritual thing – waiting for Godot, Buddhist style, a layman’s meditation. A teenager dressed as camp as a Boy Scout jamboree starts playing Candy Crush Saga on his Samsung Galaxy S-something, perhaps this cultural inheritance may be lost to the next generation.
So many things are easier in Cambodia, when compared to the ball-ache of bureaucracy and pesky rules of law in the west, where one needs a license to fart in public and wrenching a pensioner off an unlicensed moped would result in civil court action. Locals have no problem crouching on haunches, staring into space as the world passes by. When that becomes too strenuous there is always the inherent skill of passing out in order to have a good snooze, regardless of time, place and level of comfort or sound volume. If sleeping/doing nothing became an Olympic sport, Cambodia would definitely be up there in the medal rankings, on the podium alongside the People’s Republic of Laos and somewhere obscure in South America.
Then there’s the flip-side. Things that could be so simple become so frustrating that even Gandhi would break down into a fit of apoplexy or need triple bypass surgery. There’s the noise, the dirt, the heat, the ‘I’m already wearing sunglasses and don’t need another pair, awkun’, as well as that clinging to the vain hope that the next swerving motodop will say ‘Baht, Battambang’.
Some smartarse once said ‘Getting there is half the fun’. Well they obviously never sat around for hours only to be crammed in a Camry with polystyrene boxes, old ladies and gay teenagers for 270 agonizing minutes, and eventually that patience gene erodes and mutates into psycho driving DNA, which happens whenever an ‘all the time in the world’ brother is let loose behind the wheel.
There is only so much one can observe, before the absurdity witnessed and the annoyance felt leads to one pondering on the questions of life. With my rag being closer to lost, I wondered about the concept of personal hell – the boulder pushed up the mountain all day by Sisyphus, only for the bastard thing to come rolling down again, ad infinitum, or poor old Prometheus the fire jao, being chained to a rock and having his daily regenerating liver pecked out by a badass eagle for eternity (and how many of us would appreciate the regenerating liver bit?).
And so came the philosophical question. Obviously one can’t choose one’s own personal hell: that kinda defeats the object, but should the choice be between waiting for a taxi forever ever in a Godforsaken junction in Phnom Penh, or being trapped in a taxi for infinity (bursting for a toilet, probably), it would be a toughie. I suppose it would depend on the working status of the air-con.