The Natives Are Restless (An Uninvited Dinner Guest in Pursat)

Some time ago I went to visit the throbbing metropolis of Pursat for a few days and this is what happened.

I was in my room on the night of my arrival and I thought I would wander out and find some food and buy a beer, so I went outside and walked towards the market assuming that is where the food could be found.

Anyway, on the way I came across a very typical ‘hole in the wall’ Khmer cafe with a few plastic chairs and tin tables. I went inside and there was an old weathered Chinese guy dressed in nothing but a krama. He looked up at me in astonishment as obviously he wasn’t used to foreigners and overall the locals in Pursat aren’t.

The elderly chap was drinking Anchor, a fine drink of choice in my opinion so I ordered one beer, sat down in one of the plastic chairs picked up the TV remote and started flicking through the channels. The Chinese old guy was still staring at me in bemusement so I repeated my order (a bit more abruptly this time), ”som Anchor muoi”. Muttering to himself he got up and went into the back and brought me my drink. I downed the beer to wash the dust from my throat and ordered another so he went and got a couple more.

Then halfway through my third beer, a woman and 3 kids walked in – obviously his family- and they all looked at me with surprised, shocked expressions. (Actually, this happens to me in the UK and I am used to it.) _

She started to query her husband about me (obviously) but my Khmer doesn’t go beyond ordering beer and food so I couldn’t understand; however there seemed to be some heated debate between the owner and his wife who looked concerned about my presence. Eventually, he dismissed her and the staring kids with some sharp comment and they wandered into the back.

15 minutes later they come out with some food and he insisted I eat, so feeling peckish I tucked into the chicken amok as I bellowed for another beer.

It was halfway through my dinner that I realized THAT I WAS IN HIS HOUSE AND IT WAS NOT A RESTAURANT!.

This dawned on me as I was slurping HIS beer and eating HIS food. Have you ever had the feeling you wanted the Earth to swallow you? I was really embarrassed and not just a little but felt like a complete fool. I just did not know what to do.

Anyway to avoid further anguish I tried to pay and after feeling around in my pocket fished out a fiver and handed it to the old man, but he was insistent that I should not pay. Well I felt like a real chumpand by this time I really just wanted to leave. So with much thanks and lots of wai-ing I managed to leave with him and the kids waving happily at me (but with scowls from the missus).

So to recap, exactly how would you feel if someone walked into YOUR living room, sat down picked up the TV remote turned the channel over and asked for a beer? Personally I’d feel like killing them as this goes beyond the graces and refinement of civilized life. Talk about bad manners and socially incorrect behavior but the old Chinese man was courteous and charming. In that situation would you be?

Lee Robinson

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