"The men came off of the boat and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back to tell their tales. They were all for remaining on the island and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking of ever seeing home again. . .though they were in anguish when I forced them back to the boat." (Homer, The Odyssey, Book IX)First by motor boat we spent the morning in a flourish of yellow light and a shadowy active ocean of sad sea green triple layered treetops making our way to the fishing village, Kompong Phluk. Then by paddling and poling dugout canoes, we toured the flooded forest. In the film Apocalypse Now, as a US Navy Swift boat travels the Mekong from Vietnam to Cambodia, a sailor/former saucier from New Orleans encourages his skipper to stop the boat in order to find some mangoes to spruce up the crew's dinner. All a'sudden, a tiger leaps out of the jungle and terrifies the sailor who runs back to the boat yelling out the iconoclastic turn of phrase "never get off the boat, never get off the boat!". This phrase has entered popular culture, on one level, as an allegorical warning to those who intrude upon other cultures intent on staying and perhaps imposing their own culture on the aboriginals.
Stay on the boat, visit, throw some money around, snap a few photos, then go home. Kurtz, of Conrad's book, Heart of Darkness(set in Africa) and of Coppola's film (set in Vietnam and Cambodia)got off the boat and refused to go home. We got off the boat. We snapped a few pictures. We tossed around a few dollars. We pampered ourselves with a packed lunch. Then, sadly, we went home.
After touring the flooded forest and Tonle Sap (Lake), we left the boat, climbed a dozen or more creaking stairs leading to a house on stilts with bamboo-thatched walls and a corrugated tin roof. The grown ups of the house had gone fishing. Two barefoot teenage girls, wrapped in checkered khmer blouses and silk sarongs, both wearing ankle bracelets and an assortment of toe rings, occupied themselves baby-sitting and preparing a family dinner to be cooked on a wood-burning stove. Now and again, they came out of the kitchen to check on the sleeping infant, then retreated back to the kitchen, giggling. A fat orange tabby cat with big balls came from another room to check out the sweaty barang. After making the rounds for some ceremonious head pats, he returned to his private quarters.Mina, Kevin and I lulled about like lotus eaters for a couple of hours before we ate a lunch of lotus salad and skinless roasted chicken breasts in mango sauce, packed and prepared by the French chef, Olivier, who owned our three-star air conned guesthouse, the Eurasiane, where Mina and I, coincidentally, stayed in the Lotus room.
You know, Fuck Homer, Conrad and Coppola. Home is over rated. Flush toilets, Medicare and early bird prime rib specials at the Steak and Ale are also over rated. When I retire--and may that day come sooner than later, I really, really do want to get off the boat then sink the boat and spend the rest of my years filling my belly with lotus leaves. If I have to throw around more than a few dollars to do it, well, you do what you got to do.
Labels: flooded forest, Kompong Phluk, lotus salad, Siem Reap, the alliance restaurant, the Eurasian Guest House