Ahh yes, there arent too many moments in a young mans life similar to being in the middle of nowhere with a burst bike tyre, and watching the locals take to the rubber armed with blowtorches and hand applying superglue (it even included one of those fancy warnings about making sure that you dont make contact with the glue for any reason). Unfortunately for us however this was not the green goblin (thats what we named our latest motorbike if your keeping up to date) that had decided to throw a tantrum, but in fact was one of its most primitive ancestors that didnt have an engine, and had a seat that had essentially been carved out of the highest quality Dead Sea sandpaper available. Now theres quite a story working up to this so we'll let you in on a few other thinks first before spontaneously climaxing (I've been told not to refer to Saigon at this point) with our little bicycle adventure.
So todays little blog is sponsored by both the Green Goblin, and the letter G (for you sesame street fans).Police over here, are somewhat amusing both by how official they can look (think Mr Plod from Noddy, but in puke green) and then watching them try and harness the power of a scooter while talking on the phone, minus a helmet of course. Setting an awe inspiring example for the locals and makes me sure that the next english phrase to be transliterated into khmai will be "do as I say, not as I do." Now our next little piece of wisdom comes from none other than Chris at NFC explaining how taxes work over here. Now Ive told you before about the $10 tax for foreign business and so on, but everyone seems to take things into their own hands with regards to making a buck. In the west we would call it something like corruption, but over here it works like a very effective tax system. IN NZ for example you pay your taxes, they go to the Government, which then pays for the police, with all the departments taking their cuts along the way. In Cambodia things run a bit differently and a bit more simply. Police go out and collect money from whomever, they take their cut, and then pass the surplus onto the next person up the chain slowly working its way up to the top of the food chain where the big boss guy will see less than 50 riel from your $1.25 fine for having your lights on during the day.
So to put this all into context, you can imagine us racing down Monivong Boulivard at 50kph under the assumption that we were bullet proof, at least 50% of us were wearing helmets (the now legal minimum) and our lights werent on during the day, so as far as we knew we were bullet proof to the law. Rather enjoying this newfound freedom with all 100cc to lug close to 200kgs in total around the city, we decided to test the limits a bit. Nothing too major, just small things like driving down the wrong side of the road to get to a shop, driving on the occasional footpath etc etc until we got to a red light. Now over here traffic lights are at best an advisory, and in fact will often send two lines of traffic into head on collisions with each other(your supposed to weave your way through the opposing traffic). So when the light turns red and informs us we have 72 seconds to wait, we arent all too thrilled about the idea and try yet another trick of hiding in the turning traffic until the last moment then diving off to the direction we wanted.Well. Either Mr Plod needed to feed his family, or the day was just dragging a bit too much for him, but he was not a happy chappy (he actually was, in fact he rather cheerfully waddled out into the road and put his hand up (im assuming he wanted us to stop). However the one thing we have been taught by local barang is that you never stop for police. Ever. They just arent the sorta people you can sweet talk your way out of a $1.50 fine and are usually pretty determined about that sort of thing, so in order to save your wallet, if the police wave you down, give them a sympathtic decelleration and then hit those 100cc's with as much gas as they can handle and get out of there. And so, Mr plod shuffled his way back to his sidewalk.
Right then so on with our bicycle story. Admittedly I can be rather complacent with regards to riding a bike. Honestly I dont know where to start with the bike I rode. The fact that the gear cable was hanging off the handle bar (and in no way attached to anything), or the fact I had almost one half of one brake available for use. Shock absorbers weren't quite invented when the dinosaurs carved this piece of artwork, but as i mentioned before, sandpaper clearly had been.Now I think me describing the roads in Phnom Penh as the person in control of both a motorcycle and bicycle to you isn't possible (similar to the terms khmai use in bargaining with barang.."no'h possibow) I could try and whinge all night but you still wouldnt quite get it. Traffic travels in all directions imaginable, and some that arent. However one thing im willing to emphasise is the potholes. In fact it would be easier to talk about how much pavement there was as comparatively it was tiny to the amount of potholes. Rather impressive actually. Now you can possibly understand that I was slightly less than dissapointed when I blew one of my tyres (not that I noticed - plastic bags popping sound rather similar?!) - and then proceeded to drive on it for another kilometre. This meant that we got to spend 30 minutes at a rather charming little village (I fell in love with the place when the repair guy started looking like he couldnt do anything and we might have to go back). But somehow he managed to find enough excess rubber around the village to melt it together and create a patch for the tyre, which I especially found rather impressive considering that he was normally the town hairdresser.
Meanwhile we took the opportunity to play santa with the kids at the school, and we headed over to give out stickers (in the process, starting world war 3). So in all, we headed out over a bridge into what we would consider the wop-wops, the middle of nowhere, Timbuktu, or Hamilton. Nice change of pace.
All in all though it was good fun, and the fact I survived biking here is no small miracle and one I will definately remember forever (Remember Chris' whinging included - but cest la vie (also a song I have played waay to much in the past 2 weeks).
Thats all Folks!