Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Getting to The Wedding

The security guard raises his foot, holds down the start button and stomps down for the umpteenth time on the choke lever of our scooter. The taillight weakly flickers. The engine emits a strangled chug. Then, silence.

It’s 4 a.m. on our second day of shooting, we need to get all the way across Phnom Penh and arrive at the family’s house by 5 a.m. to film one of the most important parts of the Khmer wedding – the Groom’s Procession – and our motorbike won’t start.

We parked it outside of our hostel in the BKK district here in Phnom Penh the night before, after getting back from dinner at our new favorite restaurant, Anise. We didn’t count on the torrential rain and thunderstorms that fell most of the night.

And now it appears we may have a short somewhere in the engine at the worst time it could happen.

Stax and I take over the kick-starting duties while the hostel security guards inspect the spark plugs and wipe down various connecting wires.

It’s looking completely hopeless – should we hire a car? Can we even reach one at this early hour? How will the huge luxury edition Toyota Camrys they use here as taxis manage to squeeze through the narrow mud roads of the family’s neighborhood, roads that hardly even allow two motorbikes side by side, let alone a large sedan?

It’s now 4:30 a.m.. We are officially running late to the Groom’s Procession.

Then suddenly, a mysterious tuk tuk drives up and parks in front of us.  A rumpled-looking city police officer emerges from the seating compartment. At first I think we might be in trouble for raising such a ruckus at this hour. But then it becomes clear the guards know him and he’s only here to help.

Probably, one of the guards called him at a loss with our situation, woke him up, and sent a tuk tuk over to collect him. He looks pretty tired.

The police officer notes our obvious agitation, takes one look at the bike, smiles, then calmly flips up the kickstand. He gestures for me to try the starter again. Miraculously, it starts up right away.

What it has taken 30 minutes for us to realize is that with this type of bike, the kickstand being down will prevent the engine from starting. It has nothing to do with the rain or anything else.

The guards look a trifle sheepish. The police officer shrugs.

“These guys.” He points at the guards. “Not so smart.”

This causes all the guards to laugh hysterically for several seconds. We thank the police officer and the guards who worked so tirelessly, then we take off, speeding through the early morning traffic around the Independence Monument roundabout, then out to the highway toward the University.

We don’t have a minute to lose. We have to get to that procession!

TO BE CONTINUED…

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