Relying on someone else to translate your thoughts while in another country can sometimes lead to hilarious moments, moments you might not even realize are hilarious until months later when you’re going through your footage with a different translator and those strange answers and odd looks you kept getting from your interview subject suddenly makes sense.
The following took place at a wedding in Cambodia in which we were interviewing Navi, a friend of the bride and groom, about weddings. Until our recent translator translated this exchange, I had no idea there was a little bit of meandering during our interview.
Stax:Does she think weddings are important and if so why?
Translator (in Cambodian):Do you think the bride and the groom are important?
Navi:Yes they are important.
Translator (in Cambodian):Why are the bride and groom important?
Navi:Because I’ve known them since they were little.
Translator to me (in English):Because she’s known them since they were little.
Stax: (Internal dialogue: Maybe there was a misunderstanding. Just ask again.) So why does she think weddings important?
Translator to Navi (in Cambodian):Why are the bride and groom important?
Navi:Because I’ve known them since they were little.
Translator to me (in English):Because she’s known them since they were little.
This final installment in our serial short film takes us on a rather hallucinatory journey through the final temple. Immortalized by the Tomb Raider films, Ta Prohm is an atmospheric, tumble-down wonder that can only be reached via a half-mile pathway through thick jungle.
Stax wanted to get across our total exhaustion, with sweltering 100 degree heat adding to mounting fatigue. The thickness of the heat and the cries of the jungle birds, along with the weirdness of the locale and a relentless stream of comically well-dressed tourists joined together to make this the most colorful of our temple experiences.
After we attended the practice wedding in Oncesti, we sat down over coffee with our unofficial fixer, Bud.
Bud told us there would be a traditional wedding in the village of Budesti the next weekend, and that he would even be bringing Japanese tourists there to catch the festivities. (Japanese tourism in this area is big.)
So, just days before our rental car was due in Cluj-Napoca, we found ourselves at an elementary school in Budesti that doubled as a cultural museum, searching for a woman named Maria, the principal there, who we’d been told could point us to possible translators. We battled through hordes of wild little Romanian kids to get to her office (the risks we take for this job, the derring-do!)
We ended up recording a long interview with Adrian, a teacher at the school, and his father, Petru. Adrian explained a lot of the history and culture behind wedding traditions, while Petru shared tales of weddings 30 years before, during the communist era.
Problem is, nobody in Budesti seemed to know about any wedding happening that weekend. And we talked to A LOT of people from Budesti – teachers at the school, shop owners, church attendants, and the principal Maria herself.
Nonetheless, with hope in our hearts and a Korean hostelmate, Hyoshin, in tow, we showed up last-ditch on the appointed morning and asked around all the churches. No wedding today.
We were a bit crushed, as was Hyoshin, who’d wanted to experience a wedding before she went off to Moldova.
We decided to salvage our last day in Budesti anyway and check out the interior of the1 6th century wooden church. The church attendant reconfirmed: no wedding. But, there would be a large traditional wedding here in two weeks, she said. On Oct. 31- Halloween Night. (Side note: they don’t really celebrate Halloween here.)
We vowed then and there to return to Budesti, connect with the family, and film this wedding. And now you can all see how best-laid plans can be quite mangled by the reality of documentary filmmaking.
We returned the car and wandered about Transylvania, having adventures both high and low, before bee-lining it back to Cluj Napoca to rent the same little bubbly Ford Ka we had rented before. As if the past two weeks had never happened, suddenly we were back in Maramures. Not such a bad place to be, really!
All we knew was that the wedding would take place in the villages of Budesti and Mara. No one could tell us where in town the groom’s pre-wedding parties, processions and dances would happen.
But having experienced this before, we knew if we just walked around Budesti’s narrow lanes in the early afternoon and listened for the traditional fiddle and horn music, our ears would take us where we wanted to go. We reached the groom’s festivities just in time for his uncle to fill our hands with dumplings, cakes and shots of Horinca.
It was a crazy day that we’ll try to capture in Episode 2.
But for now, after several epic train and bus journeys and two flights; after witnessing historic protests of the good kind (in Romania) and the not-so-good kind (in Warsaw, Poland), and the filming of yet another wedding (this one just as a favor for our friends in County Donegal, Ireland), we find ourselves house-sitting and wrangling our footage together in a quiet (and ordered) corner of the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in Germany.
Here there are no protests. Few distractions, in fact, besides watering our friends’ plants, making pumpkin bread from the pumpkins on the back porch, watching the early snow-showers fall outside – and of course, editing away hours on end for the first two episodes of “A Wedding of Cultures” (“AWOC” for short).
There will be much more soon! Watch for more video and blog updates!
At long last the Kickstarter campaign to fund “I Do: A Wedding of Cultures” is live! We’re pretty excited if you can’t tell. We have 30 days to get backed to the tune of $7000 for the web series. Check out our Kickstarter Video below: https://vimeo.com/132988361
Or if you’re having trouble with the Vimeo player (mobile units sometimes do) here’s the Youtube link:
And if it sounds interesting to you, please check out/read/recommend our Kickstarter Page to friends (where we have a ton more detail and info about it). Also, gaze upon the sweet, sweet rewards that await backers when we’re funded. Click the Kickstarter Logo below to have your mind blown!
Even if you can’t back us with a pledge (we have $1, 5, 10 and up), of course we’d love you to spread the word through the WP community or like and follow this site. Can’t wait for the challenges that await us over the next 30 days!
While Stax recuperates from several days of excitement back in the guesthouse, Beej ventures out by motorbike through rural riverside villages to capture some of the experience of Khmer New Year.
Ek Phnom is a destination for New Year revelers around Cambodia, and the Misadventurists have heard that they may even be holding mock marriage ceremonies there – a perfect addition to the episode. But almost 15 kilometers of (water) war-torn landscape lies between Battambang and this temple: a daunting prospect on the New Year.
Lines of marauding water-bag chuckers immediately ambush Beej from either side of the dirt road.on his motorbike; almost all grinning pixie-ish toddlers who, seeing pale skin and bushy beard a mile away, scream a chorus of cute “HE-LLO”s as they fling plastic bags of nasty river water at him.
While many of these disease sacks sploosh harmlessly between his spokes or sail above his head, many find their marks perfectly on his bum, torso and helmet. And they are not as painless as water balloons. The plastic smacks stingingly before they explode.
What one must go through for Art.
For over an hour Beej weaves through knock-down, drag-out, epic water wars between what seems like whole villages – pickups with 10 teenagers in the back, standing and screaming, sound systems regurgitating deafening, hyped-up Cambodian pop as they man water cannons against their foes on the ground and in other trucks. Nearer the Wat, nefarious colleagues join the water-truck hooligans: skinny-jeaned, floppy-sandaled teens who run out in the road and form human chains to physically stop cars and motorbikes. Their dark purpose? To smear what appears to be Johnson’s Baby Powder all over the faces and necks of innocent motorists.
Very likely, the New Years shenanigans have a fascinating cultural or folkloric root in the mists of Cambodian history. But you can be sure that Beej is not contemplating this academically as he brakes, weaves, and struggles to avoid hitting people hell-bent on being hit by somebody.
(For a great overview of the Khmer New Year experience by another expat in Battambang, please check out this article by Jocelyn Post from worldnextdoor.org – it’s really well-written and is accompanied by fantastic images of the kind that Beej was too busy struggling to not fall over to take).
Finally, soaked through and dripping, beard dusted white, Beej arrives and parks his bike safe and sound at the Wat.
The Battambang tourist clinic is casual to say the least. The woman at the outdoor check-in counter is about to leave for the day as we pull up to the window on our scraped-up motorbike, which held up fine on our 25km journey back from the crash site. The woman kindly sticks around to show us in.
Inside the clinic sits one examination bed and a couple of trays of supplies in a single undecorated room the size of a large apartment, with a small dim bathroom attached.
The doctor, middle-aged, bored-looking and jowly in faded green scrubs, saunters over after a few long minutes (even though there is no one else around to examine) and glances at Stax’ wounds. He immediately assesses the cause of the injuries, having of course seen them a thousand times.
He then decides to act out the motion of falling over on a motorbike. This causes ripples of laughter in the two male assistants beside him. We are in no laughing mood after our long dusty ride, but I try to crack a smile. You don’t want to piss off your doctor.
He instructs Stax to go into the restroom and clean out her gravel and dirt-strewn wounds, then sits back with his feet up. The two assistants, so similar they could be brothers, tap on their Samsung phones.
Since extensive areas of Stax’ knee and arms remain raw and painful with embedded gravel and dirt, I assume the good doctor knows that a thorough self-cleaning will take a while. The good doctor doesn’t see it that way and makes sure I know it. Every few minutes he exaggeratedly checks the clock on the wall -yup, still 4:30 – gives me a look – why don’t you go and get your woman moving so we can wrap this up? – and gestures toward the bathroom.
Maybe his social schedule is jam-packed. Maybe after he’s done being a doctor for the day he transforms into a genteel man about Battambang town, highly sought after playboy and jetsetting man of fashion, a man to see and be seen with. Who knows? But his impatience is highly annoying.
After Stax comes out he plops her down and checks her knee. Nope, no breaks. Then we must sign a statement promising not to blame the tourist clinic if there are any adverse reactions so that the the assistants can spray a bit of antiseptic and antibacterial and wrap her knee and elbow with gauze. That’s the whole checkup.
Amazingly, the office woman who had been about to leave earlier is still there. She has waited at least a half hour past her shift to make sure we can finish up and pay. The visit, all the supplies and medical examination has cost all of $5.00 US – about what a doctor in the United States would charge you just to wait in line.
Then as we are pulling out of the driveway to head back to our guesthouse, the woman even turns her motorbike around and asks if we need directions, offering to let us follow her. Though we know the way back easily, her seemingly genuine concern and care lifts up what has been a pretty dismal day so far.
We’re exhausted and hungry and Stax’ knee is throbbing when we finally pull into the large driveway at Here Be Dragons, our Battambang home. The two smart-aleck expat bartenders – are there any other kind? – are unsurprised at our wreck story.
The guy tells me that during the Khmer New Year week there are usually at least one or two fatal crashes a day in the countryside as Cambodians are rushing from the cities en masse, on unbelievably terrible roads, to be in their home villages for the holiday. Even as Stax is examining her grevious-looking wounds in the mirror we have to count ourselves pretty lucky. It could have been much worse.
NEXT UP: A TRIP UP PHNOM SAMPEAU IN PICTURES AND MOTION!
Now, there’s nothing to do but try to retrace my route from last night. The neighborhood appear to be stirring even at this early hour, but still I feel bad about the motorbike noise.
I buzz through a narrow gap between two concrete slabs – probably not more than a meter and a half. Large white eyes stare out at me from the near-total darkness inside one of the slabs.
A couple of scrawny little kids with wild hair sit on their mother’s lap near the ground. She glances out curiously too, stick legs folded under her knees on the hard swept dirt floor. The rest of the house looks patched together from wood and sticks and sheets of warped and rusty aluminum and whatever other materials might have been cast around left over in the weedy lots between the larger houses.
Income levels are all over the place in this city. Some houses stand strong and alone, made of brick and concrete with modern electrical work and even plumbing and insulation, and the roads in front of them are smoothly paved. But these others like the one I’m passing fit uncertainly in among the newer flats, squeezed against the wall of a big brother building, and appear to be little more than squatters’ residences. Natural light, maybe a gas hot plate for cooking, plastic green buckets for bathing water, and cotton rags hung in front of the doorway for privacy.
I wonder how these low frames and dirt floors handle even the slightest shower, let alone the monsoons that completely flood these roads during the long months of the rainy season. The people must just have to pick up and move every year, or they would constantly be half-submerged in mud and rainwater.
As I muse on these subjects realize too late that I’ve passed my turn. I was looking for the big Coke bottle billboard decorating the intersection, which without a street name is the only way I know the place.
But even as I pull up and turn around I can see that though we’re running very late – an hour at least – we haven’t actually missed anything. The wedding party is in a bit of chaos. And Stax is already in there somewhere with her camera, accompanied by Seiha with the sound recorder, getting it all down.
TO BE CONTINUED in the first segment of our series! We’ll premiere a sneak preview of the Khmer wedding segment very soon on matrimundi.wordpress.com.
But of course, in the meantime, there is much more to come of our exploits in Cambodia and beyond right here on the old blog.
We race through the steadily brightening pre-dawn of Phnom Penh on our rented scooter, en route to a meeting with our translator and all-around guardian angel, Seiha Kong.
Most of the mainly one and two story buildings of the city still huddle in darkness, though a few auto shop lights are winking on and a few pedestrians, mainly elderly, shuffle around the narrow streets.
We enter the highway leading out to the University district where we’ll meet Seiha and instantly, an overwhelmingly sweet scent surrounds us – the rows of jasmine bushes lining the kilometer-long park next to the highway have sprung fully into bloom due to the rains of the past day.
It’s barely 5 a.m. but many citizens of Phnom Penh are already exercising in the murky darkness of the park, their forms barely visible to the eye, taking advantage of the rare cool of the summer morning.
Somehow we’ve managed to fit all our gear and ourselves onto our tiny scooter. Wedged in front of me between the seat and the steering column is our gear bag, bulging with video heads, rigs, sound equipment and cords of all kinds. Stax’ backpack bears the weight of the camera equipment.
Groundwater sprays up from under the fender. I can only hope that the gear bag isn’t getting soaked through.
We pull into a gas station where a bleary-eyed Seiha is waiting. It’s too early for words and we’re in a hurry. We park briefly in a yellow pool of light. Stax quickly hops off the back of the bike and climbs aboard Seiha’s scooter.
For this last part of the journey to the family’s home, we can’t both be aboard this bike. The tiny Honda Dream – the only one the place had left – is underpowered to say the least and rides dangerously low to the ground.
Overnight the heavy rains have swelled the puddles on the dirt road to lakes and the few paths not underwater are basically rock-strewn mud traps. Mangy-looking dogs scamper out from dark doorways and into the road. We swerve around them.
I follow Seiha’s taillight closely. This densely packed neighborhood is still a virtual maze to my sleep-addled mind. But suddenly I’m forced to stop. Seiha, pulling further and further ahead, doesn’t notice.
I’ve reached a puddle that is so deep and wide that it consumes the entire roadway and looks to have partially flooded the ground floor of the houses on either side. I hesitate. Seiha’s taillights are now far ahead. I can barely make them out anymore. He’s cleared the puddle easily. But he’s also lighter overall, and the suspension on his bike is also at least 8 inches higher than mine.
I slowly edge the bike forward into the water, sputtering through, keeping to the outside as much as possible. My sandals drag across the surface of the mini-pond.
I hope there won’t be a deep hole somewhere that will swallow my tire, I hope there’s no glass that will slice into the rubber, I hope a stone won’t jam into my undercasing, I hope the water won’t flood the exhaust system and choke the engine and foul the plugs and short out the electric or worse – and above all, I hope that when I look down the precious gear bag itself won’t be half-submerged in the water.
I’m almost through when an unseen obstacle stops my front tire cold. The poor bike jerks and just about tips over into the drink. Why didn’t I rent a proper motorcyle? I curse myself.
I’m forced to give the throttle some more juice. Whatever the obstacle is, let’s hope it isn’t sharp. The motor whines. The back tire spins and fishes out pathetically. Then suddenly the front suspension pops up over the lip of a giant divot. The tire slams down on the road. Just like that, I’m out.
I gaze ahead, giving the engine a good rev to clear the system of mud and water.
I’ve lost Seiha. I can only hope my brain – as many of you know, not the greatest with directions – can remember the convoluted route from our brief shoot last night.
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!
Hello Misadventurists. Part II of the Hong Kong highlights.
HONG KONG – FROM THE CENTRAL MIDLEVELS TO THE PEAK
It’s basically one giant, mile long outdoor escalator.
That’s what we discover when we set foot on the Central Mid-Levels, which carries vertical commuters straight up (and down) one of the steepest hills in Central Hong Kong. The altitude gain is nearly 500 feet, starting on Queens Road Central and ending on Conduit Drive just below the Peak Road, and it takes around 20 minutes to ride.
All along the route are some of the best coffee shops and restaurants Hong Kong has on offer, as it passes directly through the touristy hillside SoHo District, cut through with narrow alleys and punctuated by green, peaceful public atriums.
In SoHo, one can find a Mexican cantina serving up fresh tacos right next to a Lithuanian or Turkish joint and a five story, unbelievably blinged-out Abercrombie and Fitch store with massive crystal chandeliers next to a street market full of eel. Hong Kong beats even Manhattan for gaudy excess – and that’s saying something.
Of course with our limited funds we can’t possibly avail ourselves of all the dining options, so we settle for the cheapest – which happens to be a Subway (!). The joys of budget travel.
After our fine dining experience, we exit the Subway and climb back on the escalator, which carries us the rest of the way up to Conduit Drive, one of the coolest streets either of us have ever seen.
Tree growing out of the sidewall, Conduit Drive
Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto
From here, we climb. And climb, and climb some more. The Central Midlevels have only brought us about halfway up to the summit of Victoria peak. We’ll have to hike about 2.5 kilometers more up the Old Peak Road, an unbelievably steep, windy lane that is unrelenting on our legs.
It is so steep, in fact, that we resort to alternating between hiking backward and forward up the hill just to save our muscles and tendons But the views of Central Hong Kong and the waterfront along the way can’t be beat.
Finally we are atop Victoria Peak. The views are tremendous – and so are the crowds, and the giant shopping mall (complete with huge McCafe!)
There’s also a bus station, and a three story silver and steel tram depot that welcomes the lazy-bones who have decided to ride the Peak tram up rather than walk.
But this is Hong Kong and you cannot avoid these spectacles. We decide to focus on the incredible view of the city on the south side
and the unspoiled jungle-covered peaks down to the ocean on the north side.
Then – should we admit this? – we eat ice cream sundaes at (where else?) McCafe. Not out of some fidelity to the corporate behemoth, of course, but because it’s by far the most affordable option for ice cream (and it’s not half bad, either). Plus, the outdoor seating area overlooking the peaks and valleys of the island makes this perhaps the most scenic McDonald’s in existence (I don’t count Times Square!).
Finally it’s about dark and time to head back down. Rather than walk, we board a minibus that rockets down the zigzagging road pell-mell, barely missing oncoming traffic and pedestrians.
After exiting the minibus and checking all our vital organs for damage, we end our day by taking the stairway up to the vast Hong Kong Botanical Park – which is kind of like Hong Kong’s version of Central Park – and sit on a bench in front of a fountain ogling a stunning 180 degree view of the high rise residential towers of the Midlevels above us.
It’s too bad we don’t have more time – and more importantly, money – to spend in Hong Kong. It is a beguiling city packed with great food, transportation and tons of energy. Surprisingly, given it’s repuation as a paradise of no-holds-barred capitalist materialism, it also seems like a great place for families, with some of the nicest parks and picnic areas we’ve seen in a city.