Battambang, Cambodia – The “Tourist Clinic”

by Beej.

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!

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…