I hadn’t discussed a price with my landlady but from what I read $5 was the going rate. I handed her the money as I left. I thought there was a bit of a scowl, as opposed to a warm goodbye smile. Was she expecting more? Did she need to give a referrers fee to the waiter? Or him to the original bloke? Maybe. Probably not. Doubt it. I did actually try and give my original helper $1 yesterday when he passed me on to the girl who ‘had a hotel with her sister’. He didn’t take it. But did take a stick of gum.
So back up the 10km gentle incline to Svay Leu I go, again, and on to previously unseen roads. The scenery took on an Australian feel, long grasses, eucalypts lining the road and what looked like a wattle.
I passed an outback school and stopped to say g’day. Two classes in the same shed, long wooden benches to sit, and another row slightly higher to write. Blackboards. Each teacher had a cane, for pointing at the blackboard or slapping on the desk to get attention. Sweet students, that while seemed interested in this strangers peering into their class were perhaps restrained given I was visiting mid-lesson, interrupting their rote learning. A teacher came to talk to me. I explained I was also a primary school teacher. I wrote a note with some stickers asked to take a few photos and was then on my way. If I was feeling brighter I would have asked to take over for 5 minutes. But I was still smarting a little from yesterday and in a low mood. Resilience Simon! What more can you do than pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!
My first attempt at lunch failed. Miming food I sat down at a table with the usual condiments. “No rice, soup”. “Sure, soup”, I reply rubbing my belly. “Mmmm, soup”. I could see a massive pot steaming away in the corner but after 20 minutes of close to no interaction and no food I thought perhaps something had been misinterpreted and so paid for my juice and rolled on to be next set of tables, chairs and condiments.
Great success this time. Fabulous food, chicken and rice, a side of soup and salad, and an egg for 5000 riel, $1.25. Interaction with the owners and their child, teaching words to each other. I shared my photo album and gave the toddler a mandarin. As I was leaving they handed me a big bunch of bananas, and so I dug into my goodie bag and offered the lady an Australian handkerchief as a final thanks. I was starting to feel more upbeat.
Another nice exchange a little further on. A truck carrying sweet potato/yam type vegetables passed me but before he was out of site the driver’s cap flew off. I picked it up on my way and met him as he was running back to collect it. The chap was so grateful he even tried to stick one of his yams in my bag. I laughed and shrugged my shoulders and said “I can’t, I mean I’d like to, but I don’t have a kitchen to cook it”. He laughed. I laughed some more. We both said goodbye, “Leah’s son hi!!” and I peddled on. He waved as he passed me one last time.
A marked guesthouse awaited me in Kuleaen, this time I was told it was $5. But better than last night I had a private bathroom with running water.
Another beautiful meal for dinner, beef noodle soup and ice-tea.