A Day In Cambodia


I rise to the sounds of the street permeating through paper-thin walls. The mattress is thin in my $3-a-night room and the slumped ceiling is spotted with mould. My toilet is a mere hole in the floor where I squat and do the business. I eat rice for breakfast, again, and buy a 25 cent bottle of Treated Pipe Water on my way out.
As I step onto the street I am hounded by street beggars; some with sleeping-pill-drugged babies draped over their shoulders, some pre-school age, some with no legs, all thinking Iím made of money. I haggle with a tuk-tuk driver to get the price down by 50 cents and I climb aboard the little carriage as horns blast all around me. A motorbike passes at full speed. A man is driving with a toddler balanced on the fuel tank in front and a baby cradled by its mother on the back, none of them wear helmets.
At the markets I see slabs of raw meat hanging from hooks alongside dissected carcasses of chooks and geese. On the ground below, live turkeys await their fate and fish squirm in tubs with barely an inch of water. There are pig snouts, trotters, intestines, chook heads, sparrows on sticks, dried seahorses and shark fins. I buy a takeaway bag with a selection of crickets, beetles, cockroaches and giant water bugs, as well as a fried snake, a rat and some crispy frogs dancing along a skewer.
I get talking to some locals, in stunted Khmer and English, who happen to be sharing a plate of raw chook feet. After much encouragement I try a whole chook foot. I crunch down hard and try to swallow. After several minutes of hopping around the table with this chook foot going up and down my throat, it finally settles. It's the thought of what you're eating that is worse than the actual taste. A lady offers me some grub larvae and as I chew, the skin sticks to my teeth. Hours later, like the post-spew carrot chunk that dislodges from your sinuses, I rediscover the grub larvae on my back molars and I get to enjoy it all over again.
In the street, monkeys clamber along the masses of electrical wire that weave through the trees. Scrawny dogs and hungry children hang out beside the market stalls waiting for food. The dirt, dust and diesel fumes stick to me and I discover there's nothing more thrilling than rinsing my feet in the bathroom with the rectal hose.
For dinner, I order Fried Tarantula. Two giant hairy spiders appear before me, on a bed of salad, with sweet chilli sauce on the side. After psyching myself up, I take my first bite of the goo-filled body and crunchy straw legs. Again, the hardest part is actually swallowing the thing.
At daysí end, my senses are well and truly exhausted and I drag myself up 5 flights of stairs to my cardboard room. I fall asleep to the endless howling of the stray dogs and am haunted, almost to the point of being sick again, by the things Iíve eaten that day.

M Ellerton

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