Having finished watching the sunset behind the Royal Palace, and participating in some evening calisthenics with the locals in the main square overlooking the Tonle Sap River, we were ready to dine out in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. Even on a budget, we never went hungry, as I'm sure you know, food comes quite cheap all over South East Asia. The best eats for us all over the region came at the neighborhood street stalls or make-shift dining patios that families would set up in front of their homes. Tonight we would find a typical stall close to the Independence Monument that served a heaping veggie-noodle plate for 5000 Riel ($1CAD).
We settled onto our two tiny stools and watched our chef at work. His massive wok clanged and rattled as he shook all the ingredients together on the propane stove. While everything we ate in Asia was essentially a variation of rice/noodle/vegetable/seafood/oil/sauce, amazingly each stall had it own unique dish of fresh and local ingredients, and no two meals were ever the same.
Beside us were a few other locals. Teenagers, very interested in our every move. We smiled at them. They laughed at us. Beside the teenagers was an older lady washing the dishes with water from who knows where.
At night, Central Phnom Penh is very dark for a capital city of almost two-million people. Not too many street lights. In fact, the only significant light at night came from the cars and motor bikes that crowded the streets. Sitting on the tiny stools, we could barley see past the circumference of the street stall.
Which brings us to the meal service. Our food is delivered proudly by the proprietor's teenage daughter. Oddly enough, she is wearing flannel pajamas, as is her mother, and the grand mother who was still washing the dishes. We unwrapped our chop sticks and dug in. After the first bite we give a 'thumbs-up' to the anxious chef who was probably hoping for some repeat business from these two chubby Canucks. It is an excellent meal. However, and this is the moment you've been waiting for. About a half-dozen bites in to my dinner, I feel a little tickle at the bottom of my tucked in shirt, around the tail bone. You know when you are squatting, or sitting in a very low chair like I was, the back of your pants creates a little triangle opening. Not a plumbers butt, but just a little opening. An opening big enough for something tiny to jump inside. That was where the tingle was happening.
This was an odd sensation, that does not normally accompany a meal, so I perked up a bit. I sat up a little more straight. With that gyration, the tickle became less playful and a touch more violent. I still did not react, rather, I simply stood up. And what you may ask fell out of my pants with a 'plop' onto my dining chair? A chubby little rat. Yikes. The rat didn't even give me time to react. In a flash, he leapt off his perch and into the grass. He instantly disappeared into the darkness of Phnom Penh.
I looked up to the family expecting some sort of sympathy for this incident that went down on their turf. This did not happen. They laughed at me. I finished the rest of my meal standing and nervously staring into the darkness, accompanied only by the cackles of my beloved and a half-dozen Cambodians.
After dinner, we picked up a 6 pack of Angkor beer and went back to our "hotel" to watch the Oscars on a four-day tape delay. We were woken up around 3am to the sound of a woman screaming hysterically, first in her suite, then in the hallway. I'll save that one for another day.