Raymond Mungo’s

Ellen Berger, Alicia Doddy, Ray Mungo and Robear Yamaguchi

Ginnie woke up sicker than ever and announced that she could not leave the Golden Banana at all. She needed our last full day and night in Siem Reap to rest and recuperate as much as possible before facing a daunting travel schedule the next day – Christmas eve. We were booked to fly back to Phnom Penh, then on to Hong Kong for an eleven hour layover, too brief to get a hotel room, before continuing on to New Delhi on Christmas morning. And here she was coughing and wheezing and struggling for breath. She urged us to go back to the Angkor Wat with Poan as planned – she would meanwhile take some more downers and try to get some more sleep.

Poan took this news with a grave air of concern. He was clearly worried and offered to take her to a doctor, but she refused, insisting that we go enjoy our sightseeing. So we set off for the temples and promised to return for lunch.

For the next three hours, we tramped and trundled through massive, stunning ruins and primeval forest under punishing 90 degree sunlight and drenching humidity, the three tourists sweating profusely while Poan remained serenely dry and calm as he pushed us forward. At one point when Helen and I were out of his earshot, she complained bitterly that Poan was a poor guide; although fine as a driver and facilitator/helper, he didn’t explain the history and artistic style of the monuments half as well as other guides we overheard on the trails. She herself knew more about the Angkor Wat than he did, but of course she is an art professor and historian. At another point when our group was clustered inside the hollow of a giant, ancient tree, Poan’s cell phone rang. It was our host Barry calling from Phnom Penh, who upon hearing that Ginnie was too sick to continue touring the Wat told Poan to take her to the government hospital – the one that was always encircled by lines of patiently suffering Cambodians.

One of our guide books stated bluntly that if you happened to fall ill in Cambodia, the best course is to self-medicate and –monitor until you can get to a country with more sophisticated medical facilities. We doubted that Ginnie would be willing to go to that hospital and fervently wished that she wouldn’t have to do it. Nonetheless, Barry’s directive disjointed us.

When we got back to the Golden Banana, Ginnie didn’t seem any better or worse, and she adamantly dismissed the suggestion of medical intervention. Barry had phoned the hotel from Phnom Penh and had them go fetch Ginnie to the phone so he could check up on her condition, and somehow or other she had convinced him she’d be all right. As shy and retiring as she was, Ginnie was a young woman of firm resolve. So we headed off to lunch after arranging for Poan to return for us at 2 p.m. and continue our Wat ramble. There were still a number of sites to visit on our itinerary and we were behind on the schedule for having whiled away the previous day on the boat ride. Poan figured we could cram in most if not all of the remaining attractions in the afternoon to early evening. Ginnie could continue resting in peace and quiet while we took in more magnificent relics.

But wouldn’t you know it, this ambitious plan unraveled right about the time we started the second bottle of wine and the young chef’s banana flambee specialty. The sparkling pool and cool waterfall called out to us like sirens while the memory of heat and dust on the rugged trail was lodged in our minds. “I knew this would happen, I just knew it!” Helen said laughing between bites of rum soaked fruit and sips of sauvignon blanc. “We are soooo bad. We came all this way to see these Wats and we poop out after a few hours. It’s just terrible. But how the hell are we going to get out of it?

“Leave it to me, I’ll be right back,” I replied, got up from the restaurant table, went to the front desk and phoned Poan’s cell. If he was as startled as before at our reluctance to be toured around, he didn’t evidence it. By now, he was used to it. We agreed on a time the next morning when he’d come and take us to the airport, and once again he promised to remain on call in case we changed our minds. He could take Ginnie anywhere she wanted to see from the comfort of the car, he added. The quite accurate underlying assumption was that the other three of us were able bodied but lazy. When I got back to the table, we toasted a fresh round of drinks to this triumph of decadence over art and authority.

– to be continued –

      to be continued –


Silk Road Mahabharata #6 at http://smokesignalsmag.com/7/?p=2731


Raymond Mungo is the author, co-author, or editor of more than a dozen books. He once ran for Governor of the state of Washington on his American Express Card.  In his spent youth, he attended Boston University, and served as editor-in-chief of the Boston University News in 1966-67; where he spearheaded draft card burnings and demonstrations against the Vietnam War, and in 1967 co-founded  the Liberation News Service (LNS), an alternative news source that split off from College Press Service (CPS) and was the forerunner of not only the underground press circuit but alternative weeklies all over America, courtesy of his classic, Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times with the Liberation News Service.  Both the original Food Editor and first Sports Editor of Smoke Signals back in 1980s, Mungo’s back with us again, almost 30-years later, as quick witted and nimble as ever, but of course in a totally different incarnation.

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