My enchantment with Khmer food has finally worn off. My pleas for a reduced quantity of meat have gone unheeded. To do justice to my evening meal I’m not eating breakfast at all and I’m skipping lunch or having only a snack midday. It’s the only way my appetite will cope with the evening meal. I also discovered that it pays to go for lunch 11.30 or 12 at latest to ensure the cooked food is fresh as it gradually cools off and is visited by a variety of flies until by 2pm you might regard what’s left as inedible or dangerous. The shine has gone off lunching at the stalls along the street after fertilised eggs (you would think they were right up my street) and other offerings. Tonight’s meal was fish soup with shrimps and fish balls, a similar odour to many I encounter around the village especially by the river; and roast ginger pork with the emphasis on ginger and the pieces of pork small bony knuckles with skin and a small amount of meat. The truth is these Khmer meals are typical and enjoyed by the nationals. It’s just that I don’t have the same enjoyment gene. So I put my headphones on and listened to Mongolian Khoomii music and Welsh Plygain while I ate and drank (the soup) with my eyes closed. I tried to imagine the Mongolian steppes and St Asaph cathedral while chewing mechanically in time with the music so that it became a rhythmic exercise rather than a savoury experience. The strange thing is that I don’t seem to be losing any weight.
I also have a bottle of chilled water with my food but until I know where my bottled water comes from I prefer to drop one water purifying tablet into each litre. I have a large water filter and collecting vessel but I don’t have the means to boil water and it’s another of those hospitality issues I don’t want to offend over. Drinking water is an issue throughout Cambodia. There is plenty of it but whether it is drinking quality or not is the difficulty. Thankfully I have all the chilled bottled water I need in the hospital. Also in the hospital grounds is a Japanese water filtration tower which makes rain water drinkable and many of the villagers, as well as the hospital staff and patients’ families, fill their water containers at the tap there. Plans to install another two of these units for the benefit of the local populace may be affected by the current situation in Japan.
The river is running through Mongkul Borei is a life line for the settlement and is still a significant source of water. The commune of Phumi Russei Kraok (that’s my village) can be seen on Google Maps stretching the full length of the river following its bends and tributaries because the water is used for washing clothes, bodies, cooking pots and food; for swimming, fishing and boating; for animal and human drinking and cooking, and for dumping waste. The houses and small holdings developed where ever there was a reliable water supply. There is now water on tap in the town but I have no idea where it comes from or what quality it is.
Traditionally rainwater was collected from the rooftops into large cement water pots and this is still the case for rural areas. They are made just opposite the hospital by the river bridge and I see freshly made water pots every day being transported along the highway.
The base is made by pouring cement onto some sacking and spreading inside a barrel hoop. Wooden staves like barrel staves are assembled as a former and the cement is applied by hand to make the pot. They are identical in size, shape and style of decoration and each one is a work of art. These people can make anything you could imagine and mend anything broken using the most basic of materials and rudimentary tools, often home-made. Punctures are mended by melting an old inner tube and applying the liquid rubber over the damaged area. Bikes and trucks alike are fixed at the roadside.
I have some treats I bought at Tesco in Thailand at the weekend and I think I deserve a reward this evening. Either a cereal bar (maybe a bit extravagant) or a wafer finger. And I have some peanuts but I think I need something sweet after that meal.
Whatever it is, it will be washed down with a glass of water … from somewhere.