December 1, 1954
Back at the villa we all had pre-dinner cocktails and then were off as the guests of some local Cambodian and Chinese merchants to a full-course Cambodian dinner with all the trimmings! The dinner was being served in honour of the International Commission delegates (Indian, Canadian and Polish) in Kampot and was held at a sort of sidewalk café place all surrounded with palm trees. Three hours and ten courses later we were finished!!! I’ve never seen so much food in my life! All of the dishes were very weird looking but delightfully delicious. The highlight of the evening was when five whole roast ducks were plopped on the table, complete with heads, tails and feet! Then back to the villa for cocktails.
The three Poles got together in a little huddle for a while, then the two men vanished upstairs for a minute and returned with a bottle of VODKA!! Great cheers from everybody. The chief Indian delegate turned his turban sideways, kicked off his shoes and just sat there like that all evening, chatting and laughing like a house on fire. The Polish woman (known only as “Madame X” because her last name is about three blocks long) and our Canadian Lt-Col. did a little jive to some American music coming in over the radio and then Roger led us all in the singing of “ALOUETTE” of all things! Everyone joined in, Indians, Poles and Canadians. I just couldn’t believe my eyes! Just imagine a room full of be-turbaned Indians, Communist Poles, and Democratic Canadians all singing, laughing and talking together as if we were one big family! To think that people from such entirely different countries as India, Poland and Canada could get together for an evening and have such good fun – well – all I can say is, it’s an evening I shall never forget if I live to be a thousand! It makes you wonder, doesn’t it! Well, after several more Canadian, Polish and Indian songs and some well-received impersonations of a one-armed fiddler and a man trying to find his house key in a dark doorway we bade each other good night and went off to bed.
The next morning we were all up bright and early and the whole bunch of us piled into five jeeps and were off on a visit to a pepper plantation! We took the same road leading to Kep for a couple of miles then turned left at a fork onto a dirt road leading into the jungle. I might mention that one of our hosts from the night before owned this pepper plantation and he and four Cambodian friends were leading the way in the first jeep. The road took us through many Cambodian villages, then finally led us deep into the jungle. Finally the road narrowed down to a mere path so we abandoned jeep and made our way on foot. We were told by our host that this part of the jungle was thickly populated by tigers and wild boars (Horrors!!) but that these animals very rarely showed themselves in daylight and were frightened half to death of humans (great relief from all). As there were 25 humans in our safari I guess they really were frightened half to death because there was no sign of any of these little pets at all. I might mention, however, (don’t panic) that twice we heard twigs crack off in the woods and quite evidently these “cracks” were made by something (?) quite heavy! All the time we could hear strange bird calls all around us as if they were warning the jungle of humans approaching. You know, it’s a strange feeling walking through a place like that. Although you cannot see any outward signs of “life”, all the time you have the feeling that “life” is all around, watching you.
Finally we came to a clearing and there was the pepper plantation in front of us! There were four thousand pepper plants growing in neat rows as far as the eye could see. Each one of these four thousand plants has to be watered and cultivated daily by Chinese coolies that we saw working around. The pepper plant is a vine that grows up poles stuck in the ground, sometimes to the height of 10 to 15 feet! Pepper grows in clusters of little seeds, somewhat like grapes. So if you’re reading this at the dining table and are about to reach for the pepper, just stop and think for a moment of all the hard, hot work that went into making that pepper available. It certainly makes one realize just how much we take things for granted. When I think of all the times I’ve dashed pepper madly on things without thinking for one moment where it came from! Well, now I know and believe me, I shall certainly appreciate pepper a great deal more now.
After about a half-hour tour of the plantation we headed back to our jeeps and back to Kampot, stopping every so often to take pictures of huts, natives, etc. Back at the villa we had a refreshing drink of apple cider and Roger, the Lt-Col. and I went to the market to buy some coconuts! From the market we stopped in at the café we had eaten at the night before and were treated to frosty glasses of coconut milk! Some of our hosts were there and joined us at our table. One little Chinaman among them had a Life magazine with him and was very puzzled over the pronunciation of some of the English words therein. Little did I think last November 28 that this November 28 I would be sitting in a café in the town of Kampot, Cambodia, teaching a French-speaking Chinaman how to speak English from a Life magazine while we both drank coconut milk!!! Just goes to show what can happen to a person in a year’s time, eh? Well, back to the villa for lunch and Roger and I piled back into the white IC truck, tired but very happy, for the return three-hour drive to Phnom Penh. So that’s what I’ve been doing with myself for the past weekend. Different, wasn’t it?
Well, it’s after 11 o’clock and I must get off to my wee board bed. Oh, one other thing. Yesterday I wrote to the Travel Office in Srinagar, Kashmir requesting information about that country. Several of the Indians here have recommended Kashmir as a wonderful place to spend a holiday. The flight from New Delhi to Srinagar would cost about $40 and once there I can rent a house-boat, complete with living room, bedroom, kitchen, etc., for next to nothing. I wouldn’t be going until around May or June and all this is very tentative. First of all, I’d have to find somebody from here to go along with me. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to start making plans early. I’ll tell you more about this little idea of mine when I hear from Kashmir. Now that I’m in this part of the world I guess I might as well take full advantage of all the interesting places to visit around here.
Well, I’ve really shot the works in this letter and it will probably cost me next month’s salary to mail it, but I just thought you’d like to know about my weekend adventure in detail. Say hello to everyone for me and write soon. Bye for now,