Caught in the Middle with Wine

Once upon a fateful night in Cambodia a botched meet up plan with a friend turned into an unwitting date with a ladyboy.

I had split up with my new friends Karin and Nati earlier that day and had one night solo before making my way back into Thailand. I had been trying all week to connect with a friend of a friend who lives in Siem Reap, but my phone wasn’t working in Cambodia which made it difficult to actually coordinate anything. This contact is also a taxi driver, so he never really had a set schedule. We agreed to meet up and a bar nearby for dinner but  he never showed. This was fine and I ended up eating alone and people watching, which is usually quite enjoyable. I finished my meal and settled the bill, thinking the night was over and I was heading home.

False. It was merely beginning.

As I walked into the street a ladyboy was also on her way out of the restaurant stopped me and struck up a conversation with me. She was older, from France, and her name was Michelle. She wondered about why I was eating alone and asked me if I had ever been to a cabaret show. She invited me across the street to a wine bar that apparently had a great show on that night. I declined and told her I was on my way out of the country the next day and didn’t have any money left, but she insisted that it was worth it to see and said she would buy me a glass of wine. Now for those of you who may not know, a ladyboy is a man who wants to be (and identifies as) a woman and likes men…so I was like cool a new friend! I was keen to hear her story on how she ended up in Cambodia and agreed to go check out the show.

As we walk up one of the boys from the show leans out the top story window to yell hello and it quickly becomes apparent that she is a regular here. It was a good show they were very entertaining and passionate about their work, and I did in fact learn a lot about my new friend Michelle. The wine flowed as she told me about her life in France, her ex wives, her lifestyle there, and her children. She showed me pictures of her when she is a he as well as pictures of her children on her phone while saying, “I make really attractive babies.”

I was all sorts of confused by now. This did not mesh at all with what I imagined her story would be and I sat there on the couch trying to put all the pieces together as the final act began. “Oh, all the girls love him.” Michelle informed me as she indicated towards one of the men coming onto the stage. Our conversation was momentarily suspended while we watched the group of men, transformed into leopard print clad jungle warriors, perform to Katy Perry’s “Roar”. Michelle turned back to me and resumed our conversation. “I’m not actually a typical ladyboy, you know. I just like to dress up like a woman in my spare time.” She…wait no, he? She for the night I guess? Anyway…she looked at me, I looked at her, Katy Perry roared on. Finally she continued, “I buy and sell oil in the middle east, and when I go there I can’t dress like this you see, people won’t accept it. I actually like both men AND women….but I find women’s bodies much more beautiful.” She placed a hand on my outer thigh for emphasis. Almost simultaneously one of the dancers bounded across the stage towards our side of the room and beckoned for me to join. I looked up at the extended hand in front of me, down at the hand on my leg, and settled my gaze on the glass of wine on the table in front of me as I mused over the unexpected turn this night had suddenly taken. I wasn’t sure how else to really get out of this situation in a hurry but to take the hand of my jungle cat savior and allow myself to be pulled up on stage. Once up there I had no choice but to roar along and get down with the dancers while the whole bar watched on.

And that’s how I ended up on a date with a (maybe) ladyboy.

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Cambodian Culinary Delights

10639616_10202909365431857_3346728613484229400_n Over our mid-year school break I decided to go to Cambodia. Emma and I were supposed to go together but I wanted to stay in Buengkan a few extra days and then I realized that it was Naga fireball time once again and I just had to stay for that. I was determined to see some fireballs. And I did! This year I actually saw the fireballs with my own eyes! I am a believer. They are real. Not as impressive as I had built them up to be in my head, but still a really cool unexplained phenomenon on the Mekong. What a privilege to have the opportunity to be living here and get a second chance to watch for them.

But back to Cambodia….it’s been a while since I have traveled anywhere new, much less gone anywhere on my own, so I was pretty excited to get out there again. Emma found this blog post about getting a bus and crossing the border into Cambodia by Arty Dubs, and if I could meet them in person I would thank them profusely and buy them lunch or something because this information was so incredibly helpful! If you plan on wandering over to Cambodia from Thailand, check out their blog, you wont regret it. The only difference I feel worth mentioning is the visa cost, which is now up to $30 USD. Ouch. Also, once you get into Cambodia your bus driver will honk the horn on average about once a minute, so…be prepared. I nearly lost my mind.

On the bus I met a  lovely couple about my age and we decided to join forces in finding the cheapest accommodation possible. The three of us found a nice place just 5 997085_10202875369221973_280362208849050752_nminutes walk away from the city center and settled in. While we were hunting for hostels we stumbled across a small, posh looking restaurant called Bugs Café. Curiosity compelled me to stop and steal a glance at the menu, which piqued the interests of both Karin and I enough to want to return for dinner. Nati fervently protested our fine dining decision, but since it was two against one we found ourselves debating which bugs to snack on while Nati sulked. He refused to eat anything so Karin and I split a “discovery platter”, which consisted of tarantula, water beetle, grasshopper, crickets, flying ants, normal ants, and silk worms. The crickets and silk worms were sautéed and thrown together with vegetables in a wok, one the tarantulas was chopped up into a delicious samosa while the other was fried and skewered along with the grasshoppers and water beetle, and the ants were stuffed into pastries and spring rolls.

Everything was surprisingly delicious, and the only thing I struggled with a bit was the10374519_10202886601022761_8070264731132025365_n flying ants in spring rolls since they were still quite large. Karin and I munched on spider legs and scorpion tails while we discussed the various flavors and consistencies over the sound of Nati gagging, delightedly egging him on by offering various morsels. It was great fun! …for us at least. 😉 Between gags he claimed that Karin and I were “food soul mates” and I could stay with them as long as I liked because Karin finally had someone else to eat gross foods with her and actually enjoy it. After dinner we went out for a few drinks and finally gave Nati a chance to eat something of his choosing, which was pizza.