Sunday, May 15, 2005

MBA Pt 8: Great balls of fire!

My Bung Arm Part 8

The story so far: Riding out of Phnom Penh and Kampong Thom, Mr Felix then cycled north through the forest to the Thai border at Preah Vihar. Further west near Anlong Veng he visited Pol Pot’s grave and that night was bitten on the elbow by a spider, or something - Mr Pot’s revenge. A few days later his badly swollen arm was cut open to by the Butcher of Sisophon (aka the local Cambodian doctor) which renewed his faith in the beyond (seeing is believing.) He is now undergoing for five day’s outpatient treatment (with Sister Supachai) at Aranyaprathet Hospital on the Thai-Cambodian border.

Evening, day 3, at Aranyaprathet

While I’ve been off slaying dragons, Yoko and Kayoko, the two Japanese girls at the guest house, have been out scavenging for Japanese food, or the approximate.

They stumble in to the lounge room laden with ingredients, mostly from the 7-11, going by the plastic bags.

"Can I help?" I say, and no, no, Felix-san, you just sit there and make paper aeroplanes with Lek, the young daughter of the Thai owner, which is super-fine by me. I love paper aeroplanes, and Lek’s an enthusiastic test pilot.

We’ve got aeroplanes stuck in holes and crevices all over the room, including one going around on the overhead fan, which is just killing Lek for some reason, and we are busily trying to land another, unsuccessfully, when mum finally calls her into the house for dinner and I’m left to clean up the mess.

We’re not ‘going sushi’ tonight but what we are getting is apparently (almost) authentic ‘southern Japanese rustic style’, whatever that is.

"Have you had southern style Japanese food before, Felix?" asks Yoko. I tell her I’ve got no idea, but I love ‘Japanese food’ and hold up my fingers and make ‘inverted comma’ signs in the air, as you do when you haven’t got a clue.

It seems ‘southern style’ is going to be a whole new experience, and Yoko looks pleased.

Just then Kayoko comes out of the kitchen with a small vase of purple and white Thai orchids and places them in the middle of the low wooden coffee table, right in front of me.

She sits down and turns the vase a couple of times, and adjusts the stems, back and forth, and Yoko comes across and sits down, and as if on cue, they both say "uh!" and lean back in their chairs and look at the flowers.

And they’re simply gorgeous!

I sit and look and for a few precious seconds all movement stops, and the universe is spinning around a small vase of Thai orchids at the centre of our table.

Yoko says: "Beau-tee-ful!" and turns and smiles, and as if on cue again both girls get up and go back to the kitchen, without another word, and I’m left with the flowers, speechless.

What is it about Japanese and flowers?

The same thing, I guess, as Japanese and animation, and I’ve got ‘just the ticket’.

I slip off and get my Ipod and plug it into the stereo speakers, and ask the girls if they’d like some music and yes, that’d be nice, so I hit the button and the opening bars of the ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ theme song come flooding into the room.

Japanese girls really know how to scream, I tell you, and there’s a certain pleasure in being the cause of it.

‘My Neighbour Totoro’ (Tonari no Totoro) was a hugely popular Japanese feature animation made in 1988 by Hiyao Miyazaki, arguably the world’s greatest living animator. (He gets my vote!)

The theme song is a catchy upbeat tune loosely based on, and I shudder to say it, Cliff Richard’s ‘Summer Holiday’. It goes something phonetically like: Ar-doo-ko, ar-doo-ko, wa-deshi-wa-keng-keee… and it’s a groove! I’m so in love with the animation I have the complete soundtrack on the Ipod.

And so we play it through.

Yoko tells me that when she was at school she and her friends would march home along the road in a long line singing the song, and I wish I had of been there. That song’s a winner!

The food hits the palate and it’s salty, and after months of spicy Southeast Asian food my tongue is doing cartwheels, but I’m into it. Kayoko tells me the names of the different dishes, most of which I’ve never seen before, and I nod and repeat the names (and retain nothing) and eat it all up, and just as well there’s no after-dinner quiz, because I’d get zero.

Who’s the happy idiot?

We sip on green tea and chat, and make the obvious ‘John and Yoko’ connection and ‘do you have any Beatles music, Felix?’ and is Pope Benedict a Catholic?

I’m one of those people who would listen to the Beatles playing chess (over and over) and so we play Abbey Road, but the girls don’t know the early stuff, so gee, what an opportunity; almost virgin Beatle fans!

I lead them back through the heady ‘psychedelic era’ and deep into the early Mersey sound, which they especially like, so we keep going and plunge into the crazy worlds of rock and roll and rhythm and blues, and eventually uncover Fats Domino, who’s up there with Miyazaki in my pantheon of high art popular culture gods and ‘do you know how to rock and roll, Felix?’

It seems Yoko has done a bit of dance, so let’s try a few moves. I turn up ‘The Fat Man’ to 11 and we kick off, and by the third run we’ve found the swing, and it’s turned into a party.

And one of the things you don’t have to worry about in Southeast Asia is noise, and we’re making plenty of it. Luckily also, my good left hand’s doing most of the work.

Jerry Lee Lewis is screaming ‘Great balls of fire!’ while Yoko spins out from centre and I pull her back in, and for the world's most boring border town, Aran is a happening burg.

They can probably hear the music over in Cambodia, some six kilometres away, and I do wonder what they’re thinking.

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