Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Don't Believe In Air Conditioning, He Says

I cannot understand you, Steve. I nod encouragingly, as I am clearly supposed to, but this is all a little overwhelming. I am trying, and failing, to inconspicuously tug my short-shorts and tank top into a less revealing position. It's 2 AM, and this Austrian is wide awake. I really couldn't tell you what he was pontificating on at this exact moment, but he is pacing around the far end of our room, occassionally checking to make sure I am still his captive (audience). I become fascinated with his impressive beard and fantasize about placing things in it while he sleeps. Just as I loll over to prop myself up on an elbow, settling in for the rest of this lecture, the pants drop.

Hello, Steve.

* * * *

Let's backtrack. It's day four of winter vacation, and my flight has just landed in the Phnom Penh International Airport. The air is dusty and dry. I have not planned this. I hop into a cab and literally decide on a hostel on the way downtown. Stab at a point on the map, and my driver grunts assent.

The amount of motorbikes here is wild. They roar loudly all around me, bobbing and weaving through every manner of vehicular transport on this crowded road. Max number of people witnessed on a single motorbike: 5. Wear a helmet.

We arrive at Royal Guesthouse, whose sign is slightly obscured by an unsettling amount of ferns. To my suprise and delight, the front desk girl was a peppy little Australian-Korean girl who informed me that they had one room left.

A Cambodian housekeeper took me up a treacherous flight of poorly lit stairs to check out the room. After wrenching the five-pound padlock off the gate (better safe than sorry...?) I had arrived. My room, interestingly enough, had three beds. I quickly decided that I was going to sleep in a different one every day. Left my stuff on Bed #1 and precariously picked my way back down the stairs.

When I sidled back up to the reception desk, the host was engaged in an intense discussion with a burly, auburn-haired lumberjack of a man, speaking with an accent I did not recognize. As I'm standing waiting to get my room key, I realize that the lumberjack is distressed because he always stays here when he comes to Cambodia. The girl explains that I got the last room. Lumberjack turns to me with mournful eyes.

There is no way out of this.

So now I have an Austrian roommate. Steve.

Steve is a barrel-chested pro backpacker that apparently hails from the mountain country of eastern Europe.

Things I Learned About Steve (in the first 20 minutes of our relationship):
- Steve does not believe in air conditioning.
"If it's hot, it's hot."- Stevely wisdom
- Steve is positive 9/11 was an inside job.
- Steve does not appreciate socialism.
- Steve does not appear to appreciate any other system of government.
- Steve does not appreciate Obama. Or really another other American president.
- Steve does not have qualms about silly things like personal space.
- Steve's backpack weighs more than I do.

After our initial meeting, Steve and I both leave for our separate adventuring. What I do not realize is that there is but one room key.

So. After a day of rambling around Phnom Penh, I am quite content to crash into my bed at 9:30 PM. Makeup's off, clothes are off, fan is going full speed. Coma.

All of the sudden, someone is pounding on the door. I wake up, not sure what country I'm in, and scrabble around trying to find a tank top and shorts. I'm rubbing my eyes as I lurch toward the door. And there's Steve.

Steve is awake and feelin' chatty. I don't appear to have a choice in this matter.

The TV is flipped on, and Steve starts giving a running commentary on the BBC. I have to pay pretty close attention to his lips to suss out what he is saying. The European stocks are down. And then, in what I'm sure he considers a hilarious play on words,

"Oy! The Euro stocks arr gone down same time-as mah pants!"

Two words: Banana. Hammock.


I do not know the protocol for this situation. Steve is still chattering at me as though he is not standing in front of me next to naked. Am I supposed to look at him? The ceiling? My fan? Run out of the room screaming? I am troubled.

I suppose part of the problem is that I sort of can't stop staring. Is this normal in Austria? I'm pretty sure that a package this size probably has its own intelligence and can start wars.

Steve and I ended up spending three memorable half-clothed nights together. I'll never forget our hours of awkward one-sided conversation and partial nudity. I was sad to see you go Steve, but hey- we'll always have Phnom Penh.

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