From Minutemen to Marines,
from CIA black to Ranger green,
and so many men and women in between,
army tanks and navy ships,
in the skies above or ocean deep,
it is our peace that you keep,
and because you laid it on the line,
time after countless time,
I thank you for the freedom I’ve seen.

Memorial Day 2010.

Taking a stroll through the streets of Siem Reap has all the relaxing charm that a swimsuit model enjoys while walking though aSiem Reap, where you're pretty much walk-into-walls stupid if you can't hire a tuk-tuk.
Q: How many tuk-tuks and motorcycle-taxis
can you spot on this typical Siem
Reap street?
A: You don’t have to, they’ll spot you.
construction site. The principal item offered here is transportation, mostly tuk-tuks and motorbike-taxi. The streets are lined with hawkers, every one of whom will start calling to you from half a block away. Most will start walking toward you (stalking might be a better term for it). Ignoring them only makes it worse, and saying no is only slightly more helpful. In fact, the only polite part of exchange is that, should there be a small cluster of drivers, they won’t come at you all at once. But no matter how many—three, four, or seven—they will all ask, and keep asking until you are out of earshot.

Typical conversations go like this:

You want tuk-tuk, sir?
“Oh (feigned surprise), no thank you.”
Oh, yes, sir. I show you thirteen temples.
“No, thank you.”
Yes, cheap. No commission.
“No, no, no.”
Yes, yes, yes!

At this point, if there’s still time, the man will lower his voice:
You want smoke? You want woman? And, yes, as of last night I’ve now twice heard the nightmarishlyhorrible: My sister very pretty.

It would seem that everything is for sale in Siem Reap, be it worth buying or not.

Middle management types on vacation come to irk me in my favorite restaurant by hassling the staff with a laundry list of questions about quality and cleanliness, then nod proudly to each other at a job well done.

Salt of the earth Englishmen smoke themselves to death, dropping 200bht for a beer so they can rest their hand on the knee of a young girl.

Would be hippies arrive two generations too late, flop on the axe-pillow mats to sweat off a hangover, their freshly bought Thaiwear already reeking and their bamboo-needle tats slowly healing.

A small dog jogs by, swinging breasts so laden they would fit on a woman.

A Thai woman giggles at her boyfriend, her only communication as he explains back-home office politics over dinner.

Another walks intertwined with a tall German. They say nothing, the small intersection of their English sufficient only for restaurants and birth control.

A motorcycle whizzes by, driven by a kid in a Cub Scout uniform. He’s young enough to wear it.

A fluffy black dog, evolutionarily opposed to the oppressive heat, moves just three times a day, adjusting its position on a small patch sidewalk in front of my hotel.

Thai tailors use limited English to try to persuade me into their suits; tuk-tuk drivers just honk and howl.

Sharp dressed lads on the prowl, the sort who say things like liquor is quicker and If there’s grass on the field, play ball. They’ll pay cash for now, but they’re hunting up a more lucrative contract.

I fear that if I don’t leave Chiang Mai soon, I’ll get:

Run over by a tuk-tuk.
Ridiculed for spending two months in Southeast Asia and only seeing one town.
Seduced by one of those ridiculous young hotties.*
Fifteen pounds where I don’t want them.
Used to the temperature.
A British accent.

*ridiculous referring to ‘young’, not ‘hot’, though there are plenty of both.

This morning I made a couple of work-related phone calls toChiangMai, exotic normalness.
Somewhere in the world.
Los Angeles while working on the Nook version of The Deadfall Project online. Last night, I browsed through several used bookstores (where I found myself overwhelmed by the selection), had dinner at a burger stand, then retired to a small bar, enjoying a couple of beers while the bartendress sang to James Blunt on the stereo*. Not one person was confused by my English. In fact, most of the people here seem to be English.

All in all, things are awfully normal here in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

*with greater passion, I should add, than I had ever heard given to Mr. Blunt’s music.

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