Oddball Conversations in Southeast Asia, Part 2


I’m just waking up in my hut at Long Beach, on Koh Chang Island. My neighbor, Raul, has the hut next door, just ten feet from my window. He’s up already and his morning routine consists of a series of long, retching coughs interspersed with short, percussive farts. I think he’s trying to communicate, but I can’t break the code.

Raul is a young Filipino with a shaved head and thick glasses held together by electrical tape. I’ve spoken to him briefly a couple of times in the last two days and he seems to be a good guy, despite a tendency to make bad puns. We all have our faults. His favorite phrase seems to be “it is what it is” and he laughs loudly every time he says it.

I pass the day idly, sitting in a hammock and watching the surf or reading. After dark, I’m standing on the rocks in front of my hut with camera and tripod, taking long exposures of the beach in the moonlight. Raul passes by and stops to chat.

He asks if I would be willing to give him some advice. “Is it about women?” I reply. When he says it it is, I warn him that I’m over 40, unmarried, and haven’t had a date in a year — caveat emptor. He forges on, regardless.

A month ago, he met an American woman about his age and they spent several days together. She was getting over a break-up and they really seemed to click, having long conversations about spirituality and life in general. She left for home, but they’ve stayed in touch via email, writing nearly every day. I ask if they’d hooked up and he says “No, nothing like that. We hugged and stuff, but no making out. We were just friends.”

Since they’ve been emailing, she’s escalated things considerably: calling him “my love”, “my life”, wishing she could be in his arms, and such. Two weeks ago, she emailed him to tell him she was dating her old boyfriend again, but she continues to proclaim her love for Raul in increasingly romantic emails. He’s not sure how to take all of this and wants my feedback.

“Well, I think she may be confusing spiritual love with physical love — maybe she just doesn’t realize how her words are coming across. Either that, or she’s just playing you. Or, she’s just a nut.” I like to give people options.

He considers this for a moment, then says “You want to know the worst part?”

“Of course,” I reply. I love hearing the worst part when it doesn’t involve me.

“She wrote me today to tell me that her boyfriend is traveling in Thailand and will be coming to Koh Chang next week. She wants us to meet because she thinks we have a lot in common.”

“Wow. That’s messed up, Raul.”

“I don’t know what to do. Should I meet him, or should I just quit responding to her emails?” He’s obviously troubled by the whole thing and I can’t help but feel for him.

I try to lighten the mood. “Well, you could meet him for a beer and then email her later. Tell her that the two of you really hit it off and ended up sleeping together. That’d throw her for a loop.”

I can see his eyes bug out in the thin light. “Seriously?!”

“No, Raul! I was just kidding. I wouldn’t do that… well… actually I would do that. But, you shouldn’t. It’s a terrible idea.”

He sits quietly for a moment, then sighs. “It is what it is.”

“Yeah, I’m afraid it is.”


I met Sarah on the bus on the way to Kampot. We chatted during the twenty-minute break, then climbed back on the crowded bus. I lost track of her in the taxi and tuk tuk feeding frenzy that accompanies a bus arrival in Cambodia, but assumed I’d bump into her again at some point. Kampot is a small town.

Returning from a walk the next morning, I found her sitting at the cafe at my hotel. She waved me over and invited me to join her. She was English and in her thirties, with long straight hair and a husky voice. I soon learned that she taught a post-graduate class on War and Media and was considerably smarter than I. We talked politics for a good hour before she had to leave for a tuk tuk tour of the local sights.

She asked if I’d like to meet for dinner and I readily agreed, suggesting the Rusty Keyhole restaurant up the street. There was zero romantic chemistry between us, but I was delighted to have a real conversation for a change. Most people I’d met up to this point were couples on holiday uninterested in talking to a third person, or young twenty-somethings in party mode. I was starving for a good chat.

I arrived first and was sitting at a table, drinking a beer when she walked up. There was a guy with her, a swaggering Frenchman named Jacques. I disliked him immediately. She had just met him at her hotel and had invited him along to dinner. She hoped I didn’t mind.

A young Dutchman named Michael joined our table, an economics student on a break from college. We all ordered the specialty, barbecued pork ribs, and chatted as the sun sank behind the hills along the Mekong River. It was a beautiful night.

Jacques was a good-looking guy, with thick hair and an even, dark tan. If you looked up the word “swarthy” in the dictionary, you’d find his photo and a note that read “*Probably an asshole”. He worked as a meteorologist for the French yachting team, studying weather patterns at future race locations.

“I collect weather data that is used to help design the yacht,” he explained. “I have three degrees. The PhD in Meteorology is most useful in my work, but my Engineering Master’s helps, too.” I suspected that third degree was in Bullshitting, but held my tongue.

Sarah founds this fascinating and was soon turned in her chair towards Jacques, twisting her hair and peppering him with questions. I could see where this was going. Occasionally, Jacques –who I now thought of as “Frenchie”– would turn my way to give me a smug look.

Michael and I both tried to get into the conversation, but Frenchie would always interrupt, turning the conversation back to yachting or his other adventures. He rattled off a long list of the countries he’d visited over the years and Sarah was quite impressed, indeed.

“What has been your favorite place to visit, Michael?” I asked.

“I’d have to say Borneo. I was there last…”

“Oh yes!” Frenchie cut in. “I completely forgot about Borneo. The orangs are just amazing.” He was so familiar with orangutans, they were on a first-name basis.

Dinner arrived and the pork ribs were incredible — quite possibly the best ribs I’ve ever eaten. I’m from Texas, so that’s not a claim I make lightly. Frenchie ate his with ketchup. As if I didn’t hate him enough already…

He continued to pontificate while we ate. Michael would glance my way and roll his eyes every few minutes — at least I wasn’t the only one suffering. When Frenchie launched into a story about saving dolphins in the Sahara, or something equally ridiculous, I decided I’d had enough and headed to the hotel.

I was halfway into a good book and had no doubt that it would be better company.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalka July 27, 2010 at 12:49 pm

thanks for chuckle!


wes July 27, 2010 at 9:47 pm

You’re welcome :)


John July 27, 2010 at 8:35 pm

I think that was a great idea you gave Raul!

And “saving dolphins in the Sahara, or something equally ridiculous” is brilliant!


wes July 27, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Awww, thanks John. Raul didn’t seem to find it useful, alas…


John July 27, 2010 at 9:53 pm

He must be lacking in bitterness. That’s so cute!


Eli July 28, 2010 at 3:01 am

Frenchie sounds like a real tool, man. That enitre night must’ve been torture. But, it is what it is, isn’t it? This was a funny read, Wes. I wonder what the crazy Vietnamese tour guide might have said to Jacques.
.-= Eli´s last blog ..Living In The Moment =-.


wes July 28, 2010 at 9:05 am

Oh, man! I’d love to introduce the two of them — that’d be something to watch.


Greg Summerhayes July 28, 2010 at 4:39 am

Love it Wes, Maybe Raul and the frenchie could weave some magic Frenchie might even break the code. Great to read of your travels to punctuate my daily grind. I got you that T shirt if you want to send an address. Cheers greg


wes July 28, 2010 at 9:18 am

Hey Greg! A Texas Music tshirt from Australia? Hell, yes. Snail mail address on the way — thanks!


Andi July 28, 2010 at 5:47 am

You really need to write a book of short stories based on these random conversations you have. I don’t want your stories to end they’re THAT good!!! Dolphins in the Sahara…love!
.-= Andi´s last blog ..29 Things To Do Before I Turn 29 =-.


lily July 28, 2010 at 5:48 am

Please keep talking to strangers Wes! Every conversation is like a gift in your hands…I’d love to hear your reflections on the various border crossings you are/will be doing, as they can be richly rewarding if you like the wierd encounter!


wes July 28, 2010 at 9:18 am

Ooh! thanks for the border crossing reminder. I met a crazy cab driver at the Cambodian border I’d forgotten about :)


Erin July 28, 2010 at 6:53 am

Funny read – keep them coming!
.-= Erin´s last blog ..7 Link Blog Challenge =-.


Nick July 28, 2010 at 10:19 am

Amazing as always. We’ll have to hit the salt lick when you get back in Texas. :)
.-= Nick´s last blog ..Interview with Copywriter James Lee =-.


wes July 28, 2010 at 2:10 pm

You. Are.On. Loves me some Salt Lick!


Mitch July 28, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Haha, the Rusty Keyhole has to be my favourite restaurant ever. The pork ribs really are legendary. And the owner, Kristian, is a hell of a nice guy – we were there in May and he randomly invited us to go dirtbike riding with him in the backcountry around Kampot, which turned out to be one of the best days of my trip.
.-= Mitch´s last blog ..DAY 89- Hang Time =-.


wes July 28, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Amen — Kristian is a great guy. I rented a motorbike from him for 2 days and he offered me the use of his scooter for free for the rest of my stay. Got a couple of beers in him one night and he told me the secret ingredient to the pork rib sauce :D


Poi July 28, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Amazing! Cheered up my otherwise dull day at work!
.-= Poi´s last blog ..One Month To Go! =-.


Nathan July 28, 2010 at 8:23 pm

hahah oh Wes, great stuff dude – love reading your stories, you REALLY are out there exploring the world… great writing style as well! :)


Ron July 29, 2010 at 12:08 am

Hi John, Excellent pictures!

Are you coming to Bangladesh?
.-= Ron´s last blog ..The Lawachara Rain Forest- Where Wildlife Can Breathe Safely =-.


wes July 29, 2010 at 6:58 am

Thanks, Ron! Yeah, I’m hoping to visit Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka after SE Asia. Should be there in a couple of months.


Ron July 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Great, let me know when you are in Bangladesh, I will be happy to be your travel guide
.-= Ron´s last blog ..Shagordari A Historical place of Jessore =-.


wes July 29, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Awesome! Thanks, Ron!

ayngelina July 29, 2010 at 1:19 am

I’m starting to think you have no oddball stories, but these are all your normal, everyday stories. Are you still wearing your hat? Maybe that’s what attracts the crazies.
.-= ayngelina´s last blog ..When a local coffee grower decides to go organic =-.


Nick Laborde July 29, 2010 at 3:21 am

Yeah, I agree, oddball seems to be the norm …
.-= Nick Laborde´s last blog ..Weekly Dose of Travel Awesomeness – Planning =-.


wes July 29, 2010 at 6:55 am

Well, the majority of them are odd, with the language barrier and such. Unfortunately only a few of them turn out to be good stories. I wish it happened more often, to be honest.

As for the hat — no, I don’t travel with it. Cowboy hats just don’t pack well, alas. I bought a cheap one in Bangkok when I first arrived and it was a crumpled mess in about a week. :(


Nick Laborde July 29, 2010 at 3:25 am

Sounds to me like Rauls friend is trying to orchestrate some kind of threesome … or shes just plain crazy …

Thanks for the laugh, I gotta go polish my yacht now …
.-= Nick Laborde´s last blog ..Weekly Dose of Travel Awesomeness – Planning =-.


wes July 29, 2010 at 6:53 am

Ha! Nah, I think she was just a nut.


TR July 29, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Hand over the rib sauce secret ingredient and no one gets hurt. . . lol. Seriously . . .


Asian Market Girl August 4, 2010 at 8:08 am

… I go for the nut
.-= Asian Market Girl´s last blog ..China mines still deadly- as bosses ordered below =-.