I had been biking on a rural island across the river up until now. But it was getting into the mid afternoon and I was getting hungry. I decided to stop at the little restaurant that was advertised to me this morning. I pulled up and ordered some fish amok – a traditional Cambodian dish. When it arrived, I was ready to enjoy a rewarding meal after my hot sweaty bike ride. It was at this time, a stranger walked up to my table and introduced himself to me.
The gentleman was a tuk-tuk driver. What’s a tuk-tuk driver? Well, they are essentially an informal cab driver in developing countries. They do short-haul trips usually with a motorcycle (or 3 wheeled vehicle) hauling an “open-air” style seat in the back. The gentleman pulled up to the seat in front of me and started telling me about the driving “tours” he offered. While not actually tours, he wanted me to hire him to take me to some of the attractions nearby. I was too tired from biking to go anywhere in the afternoon, so he suggested the next day. I thought about it, but to be honest, I wanted to bike some of the sights he talked about. I declined him for that reason.
And then he asked if I wanted to go fishing. It was something that nobody mentions as an activity in the area. On top of that, I had never been fishing before. He had my attention. I was intrigued. I asked him about more details and it sounded like fun. I told him that I would find him later and let him know. While it sounded like a fun little adventure, a thought went through my head that maybe this guy wasn’t a tuk-tuk driver. It was fairly unheard of for tuk-tuks to offer something “non-touristy”. I kept the thought in the back of my mind.
We found each other later that evening and I agreed to go fishing the next day. It would break up my biking days and I was excited to try fishing for the first time. He had to complete some errands and told me to come along with him. As I had nothing to do, I agreed to go. As he started driving off to some random part of town (that I knew nothing of), I started having paranoid thoughts. What if he left me some place random and demanded I pay him to take him back. Scams in these countries are not an uncommon thing and sometimes, you can’t help being paranoid. I just met this stranger and a set up like that was completely possible.
We stopped at some person’s shop and picked up some curtains. So far so good. I met two gay Cambodian guys (his friends) who made a pass at me. Unusual but nothing alarming. But most importantly (and fortunately) we did make it back into town. He didn’t kidnap me and it wasn’t a setup. I felt confident about the next day now.
I spent the morning relaxing before meeting him in the afternoon. My stomach was not feeling well so I was not sure how I would feel fishing. I let him know that we would fish but possibly not too long as I wasn’t feeling well. On the way to the lake, he made two stops. The first stop was to grab a snack. I can’t remember what he told me it was but he assured me it was good for my stomach and it would help. “Are you sure?” I asked. He looked at me and lighthearted remarked “Yeah, I’m a doctor”. He definitely had my sense of humor. I ate a bit of it and it was pretty tasty. I can’t say it made me feel better but it didn’t make me feel worse.
The second stop we made was to dig up some bait. He grabbed his worm container and spent about 10 minutes digging for worms. When we finally arrived to our fishing spot, he couldn’t find a free boat so we walked onto one that was locked to the land. This dingy little boat felt like it would tip over at any moment. With me in it of course. He handed me a bamboo rod and I couldn’t help but smile at the simplicity of this activity. I threw my line in the water and waited. Nothing much was happening on my line but my new-found friend did get a small catch. I swear it was the tiniest fish we could’ve caught. Apparently you can still grill them and eat them.
After awhile though, my friend decided to go look for another boat. I stayed and watched his fishing rod. He returned with some good news. We had another boat! I hopped in and he paddled us into the remote areas of the lake. Surrounded by beautiful flora and no one to disturb us, we enjoyed the peace of the lake. I guess this was what fishing was about. Simplicity and peace in nature. We chatted a bit about his family and life. His English was considered pretty good for a Cambodian. He had learned it while at church many years ago. I learned that he previously worked at one of the guesthouses, but he had a falling out with the owner. He then turned to tuk-tuk driving full-time. This really meant trying to find customers everyday of the week. A day off? That would be nice, but there isn’t such a luxury.
These travels gave me lots of perspective on my privileged life, and conversations like this, only reenforce the message. I spent the rest of the trip mostly enjoying the serene environment and asking him about his life. Funny enough, the boat was also leaking water so we had to scoop out water every 10 minutes. Sadly, I had very little success at catching much fish. In fact, I only caught one. That would be the first fish I ever caught. It didn’t matter though. The trip was amazing; a random fishing trip on a dingy leaking boat, on a beautiful lake, with bamboo rods and worms, with a stranger who turned out to be one of the nicest guys in town. Just perfect. To top it off, on the way back, the sun was setting over the mighty Mekong river. The rain had managed to hold out just long enough to give me a lovely rural sunset.
I don’t care what some people say. The simplest things in life, are the best things in life.