Khmer is a culture that I rarely encounter in books and in school. Despite the fact that we live right across the South China Sea, they are literally the next door neighbor. With the Cambodian robust history of fierce Angkor warriors, I would think that the modern Khmer’s would be someone who is cold-hearted, aloof and supercilious… man, I was wrong. FLAT WRONG.
Meang introduced us to Piron, our tuk tuk driver for three days. When they fetched us from the Siem Reap International Airport, he was quiet and a bit shy, but his warm smile was good enough for us to feel so much welcomed.
The moment we reached Prohm Roth Guesthouse, we unloaded the bags. I immediately shook his hand, then I started blabbering non-stop about the flight from Kuala Lumpur. He flashed a big smile, occasionally nodded, sporadically giggled while I animatedly shared my stories. The moment I stopped talking, he instantly turned his head to Meang. Still smiling, he asked something in his native tongue. Something that I interpreted as–“What is he talking about?”
Apparently, Piron doesn’t speak English.
We figured out that the easiest way to communicate with him is through signs and gestures. That was how it went for three days.
He knows where to go for good finds like shopping places, cheaper bottled water and he can guide you to a mini- Cambodian street food trip. While roaming the complex, we were stopping every now and then for him to show us and have us try all sorts of deli’s ranging from spicy clams to dried insects. He really knows how to please adventurers like me and Monette.
One time while driving across Bayon, I told monette “Gutom na ko!” (It means “I’m hungry” in Filipino). Piron immediately pulled over. We were wondering what he was about to do, then he bought something like sweet sticky rice in a bamboo shaft from a local vendor.
“You… hungry…?” he gestured something that translates “Eat this, this is for you…from me!”
We were left speechless and profoundly touched by his thoughtfulness.
I tried telling Piron that he looks like one Filipino newscaster. I tried to put it in the simplest possible sentence. After continuously talking about Howie Severino, I paused for a gap. He responded with his unwavering big smile–“YES”
I curled up my forehead to show confusion. Trying to connect what he just said.
He immediately reverted his response… “NO”
No doubt, I love Piron.