I consider myself a fairly cosmopolitan individual. I’m pretty happy to adapt to different cultures and lifestyles and generally kind of go with the flow when things around me don’t conform to the norms of my culture.
However, there is one situation guaranteed to challenge every single ounce of my cosmopolitan, laissez faire outlook and bring out the true Brit in me and that’s public transport!
Or more accurately, public transport in foreign countries. Or more accurately still, public transport in Asia. No hang on a minute, that should be people who work and travel on public transport in Asia. In case you hadn’t already guessed this may get ranty!
Take our trip home from Battambang for example. Picked up from the guesthouse and delivered to the station an hour before the 7 hour journey commenced, we sit for 30 minutes before being squished into a tiny decrepit minibus which proceeds to go back the way we came, past our guest house and out to an area resembling a disused airfield where we wait for another 45 minutes in an outdoor shelter with a number of other presumably passenger all staring blankly into space. During this period of approximately 1 1/2 hours not one single word has been uttered to us by anyone connected to the bus company and to top it off the bus is now 30 minutes late.
When it finally arrives, everyone rushes (in a slow disorganised Cambodian way) to the door with their assorted bags, boxes and belongings in the process blocking access on to the bus. Aaaaargh yells my internal Brit – desperate for queues and order and structure.
Finally, on the bus we go to our allocated seats to find someone already in them. Mum is in super Brit mode now, huffing and puffing away, especially as the seat I told her to sit in instead had some contraption sticking out from under the seat so that she couldn’t put her legs down comfortably. I moved them back another row and we sat waiting. Three generations of family got on next (Grandma, mother and baby) – mum and baby occupied the seat my mum had vacated whilst Gran looked puzzled as to where she was going to deposit her HUGE basket (It was as wide and as high as a single seat) and her bin liner of whatever crap she was taking to PP. Inwardly, the Brit in me was again chuntering ‘could you not have put that in the hold? what on earth have you got in that ridiculous thing?’ etc etc whilst one of the two other Brits on the bus (my mum) was doing her best British let’s be helpful thing by trying to help a family who spoke no English and therefore making matters 10 times worse!
And then gran finally decided to sit next to me, but not before she’d wedged her bloody huge basket in front of her seat and 1/2 of mine, and bodged the bin liner on top. Having already placed my rucksack under my legs I was left with very little room to maneuver and so pointedly put my feet on the basket – I like to think us Brits have turned passive aggressiveness into an art form of which I am definitely an old master!!! The facial gurning and emphatic NO I received both from gran and her daughter prompted me to engage in further passive aggression by pointedly shoving the basket out of my leg space and spreading my legs like some wild west hoodlum at a saloon. That told them!
The status quo established, gran then sat herself on her seat and performed the miracle that is having the ability to fit her tiny 5 fo0t nothing skin and bone frame into both her seat space and part of mine. Her knees were in my thigh, her elbow in my boob and her head on my shoulder at one point. Erm, excuse me! I’m British! I need my personal space thank you very much!
I should perhaps point out that we’re actually still on the abandoned airfield at this point as passengers are still piling on, oh and we still have not been spoken one word to!
We finally set off, an hour later than scheduled, with super gran continuing to contort herself into any shape that would guarantee bodily contact between me and her whilst I tried desperately to avoid the same every time I wriggled and fidgeted due to my contracted amount of body and leg room.
I plugged in my headphones, whacked on some tunes and did my best to zone out before suddenly I see a flacid object being waved before my eyes. Super gran has decided I will share her greasy pork floss filled baguette and is not going to take no for an answer. Polite Brit obviously can’t refuse and so I chew on the very chewy greasy bread until it is finally gone, having received another elbow to my left boob thanks to gran trying to tear her section of bread to no avail.
Having eaten, super gran nodded off and in doing so further invaded my personal space as her body and neck went limp and she lolled all over me. Inwardly crying I try to picture myself shrinking to a point where I have my required zone of comfort around my very British person rather than it being invaded by limbs (and greasy bread).
I gaze out of the window, randomly flicking through my Spotify playlists in a vain attempt to find music to soothe my frazzled being before again being prodded, this time to be offered a random piece of food. Unable to identify it beyond the category of food (it looked vaguely fruit like but one can never tell) I politely declined and went back to gazing.
We finally stopped for a comfort break after about 3 hours on the road and I made to get off the bus. Once I had straddled my way over super gran’s worldly possessions and landed myself in the aisle I was then confronted by the stool hurdles. This game involves stepping over the plastic stools that people have been using to sit on in the aisle (because the bus is over full) but haven’t bothered to move when they got off to go for a pee!!!!!!!!!!!! By this point, my ability to internalise my rant was fading and a few expletives escaped as I picked one of the stools up and flung it into a seat well. Whoops!
The 2nd part of the journey continued much as the first, prod, poke, knock, random food offering from super gran. Fidget, fiddle, moan, mumble, chunter from me until we were finally back in Phnom Penh.
Having disembarked, my Britishness was once again challenged as the tuktuk driver who approached us doggedly tried to rip us off. He eventually came down to a reasonable price but by this time righteous indignation had taken over and so she and I stomped off, leaving mum and Auntie Yvonne trailing behind, to find another tuktuk and offer him the exact same price that the first guy had finally agreed to – well it’s the principle you know :-D.