Friday, October 09, 2009

The Seven Plagues of Siem Reap

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This week our intrepid columnist offers some advice for surviving the seven plagues of the apocalypse

ShannonDunlapThe past week in Siem Reap was perhaps the most Old Testament-like experience I have had. I’m not certain there was a wrathful god behind the flooding that befell us, and if there was, he skipped the locusts and hail mixed with fire that he visited upon ancient Egypt. But there were plagues, nonetheless.

First, of course, came the Plague of Water. That one has already been well-documented in the pages of the Post, though the photos do not quite capture the unique aroma of the brown river that was once my street, nor the alarm you feel when, submerged to the waist, you feel something (vegetable? mineral? animal?) adhere to your left ankle.

The floodwaters were followed closely by the Plague of Clogged Toilets, during which a battalion of battle-weary septic systems waved the white flag of surrender. No nearby restaurant with a working toilet was safe from me and my pressing needs. My household reached a point of near-crisis by day three, but thankfully the upstairs toilet managed one brave swan-song of a flush and we were spared.

I‘m not certain there was a wrathful god behind the flooding that befell us, and if there was, he skipped the locusts and hail mixed with fire that he visited upon ancient Egypt”

Though the cholera that I suspect is lurking on every fork has not yet reared its ugly head, no one is safe from the Plague of Strange Rashes. There is no telling what kind of pathogens are swimming in the pestilential tide pool that once was my next door neighbour’s house, but whatever they are, they turned my landlord’s legs into scabby, inflamed specimens, the likes of which one usually only sees on frightening television medical dramas. He seemed to be taking the rash in his stride, but now the thought of it is constantly on my mind, and whenever I dip a toe into the floodwaters, my entire body itches for hours.

I’m not sure how many people experienced the Plague of Broken Fuses, but our electrical system, too, succumbed to the flood. Weirdly, the sockets on the upper floor were working, so we managed to devise an elaborate web of extension cords to keep the refrigerator chugging away in the dark. Preparing dinner with a flashlight clenched in your teeth is no easy task, but it can be managed if you are hungry enough.

Humans were not the only ones enduring the flood, which led inevitably to the Plague of Cranky Animals. The frogs do not seem as destructive as those that rained upon Egypt, though they do enjoy curling up in my shoes at inopportune times and keeping me awake with their mournful, bellowing croaking. The Post’s Siem Reap bureau chief claims that any time there is flooding of any sort, he receives panicked reports of irritable crocodiles on the loose. Though these claims are mostly unsubstantiated, I urge continued vigilance on the part of our readers and advise the development of personal crocodile combat strategies.

The Plague of Mosquitoes, which had been incubating in our flooded street, arrived on Day Three. The nasty bloodsuckers have always had a passionate lust for me, clashing unpleasantly with my hypochondrial fear of dengue fever. My boyfriend, Jason, waded to the waterlogged Psar Chaa to purchase a bug-zapping racket for me, called (I am not making this up) the Black Killer. In the evenings, I stand on our porch and wield it like a samurai sword, taking out scores of mosquitoes with every swipe and thrust, each demise accompanied by a pleasing little sizzle.

It might have been overlooked by people experiencing more dire problems, but a Plague of Boredom arrived as well. I am a writer and thus used to periods of solitude, but even I was driven to stir-craziness by isolation and lack of electricity. Jason and I resorted to creating synchronised dance moves in our living room, including one in which we leapt through the air like superheroes. We plan to publicly debut these routines at Zone One in the very near future.

Whenever I felt defeated by the Seven Plagues, I had only to look to my fellow Siem Reapers. Throughout the ordeal, I was impressed with the characteristic resilience and panache with which they dealt with hardship. If there’s an angry deity out there listening, you can cancel the locusts: this is one tough town to beat.

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