There are days in which I choose to fly. One of those days was in Hpa An, in Myanmar, when I zoomed around on two wheels from cave to mountain, mountain to cave, sweet wind-whipped apexes to moldy cool nadirs. Another one was in Ko Lanta, Thailand, as we circumnavigated the island like cushy explorers in hot pursuit of diamond water. Today was yet another one of those days when I flew around the greater area of Battambang, Cambodia, holding promises of ruins and Buddhist enlightenment in my pockets.
It was 125cc’s of torque. It was a black Honda Future. It was a rental. With it I set off from central Battambang, a sleepy ‘colonial’ (that’s supposed to sell me?) city with long riverside parks and packs of territorial schoolchildren.
As I raced out of Battambang proper this morning, waving a giddy goodbye to the French, I felt at home. Home here is an empty winding road, home is a street-side drink stall run by a sassy old woman, home is leaving a place you’ve been and ending up somewhere new. Home is all that, and the house is two motorized wheels, four gears and a full tank.
I drove to Wat Ek Phnom – a kind of catch-all Buddhist sanctuary with a giant buddha, a modern temple and decrepit ruins that look like chocolate cake melting in the sun – after a long lunch. The road was perfect. It was residential, kind of busy but smooth like butter. Overtaken by green in most areas. Sharp bends. At the end of this road was Wat Ek Phnom.
A group of girls waved me Hello excitedly, and I yelled the same back. And I thought about my theory. I theorize that, in travel, the slower you’re physically moving, the more chance of ‘connection’ (whatever that may mean to you) you have with the place you’re moving through, and perhaps even more chance of truer, more thorough perception of that place (again, whatever that may mean to you). The slower you’re going the more time and notice you can pay to your surroundings; walking a long distance will likely yield numerous interactions with local people and astute observations of things like indigenous botany and architecture, while flying in an airplane at twelve miles high will afford none at all! I call it the Spectrum of Conveyance Connections, inspired by two friends who are on a pan-Asia bicycle trip and who declared that bicycle is the best means of long-distance travel primarily for this reason.
It made me think of my dear black 125cc Honda Future rental – where did it stand on the Spectrum of Conveyance Connections? Certainly between Bicycle and Car. Fellow motorists often engaged me en route; they smiled and laughed and asked where could I possibly be going? With a motorbike I could stop anywhere on the road easily enough and sip on cold tea in the company of old people, it was true, but also why would I dismount my black 125cc Honda Future rental if I didn’t have to? No, the breeze was too good, the momentum too intoxicating. And so its variant easygoing and limiting natures must be accounted for: between Bicycle and Car it firmly sits.
As such the girls waving Hello were there and gone. They had jumped into my consciousness and then jumped right back out, like a finger to boiling water.
My musings landed me at Wat Phnom Ek suddenly and with the disdain and disillusionment that occasionally await me at the end of a road. The temple and ruins were unspectacular, just imagine being presented with melted brown ice cream cake on your birthday, but I enjoyed photobombing the local teenagers’ group pictures and then promptly running away from them. I was in and out within the hour, happily though, for it meant sweet reunion with my black 125cc Honda Future rental.
I headed to town the same way I came. The sights all looked different on the way back, the curves of the road in mirror image, the houses at different angles and facades. The world instantly seemed slightly off, like entering your house and finding all the furniture had been moved three inches to the left. But I forgot it quickly, and I negotiated the turns and crooks of the butter road with glee.
And then I arrived at the girls again, the same ones as before, I was sure of it, except now there were about fifteen of them on both sides of the narrow street. I made nothing of it and continued driving forward listening to the hum of the black 125cc Honda Future rental. But when I rolled nearer, I saw the girl who waved Hello to be holding a bucket. I suppose she was always holding a bucket, I just hadn’t paid notice before. As I looked to her she yelled, “Stop! Stop!” while pointing to her bucket. This all happened within a couple seconds so I didn’t think about it much, but as a rule I don’t give money to kids, and I certainly don’t pay private tolls on public domain! But I did think that I’d like to pull over and talk to them. Just to see what the hell was up.
As I proceeded through the crowd to pull over behind them, a little boy in Spiderman pajamas jumped out of the group into the center of the road. I was approaching dangerously fast and he began jumping side-to-side, trying to block my way like the white bar in Pong.
I swerved to miss him, gliding awkwardly past him on the left, and then from nowhere (or was it?) Spiderman produced a water balloon and whipped it at my torso with the full force of an extended arm and pure resolve to hit a target. I, flustered to say the least and now in a completely soaked T-shirt with a sore oblique, swerved some more and then zoomed off while the girls screamed and gasped. It was too bizarre of an incident for me to be angry, but if that was their business model, good luck to them.
As I sped away, I immediately knew that my black 125cc Honda Future rental and indeed all Motorbikes had to be nudged toward the direction of wholly impersonal Planes on the Spectrum of Conveyance Connections. Money buckets? Water Balloons? Who knows what the hell else I was missing?∗