Market Visit

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Today I have a headache – the internet tells me that the most likely cause is either lack of water or lack of salt.

It’s sweltering in Cambodia.  I’m inside an air-conditioned cafe drinking iced coffee, and I’m still sweating.

I went to the market yesterday.  Markets in Cambodia sprawl under the shade of low umbrellas. The space underneath is dim and humid.  Women sell meat on hooks and trays and fish in bowls and tubs, so the market smells of warm blood and fish.  I’m not good with the smell of blood, so I walk through breathing shallowly, trying not to take in unexpected sour air.  Everything wilts and shrinks in the sun, including the meat.  The thick oxtails and hanks of shoulder steak take on a cured, resinous look, bubbles of fat like bubbles of sap.  I saw blocks of coagulated pigs’ blood in bloody water in metal bowls, tiered aprons of liver on wooden stands, and black tripe blooming like lichen in a washtub.

The fish at the market are beautiful, cod heads hashed up like peonies, red and white like cabbage roses.  I saw a row set out on a bloodstained lily pad, and asked the woman selling them if I could take a picture.  She also sold slaty carp on wide metal baking trays, and they thrashed back and forth against each other.  The fish at the market have unglazed eyes, the sign of freshness, even late in the afternoon.

The ladies also sell quartered pumpkins and squat bags of saffron and chili powder, and further in you can buy basil, green and yellow mangoes, hairy rambutan, hulled tamarinds like plum pits that have been sucked and spit out, lychees with rough pink skins.

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