Methodically Knocking People’s Hats Off

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I took the night bus to Siem Reap and back for two days of interviews, with a company called Giant Ibis.  The sleeper accommodations had a spartan, naval quality – dark blue camp beds, dull blue sheets and flat pillows.  I slept on a bottom tier, with only about three feet of space between myself and the overhead bunk; my feet rested underneath the raised upper section of the bed in front of me.  It wasn’t so uncomfortable, even with my backpack resting behind my knees or against my stomach, but I was a few inches too tall to lie supine all night, and woke up with aching hips and knees.

I had a tablet and headphones to eat up time.  On the way there, I stayed up through the early morning, but on the way back I drifted off after half an hour or so, midway through a mystery serial.  The bus was full for each trip.  On the way back to Phnom Penh the woman across from me snored all night – a faint whistle and a soft snuffle.  I remember waking up around two, wondering if there was some way to jostle her without her knowing.  Between the glowing screens on all sides and the lamps floating past, the bus was never totally dark.  The road was full of potholes, and lurched several times to throw us all.

We were told there was a bathroom in the back of the bus, and there was, but it wasn’t a bus toilet.  It was a full-size porcelain toilet, with an open tank full of water that sloshed back and forth, installed over the metal rise of the tank.  You had to climb up on the tank after turning to face the door, then perch there, forearm braced against the window, while the bus rocked back and forth.  The slap of the water and the swing of the light gave the cubicle a nautical quality, like the head on a whaling ship.

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