The Kindness of Strangers – Finnish Edition.

The Kindness of Strangers – Finnish Edition.

So as it’s all been rather tortured soul recently I thought I’d pick up on one of the chirpier aspects of my last blog. I do still believe in the kindness of strangers. I arrived in Asia 9 months ago now entirely on my own, and one of the many things that has taught me is you can be as ‘prepared’ as you like but sometimes you will find yourself in situations you just couldn’t of dreamed up in a million years. Add into the mix my natural haphazardness and an age old, relentless and unfailing ability to get into mischief, and sometimes you find yourself quite frankly, fucked. I’ve arrived in a few of these situations, and as much as I’ve come across people I’d happily push off a cliff, I’ve also come across more then my fair share of angels, some of whom have actually probably saved me. So I thought I’d sporadically share a few of these beautiful people with you, for faith in humanity reasons.

So a long time ago now I found myself leaving Koh Chang (my favourite place in Thailand incidentally) very early in the morning and very dubious to be leaving my wonderful Dutch friends to get a bus to Cambodia, (my least favourite place in Asia or possibly the world incidentally) where I was aiming for Sihanoukville. The bus was of course late, and my grouchiness getting worse by the minute, not helped by seeing my two Dutch boys tired little faces holding my bags for me and trying to convince me to stay. As close as I was to sacking it off and going back to bed, I knew that I had to go and soon enough the bus which was actually a mini van trundled up the road. After a very emotional good bye I clambered on, trying to arrange my face into something friendly as a lot of people you end up with you meet on the bus journeys. I shouldn’t of bothered because as I got on my friendly face instantly dropped to one of disbelief. Three of the most gigantic bodies I have ever seen, taking up two seats each, greeted me – two slumbering and snoring loudly, one blinking benignly at me, and all three plastered head to toe in tattoos. I smiled weakly and took a seat on the front row, occasionally sneaking looks at the solid wall of biceps and muscle snoozing behind me. Soon enough we stopped and picked up our final passenger, and what an absolute treasure he was. Clearly into his late 50s, saggy moobs flopping around all over the place, a moustache Hulk Hogan would of been proud of, green fluorescent shorts and a bandana wrapped round his head, he was loud, he was American, he was awful, he spotted me. I already had my eyes closed and was inwardly groaning as “well hey there ain’t you just the beautiful one” boomed out round the bus, causing some stirring and indecipherable mumbling from one of the bodies behind us. Of course he took the seat next to me, and within ten minutes I’d resigned myself to being subjected to his utterly bizarre ramblings about all kinds of madness. ‘Talkers’ I can cope with (being one myself to an extent) but after hearing about this dog that he has – ‘won’t let nobody else near him, only me, yes ma’am, that dog knows, he knows….” He really decided to push the boat out and turning sideways with his back against his bag he stretched out and put his feet On. To. My. Lap. I was that horrified and in actual shock just staring at his GROSS gnarly feet on my legs that I was speechless for a second, and didn’t immediately notice him staring at me looking like an old hairy porn star. I muttered something like ‘dude!’ and shoved them off, which caused riotous laughing and he leaned right in, stroked my face (can you believe that) and said laconically into my ear ‘you wanna stay with me in Sihanoukville purdy lady, ill show you a good time, you won’t of had nothing like me I can promise you that”. I was mortified, actually nearly barfing and then thanking The Lord God when the bus got on the ferry and the driver opened the door for us.

One of the huge boys got out and lit up a cigarette and in my haste to follow him I got my legs tangled with Porn Stars and tumbled out on to the floor, all arms, legs and wild eyes. I breathlessly stumbled up to Muscles and fairly begged for a lighter in a big rush of words and gibbering. Muscles blinked slowly at me, seemed to consider me for a minute, blinked again and very carefully said ‘what?’. A mild amount of manic gesturing and cigarette waving later all was cleared up and before long we were holding some kind of conversation. His name was Tony, he was from Finland, he didn’t have great English and he spoke verrrrry slooooowwwly. We went upstairs for a sandwich and after a long silence which he used to study me thoroughly, he sighed and concentrated and came out with ‘this… man on bus…. no gooood. I wake.. brother….. you sit here.’ Thank God. After sitting upstairs for a little while in companionable half conversation it was time to get back on the bus. As we got back on Porn Star was actually sitting in my seat, and I kid you not, patted his knee implying I should sit on his lap. Oh yes, this guys a riot. I shot him the filthiest look I could muster and stalked past to cries of ‘OOH not good enough for you now am I’ and similar nonsense. Thank God Tony was true to his word and was waking up Brother who was stretched out over the back seat and clearly not very impressed at being woken up. I squidged into the end (these guys were genuinely. Huge.) and was studied again by the just woken one, who was looking vaguely confused and puffy. I couldn’t help it, I giggled, which caused the slightest fraction of an eye widening, much blinking and more studying. I was still trying not to laugh at his expression when he clearly reached the conclusion I was mad but harmless and said slowly ‘hello’. ‘Hey’ I replied, trying not to blatantly stare at all the drawings on his body, or collapse into giggles.

I don’t know how many of you have experienced the traumas of border crossings in Asia or the particular delights of the Thai/Cambodian pass, but I can assure you they’re not for the faint hearted. In due course we were unceremoniously booted off the van with no further instruction in some dusty unknown location, to be immediately set upon by swarms of snarling hawkers, thrusting coke cans and wooden frogs in our faces. I quickly learnt that my Finnish friends way of dealing with stressful situations is to stand, just stand. And that’s it really. As I stood next to them trying not to actually eat a plastic butterfly being rammed into my face, I felt my bag being lifted off my back and silently placed on the other massive shoulder of my tattooed previously sleeping friend who’s name was Davin. I stared at him and my bag, he stared forward and I assumed this meant I was ok lol. At this point Porn Star emerges from the bus, (the plastic butterfly which had been perilously close to going up a nostril and its shrieking owner instantly disappeared in his direction) and as relentless as ever boomed over the crowd “hey you, you coming to shianoukville babygirl, I’ll get you there c’mon….” Panicking I grabbed Davins arm and urgently whispered “where are you going!?”, by the time the assessing of what I’d said had gone through, I was getting frantic, finally ‘Phnom Penh” came the reply. I was just about to attempt suggesting I may tag along when he very carefully said “you…come…with…uuus”. I was beaming, and with a stout nod to my questioning of weather that was really ok, it was a done deal, and I was able to happily chirp to porn star that sorry but me and ahem, these three lovelies are now going to pnom penh, and to quite literally cock off.

The actual crossing of the border was a complete nightmare. Cambodians love a rip off and we found ourselves with no choice but to pay for a small yellow bit of paper with some bizarre information about dengue fever on it which was, naturally, “compulsory health insurance”, our passports were snatched from our grasp by a gleeful chap in a football shirt, and we were herded to a spot under a tree where a load of wizened toothless taxi drivers were gambling and leering at us gummily. We had no idea what was going on so we did what seemed to be the natural progression – stood. I was clearly the subject of something amusing to the gambling taxi rabble as there was much pointing and laughing in my direction, but it was when one of them actually came over and grabbed my arm that the Finnish sprang into action, and pushed him away rumbling ‘noo… no touch’ I found myself ushered into the middle of them and sat down on Davins bag, as they closed ranks protectively around me. It was then that I used the time to assess my new companions, I knew they reminded me of something but until then I couldn’t place it. As I watched their gigantic tattooed backs and their stoic steady expressions, it struck me, they reminded me of three big beautiful cows lol, and I mean channelling bovine in the most complimentary of ways – I was so glad they were there. Soon enough we were grabbed and dispensed to a surly looking man behind a counter who tried to demand 20 US dollars off us for absolutely no reason at all, he didn’t even bother to try and make one up, our passports were unceremoniously shoved back to us over the counter – and then came the taxi haggling. Oh Lordy, the taxi haggling.

Just to set the scene it is a long and arduous journey from the border to Phnom Penh taking 6 hours through rough terrain. There is a bus but according to every taxi driver this is an entirely fictional vehicle made up by those pesky little fibbers at Lonely Planet, just to ruin your day – and anyway you’ll have missed the last one by whatever time you arrive at the border regardless, yes even 10am. As I’m sure I’ve portrayed my wonderful Finnish did nothing at speed, and I consider myself quite privileged to have witnessed the extraordinary battle of wills between Tony and this taxi driver who could have had no idea what he was up against. The majority of the conversation went like this:
Taxi “$150 to phnom penh my friend, come we go now”
Tony: ‘Noo. Is..tooo….much. We take bus”
Taxi: “no bus my friend”
Tony: “yes bus”
Taxi: “no bus”
Tony: “yes… You…take ….to bus station. Hooow….much”
Taxi: “no, no bus my friend, no bus here.”
Tony: “not here… You take us…bus station”
Taxi: “how much you want to Phnom Penh, $150, come my friend”
I was watching, mesmerised, as David took on Goliath. I asked Davin if he had any idea what was going on, he didn’t, neither did Otto – who’d never really properly woken up at any point, the gamblers were grimacing, eager for their friend to make the kill, sharp little eyes darting between all of us and the gleeful chap in the football shirt was still bouncing around trying to get a tip out of us for carrying our passports the three steps to the counter. It was all very tense, and I was gripped. Davin bought us a coke each to try and wash away some of the dust that had been steadily coating the inside of our throats, and we settled down on our bags to watch the match.

Precisely two hours and 43 minutes later, 6 coke cans rolled miserably in the dust all around us. Otto had gone back to sleep, Davin had glazed over completely other then to buy coke, ask me if I was ok and keep me up to date intermittently, the gamblers were slack jawed and disbelieving, football shirt was absolutely un-gleeful sitting subdued under the tree – still tipless, I was star fished over the bags staring at the sky and listening to the ongoing loop, mouth open and dusty, faint beads of perspiration were dripping down the unfortunate taxi drivers despairing face, there was certainly no more ‘my friends” to be had, and the only one who seemed perfectly unfazed, and hadn’t budged an inch was Tony. Who was still going strong.

It was when I heard the taxi say something along the lines of:
“NO, I have sick brother and 100 children to feed, a cat, a dog and no wife, no help, hungry, no food, you very rich western!” That I knew Tony had won. Desperation was pungent in the air, and the hysteria was plain to hear with every octave higher our unlucky (but slightly plump and clearly well fed) drivers voice went.
Tony was unruffled.
“$80 to pnom penh…. We go now…. Or take bus”
Scraping a dry tongue over my scorched mouth I sat up achily, the gamblers dice remained unthrown, Davin blinked, Otto snored, football shirt sulked, tension loomed.
“Fine!” Snapped the driver furiously “we go now, come”
Much scrabbling off the bags commenced, and they were testily snatched and thrown roughly into the back of the car.

Now. Trying to fit all three of them, myself, our bags and the driver into one car was another matter entirely. After trying a few unsuccessful variations, two of which one of the back doors literally wouldn’t close, I took charge of the situation, mainly because there was a vein pulsing dangerously in our drivers temple and the whites of his eyes were starting to be a little too visible. Putting tony in the front I strategically (ahem) placed myself in the middle back, where there was just room for my body, my head not going higher then the tattooed biceps either side of me. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was all of that body heat plus shite air con = UNBEARBABLY ROASTING HOT, but if it hadn’t of been for that I would of quite been enjoying myself actually 🙂

Tony and the ever sleepfull Otto were out like lights, I was exhausted but quite uncomfortable having virtually no room at all, sweat dripping into my eyes, and a foot resting on the gear stick. Davin couldn’t sleep either. I watched him out of the corner of my eye looking studiously at my leg for a good 8-10 minutes and by now I knew that he was assessing an idea in his head. I tried not to smile. Eventually he cleared his throat and nudged me saying in his usual steady way “if.. It… Help….. You…. Put….leg….herrrre” indicating over one of his own. Well yes it did help and before I knew it my head had moved half an inch, so it was resting on a large chunk of muscle, the air con feebly began to make a dent on the fuzzy heat and sleep pulled me down contently into her arms. I didn’t know anymore until I woke with a jolt as we swerved a cow in the road. Eyes opening sleepily the first thing I noticed was that my legs hadn’t moved and must of been an absolute dead weight draped over his, which had gone flat down under the seat in front, the second thing was that 4 and a half hours had passed, and with mounting horror and the ultimate shame the third thing I noticed was that I had dribbled. All over his arm. I frantically used my top to wipe it off whilst jabbering away:
“I’m so sorry, oh my god I’m so sorry, I must of fallen asleep”
And with a very wry little smile he looked down at me and simply said:
“I…. Notice.”

I had a delightful 24 hours with my Finnish friends, they paid for the taxi and refused to let me contribute, meaning I only paid $5 for the tuk tuk to a hostel they knew, all the way from the border (I won’t even go into the four of us and all of our bags on a tuk tuk, or the fact that tony was adamant it was 99 Happy house, when 40 minutes later and the millionth person was asked we finally discovered it was 19 Happy house) we sat in the hostel all night with the mentalist owner Alex, eating food, playing pool and smoking the occasional joint. The next day they had to move on and I had things to do, but they made sure I was going to be ok, left me an iPad charger because mine had gone missing, nearly crushed me to death hugging me goodbye and if they hadn’t of brought me to that hostel I would never of met the three beautiful ladies I was to spend the next few months of my life with (the girls had assumed I was Finnish as well but couldn’t place the accent and asked me the next day, we all ended up going to a vile little establishment aptly named ‘the heart of darkness’, and later on formed the dream team going on many wild and ridiculous adventures together). I would of loved to show you a picture of my boys but this was Cambodia and my bag with my camera in it didn’t even last the week before it was stolen. I have no way of finding them and I’ll probably never see them again, but wherever they are now they will always have a friend in me and I will always think of them with absolute fondness, because as funny as they were in their own solid way they were also extremely kind to me, didn’t once make me feel uncomfortable or try anything on with me, and helped me out of a few situations that could of been slightly unnerving had I been on my own, without my asking for it, and completely unconditionally.

To wherever you are now, all the best my friends xxx