Before I try to write the million words it will take to unravel the last two weeks of traveling, I thought I’d give some of the musical highlights of our journey through Cambodia and Vietnam. Things started off well enough. The cab ride to the airport featured the international (translation: American) station. I’ve been away from the US long enough to appreciate any music with English lyrics. So Beyonce at 5 am? Sure, I’ll sing to that.
There was the taxi driver in Saigon who made us sing Hotel California. The Eagles had no idea what power their words would hold over South East Asians for decades to come. The first time a street vendor said, “Ohhh, where you from? Ohhh, California…Hotel California!” I thought it was hilarious. He knows the song, how random and fun! It turns out, everyone knows the song. But I don’t think we’ll ever top the rendition we offered in that cab, when the driver belted out the chorus with us as he swerved through the streets of Saigon.
And we won’t soon forget the mid-80’s soft rock tunes played for us on the two hour trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay. Apparently “Michael Learns to Rock” is experiencing a major comeback in Asia. Our bus driver put the album on repeat. There is just some music you should never be forced to learn by heart.
There were also the cell phone ring tones, which remain one of the great cultural mysteries in my mind. It seems that “Happy Birthday” is to Vietnam what “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is to Thailand, which is to say, it is the ring tone of every third person in the country. Our boat tour guide broke apart from the crowd, choosing a tune that threw me back to eighth grade every time his phone rang: Vengaboy’s creatively titled hit “Boom Boom Boom Boom.” The Vietnamese man who sat next to us on the plane played us his full ring tone--a sappy song called “I’m Proud of You.” Not the ring I would have paired with a forty year old business man, but like I said, cultural mysteries.
The best had to be the trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We recognized the tune, but the words were in Khmer. “Is this…”Play That Funky Music (White Boy)”?” And it was. The music video karaoke version. A young Cambodian pop star danced on the screen as a psychedelic snail floated in the background. Blaine and I just stared. “But why a snail?” I asked. “But why this song?” She asked. And then we shook our heads and sang the chorus in English.