“Happy birthday to you!” Lok raised his glass to mine. The taste of ice-cold Angkor beer hit my lips. The late afternoon Cambodian sun beat down overhead and sweat and salt soaked through my shirt. I was pressured to finish my glass.

“Happy birthday to you!” It wasn’t my birthday. From what I could discern it wasn’t anybody’s birthday. Lok wanted to show off the bit of English that he knew. I’m not even sure that he knew what it meant, but he sure loved to sing it. Plastic cups clacked together and I was once again encouraged to finish my drink. This time it was Lok’s brother drinking from the other cup. No matter how many times I insisted one of the cups was always mine. The joys of being a guest.

I met Lok on my way back from the Kompong Luong floating village. I decided to hit the (literally) dusty trail and walk back to Krakor instead of taking a moto taxi. A slow stroll in the afternoon sun would do me good. A few hundred meters down the road I crossed the border into Lok’s seemingly unnamed village. Chickens and cows ran free, darting across the road on their own will. Small, naked children did the same. The makeshift wooden shanties that frame the roadway house the Khmer villagers in a very cosy spaces. The dirt was stirred up with every moto that passed, covering everything in a thin orange film. The sun shone hot and unforgiving, with scarcely any trees to protect a fair-skinned Canadian kid dumb enough to walk several kilometers in the tropical heat. This was the true Cambodia.

Lok spotted me across the road. Eye contact was made and my fate was set. He had decided that I was his target for the day and there’s nothing I could have done to evade his hospitality if I had tried. With a huge grin on his face he invited me into his home.

Portrait of Lok, my Cambodian host

Is this a man you could say no to?

Lok’s family greeted me with equal enthusiasm. The group of about 15, young and old, men and women, sat in a circle, filling the entirety of the small hut. The inside of the circle was filled with a feast of fish, chicken feet, some sort of stew, and, of course, Angkor beer. It looked like they were wasting away the afternoon heat, eating and drinking and enjoying some family time. The pungent smell from the fish filled the hut. I was offered some, along with a snack of chicken feet and some stew with what seemed to be congealed fat floating in it. I’m generally not a picky eater, but the smell was overwhelming. Lok had a look on his face that told me he knew I wasn’t exactly enjoying the taste, but just kept giving me that evil grin and laughing as he served another spoonful of floating fat.

Our conversations struggled. I don’t speak a word of Khmer. A few of the children knew words like “hello”, but hardly enough to have a continuous exchange. Lok’s English consisted of three phrases – “ok?” “tuk tuk” and “happy birthday to you!”. Despite this we managed to keep our simple conversation afloat for quite a while. Introductions were made (Lok rhymes with tuk tuk), I managed to convey where I was staying (which may have been a mistake), and Lok told me who in the family was related to who and how. As the afternoon went on the conversations became deeper and more philosophical with shouts of “sabai sabai!” and “cheers!” Breaking down barriers we managed to bond with the language of alcohol.

This began the spiraling descent which lasted into the late afternoon. Food was forced on me until I could eat no more. When the beer ran dry I put in a few dollars for some more. At one point I put Lok’s number in my phone – who knows why when we couldn’t speak more than 5 or 6 words to each other.

When I felt that I had stayed my welcome at Lok’s, I politely stated that it was time to go. Lok insisted on giving me a ride back in his “Cambodian Chariot”, which turned out to be an old pickup truck. Accepting was a bad decision, but I did it anyway. So on we went in the Cambodian chariot, and he gave me a long car ride back to…his brother’s house, for more food and more drink. “This isn’t what I was saying! This isn’t where I wanted to go! Paris Guesthouse!” I insisted, but if the message was received it was promptly ignored. Another couple hours, another few beers, this time accompanied by Khmer karaoke and bad Cambodian covers of Gangnam Style. The second time that I attempted an escape our chariot was pulled over by a village dance party, demanding that we join in the fun. By this point I was ready for anything and gladly obliged. Later on in the day I finally did manage to make my way back to my comfortable bed in my cozy hotel room. When the afternoon was over I was left with nothing but pleasant and hazy memories of the ever-generous Lok, his family, and his friends.

I awoke the next morning and checked my phone to read “1 missed call – Lok Ok?” My head hurt too much to return the call, and in an unexpected turn of events I had to race out of my hotel room at a moment’s notice to catch my bus out of Krakor. I still have Lok’s number, however. Maybe I’ll give him a call when I’m back In Cambodia, or perhaps on my next birthday.