We traveled in the heat from Saigon to Siem Reap aboard a Vietnamese bus that stopped at various roadside canteens. Hungover from Tet activities, I threw up at bathrooms that slowly degraded — from tissue papers in toilets to just holes in the ground, until we passed by Kampong Thum, the town closest to the Vietnamese border.
I had fallen asleep, tired from my headache and too much alcohol in my system, when I realized the bus had stopped again. I woke up to look for my mother and found her, in her brightly colored shirt and sequined bag, surrounded by litttle children selling things. “Pretty lady, you buy from me,” one girl who looked about 12 said to her. She carried bags of sliced pineapples…and a giant tarantula. “This my friend,” she said to my mother. “You like?” she asked, shoving it near her face.
It confused me; it looked almost exactly like the Philippines. It was dusty and hot and crowded, with coconut trees and rice fields everywhere. But I looked around and saw vendors selling tubs of insects-as-snacks. Locusts coated in coconut, fried spiders and turtles were the fares of the day. A limbless man crawled past my mother to ask a Korean man from my bus for alms. I went back to the bus, where I ate a locust the Korean offered me. It tasted like a shrimp head; not so bad, and pretty crunchy.
All of a sudden it hit me: I was eating an insect, and I was in a country that was so poor, they ate insects as snacks. I swallowed the locust and tried to stop the hot tears welling up my eyes, but I couldn’t. I put my head on my mother’s shoulder and cried the rest of the way to Phnom Penh.