Vutha stares at me from across the table, hands folded, his gaze expectant.
“So… what are we learning today?” I ask.
My Khmer language tutor pulls out a pile of neatly stacked worksheets from his case. “Maybe we can review verbs on your daily routine – like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, combing your hair…”
I stare back at him. I don’t want to be rude, but that sounds boring.
“Um… could we do a role play instead?” I ask. “Like in a restaurant or something? I really need to practice ordering food and stuff.”
“Ok, sure, no problem,” he smiles.
“Susadey, bong.” Hello, sister.
“I said: Daer bang jang angkuy na?” Where would you like to sit?
“By the window, please.”
“Vutha!” I complain. “You’re speaking too fast!”
“Sorry. I said: As you can see, we’re at an outdoor restaurant, so there are no seats by a window.”
“Okay,” I say resignedly. “Trang nih kaw ban dae.” Here is fine, then.
“Susadey, bong,” he says again, greeting me in the soft, appeasing tones of a waiter.
“Susadey. Knhom som gomang ban tay?” Can I please order?
“Baat, gomang dao.” Yes, of course.
In my best Khmer, I order three beers.
“Som to, bong…” he says, looking at me apologetically. Sorry, sister. “Wdwoerusdfsleifslefsdkfljsdflksdk!”
“I said: We don’t serve alcohol. This is a café!”
“And… I think you drink too much anyways,” Vutha says, his head nodding ever so slightly in the direction of the fridge, on top of which are several bottles of almost finished hard liquor. “Maybe you should have something else?”
I glare at my Khmer tutor. He grins innocently back at me.
“Joeung, som café bei.” Fine. I’ll have three coffees then.
“Café bei? Sam rab tay bang?” Three coffees? Just for you?
He eyes the 1.5-litre thermos filled with coffee that’s sitting on the table between us with mock disapproval. “I think you’ve had enough today, no?”
Vutha knows that coffee is my life blood, and that if it were possible, I’d walk around with a caffeine-filled IV drip all day long.
“Bong!” I yell, in fake annoyance. “Café bei sam rab nhom nung met paek nhom.” The three coffees are for me and my friends.
“Baat. But then why are you sitting at this table alone?”
I glower at him. “Vutha, it’s a role play! Just pretend I’m sitting here with two friends, okay???”
There’s a twinkle in his eye. “Baat, baat…”
“Som to, bong. Som gomang mahop ban ot?” Excuse me, sir. Can we order food?
“Som to, bong. Pteah bai bet hai.” Sorry, but the kitchen is already closed.
“What? So early?”
“Maong dob houey, men loeun pek de heh.” It’s 10 pm already, it’s not early!
“You should have come at dinner time if you wanted food…” he chides me.
“Ja…” I say, glum that I won’t be getting my fake food in the fake restaurant in this fake scenario.
“Bong, en jung, som kat loeui.” Sir, in that case, please bring the bill.
“Baat…” he passes me a pretend piece of paper. “Ah pram muoy meun riel.” Your total is 60,000 riel (USD$15).
“What???” I yell. “Dob pram dulla?” Fifteen dollars??? “For only three coffees and no food? What is this place, Starbucks???”
Vutha looks at me, puzzled.
“I said: Yes, it is Starbucks. Didn’t you see the sign when you walked in?”
I glare at him. “T’lai-na!” I complain. It’s too expensive.
He clucks his tongue disapprovingly. “Laslersisfsoersihwlsdghsfdjsldkfse.”
“Bang mien luy aouy, maen ot?” he asks me slowly. “Bang ot mien ga ngie tweu?” You can afford it, can’t you? Don’t you have a job?
I hand over my fake money to the fake waiter sullenly.
“Where’s a good place to go for a drink near here?” I ask in Khmer.
“Hmmm… Knhom git tha ot la’aw sah.” I don’t think that’s a good idea.
He shakes his head at me. “Yub nah hai, bang gua tay tao pteah hai.” It’s getting late, you should go home now.
“Maybe you should just have water tonight. I think you might have a drinking problem…” he adds cheekily in English, with yet another glance at the half-empty bottles on top of my fridge.
“Is our lesson almost over?”
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