First of all, I’d wanted to post here a lot sooner, but before I could I had to journey through Dante’s hell circles. That is, I’ve had an ear infection for about a week now, and while ear infections on the whole are terrible, terrible things, I strongly urge you not to get one in Cambodia, in particular.
Anyway, I finally feel well enough to share my thoughts with my adoring audience (does anyone even read this? I must be crazy… Cambodians would say “speaking alone”)… Um…
Oh right! So, two things that I never liked back home, which made me very “un-American”, were Coke and KFC. To me, the red-Santa-Coca-Cola-Christmas theme and the old Deep-South Colonel with his “secret recipe” epitomize America– well, at least when you say it like “Amerr’ca”. They’re up there with baseball and apple pie. (Well, actually, KFC reminds me of China, for the most part.)
Sometime during Peace Corps training, I was out to lunch with a bunch of fellow trainees. In the Cambodian fashion, a selection of drinks was sitting on the table in a plastic basket: lychee juice, soy bean juice, grass jelly juice… and Coca Cola (which here they call “coka”). I can’t say what possessed me, but I decided to have a Coke. And, it was delicious! I have hence found myself ordering Coke of my own volition, and enjoying it every time!
I experienced a similar phenomenon with the once-dreaded KFC. In the States, eating KFC when one has the option of a greasy spoon diner or soul food restaurant is just blasphemous. That, and profoundly bad for one’s health. KFC is leading the antibiotic-resistant bacteria revolution, I’m convinced. Anyway, KFC has spread all over the world, including Cambodia. Here it is something of a status symbol to eat at KFC. It’s also the only American fast food franchise around. Why BK and Mickey D’s aren’t here I can only assume is because the Chinese have a secret deal with the RGC to keep Lucky Burger (China’s Cambodian fast food chain) the only gig in town. But KFC is here, and Cambodians love it, even if the mashed potatoes do come out of a box. (Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Cambodian eat anything at KFC but chicken…)
My friend Eileen quite likes KFC. Once in a while she will take a bucket back to her village for her family, who will eat it even if there are ants crawling all over it (I know this because I’ve seen them do it). And every so often she will take me out for a KFC excursion, too. The first time she suggested this, the self-righteous, anti-factory-farm, anti-MSG Granola Girl (to borrow, the phrase– I am not actually a genuine Granola Girl, but I am my mother’s daughter and in some regards that’s more extreme) in me wanted to say, “Ugh, I could never partake of such repugnant fare!” But instead I said, “Sure, let’s go.” And, I liked it! I even liked the out-of-the-box mashed potatoes and the gravy, if it could be called that. And I’ve enjoyed it every subsequent occasion that Eileen has taken me out for KFC.
So what’s changed? Why do I like Coke and KFC here, where I despised them back home? Have my tastes matured? I am subconsciously craving symbolic food that will stave homesickness? Could it be that Coke here is made with real cane sugar versus the high fructose corn syrup back home, or that the chickens here are not stuffed full of chemicals before they are slaughtered for the fryer?
According to my Cambodian friends, it’s none of the above. “Why do I like these things now, all of a sudden?” I speculate with them. “Because,” they tell me confidently, “now you’re Cambodian.”
Random note: Eileen and I have brought KFC back to my apartment and eaten it with rice– by our own choice! This must be what Peace Corps was talking about all those times they drilled us about “integration”… >_<