As far as festivities go, our first night in Phnom Penh set the tone for the rest of our stay aside from the night before the rugby tournament when Muggs imposed an 11pm curfew. This seemed unappealing at first, especially during the rugby social at a proper sports bar that promised to be a long night of debauchery before the next day’s tournament, but it somehow worked to our advantage by intimidating the opposition.
“You have a curfew?” asked one player from the Bangkok team. “You guys must be really good.”
In some ways, the social was ironic in that sense; it was set up to allow teams to meet and mingle over the shared love of rugby, but it also served as an opportunity to scope out the competition. And it’s always interesting to note what’s intimidating about the opposition: physical appearance, matching outfits and bandanas, team nicknames, age. (We did not have socializing outfits or nicknames, but we weren’t too old or out of shape. And we had a curfew.)
We’d spent our first full day in Phnom Penh nibbling on spring rolls and curry and strolling the labyrinthine streets in the Central Market. (Apparently the Russian Market is the one to hit, but we’d all snubbed our noses at that. “We’re in Cambodia. We don’t want a Russian market.”) I’m not one for haggling or shopping really, but Katie, Rebekah, and I spent a half an hour rooted in front of a little stand packed with pants and scarves as Cambodian women draped dress after dress on the table in front of us. For $20, I bought three dresses and a T-shirt without doing any sort of browsing or physical shopping. It was great.
“You guys didn’t even move,” Brad remarked when we got back to the tuktuk. “We left for a half hour and you were still standing in the same place.”
Even they didn’t come back empty-handed; Colton had snagged a pair of Beats for a mere $30. Welcome to Cambodia, I suppose.
So we were fairly well-rested on the morning of our tournament. And while we may have been prepared for the competition, we were not at all prepared for the heat.
“You must be used to this, living in Cairo,” someone said at one point. “I’m sure it gets hot there.”
Yes, but not Cambodia hot. Compared to Phnom Penh, we’d been pampered in Cairo. A bit of dry heat was nothing, and it hadn’t even been warm in the months leading up to the tournament. This heat was absolutely punishing. No breezes came to relieve us and despite the heavy blocks of ice that were being sawed up by Cambodian men, it still felt like we were playing inside of an oven.
After each game, the men would attempt to peel the thick jerseys off for relief. Katie bravely struggled out of hers, but I was not convinced I’d be able to put mine back on if I took it off. Instead, we languished in the ‘shade’ – though I’m reluctant to call it that since it was equally toasty beneath the tent canopies – and guzzled water and Gatorade.
The day was long; there were 9 teams competing in the tournament and from 9 til 5, we played four and a half games. (The half game was a tie-breaker, as we drew the first game.) In between matches, there wasn’t much to do besides reflect, eat a kebab, and bake in the heat.
I was pretty impressed overall with how our team played and how supportive we were of each other. It’s hard to always be chipper and positive sometimes, especially when you’re feeling exhausted and frustrated, you have few subs, and it’s a close game. I become easily frustrated with myself for making countless stupid mistakes; I don’t have an athletic bone in my body and have never been very good at any sport. And despite trying my best, I can’t seem to overcome my athletic deficiencies. But I had fun, and I love rugby, and I love being a part of a team. My team played exceptionally well, with Katie scoring two tries, Renae executing a perfect – and later painful – tap tackle at a crucial moment, and Muggs scoring a quick and highly impressive try in the last seconds of the match that we thought was a game-winner (it wasn’t what won the game, but we did win nonetheless).
That night, despite being completely wrecked from 8 hours of rugby in the Cambodian heat, we all attended a pretty swanky reception held at an equally lavish hotel called the Cambodiana. Here we felt even more honored; the other teams, hailing from Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore, presented us with the tournament banner and the second place trophy. Renae won Female MVP (and celebrated with a shot of Tabasco sauce and peach vodka from a plastic syringe) and we got special accolades for coming the farthest for the tournament. The Singapore team, whose matching bandanas and raunchy nicknames had caught our attention the night before, christened us with rugby names in a ceremony that was vulgar in the most sophisticated sense of the word.
Rugby really is my favorite sport; it provides travel opportunities, is probably the truest in terms of team sports, is incomparably fun to play, and attracts good – and usually raucous – company.