Passing Through 

She sat down on the bus and asked me if I had liked the town. She was Dutch and had spent a couple of nights in Battambang and was heading back to Siem Reap. She had done everything in Cambodia and was about to fly home but hoped to return to Asia next year. She politely enquired where I was headed next. I explained that I was working here for a while and would return tomorrow. She immediately asked if I felt comfortable working in a country that is so clearly not a democracy. My answer was a disappointment. 

I cannot vote here and I live on a visa which needs regular renewal. I cannot claim total disinterest in the politics here but they do not really impact on me. Yes, I know there is corruption here but I teach English to children and so I spend my working life talking about teddies, dolls and lost pencil sharpeners. My new found travel companion wanted more outrage and less resignation. She was just passing through but surely I should be more aware.  She had read a lot about the situation here and had come here now as there might be a war next year. 

Culture and politics are not to be treated lightly especially in a country whose history is so tragic and complex . Both require an understanding and an investment of time. Saying please and thank you is a great thing to learn in a language but demonstrates nothing more than good manners. Culture and politics, like language, are nuanced and subtle and require years of study to truly understand their finer points. I realise that I understand mere fragments of the culture and language of the country I am living in. I am not submerged in Khmer culture, it happens around me more than to me. If anything, I am submerged in a culture of well read travellers who are ticking countries and cultures of a list. 

By the time of the 2018 elections here in Cambodia I will be somewhere else . If there is war like my fellow traveller predicts I, like she, will be far away. I may stay more than a day or two but l have an itinerary too. I am a traveller and I am just passing through. 

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