Tag Archives: cambodia

Tale of the City

I have talked so much about changing, I don’t think I actually noticed it happening. Yet, last night, I left a bar early, and sober, and with the same man that I had arrived with. There was a time when that didn’t happen.

For some years now, I have argued that there has been precious little temptation in my path, and that has been what’s kept me on the ‘straight’ and narrow. I can’t claim that here, for I now reside in dirty Phnom Penh with its edgy nightlife and minimal regulation. In the big bright lights and small dark bars, alcoholic ex pats mingle with drug dealing locals to produce a nightlife where everything is available, and everyone has a price.

I don’t know if I am growing up or growing old. In fictional 70s San Francisco, Armistead Maupin’s character, Mona had a law that stated “you can have a hot job, a hot apartment and a hot lover but you can’t have all three at the same time.” I don’t know if mine would qualify as “hot” but I like what I have. I hope Mona’s more content these days too.

At fifty, I am coming into my own. Because I am happy in my skin, my glass is far more than half full. So, if you think you need to change, change. Life should be an amazing place in which to live. If yours isn’t currently, then find the source of your discontentment and resolve it. We live long lives even if we only live then once. Don’t live it in misery, for happiness can be found everywhere, even in dirty Phnom Penh.

Advertisements

Routine Disturbance

I shared a non existent sunset with my lover. The sun was behind the clouds and not seeing this an omen I enjoyed the skyline of the city from the river.

My lover was sent home early. This was not a night for sleep disturbance, even of the best kind. The usual good wishes and kisses exchanged at parting and, once alone, I embarked on my evening routine.

Everything was in readiness. Everything done with an obsessive attention that so often indicates a fear of lack of control to come. My bag, packed and repacked, by the door waiting to be taken. Inside there is a place for everything and everything was neatly in its place. New and unhandled items, bought just for this moment, placed cheek by jowl with old trusty tools. I showered and checked and rechecked, teeth were clean, nose hair was trimmed and eyebrows were neat and orderly.

Chocolate drink by the bed, the alarm set and then reset for five minutes before and it was time to stop. No more one last looks, and the “I wonder if I have…” questions were placed to one side.

Breathing. Slow. Steady. Sleep.

I wake 5 mins before the 5 mins before alarm goes off. With a precision that would please a marine commander, I am caffeinated, showered, groomed, dressed and out. I am 15 minutes ahead. I arrive at breakfast place #1. It’s closed. No problem, #2 is en route to my destination. Food is eaten and more caffeine consumed, this time iced to avoid sweat, and I’m still ahead. My bicycle is remounted and as I arrive 22 minutes earlier than planned, I feel a serene calm. The doors are not even open yet.

Not open. Not open! Closed?

The first niggle of doubt bites hard in my stomach as I cycle up to security. The guard is smiling and saying no in English. In Khmer he says much more that I cannot grasp. He points to a calendar where today’s date is in red. Yesterday’s public holiday has rolled over, not everywhere, but here, and no one thought to tell me.

My ‘first day of school’ routine has been played too soon. I cycle home with my premature adrenaline staining my new white shirt in shameful anticlimax. Tomorrow may well be my first real day but the shirt won’t be new and the worrying will not be as thorough. I won’t need share a sunset because I won’t care if my sleep is disturbed.

Mekong Moment

The Mekong River threads through Asia linking countries, cultures and people. It has flowed through through time and history and threads moments together like pearls on string. This mighty river is taking me on a new adventure.

However, as I look out mournfully from my window, I can’t help but think that being on the Mekong when the rain sets in is not dissimilar to being on the train from Crewe to Manchester. The sky is a relentless, indistinct grey and the rain on the windows drives away all thoughts of a landscape.

I had never imagined that my first crossing into Vietnam would evoke Cheshire, but journeys should be full of surprises, and minds long broadened by travel can still bring home sharply into focus.

There is no tragic tea trolley or inversely cheery attendant on this boat and my one banana and drinking water were consumed well before the border was crossed. The sky and the river merge long before the unseen horizon. There is a nameless hue brewing outside that is somewhere between grey and brown. Wet and warm, it resembles that cup of Travellers Fayre tea which, more often than not, was bought to simply to alleviate the tedium.

I arrive in Vietnam in the unwelcoming dark of the wet season. An ill equipped traveller, I scurry, umbrellaless, to the safety of the nearest hotel. Travel isn’t always glamorous and exciting, but my journey so far has been a good one. Even on rainy days, there are blessings for the counting. Tomorrow I will wake up and explore a new city in a land I have yet to see in daylight.

Many years have passed since my forays to and from Crewe, which are now like water under the suspension bridge on the road from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City. Then a student, now a teacher, life is so different. Then I thought of my future while being haunted by my past. Now, there is just now. I’m living in the moment, but ever mindful that moments are connected in time, like a river.

Saying Arkhun

The foreigner sits in that street café every morning. As he sits, the owner looks up and soon the food arrives. First, pickles in their oval dish and the hot chilli sauce. Then the steaming broth from the pot that sits on the fire. Last to arrive, the main attraction, smoky marinated pork atop sticky rice with tomatoes and boiled egg, both sliced, both green.

He doesn’t speak much. Every dish brought forward brings a mumbled “Arkhun” but this is a breakfast of few words. Around him, morning life come and goes and ponders the characters who share his table and cook his food.

She, the breakfast lady takes the star role. Always chopping and washing she is stationed behind her table, while her sons orbit around her acting as waiters, delivery boys and general help. The diners come and go but few are as regular as the foreigner, who arrives just before seven.

He sits with his phone for company and after half an hour or so plunges into his disorganised bag. Usually he finds a crumpled dollar or more rarely 4000 riels and then stands and, with a smile, pays the breakfast lady. He knows how to order. He knows how to say that was tasty but all he ever says is “Arkhun”.

He wants to say next week I won’t be here. He wants to say how much his quiet times have meant as he sat by the river. He will leave with a smile and a final “Arkhun” and life will carry on.

Share

On my travels, I turn to no one. When I see wonders, I see them alone. My experiences are shared at arms length for there is, by my side, nothing but empty space.

This is how I have shaped my life. I enjoy the sparsity of my emotional landscape. Friends and lovers, colleagues and thinkers, writers and artists all bring much to my life but none are my partner, my confidante or my other half. Some are more transient than others, but none are as impermanent in themselves as myself.

I am whole in my self constructed solitude and, when I steer clear of holes, this square peg travels quite comfortably. Life is lived, large and sprawling, for I am a nomad passing by and experiencing all that my senses can withstand. My social circle, by comparison, is kept small and tidy. The Asperger Path is my route and I navigate a way through this world with heart and mind as my map and compass.

So, when I see the world and I want to share it with someone, I choose the most intimate strangers I know. I choose you, dear readers. For you are sparse and far flung. If I want you, I can send fire off my missive into the void. Even if my message is never read, it is sent.

For me, that act of sharing is enough.

Temples and Roosters

So I woke up this morning thinking I would not see the more isolated temples I had read about. I was not too upset. The large, and largely overlooked Angkorian Temple at Banteay Chhmar had been a super treat. The homestay property, a wooden house up on stilts, had allowed me a window into daily country living and the roosters’ dawn chorus had ensured an early start to my journey home.

Then all of a sudden everything was possible. There was a driver who could take me, so off we set. Thankfully, I had already found some pork and rice and this, along with an iced coffee, meant I was ready to head even further off the beaten track.

Cambodia is so flat with only the odd rocky outcrop, a Phnom, passing for a mountain dotted here and there. However along its borders are real hills. So with eyes fixed forward,I passed through lush vibrant green paddies, knowing that the horizon was my goal.

Our first stop was Prasat Ta Moan. The driver happily told me as we pulled up that the last kilometre was too steep for his car. Thankfully it was only eight and the road was shady. At the top, the army halted me in my tracks and for twenty minutes I sat looking at a rack of automatic weapons while the soldiers drank beer and smiled. Once deemed open, I was allowed to travel the last twenty metres through the trees. The temple was beautifully serene, and being the first visitor I shared it only with the Thai and Khmer soldiers both of whom guard this disputed land.

Stop two was a drive east with the hills on one side and the pancake landscape on the other. At Ta Krabei I got a military escort, though he would have preferred to have watched the boxing on the TV. He walked me twenty metres through the woods and posed happily for pictures. A different temple, smaller but more intact then my first stop.

I, the eternal planner, have jumped from one unplanned activity to another these last two days. My driver dropped me in Sisophon and I was offered an onward journey back to home at a very good price but it was ‘go now go now’. So now I’m sitting in a share taxi with three Cambodians and a rather lively rooster. All in all, this unplanned weekend has been quite a little adventure.

Where I am

Waking up too late to do what was planned, left me in the realm of unplanned so here I am. I am waiting for a driver to take me to a place to see something. All unplanned. Cucumber calm, without a schedule to worry me, I wait for whatever is going to happen, to happen.

When he arrives I will set off and then tomorrow the unplanned journey will be reversed. Thirty six hours of liberation before ‘Sunday night is noodle night’ and I slot back into my routine. Yarns will be spun and tales will be talled of my mini adventure as life resettles.

Now, however, I am having an adventure and seeing things I never thought I’d see. No one knows quite where I am. That includes me.

In the rain

In the pouring rain, a boy stands. His t shirt is pulled up over his head. He watches the traffic speed by. My twenty first century existence is locked inside the bus as I travel distances that would make saucers of his dark eyes.

His feet, clad only in flip flops seem unaware of the puddle in which they stand as he waits to cross the national highway. In his hand, that has never held a smart phone, he holds a chain as beside him, equally patient and equally wet, stands a huge water buffalo.

I wonder if that’s his daily task, the safe passage of the buffalo from sodden paddy to equally submerged garden. The house opposite, tin roofed and up on stilts, is more a room than house, but there’s something in his stance that says it’s a happy home. Life, like rain, is what it is. The life in rural Cambodia has a simplicity I cannot imagine.

The land is flat and the wet season is far from over. Perhaps I should find a puddle and stand patiently in the rain until I can accept my life as it is and allow the lives of strangers to pass me by, unnoticed and unimportant.

No one’s home

He asked me if I was lonely in Cambodia and if I missed home. An unexpected touch of concern from a man I met in passing, but ultimately it was an ill thought question. He thinks that I should come home, but he doesn't realise that I am at home wherever I am. That wasn't his only mistake though.

I am not lonely in Cambodia. I am rarely lonely anywhere. My loneliness is something others see but it isn't actually there. I have always led quite a self sufficient existence. My life is hermetically sealed and my emotions are lived out in the landscapes and scenarios of my mind. No one really knows me and no one gets invited in. I am not lonely but I am often alone.

I love people. Well, I like a spot of company is probably more accurate. I enjoy telling silly stories and presenting my public face to the world. I get up and out and go about the town and say my hellos. However, more often when I have free time, I choose to relax in other ways. I have my own place and I just go there and lock the door. Being self obsessed, I enjoy my own company. When I am alone with my thoughts, time passes easily. My mind is the most beautiful place I know and I could dream my whole life away in there.

My problem is that other people cause me stress. It's not deliberate. The people I meet are kind and lovely as well as intelligent and witty. It's me and that beautiful mind of mine. I never feel I might have said something wrong, crossed a line, or not been considerate enough when I am on my own. Because I can't read other people too well, I am constantly on the wrong foot. Or I think I might be. So, I hop awkwardly through the briefest of encounters and then run away to my quiet, empty home.

Here is as good as anywhere. I know a few people and my language problems keep most relationships stripped back and simple. I don't know when I'll go back to England, but if I do, I'll be looking for my own place where I can just go and lock the door. If any asks, no one's home.

Sok Sabay

I love being on my own. I can happily spend the majority of the day in my own little world. Today I have barely spoken to anyone and it is now lunchtime. I have just been wrapped up in planning lessons and getting ready for my six hour teaching day tomorrow.
I like a routine so I get out of the house about 6 in the morning. My alarm isn't set but I am usually awake before dawn. I walk and watch the good people of Battambang. At the start of my walk the streets are quiet and life hasn't really commenced for most khmer households. I see the same faces exercising by the river. There's the kindly looking fellow who teaches his adoring, all female class Tai Chi and the men who play Kinja, a game where you kick a shuttlecock to each other.
I stop for a bite to eat at the same little place. Sok sabay I say to announce my presence. I like the fact that peace and happiness are my first words each day as I take my seat and wait for my dollar breakfast. I've usually walked two miles or more before I sit down, so I am more than ready for my pork, rice, pickles and broth.
After breakfast I wend my way home. By seven the town is feeling more awake and the streets are full of life. Children off to school and parents off to work. Others, like me, choose to have a Khmer pavement breakfast.
A cup of coffee just before home signals the fact that there is work to be done. I try to start early so I can have a break and eat my fruit salad lunch. On good days, like today, I get a paragraph or two hammered out before it's time to put my long trousers on and face my students. After the peace and happiness of the morning, my afternoons are more hectic. I love teaching, but I don't find it calming or tranquil.
Most nights after work, I will go out and be sociable. A chat with friends is great but the Asperger Path will have me home by about seven. That will leave plenty of time for some vegetables and rice and another slice of peace and happiness before bed.
Sok sabay!