My arrival in Phnom Penh was the stuff of noir novels or movies in which everybody smokes. I always find late night arrivals strange and disorienting. I would probably be a bit more successful with the whole thing if I were a bit more tortured and poetic. Ah well, I am just not a late night artiste (say it in a over done bad french accent). Instead I drag myself to the immigration desk to procure a visa, chose the slowest immigration officer to stare at my passport, arrive at the luggage carousel as two employees are about to take it off to god-knows-where, wander through customs and find myself in the steamy Khmer night air.
There waited for me a taxi driver with a sign with my name on it. I had a moment before I left where I decided any attempts to be a hardcore traveler after 24 hours of travel was a bit beyond my interest and booked an airport transfer. So there was no time to stand and smoke a hand rolled cigarette while inhaling the heavy tropical air. I just gave the man my bag and settled myself in the back of the cab. Though it was past eleven some of the tuk-tuks still roamed the street, people were still cooking in brightly lit street-side food stalls, and the city had not yet succumbed to that eerie late night slumber distinct to cities.
I arrived at my hotel, climbed the stairs and fell on to the bed. By then the hour had past 12, finding me minus a monday, but able, via the hotel's wireless, to talk to my parents. What a blessing and a curse technology is. We can never fully disconnect, and yet we can find a way to connect with the people we love over distances that 30 years ago were prohibitively expensive to surmount.
Tuesday morning I grabbed a tuk-tuk to the bus station where I boarded a two story deluxe bus to Siem Reap. I fell victim immediately to an introduction to Khmer karaoke videos, which though featuring water wheels and crying Khmer girls sitting in the brown river waters, don't compare musically or visually to their Thai counterparts featuring flashy motos. I combated the musical assault with a combination of my ipod and a book.
That being said I did spend a bit of time staring out the window as Cambodia slipped by the windows. It is the rainy season here, so much of the very very flat land is either flooded by mud brown water or covered by the soft young green of rice paddies. The landscape gains height from the straight trunks of palms that stud the landscape. The sky was a tumultuous mix of grays, purples, and blues, fighting with the sun for dominance over the scene.
Midway through the ride we made a stop at a typical roadside place, as I got off the bus I found myself in a swarm of pineapple toting kids all trying to win my 2000 riel in exchange for their fruit. The women carried baskets of fried tarantulas and decapitated fried frogs. One of the little girls showed up with a live counterpart, a huge fuzzy spider clinging to the front of her well-worn dress. They all giggled and explained that the frogs were frogs, tried to stick the spider on me, and wanted to practice their English. Amongst that pack of kids, frogs, and spiders, I found myself strangely not suffering from culture shock, rather than reeling from difference, I almost felt more at home on this Cambodian roadside than I had arriving back in the states.
I've been missing the chaos, the rhythm, the mud, the life of being on the road. It was nice to be back in a bus with my only responsibility being keeping myself entertained. After staring at all the fruit, pineapple, tamarind, rambutan, durian, I got myself back on the bus and settled in to my green pleather seat, with its lace head cover, and fell asleep for a good hour.
Upon waking I started thinking about the upcoming reunion I was headed towards. My primary purpose in visiting Cambodia had been to go see one of my best friends, Michael, who has been here for the past 18 months with the Peace Corps. The last time I saw her was on Valencia street in San Francisco. Our paths crossed for a brief laughter filled five minutes before I hopped in a car on my way to SFO where I was to catch a flight to Singapore. Michael on the other hand had just arrived in San Francisco for here Peace Corps training. Fast forward to last tuesday, I pull up in a tuk-tuk outside Siem Reap's Blue Pumpkin to a leggy blonde sitting outside reading Al Gore's book on climate change. I had escaped the muddy bus station, hopped into a tuk-tuk and now was but 2 meters from Mikee. Needless to say there was a lot of laughter, hugging, and stories to be shared, which is what the last week has mostly been filled with.