Sunday, September 26, 2010


Next week, CK and Spence are visiting me in Phnom Penh! I cannot wait. Their visit coincides with a national holiday, one which empties the streets of the city for nearly a week, while families travel to the countryside, to wats (temples), to honor the deceased. Perhaps I'm exaggerating -- I'm sure the city will still teem with life that week.

What will they think of this crazy, dusty, fascinating country? Is it even that crazy? Mami, not too long ago, asked me if I had lost perspective, grown a bit numb. "I don't know," I wrote back. Maybe I have.

Last month, Rachel's brother visited from London. One night, a group of us sat on the second floor of Corner 33 Bar, looking through the glass windows at the gilded Royal Palace and National Museum across, then adorned with tiny triangular flags flapping in the wind. He had just arrived in the city, and, that evening, for a short while anyway, I followed his eyes. I followed their gaze to the hawking moto drivers below, to the women pushing their carts full of eggs and bread, to the rain drumming the windows, to the flooding streets, to the saffron-robed monks seeking alms, to the children begging, to the disorder and chaos, the continuous movement below. He noted, aptly, that encased in that air-conditioned bar, suspended above it all, removed, you could have mistaken this bar for one in London.

Although, as Mami pointed out, I have probably grown a bit numb to the everyday details, there are, a few things I will never grow accustomed to, sights and customs that still make me pause. Today, I can only think of two:

1. Babies sitting on moto bikes: Quite often, on the streets of this city, you see entire families encroached on one motorbike, including a baby wedged in between parents, or, far more difficult to see, wedged between a parent driver and the moto dashboard.

2. Playing chicken with opposing traffic: If you have ever hopped onto a moto bike to brave the streets of this city, you have likely found yourself riding straight into opposing traffic, weaving in and out of cars, motos, bikes, and people.


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