Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The place I didn't expect to like

I never really considered coming to Cambodia. I thought I'd end my journey in Vietnam and be home by now. But then I realised I've not got anything really to go home to (except wonderful friends and family - but they'll be there a while) so why not really explore Asia. Cambodia as a country never drew me in. I'd barely heard about it, aside from that it was really poor. There's Ankor Wat, and the Killing fields, both worth a visit, but aside from that? I couldn't think of anything.

This trip was always about me learning, about me enjoying as much as I could from the countries I've visited. Before I set out I'd decided I wanted to volunteer. It certainly makes sense to volunteer in the country I was perhaps the least interested in, but was also by far the poorest. I'm going to be volunteering at I'm really excited about this as I put off teacher's college this year to continue my trip. I figured if I stay on and volunteer, I might learn more about whether I have the skills and patience to be a teacher. Travel has made me appreciate what a privileged position we are in coming from a first world country. I want to give back what I can, to a country that's already taught me so much in two days.

I traveled by land to Cambodia, leaving from Saigon city. It was supposed to be a five hour bus journey, but with everything in Asia it took a few hours longer than expected. I was scammed on the border; the bus company arranged to do our visas for us, and charged us $5 more than we actually had to pay. I shrugged it off, it wasn't worth causing a fuss over.

Arriving into Phnom Penh, two hours behind schedule and without accommodation booked, I wasn't really in the mood to hunt around for a good deal with my heavy bags. I took a Tuk Tuk to the closest Lonely Planet suggested hostel and made myself cozy. It was after dark and I didn't fancy spending too long wandering around, so I just grabbed some street food to take away ($1). I sat on my bed munching away on rice while watching bad Asian tv. Bliss.

Today was all about running errands, I bought a few things I needed and a couple of things I didn't (purple manicure and hair dye? okay!). I've been quite busy the past few months and haven't had really any time to blob out alone so I guess I'm making the most of it. I spent a great deal of time familiarising myself with the crazy numerical road system that does not make sense. I came home to see I had a reply from a friend about dinner, to meet in ten mins. I raced and got ready as fast as I could and jumped on the back of a motorbike. We were to meet outside the Palace. I'd not been there before, so I asked my motodriver to take me to the main entrance. It was 7:10 and neither of the girls were there. We did another loop, still not there. I decided that Phnom Penh isn't a city I want to be alone after dark lost and confuse so I asked my driver to take me to the nicest restaurant he knew of that wasn't too expensive. This is where I had a dinner I'll not forget.

I don't really like eating alone, not in nice restaurants anyway. My driver ushered me towards Khmer Saravan, I checked out the menu, it looked reasonably priced and there was enough to choose from, easily. I sat down and flicked through the menu, pretty tired and lost. It's hard changing countries: the currency is different, the people are different, the language is different, the food is different and sometimes it is overwhelming. I asked the two Swedish guys next to me what they had, and whether it was good or not. One of them insisted I must have the Ankor Curry and so I did and it was absolutely amazing.

While I was sitting at dinner, I noticed a man sitting alone. A little boy walked in trying to sell toys. He must have been about 7-8 and was wearing very scruffy clothes. The man called a waiter to his table, and asked him to tell the boy to pick something from the menu for dinner. The boy requested his meal, asked for it to be take away and the man paid. As the little boy was leaving, it was hard not to smile. It was such a sweet, and generous moment. The reality is that meal probably cost more than that little boy made in a day.

I had ordered an entire pot of Cambodian green tea to myself, for the tidy sum of $.50. It was amazing, it had a slight vanilla taste to it. I was in love. I asked the waiter where could I buy this tea from. He seemed confused and went back to consult another member of staff. After I'd requested and paid the bill, a waiter brought me out enough of that tea to make four teapots, free of charge.

I decided I wasn't in the mood to try to walk home and mulled for a while until I found a suitable motorcycle taxi. I negotiated the price down from $2 to $1. While we darted around the maze of Phnom Penh he asked me where I was from. He was very happy to hear I was from New Zealand, as a man from there sponsored his High School education. Apparently you can open up a restaurant here for around $4,000 USD. He's going to study Tourism at University. He insists that I open up a restaurant here, and he can bring his tourists there for lunch. I wont have to pay him in return, but he'll require unlimited free meals. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. I paid him $2 anyway for the ride. I think I like to bargain them down so I can tip them what they asked for anyway.

I took a deep breath and walked up the stairs to my room. I dislike and like traveling alone for so many reasons. You notice a lot more when you're alone. You are able to take a lot more in and when you are traveling I think that's really important.

I've put myself on a pretty harsh budget. If I can stick to it I'm treating myself to mainland China or India - if I'm still enthusiastic by then! I finally feel like I'm on the right path for my life. I'm itching to get to NFO and to help out with the kids. I really want to inspire change, even if it's only in one person.

I think I love photos of people most. In that moment when you capture a photo of someone, and they're maintaining eye contact, you can see so much of them. You can see their soul, you can see how you make them feel, and you can see how they see you. I hope now that I'm alone I can take many more photos like that. I'm also wanting to explore black and white photography... We'll see where that goes :)

I can't believe Jan is almost over, what an amazing start to the year I've had!


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