The stories on this blog are mostly from China, but I was really inspired during my recent trip to Cambodia. So, here are some more Cambodia stories for you!
A sad thing on my last two trips was the absence of Chaeng. I first met Chaeng on my second (?) trip to Cambodia. He lived next door to Christina – in a wooden home built on short stilts above the dirt yard, next to the (5 storey) concrete terrace house Christina lived in with a bunch of others. Cheang drove a Cambodian tuktuk – a sort of modern carriage hooked up to a motorbike. Whenever I was in town Christina would have him drive her to the airport to pick me up and bring me home, we’d have him take us all over town while I was there, and then drive me to the airport when I left. He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Khmer but we each knew who the other was and smiled and waved in recognition. Over the years I learned some Khmer words and he learned some English words but we still had no ability to communicate beyond simple directions. Still, his was a friendly and familiar face.
In January, Chaeng picked a group of us up after dinner (a group including students who travelled with me from Beijing for a youth conference in Siem Reap). As we filed outside and worked out what we were doing (different tuktuks going to different locations) I saw Chaeng – we both smiled and waved at each other. Several Khmer men standing around started talking to him and while I can’t speak Khmer, it was pretty simple to guess what they were talking about – who is the foreign girl and how do you know her?? In June, he did a LOT of driving for the Beijing team who came to help with a day camp in Phnom Penh (Camp Whatever) and my team came to love Chaeng! He was definitely one of their favourite people in Cambodia :) Unfortunately, soon after that Chaeng moved out of the city and Christina hasn’t seen him since. So sad!
Tuesday October 15th was a holiday in remembrance of the late King Norodom Sihanouk, who died a year ago. In a China connection, he actually died in a Beijing hospital. He was king of Cambodia for over 70 years after taking the throne at age 16; despite being deposed by the Khmer Rouge, then working with them, he returned to his position (and palace) and is thought of with great fondness by many Cambodians. A new statue in his honour was unveiled a few days earlier, and stands right outside one of the cafes Christina and I visit often, so I spent two afternoons looking out at it. The whole monument was surrounded by large wreaths of fresh flowers on stands – perhaps 50 of them? I’m not sure. The statue is on a main road and most of the people driving past (on motor bikes or in tuktuks); almost all the passengers and not a few drivers turned their heads to look. Many slowed down as they drove past, and some actually stopped for a minute to look at the monument. At the same time, others walked right up to the monument, some obviously paying respects. One afternoon I saw a group of 10-15 Buddhist monks and nuns complete a circuit of the monument, paying respect with bows and other gestures as they went.
Speaking of monks, I felt like there were more men in bright orange robes roaming the city than on previous trips I’ve taken. in Cambodia, as in Thailand, it is common for young men to spend a year as a Buddhist monk (a novice), so many are not exactly living a lifelong commitment. I saw two young men in robes walking along the roadside listening to music through bright white headphones. I saw many on the backs of motos (motorbikes “taxis”) and in tuktuks. Some had notebooks, others satchels or even laptop bags.
On my second last night (this trip) Christina and I were settling in for a lazy night at home – I was in PJs, we were lying on the floor with Cupcake Wars streaming online, and plans to order in some dinner. And then, the power went out. Outside I could see streetlights but our street and the next one over were completely dark otherwise. Street food vendors were selling their wares by candlelight. Unfortunately, the noisy funeral party nearby must have had a generator because they were still (very loudly) going at it.After half an hour or so we gave up and went out for dinner, hoping the power would be back on when we returned. (Happy ending – it was!)
I left Monday morning, but not before helping with the morning worship service at ICF. I like ICF – it’s always felt somehow familiar, similar in style to the churches I grew up attending. Plus there are lots of lovely people, some of whom I first met more than 4 years ago. I played piano and sang a little during the worship in song, and then sang a simple (but pretty) song solo during the offering. They have a lovely grand piano which was a pleasure to play.
I really do love visiting Cambodia. I don’t feel drawn to live there, but I very much enjoy having a safe and comfortable place to visit. I add a few new Khmer words to my vocabulary each time – now I can count to 100! But that isn’t as impressive as it sounds, given that between 10 and 100, all the multiples of ten sound almost identical to their Thai equivalents (I did a year of Thai in 2003, just before moving to China).