Christina’s the reason I’m in Cambodia now – even though she’s not here. Christina and I shared an apartment during her last year in China. She had been looking into moving to Cambodia and it all came together that year. Over Christmas she and Becky travelled to Cambodia, and I’m pretty sure that’s when Christina came back with a simple mobile-type hanging of stars. The hanging is just 8 stars made of colourful padded silk, decorated with some gold thread and sequins, strung on tiny wooden dowels – but it captured her imagination as she began the work of leaving China well.
When she left China, she also left the hanging stars. And when I moved house, I took them with me. Through four more houses in China the Cambodian Stars came with me. They usually hung in my bedroom, sometimes above my bed – stars to look up at. I would look at them and remember that the stars are there above all of my far-flung friends – even when we can’t see them, it’s something that connects us.
They were also a connection to Cambodia, the place my friend had made home, and a place that (unbeknownst to me) would over time become very important to me as well.
Less than 2 years after Christina left China, I made my first trip to Cambodia – to help her run a youth retreat, and just hang out together. I kept going back, and back, and back again. By the time Christina left Cambodia (a little over 5 years later) I had visited about a dozen times. And every time I visited, Cambodia (and more people there) became more important to me. I began to think of it as my “second home”. Back in Beijing, looking at the Cambodian Stars, I saw more than a friend who had moved away. I saw scores of people I had met, places I had visited, and a promise that I would be back again.
Soon the Cambodian Stars became one of the last things packed and first things put up whenever I moved. And when I myself moved to Cambodia (8 weeks ago today) the Cambodian Stars came home. One of the first things I did when I arrived at my temporary home, and again in my permanent home, was take out the stars and hang them up near the bed. It was a promise, a reminder.
A few weeks later I was visiting a lovely Aussie family here I first met years ago – the same family who hosted Christina and Becky for Christmas on their visit nearly 9 years earlier. We had dinner together and afterward they said I should sign their visitor book – which I happily did. Then I wondered how old the book was – I looked back in time and found that Christina and Becky had signed it during their visit on Christmas Day. It felt like such a full-circle moment!
I’m in Cambodia and Christina isn’t. So even though I’m IN Cambodia, the Cambodian Stars still mean something. And just as they have come home, in a little over two months I will also return to the place I originally came from: Australia. And the Cambodian Stars will come with me, a reminder of what was – and what will be.