Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Cambodia: First Impressions

The wind is gently blowing my hair, carrying with it the heavy gray clouds of an afternoon rainstorm. From the fifth story balcony where my hammock is stretched, I’m watching the storm slowly block out the sunlight and waiting for the rain. The street below is as loud as ever, with children’s shouts, honking, vendors ringing bells, and the distant and mechanical sounds of construction. As soon as the rain begins to fall on the bright orange, green and blue roofs around me, everyone will rush to find cover. Shopkeepers will hurry to cover their stalls with tarps, motorcyclists will gather under trees, and the industrious few will make use of the water to mop roofs and sidewalks. This is what I’m waiting for.

It’s become a daily routine, to wait for the rain. Today my timing was off, as I had planned to walk to the market until I stepped outside and saw the clouds. My dreams of iced coffee and errands will have to be pushed to tomorrow morning. I’m learning this city, though slowly for now.

When I left the States, I really had no plan other than to stop by London for a week and then appear jobless and hopeful in Phnom Penh. And so after a week visiting friends in London, I did appear, jobless and hopeful in a country I had never really thought too much about.  What surprised me though, was how incredibly familiar and yet totally unexpected Cambodia has been so far. Everything from walking through a market to driving around town on a friend’s motorcycle has been so easy.

I find myself constantly expecting life as a foreigner here to feel similar to my other experiences as a foreigner in India or Egypt. While the smells and sounds and sights are the same, the feeling is something entirely new. After my first day exploring the market alone, I came home to tell my friend how bizarre it was to see girls of all ages walking around, driving around alone, something you would rarely see in Delhi or Cairo. And foreigners here wander peacefully through the streets, without constantly being targeted by shopkeepers. The traffic is entirely manageable, it might actually be worse in Nashville. This city is calm and relaxed in a way my past experiences in other cities never were. Everyone smiles constantly and genuinely. Other than the threat of bags being snatched, Phnom Penh feels safe. It feels easy.

It’s only been one week so I’m sure all these observations will shift and change as layers of cultural complexity are added to them. This weekend, some friends and I are going north to explore Siem Reap and tour the famous Angkor Wat. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this land and continuing to learn bit by bit about this country where I’ve spontaneously landed.

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