After twenty hours of travelling I finally touched down at Dublin Airport at 7.30pm on New Year’s Day. Jaysus but it’s bloody cold here. The first item on my agenda was to have a large mug of tea and some white pudding generously smeared over a slice of fried bread. My mother was only too happy to sort this out for me.
I’m back to the cold and grey days of Irish suburbia but both my head and my heart are still hovering about in Cambodia. In the blink of an eye they move from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh with its rubbish strewn streets and cracked pavements to the magical aura I felt in Siem Reap, with the dirt tracks and adorable scruffy children, the beautiful French colonial buildings and of course the awesome temples around Angkor Wat. Again they turn and look upon the Golden Lions at the roundabout located between downtown and the beaches of Sihanoukville. I can still see Chan Sras on her motorbike pulling into the courtyard of the guesthouse and waving to me. Calling me down to go cruising. Yeh, let’s cruise honey. Let’s go and see Buddha, let the monk read our palms and tell us what the future holds for us. Now my head and heart are back in Phnom Penh, I’m walking the streets late at night and I feel at ease. I know lots of people at this stage; both barang and Cambodian. I like it here. It’s just a pity that I can’t take to the food. I have lost a lot of weight and I’m not eating properly. I don’t want to admit it but I know that it is time to go home. What a trip it has been. I imagine it will be a few more days before my head and heart arrive back home.
Saying goodbye to Chan Sras was an emotional time for both of us. I wish her all the good luck in the world for her future. I won’t forget her. The past six months have been the most interesting of my life, so far. In a way they were also the quickest six months of my life but strangely, doing the teaching course in Chiang Mai seems like a hundred years ago. I was very lucky to have met some really great people while away. Tony from Australia was the perfect companion for conversation and drinking. Lachlan, the Canadian, was also another ‘real’ person who helped me to look at things objectively when maybe I was in danger of losing focus. Aaron from Arizona was my first drinking buddy and fellow reprobate, we would drink beer and smoke cigarettes while the rest of the class were getting their lesson plans prepared for the next day’s class.
Being with Chan Sras enabled me to see the reality of being a Khmer living in the Kingdom of Cambodia. I saw the poverty, I saw prostitutes addicted to hard drugs, I saw young boys sniffing glue and passing out on the streets. I saw their fellow countrymen step over them to ask a foreigner if he would like to buy a lady or some ganga. I saw people working long hours every day for sixty dollars a month. I saw victims of landmines begging on the streets, I saw the shitholes that some of them are living in. I saw the dirt and squalor.
I also saw the beautiful smiles offered to me on a daily basis. I experienced the friendliness and welcoming attitude of the Khmers. I learnt that life can be lived at a much slower pace. I learnt how the west can be lost in a morass of materialism; forever wanting to accumulate more and more possessions. I have seen some of my fellow westerners complain that there wasn’t enough hot water for their shower this morning while outside the locals are washing themselves at a basin of rainwater. I myself have spent more on a hotel room for one night than most of the locals make in a month working six days a week. I have constantly complained about the quality of the food while there are families in Siem Reap and further afield who are surviving on a diet of frogs and ants because they can’t afford rice. I never saw a Cambodian eating a bar of chocolate or a packet of crisps, they eat rice every day. They look strong and fit, lithe and supple. Old men in their sixties and seventies pedal cyclos around the streets of Phnom Penh; they will carry you for miles around the city for the princely sum of fifty to seventy five cents. I have had moto drivers carry me the wrong way down one way streets; rules in Cambodia are seen as suggestions rather than something to be complied with.
So what now? What will I do next? I don’t know, is the short answer. I weighed myself upon arriving home and I have lost two and a half stone. No harm. I look and feel better for it. In a way I travelled to S.E. Asia to find myself. I didn’t find myself but I found some pointers as to where I may actually be located. Right now after travelling thousands of miles I have a better sense of myself. Sitting here at the kitchen table in my parents’ house typing my last entry to this blog I would like to thank everyone who was good enough to take time out and read about my experiences. Life is short and a wonderful experience. Enjoy it while you can.
Here endeth the blog, my friends.