Musings, Travel & Adventure

Why I Love Cambodia

Tonight is our last night in Phnom Penh. From here, we head to Sihanoukville for the weekend and then to Thailand on Sunday. In Thailand, we will begin our volunteer teaching placement and also get the opportunity to take a Thai language and culture course. It’s hard to believe we have been here almost two weeks already! I am sad to be leaving Cambodia so soon. After the initial shock wore off, I began to really enjoy it here.

So, to commemorate the end of our time in Cambodia, I thought I would create a little list titled FIVE REASONS WHY I LOVE CAMBODIA:

1. The Khmer People: Without a doubt, this is the best part of Cambodia. The people here are the friendliest group of people, as a whole, that I have ever encountered. They are smiley and easygoing. In fact, the only Cambodian person that I have seen even remotely upset is the one woman on the motorbike that chattered a bit angrily at Tommy after she almost ran him over last week. It was Tommy’s fault, and he learned his lesson about looking both ways, so really, I think her anger was just concern for Tommy’s well-being.

The Khmer people are very helpful. People who know little to no English have helped us find things more than once. (That is because we are lost a lot.) They are also polite and personable. One of my favorite people here is the man who runs the little Mini Mart next to the university where we have been taking classes. Every time I walk in, he grins and says, “Same?” which means a large iced coffee with milk and no sugar. I thought it was pretty neat being a regular after only a couple days. The only Khmer word I know, which sounds like aw-coon, means thank you, and this man smiles and nods generously every time I attempt it in my awful American accent.

2. The Other Western People: We have made instant friends from day 1 with our program mates, coming to Cambodia from the UK, Australia and the U.S. — New York to California and everywhere in between. Furthermore, my friend Andy from college and his wife Kirsten live in Phnom Penh, and they have treated Tommy and I like family. They have entertained us, fed us, showed us around, loaded our cell phones and let us do laundry at their apartment. Tommy said last week that “playing basketball with Andy was the first time I knew I was enjoying myself on this trip.”

Thanks a lot, Tommy.

But that just goes to show how awesome Andy and Kirsten are. Hopefully we can pay them back someday for everything!

3. The Markets: Markets crowded with people, brimming with food, and packed with goodies in every stall. Need I say more? We even got up an hour early yesterday to go to the “Russian Market.” (I am not completely sure what makes it “Russian.”) It’s a good thing we had to leave and go to class, or I would have spent my weekly budget all in one morning. Bartering is also great fun. I think life in the U.S. would be more enjoyable if we got to barter for everything there, too.

4. The Tuk-Tuk Rides: I LOVE TUK-TUK RIDES. Catching tuk-tuks is fun, talking to tuk-tuk drivers is fun and, as I have discovered, the most fun of all is trying to explain, in English, to someone who doesn’t speak English, where we want to go, when actually we have no idea where we are or really where we are going. It’s quite a thrill, really. It’s also when I curse myself for not knowing any other languages besides a smattering of Spanish.

I have two stories to illustrate:

Story #1 (Saved by Accident). Here is how it went on Tuesday on the way to Andy’s apartment: I showed a slip of paper to the tuk-tuk driver with street names written on it. Tuk-tuk driver peered at it for a while, excused himself, went inside the hotel and had another Khmer person translate it for him. We rode around for what felt like an hour, and when the tuk-tuk driver started doing U-turns, we realized we were very lost. However, tuk-tuk drivers do not want to lose business and will do whatever it takes to get you where you want to go rather than admit defeat. So, tuk-tuk driver pulled over and asked other Khmer drivers for directions about 15 times and did about 25 more U-turns. At one point, he looked back and said, “Do you want to get out here?”

I looked around and didn’t recognize anything. “No!” I said adamantly. The only “landmark” I knew of near Andy’s was a VIP store, so I kept repeating “VIP! VIP!”

“Wee-I-P” tuk-tuk driver repeated back to me each time. After that, when he stopped to talk to other Khmer, I would hear what sounded to me like “Blah blah blah — Wee-I-P — blah blah blah.” (Again, why don’t I know any other languages?) Eventually, we got Andy on the phone and truly by accident, happened to be going by his apartment at that exact moment. Saved! I loved the whole experience. There was really nothing to do but laugh.

Story #2 (Saved by KFC). Last night, we wanted to go the river for a boat ride. We caught a tuk-tuk and showed the young driver a hastily drawn map with street names; again, with no other means of communication between us, he peered at it for a while and got his friends to help try to figure it out. I knew no names associated with the boat dock we were supposed to go to, but I happened to know there was a KFC nearby. Finally, I said tentatively, “KFC?” All four of them lit up and began nodding furiously. “Ah, KFC!” Our tuk-tuk driver jumped in and drove us straight there. It was also awesome. Apparently I owe a little gratitude to the Colonel! (Fun fact: This KFC is the classiest KFC I have ever seen, and also has free Wi-Fi.)

5. This One Needs No Words:

We will miss you, Cambodia!

Musings, Travel & Adventure

Good Thing Diaries Are Portable

This boomtown girl is taking her diaries to a whole new hemisphere.

Pretty soon my brother Tommy and I will be packing up and flying out. When we land, we will be on the other side of the world.

Really!

In just a little over two weeks, we will be on our way to Asia to volunteer in orphanages and/or low-income schools — depending on where we are placed — until December. It was an opportunity I just couldn’t resist. Once the idea planted itself in my mind, quitting my job and traveling the world seemed like an easy decision. Now that it’s getting closer, of course, reality has set in. I have no idea what to pack, that tetanus and typhoid shot really hurt, I think I’m going to get lost a lot, and figuring out how to get a visa for China was not such a simple process. Easy decision? Well, when it comes down to brass tacks, maybe not so easy after all. But whether I’m ready or not, my ticket is booked and my job is on hold, and I’m going.

And I’m pretty darn excited.

Instead of teaching English to American teenagers, fighting oil field traffic and taking pictures of North Dakota sunsets, I will be teaching English to Thai children, traveling by bus and tuk-tuk, and hopefully taking pictures of karst formations near Southeast Asia beaches.

For a few months, anyway.

Then I’ll be back, ready to tell more stories about boomtown.

Tommy and I; borrowed from the McKenzie County Farmer
Tommy and I; photo borrowed from the McKenzie County Farmer

But since telling stories is what I love to do, I’m going to keep posting updates here on Boomtown Diaries about our upcoming adventures in Asia. That is, if you don’t mind bearing with me as I get lost a lot on the other side of the world.

Good thing “diaries” are portable. 😉