Category Archives: Just a Thought

Lullaby

The
sun
settled
in fire
behind the mountain
perhaps twenty minutes before,
and now the world is pink calm
and darkening shadow,
the distant thud-thud-thud-thud
of a fishing boat,
a fish breaking the rippling surface close by.
The smell of a cigarette carries to me
from another foreigner
sitting a little way upstream.

How strange that the word for
“different”
in this language is also the word for
“wrong”,
but the words for “true” and “the same” are
different.
How strange that the word for
“French”
can also mean “foreigner”,
but there is a
different
word for “foreigner”
that does not mean “French”.

In the trees behind me
a gecko calls its own name,
piercing the evening like the chime of a clock.
And the foreigner with the cigarette
begins to sing softly
in French,
her voice soft, cracked,
lovely,
as the dusk
turns purple and night rises up from the river.

 

Dusk on Kampot River

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Celebrity and a Tuk-Tuk

One of the things that is most striking about being a foreigner (and perhaps the only foreigner) driving a tuktuk in Phnom Penh is how much it feels like being something of a celebrity. Or at least, how I imagine that must feel. Barangs in Cambodia get a disproportionate amount of attention anyway, but this is something else. Several times per day, while I am making my way through traffic, minding my own business, I will notice someone look at me, look away, then do a double take and look back. (That moment, incidentally, never gets old!) More often than not, that double take turns into a look of concentration, as the other person tries to fit me into their world, and generally a smile. Often there is a thumbs up (mostly from other tuktuk drivers) and a grin. Sometimes people call out greetings. Occasionally, at a traffic light, or by the side of the road, someone will engage and have a short chat. And very rarely, I have received glares and apparent dislike – I presume because it seems I have taken a Cambodian person’s job.

The sense that I have become in some way publicly accessible is a two-edged sword. This is why I am here, after all: to build connections, to engage with people, to join the community. And the vast majority of reactions are positive, a reminder that people are willing to please and be pleased. On the other hand, at 7:00am, when I am dealing with heavy traffic on the main airport road, and I have not yet had a coffee, I sometimes wish people would just not see me.

I don’t know what all that means – maybe nothing. But it’s a part of the experience, and one I didn’t fully anticipate,