Cambodian Journal 2011, Part 22 – Goodbye Siem Reap Hello Phnom Penh

As always, our time in Siem Reap melted away and as our departure date of February 1 crept up, we felt the poignancy of leaving and taking our lasts looks around, we became nostalgic before we even left. We rode more than we walked, either three on Eddie”s motorbike, which certainly got the attention of the locals or sympathy rides with tut-tut drivers we have know from the past that needed some business. We had a few drink parties on our patio, inviting the neighbors to join us so they would not be offended by the noise. We enjoyed the company of Dr. Gene and his doctor wife, Thea, along with Wayne and his buddies from the Greater Angkor Project. We enjoyed spending time with Alex and Jennifer from the Angkor What Bar? Unfortunately, the issue with the young girl with the tumor remained unsolved, as did the young woman with three children living on the banks of the river near our naga bridge.

We enjoyed spending time with Cinnamon and since her English had improved, she became for us more of a person. She regaled us with stories from her NGO job and threw around words such as reconciliation, reintegration, life skills, community consolidation, etc. that made her sound like a walking UN manual. I appreciated her discussion of the difference between want and necessity, immediately realizing she had obliquely asked me for the third time to buy her a motor bike.

In the shadow of the temple complex of Angkor, the village of Pom Prei will still maintain its riddles but we will return next year and for a small moment reenter their lives and do what we can. After all, there is nothing wrong in gaining merit, and maybe those points can be transferred to the religion of our choice. I hope that the fruit lady has not experienced her reincarnation as she may be up there or out there asking for me. When we left, Eddie was in the “good times”. His business is fraught with many unknowns but so is any other business. He is a celebrity on Trip Advisor and the new “moto hawk”.

For us, our relationship with Tuit was primary. We treated Tuit as one of our own. He continued to amaze us as we had no idea how he could have a mental concept of so many things. We left him resupplied with necessities and provided an increase in his allowance, as a young man around town should have some spending money. He now has a bike, a cell phone, and a new watch. But most of all, the best gift we left him was the understanding that he now had a future. We emphasized that he had to learn English then he could become anything he wanted to be. If he still wants to be a pilot, then he would probably be one of Cambodia”s first. Also, at this point, we have no way of knowing just how good his art skills can be.

We held a little farewell dinner at Queen”s BBQ. An all you can eat Khmer style restaurant where you grill your own meat, fish, etc. over charcoal while vegetables cook in a delicious broth. Donald, Eddie, and I turned the cooking over to Tuit and Cinnamon. Once again, the kid ate his weight in meat and to honor the rice, he had no trouble consuming bowl after bowl. Cinnamon was officially proclaimed his “big sister” and Eddie was deemed the uncle. When it was time to go we hugged and rehugged him and he hugged back.

This year, we did all we knew to do and if there had been more we could have done, I am sure Cinnamon would not have failed to tell us. What will be is still in the future, unrevealed. As for Cinnamon, the third time was a charm and she should now be riding around on a new motor bike. As for me, I felt so lucky she “allowed” me to buy the bike because she is being forced to move and a bike has to be cheaper than a new house. Great logic. Only in Cambodia.

On February 1, we hire a small van, as a car is not large enough for our stuff, and head back down National Highway 6 to Phnom Penh. In route, we marvel at the large homes that line the road, mansions in any country, an example that prosperity, with or without corruption, has come to the countryside. Thankfully, the ride was uneventful and we were dropped off at the Himawari Hotel. Our travel agent Tomas, from Go Footloose Travel, had made the reservation months ago. This is a long stay apartment hotel and we have a two bedroom apartment overlooking the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. Unfortunately, the days when Donald could fly his plane around Phnom Penh is over and the little hanger in which the planes were stored has been abandoned. However, Donald looks forward to serious pool time.

There will not be that much to do in the daytime, but the nights will take care of themselves. We are looking forward to spending time with Jean Paul who now is seriously fond of a Khmer woman. He assures us that she is special, owns her own business and can speak English as well as French, Thai, and Chinese. Sounds like he found a smart one this time. Also, we have the crowd from Sharky”s and looking forward as to what has happened to Al, Chicago Shawn, and Lee, who Donald taught how to fly an ultralight. Then there is Snowy at his bar across the river and the collection of people who wind up there. I am looking forward to spending time with Janet, the tall Chinese lady from the Philippines, who I met several years ago through Jean Paul. She lived in Brunei and when her German husband died, she took over his business and now operates a security system business specializing in banks with offices here, Brunei, and Saigon. As for culture, there is the Meta House with programs almost every night.

We will settle in, slowly at first, as is our way, and will have no trouble adjusting to the additional space. We will have a month to enjoy the view from our room. I will open the sliding glass door and hear the soft putt-putt as the sampans glide past our window. At first, I will miss the sounds of the street but the warm breezes pushing past me bring possibilities of new experiences. I will call up Sammy, our tuk-tuk driver, and tell him we are back and ready to go out. Remember, nothing happens when you stay in your room and, as always, this is Cambodia, a place that melts time as well as your heart.

DEAR READER: Thank you for following along on our trip this year in Siem Reap. The stories from our visit to Phnom Penh will follow at a later date.
Donald and I will leave Phnom Penh on March 1. We will fly to Hanoi where we will spend three nights before traveling north to spend eight nights in the hill tribe areas. We will return to Hanoi and start our trip home, which will give us one night in Hong Kong and then back to New York. If all goes as planned, we will arrive there are March 15.

Thanks Mary Anne, could not have done it without you.

Discover Siem Reap,

Explore Phnom Penh

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