Cambodia’s “cool” season is still too hot for someone with Scottish genes and too polluted for lungs acclimated to the Bay Area’s clean air. But in other ways I feel comfortable here. Tonight in my Phnom Penh hotel, I watched a nature program about the Borneo I didn’t see. It wasn’t Malaysia’s fault that I wasn’t happy there. Just bad timing.
I have returned to Phnom Penh to discuss some projects with two more organizations. There is such a need for management infrastructure in Cambodian NGOs, I could probably take my pick any day of the week, especially if I don’t expect to be paid. In Cambodia, the difference between a salary and nothing is not much.
Since I returned to Phnom Penh on Friday, I think I have had a minor breakthrough in my SE Asia acculturation. Remember the Thai principle of “jai yen” — conflict avoidance, cool heart, no shame, saving face. It’s here in Cambodia too. Like the Thai, Cambodians are mostly Theravada Buddhists. To oversimplify, Theravada Buddhists practice acceptance. So westerners and especially Americans, with all of our opinions and enthusiasm for getting it right, can appear disrespectful. In spite of myself, I have become more jai yen but only by saying nothing. Once an interchange begins, I am so dead set on being “honest,” I blow it.
My breakthrough moment came yesterday when I excitedly reported to my hotel’s receptionist that I saw Vit at The Corn. Vit works at my hotel in the mornings and at The Corn in the afternoons. Imagine being alone in another country and having someone say “Hello Miss Kim” while you are anonymously eating your curry. I had to tell someone! Well, the hotel receptionist had no clue what I was saying so I repeated “Vit” several times because of course she would understand the whole story if she just understood the name of its protagonist, duh. Finally, she nodded at me in recognition and grabbed two packets of tea from the basket on the counter. “Yes?” she asked. And I said “YES!!”
This could be the start of something very big for me.
Maybe my down time was a good thing. I have had so much time in my room(s), I have been reading more than usual, which is already a lot. Something I read inspired me to begin a writing project, which has been a great pleasure. I have missed the discipline and discovery of working. And now I am back to walking around a lot. I have gone off my beaten path by going to an actual mall of stores with names you would recognize. I need some warm clothes and shoes because tomorrow I fly to Tokyo where the daily high temperature is 45 degrees. Fahrenheit. It is hard to find warm clothes in Cambodia! But in the shopping process, I have been around some of Phnom Penh’s middle class, who are all between the ages of 14 and 22.
And I am going to Japan!