Day 2: Finding my Footing (6/2/13)

Today felt much better than yesterday. First of all, much cooler. It rained a bit and the sun was not as blazing hot so I felt a bit more human, less puddily. More importantly, however, I had the chance to bond with my housemates and a few of our Khmer neighbors- which I will discuss in just a second. Before that, I must explain to you what it is like to be white in Cambodia, or rather, the only white person.

First remember that Chris and I are stay relatively far from the city where tourists are more plentiful. Foreigners rarely stay in this neighborhood, and those who do (by this I mean really my Spanish housemate) tend to ride motos. So this morning when I took a brief walk, I was stared at by literally every person. These stares were neither offensive nor flirtatious- simply surprised, at least I think. I have never felt this. I strolled by a restaurant and several dozen heads turned. I passed a group of young girls and one shouted “Hello!” while the others giggled and shyly huddled. Even motorists turned their gaze away from the crowded street to observe the sole white pedestrian, very obviously out of place and perhaps apparently clueless. With few Khmer words to explain my presence, I simply smiled and waved….smile and wave. Smile and nod. Just nod. I also attempted the only Cambodian phrase I really have down, “How are you?” to anyone who passed. I need to learn Khmer and I need to learn it quick! A tan may also help.

Back to my friends though. Nana, my housemate from Spain, is excellent at making friends with Khmer neighbors and the family who owns the coffee shop down the street, even though his Khmer is only marginally better than mine. He helped me a lot today as we happily sat with the family, chatted (several of the Nana’s close friends speak English), and sat some more. Cambodians love to sit. Love to sit. And though I find it very difficult to just be still at home, the heat here has transformed me into a professional sitter. The thought of working out revolts me.  As a moderate extrovert, I felt much relief having forged friendships with those around me. I also spent time talking with Chow and Louy- the allusive German volunteer (who came to spend a year in Cambodia fresh out of high school!), both of which are extremely kind and work in local orphanages. In the evening, Chris and I joined  Chow, Pset, Nana and a few of his friends for drinks and food- which included (I learned post-consumption) beef, chicken, and vegetables sprinkled with grilled ants. First ingested insect! While Pset and I talked more about corruption, education, and NGO work over coffee in the morning, we discussed his admiration for Beyonce and The Beatles as well as his dislike of Justin Beiber over tasty Anchor beer.

Lastly, note on motos- love them. The feeling of riding on the back of a moto is both refreshing and a bit exhilarating. Road conditions combined with driving techniques definitely keep you alert and excited. The air, however, the PRECIOUS BREEZE, is a much welcome relief to the stagnant, sticky dust that smothers you when walking. I do not trust myself to drive, at all- no way, but would love for Chris to rent one, though we hear foreigners are often pulled over and asked to pay “fines.”

Really lastly, I make excellent mosquito food. Penh Phnom is relatively free from malaria and I have good pills just to be safe, but the welts on leg certainly attract attention. Which is excellent because, as previously discussed, I just don’t get enough of that around here…

Night friends, until next time!

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