Thursday, December 2, 2010

at some point, you're ready

And for me, the moment is NOW. I am ready to go home. I'm ready to sleep on something other than rock-hard platforms, with giant hard pillows. I'm ready to have my good coffee as I'm waking up slowly, rather than having to get dressed and fixed up and wait for Marc also to be ready, and then to get usually-mediocre coffee. I'm ready to go home. If it weren't for this bed situation, I think I wouldn't be quite so ready, but this has done the old girl in.

I've been thinking a lot about strangeness, and Otherness. When we went to Vietnam in November of 2005, it was my first time to really be somewhere else. I'd been to Mexico (what Texan hasn't), and to Paris and surrounds, London, and Glasgow. But you know, those aren't really different in any important way. It helps that I can read French, but anyway, it's all western, all modern in the same way as my home was. But Vietnam, that made my head and self split open. I couldn't read any of the writing, the script was unrecognizable to me. The money? 148,000 dong to a dollar, couldn't do that translation in my head so it was a constant source of confusion. The people spoke almost no English, even at the front desk of our fancy hotel in Hanoi. The rules, unlike any I'd encountered (cf crossing busy streets, and remember, this was before I really lived in Manhattan). The food, not all that familiar to me. At one point, and it was early on in Hanoi, I hit a kind of wall and didn't think I was going to be able to take it any more. But of course when that happens, you just be with it until it passes, and I did, and it became great again. Still, I've remembered that shock of Other, and thought I'd feel it here.

But I haven't. Is that because it's easy now, since I've already been to this part of the world? Is it simply less Other here, than it was in Vietnam (which was more complicated given our military history there)? If I were to go back to Hanoi, I probably wouldn't feel that again, not even a little bit, because it would be my 2nd time there. And I've changed a lot in the intervening 5 years, seen a lot more of the world. Can I still experience the Otherness that was so shocking? That's one thing I liked about traveling, getting to feel that jolt, that reminder that what can come to seem like "just the way people are" is NOT "just the way people are," but rather "just the way I and my culture are."

Anyway. Ready to go.

When we pulled into Phnom Penh yesterday, I felt so happy to be back in this wonderful city. Something big was going on, cops at every intersection, some kind of cavalcade of big cars with little flags flying on antennas, and I loved that. It's a vibrant city. Last night we ate an amazing dinner at K'Nyay - more on that soon - but before we went to the restaurant we walked along the river, where the Water Festival crowds had been. It was relatively empty this time. Young people walking around, parents with very small toddlers running around, beggars hitting us up with open hands and wordless pleas from their eyes. There was a most amazing temple we saw, on the waterfront plaza. It was crowded, and on the altar were three statues of fat dudes with really giant eyebrows....not too Buddha-like, I have no idea who they were. But behind them was a green and red and white neon thing with flashing lights, could've easily been in Las Vegas and no one would've even blinked. But there were a dozen people sitting on the ground in front of the altar, and a bunch more just outside the door lighting incense. It was such an unusual scene.

Out to search for a Cambodian scarf, then we'll probably relax around the pool the rest of the day. Tomorrow will be LONG, but I'll write one more post tonight.

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