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Draft chapter for book about our time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in January

‘No Drugs, No Prostitutes, No Weapons:’ Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I got my laundry ready the first day, but forgot to take it out with us, and after dinner it was closed.  Even getting it ready was enough.  Likewise with shopping, I had tried to do it all on the first day.  I bought a few things, they didn’t have everything, at a friendly shop on our road near the laundries, but didn’t make it to the 7/11 style supermarket until the next day.  We flew with low weight and needed to buy shampoo etc on arrival.  The first day and night was enough stimulation- I was over stimulated, walking through the bar street I felt tired.  Noticing my tendency to overdo and crash.  Don’t have to do everything all at once.

The next day we found a real stationers, an entire shop selling stationery, I bought a really nice notebook, and gel pens!!!   I had brought enough for the trip, given away some in thanks for my monkey tablet rescue in Hampi, and so had just run out.  And at the ‘7/11’ there was soya milk, face cream, body moisturiser, Vaseline, Nivea, makes, luxury four blade razors, and all kinds of biscuits!  Almost all cream was whitening again like in Thailand. and Japan and sunblock went up to Factor 100.  I bought big thick sunscreen; I had slacked in India and let my skin go chicken skin-ish.  Never mind, they are the tiger stripes or stretch marks of the experience.  Simple pleasures; stocking up on necessary items such as soap etc, and also nuts, and getting our laundry back, done in washing machines, with little tickets when you took it in, felt so good.

Mobile rickshaw or motorbike stalls often had a phrase on a loop coming out of a speaker; we’d hear a vehicle going past with a repetitive, monotonous announcement, it sounded so serious to us.  In India it would have been politics trucks, here it was someone selling snacks or corn on the cob or coconuts; the coconuts in Cambodia were the biggest I’d ever seen.  There were handcarts with bells, and noisy kids’ toys like in Thailand.  Again, I noticed the difference in noise tolerance between South East Asian countries and the UK.  One day a bicycle with a loudspeaker blaring out a repeated an announcement just parked in the street near our guesthouse selling filled baguettes.  It would have driven me insane but the stall person and the passersby seemed unperturbed.

We mostly ate at a pavement cafe on the front, there was free iced tea, we risked it the first time; later we looked up about ice.  If it is big chunks with a hole in, which this was- chunky cylinders with a hole through the middle like very large beads- that’s good, that’s for drinks.  Otherwise it could just be from packing- we saw great slabs of ice on trolleys, beautiful like glaciers with air bubbles and fractures and the light shining through it.  We might have been more nervous about eating there but we saw a Westerner there who looked like a regular.  Normal sized plastic tables and chairs that spilled onto the pavement, the cooking was mainly done out the back, with some barbecue meat inside and out the front.  Inside the restaurant was a glass fronted wooden cabinet full of nail polishes, as if someone had a sideline doing nails.

On the way to the restaurants, we passed a glorious gold and red temple, so shiny as if it had just been built.  We saw a rickshaw with Astroturf over the roof and down to the top of the window, and at the front over the wheel.  There were lots of barbers set up on the street who kept asking Anthony to come and have his hair cut.  Before we left he did go to them and was given a typical Khmer haircut, a little too short at the sides for him.  But except for the barbers and a man outside a restaurant who asked us a couple of times if we wanted to eat there, that was it.  Compared to Varkala Cliff, Kerala, India where there was a strip of ten or so restaurants and twenty or so stalls, with everyone practically begging us to eat or shop at their place every time we walked past.  In India tourists can feel permanently pulled and guilty and buy to support not because they need or want anything.  At Bangkok airport we met a man who was just returning to the UK after a holiday in Goa, India.  ‘I’ve bought so many shorts and t shirts and I didn’t even want them!’

We went to the night market and saw Marilyn Monroe style silver lurex and red velvet plunging neckline dresses.  There were lots of bright colour designs printed on t shirts and shirts.  I saw a woman wearing a shirt, so bright and with two big faces on the front, one on each side.  In the evenings women often wore pyjamas in the street, usually button through shirts and three quarter length trousers; one evening a woman walked towards us wearing pink shiny pyjamas which were luminous in the dark.

But… it soon didn’t seem enough, after India it seemed too tame, too touristy, not authentic enough and no engagement.  It wasn’t like India in Pushkar  or Chennai.  No cosmic recognition, we didn’t meet any of the young tourists, families or ex pats around us.  And after all our complaining towards the end of India about selfie takers, I missed the attention.  Not because I liked feeling like a celebrity (okay maybe a little…) but because it was positive interaction with the people of the country.

We missed India.  All the things we had been annoyed about, we missed.  Really like a love affair, you may be annoyed by your wife doing xxx or your husband doing xxx but when they’re gone, oh you miss those things.

I drank coffee French press good strong coffee and wrote downstairs in the restaurant.  Sometimes it was hard to concentrate, with families and other guests talking and playing guitar.  The coffee was great for writing, not so good for sleep; I caught myself out a couple of times having coffee too late in the afternoon and then wondering why I couldn’t sleep at night.

It was whirring around my head so I wrote it down, the What’s Next, and then the word document disappeared.  I had emailed it to myself as back up so I could’ve found it in my emails, but would that really be best?  Is it beneficial to live in the future?  No.  Was losing my What’s Next? ideas a ‘coincidence?’  There’s no such thing as coincidences.  What’s another word then, synchronicity?  Serendipity?  Signs you are on the right track?  Assistance for staying on track?

Rather than trying to plan for or worrying about The Future, it came to me that a useful self support system could be to make spiritual enlightenment or awareness the goal or guiding aim or principle of one’s life rather than anything else.  That way you’ll always be okay because you can do that whatever, wherever, and anything can help.

Thank you very much for reading

About the author

Sold house, left job, gave away almost everything else.  With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India.   Here are my India highlights.  Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.

For more photographs of the trip see Instagram travelswithanthony