…nor apparently, is yoga. Life is full of juxtapositions. When you read a piece of text where the author has put two very different ideas side by side for humorous, sarcastic or sad effect (a little bit like this post… bear with it, there is funny stuff later, I promise!). Or in real life, when you see something somewhere and right next to it, you can see the opposite staring you in the face. In Siem Reap, the first example that springs to my mind is the people you see on the footbridge at Old Market, not even 5 minutes’ walk from my house. There are beggars with numerous heavily tanned children running around barefoot, wearing old and dirty clothes, holding baskets for change. Then right next to them are the tourists from the “developed world”, with women in high heels, clacking along, all bright lipstick, short skirts and designer handbags, on the arm of their wealthy husband who looks down his nose at the poverty-stricken people sitting on the floor of the bridge. Admittedly, not all non-Khmer people are like this, of course I know that. There are the expats who work at the NGOs and schools in town, there are the happy holiday-makers who saved up all year for this trip who want a bit of culture, there are the backpackers who can be seen with their iPhones on selfie sticks, walking quickly past the pleading eyes and the frail hands asking for cash. Then you get the do-gooders and the rich kids spending Mummy and Daddy’s money on a “gap yah”, dropping 500riel notes into the kid’s outstretched baskets, believing they have done a good deed, which is possibly even worse because (on a purely simplistic level) it is just reinforcing the idea that sitting on the street can give you money, so why bother going to school or getting a job? On a deeper level, if you want to know why giving money to street kids and voluntourism is a bad thing, check this out.
Not all juxtapositions are so deep, political, and downright depressing. I had an interesting experience a few weekends ago where I met a bunch of friends who had just had dinner. I couldn’t go for dinner since I had scheduled a tuition class until 8pm, but I had said I would meet them after for drinks and general merry-making, along with my laptop and work stuff, in my flowery backpack that my friends have affectionately dubbed “the suitcase”. After a quick fruit shake at the restaurant, we were persuaded by a new friend to frequent a tuktuk cocktail cart on Pub Street. With the promise of $1.50 cocktails, raising our eyebrows and shrugging slightly, we went off after our new friend and sat on precarious stools (there were no table, just saying), trying to have a conversation over the deafening boom of some lyric-less noise trying to pass itself off as music. I ordered a pineapple mojito, only to be served a pineapple margarita. Luckily, this was my first drink of the night and I actually don’t mind tequila, so it wasn’t the end of the world. And to reiterate, it was $1.50… this is definitely one of the things I’m going to miss about Asia. That, and being able to walk around in public in your pyjamas and no-one batting an eyelid.
Not that I really have to say it but, in case there was any doubt, the cocktail cart was a truly terrible experience. We made our excuses to head to a popular expat bar (not the one in the picture!) around the corner, and all four of us collectively sighed as we escaped through the physical barrier separating Pub Street and the crazy army of tuktuk drivers, around the corner on to Hospital Street, where there was no one harassing us. No word of a lie, this is no more than 100metres walk. It’s almost like you turn left through some kind of invisible veil and the tuktuk drivers are suddenly not interested in you anymore. It really is the strangest phenomenon. A physical juxtaposition, if you like.
Pub Street is full of crazy things. Some expected, and some that you couldn’t make up even if you tried! There is a regular pub crawl that occurs on a weekly-ish basis and I think the only pre-requisite for this is you have to wear the official shirt. Whether you have to team it with the shortest shorts you can find and have penises and phrases like “Cambojaaaaa 2k16 BFFs!” drawn on said shirt by other people in the pub crawl are actual rules or just things that tend to happen, I don’t know… makes for great people-watching though.There are tanks full of flesh-eating fish ready to give “fish massage” on every corner. For a few dollars you can submerge your feet into water and be treated to a load of fish biting the dead skin cells off of your feet. I’ve actually done this before, so I shouldn’t judge, but when I did, it was at a licensed spa in a Malaysian shopping mall, not outdoors on the corner of some street, where a tipsy tourist could spill an open plastic cup of beer into the tank by accident! Whether that makes a difference or not, I’m not sure, but again, makes great people-watching, especially when there are backpacker girls squealing because the water is cold and the fish tickle (you think?!).
The opposite end of the spectrum from Pub Street I think, is practicing yoga. That’s not to say that a person cannot enjoy both night-clubbing and inner peace and meditation, but you do have to be in a very different mind set for each of these activities.
My perception of yoga, before I ever attended a session was that it is a very difficult activity which requires core body strength and flexibility and I’ve never been tempted to try it before for exactly those reasons (if anyone needs a reminder of my lack of upper body strength, you should check out this [rather embarrassing] old post of mine). A lot of people wrongly assume it’s really easy because you’re just breathing and stretching so it’s not really exercise. They aren’t just wrong; they are so unequivocally mistaken that it is out of this world. We didn’t even sit and chant Om, but I really like that picture, and it kinda fits the yoga theme, right?
I walked to the yoga session because it was so close to my place. I walked along the local streets to the sound of bells pealing from one of the local wats, in my elephant pants, tankini and loose flowing vest top, feeling a teeny bit self-conscious with my bare arms on show in the bright Sunday morning sunshine, navigating my way across the weirdest crossroads lined with older motodop men. On arrival at the hotel, I was greeted with a “Namaste”, which was slightly odd but kinda nice. I stepped inside, was offered a refreshing glass of water and tried to put myself into a good positive headspace for practicing yoga. I confessed to my friend who had already arrived that I thought I was going to be terrible at this whole yoga thing. She just said that I thought the same about archery, and I turned out to be a pretty good shot, so think positive. That shut me up. I went into the class feeling happy. I would just do my best and it would all be fine. Positive thoughts.
Unfortunately for me there were only 5 of us in the class and when the instructor asked if anyone had any medical issues I mentioned that I was a first timer and lacked flexibility. She said that wouldn’t be a problem. Skinny lying cow. Approximately 16 and a half minutes into the session, she told us to get into downward facing dog and proceeded to stand behind me and reposition my hips, I had sweat beading on my forehead, it was running down my legs and dripping on to the yoga mat from the end of my nose. I just shook my head and reiterated that I was not flexible enough to successfully pull off this move. She said again that I didn’t have to be flexible, but you tell me how I’m supposed to envisage my unyielding form into a V shape if I can’t touch my toes or support my upper body weight with my arms?
By the end of the session, my hair was frizzy, my muscles were stretched thin, I was so aware of my breathing that I was paranoid I might stop by accident! It was a stressful experience for me. The only bit I enjoyed or even felt like I was doing remotely correctly was lying comfortably on the floor, which I could do from the comfort of my bed. Having said that, I imagine that my spine wasn’t perfectly straight, so I probably even had that all wrong. As soon as the session finished, we headed down to the pool and ordered some fresh fruit platters. So in conclusion, I know that yoga is not for me, and nor is Pub Street. Which I guess is a good thing, because I only have a few nights left in Cambodia, so onwards to new adventures! But don’t fret, there will be one more post after I’ve packed my life back up again that’ll published before I leave South East Asia this time around. I haven’t written it yet because I haven’t even started packing yet. Last but not least, it’s my little brother’s birthday today, so Happy Birthday! I hope you got my postcard.