| 09:30 | My bed, Siem Reap
So that is it. Everything is either packed, being worn, donated, sold or thrown away. I didn’t have to sit on my suitcase to make it close, but it was a tough ask of the (new-ish) yellow beast. I enjoyed a good farewell at a favourite place with close friends last night, though a few were missing due to situations beyond either my or their control. They know who they are, and we said our goodbyes before. Sorry, this doesn’t feel right, I need to go somewhere with a bit more inspiration to write a proper adieu.
| 10:15 | The Hive, Siem Reap
I just walked into a great little café that I liked to spend time in between classes, and the owner just said “I’m honoured you chose to come here on your last morning! Thanks so much!”. I don’t think that’s a reflection of how much time and patronage I’ve given here, but more a true and accurate representation of this town I’ve called home for over half a year. Everyone is genuinely so friendly. People know the same people, yet the network of friendly faces seems infinite.
This town can best be described as fluid. As I was told last night, Siem Reap will always be here, but it might not be exactly the same. The people change and move on, some come for a flying visit, some spend an extended period, special ones leave a mark on the town and the community, or so I’ve been told. Some leave with the promise of returning, and never do. Some leave with the promise they will never return but then turn up again a few months later. I have been asked numerous times “When are you coming back?”. This is a beautiful question because it makes the assumption that I will be returning. They take it for granted. This question has come from teachers and colleagues, both Khmer and expat; from kids at school; kids at the art class I helped set up; from the lady I get my fruit shakes from; my motodop man; staff at favourite restaurants and cafés; good friends; friends who are more like acquaintances; the list truly does go on, but I think you get the point. I will miss these people, these places and this time in my life. But I’m so lucky to have had them, shared them with Thierry and with the world (okay, this little blog doesn’t have THAT many followers, but once something is posted on the internet, it’s very difficult to get rid of it. It’s there forever… You could be reading this in 2018 or 2056. If so, hey there. Are we using hoverboards yet? There was a great film called Back to the Future, which incidentally I think inspired this belter of a tune by a band called Busted. Anyway, the movie predicted widespread hoverboard usage by 2015. It was wrong.).
In my naivety before I left the UK, when I was planning my trip, I completely underestimated how difficult it would be to leave a place. This sounds odd, right? I left home to go to uni and then I left my uni town to go back home. I went to live out in Malaysia for a few months, then I had to leave there to go back home. Are you seeing the pattern yet? At every point, it was a temporary change with a known expiration date, always with a stationary start and end location – home. Home being defined as the town and even the house that my parents live in. This is the first time I’ve left the UK for an extended period of time, moved from country to country, and this afternoon, from continent to continent, without an anchoring trip back home. And it is weird.
I’m going to go from one group of friends that I feel I know as well as my friends at home to another group. People I’ve known for years, decades, some my entire life. That’s not to say anything bad about those friendships I have with people in the UK. I’ve kept in touch with all the important people in my UK life, of course I have! I wouldn’t change them for the world and I have so many stories I want to share with them that haven’t made it into this blog. But friends you make travelling are different. Everyone you meet has a story to tell about why they have ended up in the place they have. The same place that you have ended up. Some people, like myself always planned for a certain country, a certain town or city. Some didn’t. But everyone knows the feeling of being in a place so far from where they were brought up. Everyone has a similar outlook on life however their own opinions may be very different; these people aren’t afraid to strike up a conversation with new people, to debate furiously, agree to disagree and then buy each other a drink. All in the space of one evening. You share so much with these people in such a short space of time that everything is concentrated. More intense.
| 14:22 | Siem Reap International Airport
Let me give you an example. If some person walked up and initiated a conversation with me whilst sitting in a café by myself in the UK, I’d first of all wonder what I was doing in a café solo, ‘cause that’s a bit weird, right? After I’ve gotten over that, I’d be questioning this person’s motives. If it was a guy, is he hitting on me? Is he a sleazebag? Does he have a bet going with his friends? Is he stalking me? If it was a girl, same questions plus a few more. Does she want to tell me I have toilet paper stuck to my shoe? None of these questions have even crossed my mind when talking to random people in random places. Just last night as I was on my way to my understated farewell dinner, I walked past these two ladies who looked a little lost. I heard the phrase “…over the river?” and stopped, smiled, asked them what they were looking for and pointed them in the right direction. They said thanks and went on their way. If you did that in London, you’d get berated for eavesdropping and then be told to remove yourself forcibly whilst inserting some pointy object up an orifice.
| 19:10 | Kuala Lumpar International Airport 2 (KLIA2)
Okay, so I didn’t make friends with those ladies, I knew I was heading to Melbourne today and in any case, they were clearly tourists, hanging out in town for a week, maybe two tops, but little interactions like these are commonplace. I don’t think twice about looking sympathetically at a mother whose child is playing up, then sticking my tongue out to make the kid stop wailing and maybe crack a smile. Or rolling my eyes at a waiter in a little restaurant when a customer wants a fruit shake with 4 mixed fruits but isn’t willing to pay an extra 50cents, even if their monthly salary in the States is on a par with what that waiter will be lucky to make in six months.
I swap phone numbers with people far more readily than I ever did before because it’s easier to give someone a quick call than try to wait until you have wifi and send them a Facebook message, hope that they’re online at the same time and get a response within a reasonable amount of time.
As I’m sitting here people-watching, having finished my claypot chicken rice meal, with over two hours to spare, I’m thinking about all the people I’ve met since 30 December 2015 and excited to think of who else I’m going to meet along the way. Oh yeah, and in answer to that question “When are you coming back?”, well the answer has changed from “I don’t know,” to “hmmm, maybe someday,” to “perhaps on my way back home, I’ll drop in and say hi,”. My philosophy is never say never and I’ll try anything once. If I don’t like it, I won’t do it again. I like Siem Reap. And I think she likes me too. So, until next time, SR.