Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Good morning, and Happy Chinese New Year. Or, Chuc Mung Nam Moi, if you celebrate Tet.

It's a beautiful day in Phnom Penh. I'd guess it's around 85 degrees, blue skies and only moderately humid. I've had a nice morning so far. It's a transitional day for us, with one group leaving, and one group arriving, so we made no solid plans for the morning. There's not enough room in the truck for all of us to go to the airport, so I volunteered to stay behind.

I've been out walking around the city for an hour or so. This really is a very interesting place. I've been here many times before, but I'm still amazed by the exotic beauty of the people and the shabby sophistication of the city.

Speaking of beauty, the Khmer people really are quite beautiful. Unlike other countries in Asia, where many of the people share close ethnic relations and similar facial features, the Khmer populace boasts an ancient and earthy phenotypic heterogeny. Some Khmer look Chinese, others Vietnamese, other Indian.

And unlike Hanoi, with its graceful boulevards and colonial edifaces, Phnom Penh is a mess: no apparent zoning regulations, myriad competing architectural styles make Cambodia's capitol more of a garish carnivale than any other city I've visited. But I loved the place the moment I first arrived in 2000. Seemingly cobbled together with stucco and baling wire, the place is, I don't know, outrageous.

The first couple of times I visited, every day felt like a dream. Pigs on bicycles and baskets full of tarantulas at the market made Monivong Boulevard seem like Dr. Suess' Mulberry Street. But now, it feels very comfortable, very real, very much like a second home.

I wonder how many other completely different, yet equally bizarre places exist in this world? I don't know if I have the brain cells to process too many more cities like this. Later this year, we're going to China, and I may have to relearn street etiquette and edibility rules-of-thumb for a new context. But I think I've become a pretty intrepid traveler. I'm always up for another adventure.

Well, I should go. I need to grab some lunch. Something across the street smells good.

Maybe it's the incense and joss paper being burned to celebrate the Chinese New Year. But maybe, just maybe, it's something I've never eaten before. I can't wait to find out.

Peace. And Bon Appetit

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

and you wonder why your tummy hurts!!!!!!

Have a great day son, as you know you are in our thoughts and prayers.
MOM

Scott Sloan said...

John, I enjoy keeping up with you as you travel to Cambodia doing the Lord's work. I am praying for everything that the team is doing in this particular field for the Lord.

BTW - Have you ever watched Globetrekker on PBS? It is a "twenty-something" travel show to exotic places that are off the beaten path.

Karen said...

"baskets full of tarantulas..."

*shiver*