Yesterday we travelled across the world for the second time in a week, crossing the dateline and arriving back in Phnom Penh from our trip to Los Angeles.
As the plane touched down, I knew I was home.
Not when it arrived in California but when it landed in Cambodia.
While Skip and I had a wonderful time seeing Emme and watching her incredible twinkly performance in Peter Pan as well as spending time with dear friends, it is good to be back.
Back in the heat which wraps itself around you like a damp blanket. Back among the crazy moto drivers weaving across the road from every direction. Back to the Chinese Noodle House and the corner shop with the “Marry Christmas” signs.
As we drove along in the tuktuk with SomOn at 11pm last night, the streets were dark and pretty much closed down for the day. Other than the occasional glowing lantern or the strings of flickering Christmas lights outside a handful of small hotels, there was only a handful of people on the streets. Teenage boys sitting on the rain-slick pavement smoking cigarettes, an occasional moto driver slumped across his vehicle, 24-hour workers in all-night cafes sleeping on couches under florescent lights.
No six-lane highways, brightly lit and filled with cars and no neon signs beckoning us to eat, drink or shop.
And no signs of the very obvious consumerism we’d just been exposed to for the past five days. Just a couple of late-night vendors pushing their carts along the streets, selling fresh fruit or drinks in plastic bags.
It’s hard to put into words how the trip made me feel but I know even more now that it makes me happy to live in a place which does not put such an emphasis on consumption.
From the moment we walked through the security gate in LAX, we were overwhelmed by too much of everything. Too many cars. Too many people. Too many shops. Too much selection. And way too many high prices! Meals which cost more than the entire stipend we receive in one week. Breakfasts which cost more than fancy dinners in Phnom Penh and a rental phone bill which added up to five months worth of internet connection at our home here in the east.
But it wasn’t just the busyness or the stress or the pricing. I just felt I didn’t belong here any more and that my home was now a million miles away (well, 8,00 at least), across the International Date Line where life is simpler and people are gentler.
Our final reminder came on the airport bus from the car rental office to the airport on Monday. We were the only occupants of the bus except for two gargantuan bald men with southern accents who must have weighed more than 700 pounds between the two of them. They grunted and heaved their massive bodies around the seats and snickered between themselves about how much they’d won on online gambling sites and how they were keen to leave Los Angeles and “the attitudes” behind them.
As we grabbed our bags and headed for the counter at Korean Airlines, the attractive attendant at the desk smiled and took our tickets. She corrected my error of booking seating in different sections of the plane, volunteered to give us good seats with a space between them, marked our bags for a fast connection and reseated us on the next leg from Seoul to Phnom Penh.
Although we hadn’t even left the ground, we felt we were already home.