Anna Velas-Suarin

Little Joys, Quiet Moments

I have been here in Phnom Penh for two weeks now, JR reminded me the last time we chatted through YM. “Oo nga ano…”, I replied back. It seems just like yesterday when I was walking through the immigrations of Phnom Penh International Airport. Not bad, for someone who was a bit apprehensive about going to a place that sometimes reminds one of wars and sufferings.

Phnom Penh at night: glowing like a rare jewel.

What have I seen and felt the past two weeks? For one, I feel so much gratitude in my heart. Not because of big things happening, no. In fact, my life these days is as simple as it can get. I wake up, take a shower, go out and explore the sights and cafes /restaurants around, open my emails, surf the job websites, have dinner by myself or friends, then go back to my hotel. Sometimes, I attend meetings (I once attended a forum on human trafficking) and meet fellow consultants. My life, nowadays, is so…how shall I describe it in one word? Quiet? Serene? Perhaps. I have not felt this much peace in a long long time. And I feel so grateful because everyday brings little joys.

Let me share one perfect example. These days, I have the services of a favorite tuktuk driver. Well, I have appointed him my “personal” driver because as I have shared in my previous e-mail, some tuktuk drivers don’t speak and understand much English. And in a city like Phnom Penh (especially for a woman), traveling the streets could get really challenging. When I discovered this guy outside my hotel and had experienced one nice ride with him, I decided that he’s gonna be my favorite driver in Phnom Penh.

For one, he speaks conversational English and has a cellphone (I am not saying this in a condescending way). Secondly, he doesn’t make me feel like he’s robbing me in broad daylight – this is especially significant because sometimes, tourists (admittedly, even in other countries) can feel a little “harassed” by some service providers who tend to think that all tourists are rich people (again, this is not meant in a discrimininatory way). He never ever tells me how much to pay him, never. I just give him what I feel is a just fair given the distances traveled (with additional tips). And always, he bows with so much gratitude everytime I pay him. He holds the money with both his hands, puts it near his heart, and bows his head.

I find it also touching that even if his English may be limited at times, he points to me landmarks and historical places that we pass by on the way to my destinations. Sometimes his style of messaging gives me a smile (once he texted me, “Now I am here down hotel, please come now.”) but I never really mind. I understand him and that’s all that matters. Last night, it rained so heavily and some streets were flooded and I worried that he will not be able to fetch me anymore (from the cafe where I was spending the whole afternoon and most evening checking my mails and chatting with JR). But yes, he was there, half-dry and half-wet, a little late maybe, but yes, he was there to bring me back to my hotel safely. We negotiated through the rains and he found alternate routes…I was safely back in my hotel before 10:00 pm. When these things happen, who can’t help but say a prayer of gratitude?

And then there are the very gracious waiters and waitresses who always serve my meals with such sweet and heartwarming smiles. Khmer food is really yummy and the satisfaction is enhanced because they are served by people who are generous with their smiles. Now, I am seated in an outdoor cafe by the river (wi-fi use is free!), with a nice mug of green tea beside me, writing this blog. What more can I ask for?

I miss my friends and family. I miss the chaos of Manila! But yes, I am falling in love with this place. It still scares me sometimes but I think I wouldn’t mind calling this my home for a while.

Cambodia is giving me so much. I hope I can give as much in return.

[Re-post of a blog dated June 16, 2007 (from my previous site).]


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