Thursday, 8 July 2010

Nearly Khmer

Every now and then my country's embassy in Cambodia sends email notices of various official actions and citizen social gatherings and that's because I have registered with them when I was working there some years past. It was an interesting phase of life as it forced me to behave in ways that I did not intend on doing -- living an expat's life -- and thankfully for only a brief period that went without my even noticing.

Phnom Penh was a pretty contained city but with some parts specifically tailored towards foreigners. Every afternoon from work and as a daily routine, I'd quickly dump my laptop computer and backpack in my hotel room and head to the street corner bars for quick infusions of gin and tonic with incessant chatter from caucasians working as well in the country. Dinner afterwards from a price-reasonable selection of Asian or Western cuisine in specialty restaurants dotting various locations in the City. I was almost a fixture at Comme a la Maison, a restaurant  on Street 51. Certainly, I would not have been doing that on a regular basis if I were home but choices I realized have become quite limited in the absence of immediate family or a permanent home to come home to every night.

I had been forced to keep myself busy and entertained in the process of living away from home. There were limitations to patience in watching the cable TV programs. Without meaning to, I frequented the hot and humid Russian market on weekends purchasing what-nots that I didn't need. At one time, I simply took off one Sunday for the famed Siem Reap, a comfortable hour's flight away, where the world-renowned Angkor Wat temple beckoned. Simply hard stone and challenging to physically traverse -- that was what the huge and magnficent temple was. The City itself feels bohemian and is a worthy holiday destination as it has modern lodging facilities and interesting watering holes along what they aptly called Bar Street. The Hotel de la Paix, the boutique hotel that it is, appears lavish and expensive but there are less pricey alternatives around which are in fact to my estimation better than most hotels in the capital. Food choices are also varied and of excellent taste. I won't forget the Blue Pumpkin restraurant in the centre of town whose eclectic menu and savory bakery offerings would rival even its best parisian counterparts.

The locals were quite trustworthy as they tried their warmest best to please visitors like myself. That in itself was comforting to a stranger.

Despite the comforts, the relaxed (and sometimes luxurious) way of life, the nice people around, the pleasant weather, I had not felt settled. I looked forward to going home. I'm sure anyone who has gone away from home for a while and who knows that all that was temporary would have felt the same anxieties. Why would one want to live outside his country of domicile? What hard choices had to be made? What pressures attend to the individual and to his family?