It’s my birthday and even though I can’t even manage the number on my life dial I feel really great. I always feel rejuvenated after meeting with my goal group women. Even if it’s just virtual. I was able to articulate what I am passionate about doing even though I don’t have a clear plan toward it. I realize this travel has impacted me and is changing me even though it feels like a treadmill of fights and recriminations. I want to lean into this time with my kids – it has felt so overwhelming day in and day out to keep them occupied and learning and happy. I feel like I have failed so much of the time and I don’t know what their take away will be. But it’s okay. We are together. I am so lucky to do this so I will enjoy it for all of us. I’m just going to break down our return into manageable bits. Three month increments. Until then I’m going to enjoy every free day. I’m going to let go of the frustrations. I’m going to go back to loving my kids unconditionally.
All lovely sentiments and very true at the time of writing – and – of course almost impossible to hold on to. I guess that is why mindfulness is such a big business because it is such a monumental task to stay present with our hearts open. My birthday was a travel day and one of the most stressful travel days we have had. It had all the tension of an action movie okay maybe more like a thriller – no one jumped in front of any trains and Tom Cruise didn’t make an appearance. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time only to discover that we needed to have $2000.00 in USD cash to enter into Cambodia because we didn’t have a return ticket. They would not accept bank statements. So either withdraw Vietnamese dong and then convert them into USD at the airport or buy some bus tickets out of Cambodia. Obviously the bus tickets are better – even if we don’t use them they won’t be as much as we would lose on converting money. The only hitch is that my cell phone has no more time left in it and once connected to the wifi won’t let me use google because it’s unsecured – when Chris figures out how to get around that the connection slows down and we can’t see any of the train options. There is no where to physically buy tickets at the airport and we don’t have time to go to the train depot. We do have one top up for the phone so we head outdoors to get the best connection and Chris proceeds to book train tickets or at least attempt to. Finally when he has loaded all four passports, birthdays and full names and addresses into the tiny phone he gets to the payment page and after putting all that information in the phone times out!!!! We have exactly 20 minutes to present ourselves and the tickets at the check in or we don’t fly. He reloads the phone and manages to get the tickets with about 11 minutes to spare. We race back to the desk and get ourselves checked in. Our boarding passes read that the plane is currently boarding even though we aren’t supposed to leave for an hour we are processing this when we come to the customs line that is comically long. The kind of long line that terrifies me when I know I have to stand in it just by myself – my body likes to get all low blood pressurery when I know I have to stand under fluorescent lights for any length of time. The kind of line I dread more with the kids and the heat and finally the kind of line that is a serious time restraint on making the flight. Miracle of miracles the kids are relatively good – maybe they feel and smell the fear sweat dripping down our backs and puddling in our underwear. Drips beside our noses to slowly roll around our mouths over our chins and down our necks. Chris, as usual, is super calm. Maybe a little quicker to snap. We make it through customs to find – if possible – an even longer line snaking around toward security. Sabine chooses this time to point out all the different people – wondering aloud with her little finger poker straight toward each person, “Is he from Africa?” Or a more definitive and happy exclamation “He is from India!” We are doing all the “Pointing is rude” “People are from everywhere” luckily one of the pointees in question laughs and we are able to strike up a conversation. The clock is seriously ticking and the sweat is seriously rolling. Then miracle of miracles we are plucked from the line and ushered through security until we are stopped or rather Anderson is stopped and his bag double searched….. WHY! Then we sprint to the gate and end up waiting. It’s a fast 45 minute flight on a super lux huge plane – that ends with the hardest landing I have ever felt on an airplane – there were actual gasps and not just coming from me. Then we need to get our Visa’s but my bank card and Visa card will not allow me to take any money out. Chris has lost his bank card and we are waiting for a replacement. Luckily he manages to get money out with his visa. Finally our Visa’s are bought and we make it through customs. The arrivals lounge is outside under a huge metal canopy with a fountain in the middle and the usual smattering of people holding signs, kiosks for SIM cards, coffee spots and a million go getters offering taxi and tuk tuk rides. It’s raining and hot. Finally I manage to get money from an ATM finally we buy our SIM cards and get a taxi to our little hotel in the middle of Phnom Penh. The hotel is nice – nothing fancy but clean and with a good pool. It’s surrounded by busy streets and taller buildings. We are informed that the power goes out between 6am and noon on even days of the month and noon and 6pm on odd days of the month. This is happening all over Cambodia as they build their own infrastructure for electricity. They have been buying electricity from Vietnam. We find a restaurant that looks yummy and is right around the corner from the hotel – so I can have a birthday dinner. Anderson doesn’t want to come because he will miss out Sunday FaceTime with his friends. Not going to lie – that hurt my feelings. After this travel day I’m loosing my YEAY I am older but wiser and going to have a great year and am thankful for all that I have in my life feelings. When Anderson chooses his friends over me – which I do totally understand – I get that distinct what’s the point feeling. Luckily it’s a great restaurant and we have a delicious meal and even a FaceTime with Paul and Nisha holding their new nephew Dion. So more family AND a ridiculously adorable new baby. When we return Anderson is suitably sorry.
- The first day we book a walking tour/ tuk tuk tour – we end up having to tuk tuk it because the heat is too much for the kids. Then halfway through the market Anderson turns white as a ghost and is too sick to continue. He and Chris hang back as Sabine and I climb endless stairs up to the main temple at the centre of Phnom Penh. It’s a very active temple so we get to see everyone praying and our amazing guide even teaches us how to pray and greet people in the Buddhist way. He points out that since I am his elder he would have his hands together over his mouth whereas I could keep my hands together under my chin. It always surprises/annoys me when I realize that I am in fact older and people can in fact tell. I hate him for a few minutes. Then we wander around the temple and down the backside to see the giant clock in the hill and snap some tourist shots. We get back to Chris and Anderson and discover that Anderson is worse and they are returning to the hotel. So Sabine and I carry on to the Royal palace. By this point in the travels she is not excited about Royal Palaces because she knows that they contain zero Princesses. But she gamely joins. By gamely I mean she gamely eats the Oreos I bribe her with every half hour or so to keep her going. The Royal Palace is spectacular – well the grounds are – we only get to see one building and it’s where the King entertains other big wigs and royals. It’s entirely gold and is most likely the inspiration for Trumps golden penthouse. It’s all French courtier style Louis XIIII – ornate chairs with intricate gold brocade and inlay and gleaming golden surfaces. Chandeliers dripping with twinkling crystals. There are many doors – each for different people – one specifically for the king and one only used during war. Our guide is very knowledgeable and easy to understand – Sabine could care less and just wants to touch absolutely everything all the while squealing with delight when she spots any monks. We then visit the silver pagoda and the costume hall and are spit out onto the street at precisely 5:01. Then we go for an authentic Cambodian snack. A version of my favourite Vietnamese rice pancakes and a bowl of fried things – chicken feet, meatballs, embryo eggs, and a fiery papaya salad. I avoid the fried bowl – taking an innocent looking meatball and nursing it for as long as possible. Neither Sabine nor I are able to drink the sugar cane juice no matter how much ice is in there.
That night Anderson is feeling better so we go see a dance show. I’m a little hesitant because the water puppets weren’t a big hit and the Thai dance show ran a bit long to hold the kids interest. But this show is amazing. The performers are incredible, the costumes and Apsara dance is so beautiful. It’s evolved from Hindu ceremonies and dance and this company is taught by a former Prima Ballerina from The Apsara ballet who almost single handedly helped revive the art that was all but wiped out during the war in the 1970’s. This company was founded by a man who’s intention is to put musical instruments in children’s hands instead of the guns that were put in his hands. They have evolved over the last 20 years to reinvigorate and revive art forms lost during the war and starvation period that followed. They mentor writers, teach poetry, art, dance and music. It was a beautiful show that enthralled Sabine and kept Anderson laughing. A great night.
The next morning we were up bright and early for a cycling tour of the villages surrounding Phnom Penh. We decided to take the tour with Grasshopper the same company we used in Vietnam. This tour was not quite as polished – maybe reflecting how Cambodia is still more rough around the edges. Again the heat was insane! It felt like cycling through an oven with the breezes blowing dry and hot while we were drenched in sweat and humidity. Our stop at a cafe with a silk worm farm and weavers was beautiful but so so hot. No fans, the water bottles were barely cool and the expansive array of fruit was hot – well fine room temperature but actually hot. Annoyingly when we returned from the oppressive back room after watching silkworm wriggle around on some green leaves I discovered our tour guides drinking from giant take out cups – like freaking big gulps – filled with ice and some kind of juicy looking drink. Rude. We then hopped back on the bikes to meet some lemongrass farmers, tamarind farmers and cycle through a banana plantation, we crossed the river at three points and finally were greeted at a van with cold towels and cold water and driven to a lunch spot. Obviously my favourite part of any excursion is the eating part. It’s so much fun to sit down with regular folks and eat what everyone else eats. Although I’m sure we got the “tourist” version it was still pretty tasty! We were back at our hotel by 1:30 where we all passed out for an hour in air conditioning. I have to say being able to cool our core temperatures down is invaluable. Even more amazing than the heat are the clothes that normal Cambodians wear! Hoodies! Long pants! Sleeves! Socks! Unbelievable.
We only stayed in Phnom Penh for three nights – our hotel along with being centrally located was also crawling with giant cockroaches – they sprayed every morning and collected the upside down leg curled carcasses frequently. But we saw them and had to remove a few from the room. Just part and parcel of being right in the action. Phnom Penh is big and very smelly. More garbage than anywhere else we have been and the smells are intense as it seems garbage can just be left where ever there is already a bag. We saw rats and bugs on all the streets. Although not in the actual restaurants so Hoi An has Phnom Penh beat there. I was happy to get into the Giant Ibis bus that was heading to Siem Reap. Angkor Wat has been on list of must sees since we started planning this trip. I can not wait to get there. We actually booked a sunrise tour for the morning after our arrival. We have learned the key to keeping the kids happy and us learning is to have a good tour guide but to also have an air conditioned taxi and lots of cold water. We found a tour that has all of those things – plus great reviews and a schedule of temples opposite of other companies to hopefully ensure a less packed experience.
An hour into our five and a half hour bus journey – Anderson got sick again. This time he spiked a fever and horrible headache – he moaned and slept and moaned for the remainder of the trip. We arrived and his head was hurting so badly that he threw up. Luckily into a plastic bag. But it was one rocky rocky tuk tuk ride. On top of the fact that we discovered our tuk tuk was being held together with a little glue and some well wishes Sabine had had to pee so badly when we got off the bus that she had dribbled a little in her underwear and was now loudly announcing that was my fault. So between her high pitched complaints, Anderson’s moans and the time we had to stop the tuk tuk to retrieve our bags that had fallen off into the road after the side of the tuk tuk had given away on a particularly big bump, it was an anxious ride. And then totally out of the blue Sabine tried to pat Anderson to help him feel better but ended up actually poking him right in the eye. Not our best ride. Finally we made it to our little oasis just outside of the city centre. Sometimes it’s really worth it to book the bigger nicer room and prettier hotel just a little out of the way. This has worked for us here since we are now on day two of being trapped here with a sick kid and a bandaged kid. Sigh. Luckily we were able to rebook our sunrise tour of Angkor and tack on some days to our time here. Fingers crossed we can make an excursion out tonight. We have tickets to a “circus” show – an other company that works with youth to revitalize the arts.