January 23, 2010

Getting to Sihanoukville

Give me a desk and computer, and I will write!

Today, I made the four-hour trek to Sihanoukville. The bus ride was a reminder of the country I was a little apprehensive to visit. My eyes were glued to the impoverished roadside villages. From the burnt orange earth rose ramshackle homes atop spindly posts. Tiny children scurried about in school uniform. Old women swept dust from the porches. Errant cows and motorcycles grazed side-by-side in worn-down fields. Posters for dish soap, cell phones and shampoo decorated the outsides of buildings, and the constant aromas of rotting fruit came through the bus's intake. Cars, Buses, and motos on the highway challenged Cambodian traffic rules and the laws of physics by using the two-lane highway as a four lane interstate, sounding the horn and passing like Formula 1 drivers. After the first two hours of watching, horrified, out the windshield, I grew accustomed to nearly flattening motos and playing chicken with cement trucks.

Sihanoukville, at first glance, was like a woman with a bad reputation. Beautiful, but sleazy. Getting off the bus and into the major crowd of tuk tuks was horrible. I didn't really care how much they charged as long as I could get out. My guest house, the GST 3, was a bumpy 10 minutes ride closer to the beach. Flustered, I found my room, and immediately set off for lunch. I followed my nose to the ocean, about twenty yards from the hotel, and I was greeted by my choice of several beach side (literally, on the sand) restaurants. The Tom Yum Goon soup was to die for! I had a fruity smoothie to rinse, and a refreshing view of overcast sky and clear ocean. Eating alone can be profoundly depressing. Then again, it's Cambodia, you're never really alone. Children and young women came by my table every few minutes to offer me pedicures, bracelets and newspapers. Annoying? Yes.

Mid-beachwalk, when the gray skies finally dumped, I found myself chatting with an Aussie over chocolate milkshakes. It seems that Australians are very comfortable vacationing Cambodia. It's like the US and Mexico—kinda.

Speaking of comfortable with Cambodia, this place could be anywhere. Everyone speaks English, the food is multinational, and there seems to be a foreigner for every one or two Khmer. The odd part is that it's all so foreign to me. I'm not used to traveling alone. Making decisions is difficult. I don't think I'm particularly extroverted, but I do like company. I like to have someone to experience things with, or someone to say, “hey, remember that time we were on the bus to Sihanoukville....?”

Okay, in past study abroad experiences, I've learned about the U-shaped emotional status. The initial euphoria of arriving in a new place and the adrenaline of all things new eventually gives way to feeling out of place, alone and homesick. After the bottom-out blues, once you start to acclimatize, get a routine, and find your feet in the new place, the emotional status rises, forming the other side of the U. Unfortunately, when you get to the other side, it's time to go home. So that's the general feeling (it may be a load of crap), but day-to-day can be as rocky as the road to my guest house in Sihanoukville. Hold on to your tuk tuk!!