The commute home from work.
The afternoon rain came and broke the heat. Arriving in Phenom Penh at the end of Cambodia’s hot season after another Virginia winter ensured the need for some physiological adjustment to the climate. The staff giggle at Erika and I for taking pictures of the wet skies. They are soft-spoken, but quick to smile. I look back inside at the modest and well-kept office. The walls soar up; the main room is two stories tall. The director’s aquarium office of air-conditioned bliss is perched above at the end. On the crevice that juts out in front of it are arranged a few offerings in a spirit box. The fringe on a Chinese banner below sways languidly in the outermost arc of the fan’s current. The peaceful calm belies the busy street at the end of the alley.
The city is a fantastic juxtaposition. Women amble along behind carts, searching for plastic bottles in the gutters. They live on $2 a day. Nearby, men and women in cars emblazoned with LEXUS and TOYOTA fight for street space with motorbikes and tuk-tuks. A Range Rover roars past. Its license plate says “police.” Street signs and traffic lights are suggestions largely ignored. Children sitting in their parent’s lap on motorbikes smile and wave at the sweaty foreigner in the tuk-tuk commuting to and from work. The pseudo hippie backpackers at my hostel restaurant travel in identical packs. One group of tanned girls eating french fries in a corner booth sport the same messy top bun, neon crop tops, and high waisted cut-offs. A pair of guys stroll by in tourist tank tops and flip flops, their hair long and greasy. Everyone tries to out-expert each other on Lonely Planet recommendations. I wonder what they all look like at home. I remember when I was one of them and smile.
Walking down the street I hear a few cat calls, but mostly “Miss, you want tuk-tuk?” Sweat rolls down my back like molasses on pancakes. I smile and shake my head no. Carrying a 75 cent large bottle of water and clutching my purse, I lean up on parked cars against on-coming traffic in my journey to the guesthouse where I’ll meet up with two other William & Mary law students. I’m pleasantly surprised by the low frequency of wafts of sewage, but then I remember I’m in the tourist hot spot. The boy who works in the 7-11 just finished high school and is working to save money. He says his dream is to become a lawyer. His accent rolls fluidly off his tongue, a by-product of working with foreigners for so long. I hope he is able to make it happen.