Interlude: Running in Cambodia

Last time I was in Southeast Asia I had to train for track season.  That proved extraordinarily difficult since I was constantly on the move and had to run in different places every day. But at the same time, it was one of my favorite parts about the trip.  I got to wake up early, explore, and start the day with some endorphins.  Running in Banlung hasn’t been quite as difficult since my accommodations are stationary, but it’s just as exciting.  Cambodia is such a colorful, interesting country and I see something different on every run.

When I run, the Cambodian people think I’m a crazy foreigner: I hear them say it when I go past.  (For that matter, foreigners also think I’m a crazy foreigner for running here.)  Running just isn’t a big thing in Cambodia.  For one, many people already lack proper nutrition and don’t need to burn more calories.  It also just doesn’t make sense for Khmer people, most of whom already lead active lifestyles.  They often don't have access to a vital component of a good run: quality shoes.  And then there’s the weather: why would anyone want to induce themselves into being sweaty and hot when the humidity does that without any exertion at all.  On the other hand, exercise as a whole is not completely foreign.  For example, the Banlung gym is usually packed full of Khmer men and women lifting weights.  Some city parks have aerobics or dance classes in the mornings and evenings.  But the impression I’ve gotten is that the more common and generally accepted belief amongst Khmer people is that running is strange.

Before I get out of the house for my run, I am usually mauled by the five-year-old twins I live with.  They climb on me, poke me, and cause general ruckus.  They ask me where I’m going and I usually tell them the airport or the lake.  Those are my two favorite routes.  The airport is a now abandoned half-mile-long strip of dirt track and people use it as a park-like area.  Some 12-year old with his mom is always cruising a moto around in circles learning to drive.  Kids sometimes play soccer and they’ll chase after me as I go past, laughing.  Running around the lake is more serene, and I usually pass people fishing or picnicking along the shoreline.

Crossing the street in the city is an intense, real life, high-level game of Frogger. I dodge chickens, motos, food stalls, water buffalo, kids, mini-vans, and once I had to get out of the way of a pot-bellied pig.  Running along the side of the road requires ducking under trees, side-stepping lazy dogs, and leaping over puddles.  Ipods are not necessary because the streets provide the music with the sounds of men yelling at a boxing match on television, monks chanting, Khmer music videos blaring, and plenty of honking.  I wave as I pass the man who drives a moto stacked to the sky with colorful helium balloons and blow-up toys that he sells.  Sometimes I see the man that has little plastic bags filled with aquarium fish tied to a rack on the back of his moto.  I usually pass the woman that sells fried bugs, and the woman that owns Banlung’s very own “KFC” food stall.  They always smile and shout, “Hello!” as I go past.

In fact, nearly every breathing being shouts, “Hello! Hello!” when they see me (especially children).  At first I tried to reply back to people every time but it got too exhausting.  I’ve gone running with one of the women I live with a few times, which is an interesting experience in itself, and she tells me that she feels famous when she runs with me since so many people greet us.  My favorite greeting of them all is, “Where are you going?”  “Nowhere, man,” I reply, “Just running in Cambodia.”