Roadtrip to America

I just returned from a trip back home to attend my best friend’s wedding. The visit was perfect, but the travel, on the other hand, was quite taxing. Getting from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to Middleton, Idaho is just as difficult as you might think. I recounted some of my travelling experiences here for you to enjoy. A lot happened on the trip back to Cambodia as well, but I am just too taxed to retell the tale. Skype with me about it.

4:30pm Thursday, Cambodia time

A lot can happen in 36 hours. That’s what I learn on this trip. First, I find out that I cannot leave Cambodia. My visa says it expires on August 12, but apparently it expires on June 12. That is 16 days ago, and it’s $5 for every day of overstay. $80. I don’t think I have $80 with me. My first course of action, as a law student, is to argue with them. The guys at the border made a mistake (the Truth tactic). I have this attestation that says I work here (the Authority tactic). Those Poipet people aren’t trained like you airport people (the Flattery tactic). Clearly, it says AUGUST 12 on the expiration line, so how are you telling me it expires on JUNE 12? (the Angry Tourist Making a Scene tactic) That last argument seems like a good one, but they aren’t buying it. I tell them I’m a volunteer trying to help Cambodia so might not even have $80 (the Sympathy tactic). I dump out my entire backpack on their desk and rummage through my stuff. I give them about fifty bills totaling $60, but it’s not enough. I suddenly remember that my roommate, Abby, gave me a ripped $20 bill to change out in America because no one will take it in Cambodia. Will these immigration people take it? If not, I am stuck here. I pull it out and dramatically slam it on the table on top of the rest of the bills. They don’t even look at it. My passport is stamped. I am practically a criminal, and yet free. I rush through security before they notice the ripped twenty and come after me.

I feel guilty for giving the Cambodian government 80 dollars (possibly only 60 working dollars) to wreak havoc on its people. I console myself my saying it’ll probably just go towards a couple of bottles of whiskey and cigarettes for the immigration dudes.

5:30pm Thursday, Cambodia time

Bangkok comes quickly, and everything is fine on the flight except I am really thirsty and the attendant refuses to give me water because I can only pay in Cambodian riel. Why, on a flight from Cambodia to Thailand, would you require the passengers to pay in Thai baht? How can I be expected to have baht before I am even in Thailand? Parched, I start to commiserate with the millions of Cambodians who hate Thailand. In the Bangkok airport there is a woman with a little drugstore where I buy water, peppermint gum, a pretzel, and pumpkin seeds and settle down for a nice meal of chicken satay. Thailand isn’t so bad, I guess.

11:55pm Thursday, Cambodia time

I sleep for most of the flight from Bangkok to Tokyo, but I look at the menu for our 4am breakfast and have the liberty to choose between “rice porridge” or “chicken sausage.” I find out that “chicken sausage” actually means “hotdog” in Japanese airline language. I jealously look over at my wise Japanese counterparts dipping the seaweed-looking things into the oatmeal-looking stuff.

8:00am Friday, Cambodia time/10:00am Friday, Tokyo time

I am in Tokyo. The bathroom in this airport is basically what I see in my head when I think of a cockpit. There are at least ten buttons on the toilet. When I push one with a flushy-looking picture on it, the toilet only makes a flushing sound. I am appalled, embarrassed for myself and this toilet and this airport. Why would anyone want a toilet that makes a flushing sound? And it doesn’t even sound real. I push several other buttons and am too embarrassed about what happens next…Basically, I come out of the stall with my shirt soaked, head down, sure that all of these Japanese people are fully judging me for my primitive use of the flushing music button. (Don’t get me started on how many people in the world are without a toilet or even clean water at all, let alone one that makes sounds and squirts clean water out of it.)

8:30am Friday, Cambodia time/10:30am Friday, Tokyo time

After this fiasco, I look at my ticket and realize that I have an eight hour layover. This feels like a million hours in relation to how much free time I have in Phnom Penh, and I find myself wishing for the $4 massage close to my house that I never get. I debate whether to try to get on an earlier flight or take a train into the city for a few hours. I ask information about this and the woman, with her perfect English accent, says the train into the city, round-trip, is about $100. This is a two-hour trip total. Are these people still communist? What is happening in this country? What has happened to our poor USD? I decide to give up on this place and fall asleep. I haven’t really slept much lately. The city of Phnom Penh is so loud and fast-paced and it affects me down to my bones. Usually when I try to sleep at night, I can’t relax because I can feel the city pulsing–and this sounds kind of poetic but probably it’s just the huge nightclub next to our house and its obnoxious subwoofers. Anyway, here in this cozy airport with its fancy toilets and cushioned benches, I find the best sleep I’ve had in months.

3:30pm Friday, Cambodia time/5:30pm Friday, Tokyo time

I wake up six hours later and it’s time to go to America.

12:30am Saturday, Cambodia time/10:30am Friday, San Francisco time

I am delirious on the ride to San Francisco, induced by over-indulging on weird airplane movies, more weird airplane food, and sleep. I have no idea what day it is. I am convinced that I might not arrive in Idaho until Saturday, and I’m worried because I have no phone to call my mom to tell her. After an eight hour flight we arrive in San Francisco and I discover it’s still Friday and I’ve gone back in time by seven hours. In fact, I just had dinner and now it’s suddenly time for breakfast on the same day. So. Confusing. Who invented time zones anyway?

It was here, in the San Francisco airport, where I missed my flight and then didn’t. After aimlessly wandering around wondering what day it was, I finally make it to my gate and sit down. I wake up an hour later, ten minutes after my flight was scheduled to leave.

I sit up, gasp, frantically grab my things (forgetting my suitcase) and run to the desk. I practically scream at the United representative, “Is the gate still open?” She shakes her head and dashes all of my hopes and dreams along with this small gesture. I turn around and everyone pitifully stares at me while patting their children on the backs, as if saying, “It’s okay, honey. We’ll make our flight.” I trudge to the Customer Service desk, stand at the end of a line that seems to loop around the entire terminal, ready my credit card to pay a hefty fee, and formulate plans to spend the night in San Fran. I am recounting my sad tale to an unsympathetic woman in line when I think I hear my name being called overhead. I brush it off as too much hope turned hallucination. Then I hear it, loud and clear: “Boise, Idaho, leaving Gate 82.” I interrupt the woman I’m talking to and sprint toward my gate. Halfway there, I realize that I again do not have my suitcase. I run back to the line and the woman holds my bag out to me with a disapproving look. I thank her, turn on my heels and make it to the gate panting. The attendant hastily grabs my boarding pass, tells me to hurry up and that I am lucky because there was a problem with the bathroom and the plane came back to the gate for me and a few others who had also missed the flight. I profusely thank the attendant, jog through the jetway, take my seat and fall asleep. I don’t wake up until we pull up to the gate in Boise, Idaho.

5:30am Saturday, Cambodia time/4:30pm Friday, Idaho time

Now I know, 36 hours is a really long time. Plus the one hour drive from the airport to my house.

My visit home was short, but I’m so glad I went. Seeing my best friend in her white dress with her love exchanging their vows was truly priceless. I also had a wonderful time celebrating the Fourth, shooting and camping American-style, catching up with family, and hanging out with my best elementary school to best college friends. Nonetheless, I was ready to come back to Cambodia when the time came and continue my life as a wannabe “Khmerican.” I still have a lot to accomplish here.