Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Returning To Cambodia

An article I wrote for Khmer 440...

There was a documentary I saw about Spike Milligan and the depression that had blighted much of his life. He’d been brought up in India and moved to England when he was 15. It had a terrible effect on him. He missed the colours and richness of India and had to readjust to stark, grey Britain. The cold, the drabness, and the continual reminders of the exotic world he’d left behind. And that’s how I felt much of the time back in Blighty after spending 18 months in Cambodia.

“How can you live here now, after spending so much time in Asia,” someone asked as I arrived. She was right. I had to return, for better or worse, and sure enough four months later I was back in Phnom Penh.

Not the prettiest city in the world. But when you wander down by the Riverside and take in the breeze and see all segments of Cambodian life from mad-for-it grandmothers in pyjamas doing aerobics, to the monks with their alms pots, to the old men in freshly-ironed shirts and trousers squatting by their mopeds looking for the next ride, to the tuk tuk driver with ‘Lexus 570’ scrawled on his backboard, to the moon-faced official barely peering over the wheel of his supercharged Range Rover with its carte blanche Khmer flag and VIP sticker in the window.

One of only two countries in the world with a building on its flag, or so I was told by a slurring lawyer the other night. Afghanistan, if you’re asking. And that must say something. A reminder of the great empire that built Angkor Wat, and a hope that the good times might come once again. Just like Greece. It’s this naive hope, the continued smiles and bright outlook I love most. I escaped from the cold and the dreary faces of those who have plenty, but grumble about everything. I fled from the obsession with weather stories, and erosion of common sense and fun, to a country where most people have nothing but look pleased to have it.

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