Greetings from Phnom Penh!
I have to admit, I wasn’t even sure that I would make it into Cambodia given that when I arrived at Perth International Airport, the lady at the check-in counter said that I couldn’t travel on a one-way ticket without proof of onward travel. I immediately panicked thinking that my sojourn was already over before it began, but luckily my cool-as-a-cucumber hubby reminded me that I had already booked travel to Chiang Mai. I hadn’t heard of this rule before and from what I read afterwards, it seems to be contingent on the airline (and sometimes even the customer service person), so if you are travelling on a one-way ticket, make sure to have your bases covered beforehand! Needless to say, while flying over to Phnom Penh, I had mentally prepared myself to be refused entry into the country (you have to get a visa on arrival if you’re planning on staying beyond 30 days in Cambodia). But here I am: already a victim to South-East Asia’s relentless humidity.
As I sat on the plane, waiting for it to take off, I started feeling a bit sorry for myself. I had just said goodbye to the hubby, although we called it a ‘soft’ goodbye because he will be joining me in Phnom Penh for the long weekend to help settle me in. So even though I knew I would see him in a few days, the enormity of what I was doing began to set in. Granted, going overseas for 6 months is not a massive ordeal by ordinary standards; however, it is a massive ordeal for me. I had never spent this much time overseas, and, more importantly, I had never been apart from the hubby for this long before. This wasn’t massive, this was momentous.
Why did I want to do this again?
I’m not sure if you know this by now, but I’m a huge believer in signs. I’m one of those people who believe that seeing the same number everywhere means something (don’t ask me what though). In Flåm, Norway, during a period of soul-searching (yes, I said ‘soul-searching’), I saw a poster with the words: YOU ARE EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE MEANT TO BE. Any other normal person would have walked past this poster without a second thought. Me? I was strangely comforted and reassured by these words. Surely, it had to be a sign from the cosmic universe.
So, as the plane sat on the tarmac, engines whirring, flight attendants scurrying down the aisle and closing the overhead lockers, I sat in my seat and tried to blink away the tears. And then I heard it, softly at first and gradually getting louder. It was the melodic strains of a song, a familiar song: ‘Porcelain’ by Moby.
I’m not sure if I’ve told you about my ‘Moby moment’. To provide some context, one of my favourite books is The Beach by Alex Garland, and Leonardo DiCaprio plays the protagonist, Richard, in the adapted film version directed by Danny Boyle—it’s the ultimate armchair travel movie, if you ask me. The song ‘Porcelain’ is on the film’s soundtrack (a close runner-up to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet for best soundtrack) and whenever I listen to it, I am reminded of paradise: an ideal that Richard eventually realises does not exist. But far from ‘Porcelain’ serving as a reminder of the realities of life, I always find myself thinking about the first half of the film which I think perfectly encapsulates travel: freedom, exploring, searching, discovering—possibilities that have yet to reveal themselves.
I call quintessential travel moments my ‘Moby moment’ and hearing this song at this particular time was symbolic and reaffirming: I was going to chase my Moby moment.
On my first day in Phnom Penh, I got up and did some work in my brother’s apartment, and, to be completely honest, I felt a bit out of sorts. I fell in love with Phnom Penh the last time I was here, but this time, although it had only been a day, I saw it in a new light, like a relationship coming out of the honeymoon phase. It dawned on me that my time here won’t solely be about hitting the sights and finding the best places to eat and drink. I need to navigate this city and know when someone is trying to rip me off. I need to work out where to buy groceries and where the closest pharmacist is for when I’m feeling under the weather. I need to find out where I can find quality coffee for the lowest price. I need take off my rose-tinted tourist glasses and live here. I need to see this city from the inside out. It’s nerve-wracking, it’s exciting, it makes me feel like I’m starting at point zero all over again, but yet I also feel like this is where I’ve always wanted to be. All of the emotions, right?
After we had moved to Perth, I often got asked if I felt homesick for Melbourne, and I always said that I miss the people in it, but I haven’t felt homesick for the place. However, I feel that I might get homesick while in Phnom Penh: homesick for the creature comforts of life back home, the coffee shop just around the corner, the sprawling park across the road, the clean air and vibrant blue skies, and, of course, the hubby.
I don’t think Richard in The Beach could have summed it up any better:
I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for. Because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment…it lasts forever.