The reason I first came to Cambodia was to volunteer with a Japanese NGO, Children Without Borders (www.knk.or.jp), at a house for street children in Battambang, in the northwest corner of the country, and I decided to fly from Phnom Penh to Battambang, a short flight, less than an hour, less than a hundred bucks, and it was while flying from the biggest city in Cambodia to the second-biggest city in the country (my self and my life suspended in the air), that I looked out the window and realized: There's nothing here.
Nothing but endless fields of rice and winding rivers of brown, like a Southeast Asian Snakes and Ladders brought to life, complete with flimsy huts and zig-zagging paths that I gradually realized were roads. Nothing but bicycles and motos. Nothing but fishermen and their fish, and their families, and their boats lazily floating down the river, all day long. Nothing but young students going to three different universities, hoping for three different B.As. Nothing but prostitutes clad in bright red, from their face to their feet, sitting outside their tiny apartments in groups of five and six and seven, waiting for night to fall. Nothing but dirty, shoeless kids on the street walking from here to there and back again, scavening for whatever leftovers can be used as food, drugs, barter. Nothing but black garbage bags torn in two resting on dusty, damaged sidwalks, the remnants of a government worker's refuse exposed and ransacked for all to raid. Nothing but Royal Palaces and the guards who guard them, with their guns, and their helmets, and their distant, vacant stare, halfway between boredom and vigilance. Nothing but people making their way through the hot and languid day that lies before them.
There's nothing here, I'd thought.
I was wrong.