Friday, June 03, 2005


Four moments in time, gone but preserved:

I) There was nothing special about her smile, unless all smiles are considered special. I was on the back of a moto, waiting at the light; she was on the side of the road, in front of a shop, a random shop, with her family, her friends. She was young -- perhaps thirty, or thirty-five, although the age of Khmers is hard to pinpoint. Something made her laugh, and she smiled, and I watched her smile broaden, diminish, disappear. It made me feel very sad and elated at one and the same time, watching that smile do what smiles are supposed to do: engage, then evaporate.

II) As I was leaving Hurley's Cantina, where I'd spent an hour munching tacos and occasionally eyeing Al Rockoff at the other table (Rockoff being the character John Malkovich played in THE KILLING FIELDS, the real-life version of whom still haunts Phnom Penh on a seasonal basis,and THE KILLING FIELDS being a movie I still haven't seen, despite having lived in Phnom Penh for two years, and despite having visited the real-life killing fields, but there you go), a Western dude in his early twenties, Canadian or American, slowly approached and in his most sincere and plaintive voice began to ask me for a little bit of money, seeing as how he'd been robbed and all, and while I have no qualms about giving Khmers money every now and then, any foreigner who's dressed better than me who's asking for change is a dope fiend, plain and simple, and I started to reject him, politely, but he didn't even stick around for the 'polite' part of the rejection, just walked away as soon as my 'no' left my lips and entered the air.

III) At D's Books, a used-bookstore down by the river, I found a book about the history of Tokyo called HIGH CITY, LOW CITY, by noted translator Edward Seidensteicker, and I suddenly felt a sharp, stinging stab of homesickness for Tokyo, where I lived for four years, before Cambodia, and for a moment, just a moment, while looking at the maps that spread throughout the book like bread crumbs leading me home, I was convinced that Tokyo really was my home, that it was where I was supposed to live, learn and die, but that was just a moment, and it passed, but I'm hoping, somewhat secretly, that it will return.

IV) On the back of a moto once again, I notice a banner spread across Norodom Boulevard that reads END CHILD LABOR; POVERTY, and normally I love and endorse and embrace the use of the semi-colon, an archaic point of punctuation that only John Irving seems to hold the proper respect for, but here, in this instance, it sickened me, disgusted me, since, quite clearly, the government of Cambodia does not give a flying fuck about ending child labor or poverty, and that single semi-colon, with its elevated sense of importance, its rendering of 'poverty' as merely another adjunct to child labor itself, its linguistic sense of concern and empathy and compassion that had no concrete connection to actual palpable policies made me rethink my whole exaltation of what a semi-colon can and should be, for what is it worth, a semi-colon, unless it can have a viable impact on who we are and where we are going?

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