Asia, Here We Come!
Asia! We couldn’t have chosen a more dramatic contrast to pick back up with our backpacking lifestyle. Dragging our backpacks from the depths of our camper after 5 weeks and trekking through the airport I heard exclamations of “It’s so exciting to travel again” and “I can’t wait to get back to Asia.” Going through my mind…”I’m so proud of these kids.” Their tenacity and enthusiasm, curiosity and endurance is inspiring.
After five wonderfully weeks we’ve left the tranquility of the New Zealand countryside, the calm relaxed atmosphere of the cities and towns and the constant kindness of strangers whom quite quickly become like family. Thirty three exhausting hours later we find ourselves smack in the middle of chaotic Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The traffic alone is enough to stop one’s heart – or clog ones sinuses, pollute ones lungs… Crossing the street is a game of Frogger come alive…but instead of that cute pixilated frog it is us dodging the traffic – or, as we’ve come to realize, the traffic dodging us. It’s a lesson of faith in the locals and their ability to maneuver all manner of motorized and people powered transport. Somehow it works.
The streets of Phnom Penh also provide an interesting look at the personalities of each member of our family and how we approach life on the road. One child, our protector, frantically holds us all back until the coast is clear (which it never is) resulting in much prodding and frustration taking place by the other members. She starts, timidly enters, then stops, and eventually she just goes for it, slowly at first until she rushes landing on the other side or the street with a huge sense of relief and accomplishment. The next goes at a steady pace – as she’s been told to do – but inwardly she shirks at the noise, dust, dirt and chaos…hoping soon for whatever oasis will allow an escape. Our youngest boldly steps forward after hearing and observing the way this works with the locals, often getting so close to passing vehicles it makes one’s (or at least mom’s) heart stop. He is confident in his movements, the rest of us, not so much. And lastly, I know how this works (I think). We’ve heard, now observed but I’m still skeptical. Yet I’m forced (because children are constantly looking at me to judge my responses) to move confidently through hoping upon hope that one truly is supposed to just venture forth and that the traffic really will go around and not through you. However, there’s also that part of me on such high alert for our safety that I sometimes make the annoying grab for one of my children as we plunge forth faithfully and a tuk-tuk, pedicab, minibus or moto gets just a little too close.…and by little here we’re talking mere inches. So, while great annoyance springs forth from my offspring, once we get to the other side I spend the next 5 minutes justifying my heartstopping grab. It’s my right as your mother, I declare, that I get to have slight fear on our daily brush with death.
Traffic aside our senses are heightened by the daily occurrences on the streets. The markets, as always, are eye opening, the constant shouts of “tuk-tuk lady?” mixed with a cacophony of honks, screeching brakes and reving motorcycles. One best pay attention or be rewarded with what we’ve come to refer to as “city sludge” on the feet City sludge comes in all forms…here it’s market waste mixed with days old food and garbage that just doesn’t make it into a bin…because there aren’t any…or at least there don’t appear to be. Most fascinating is the family members – all of them – sometimes up to six members – piled onto a motorcycle….or perhaps the basket of pigs, along for the ride. With all this, we know, we’ve arrived safely back in Asia.