"No be scared! Put on your sunglasses and hat, and walk! All you have to do, walk!"
He glanced down and saw the burgundy scarf on my lap and then added "and scarf!"
I listened to his advice- his English was difficult to understand but I could get the jist (gist?) of what he was saying; I should cover myself up to attract less unwanted attention for being a foreigner. I should not be scared.
He knew I was scared, he saw me saying goodbye to my Danish friends and then sitting blankly in a chair.
I remembered what someone had told me once, that there is sensible fear and there is fear that paralyzes. Maybe the fear I had of exploring Phnom Penh by myself could be considered sensible, but it was only one day and I had already been in Cambodia for a week. I deemed the fear part of the latter, nonsensical category.
I listened to his advice and put on my huge sunglasses and wrapped the scarf around my neck and the lower part of my face. I took off onto the street, looking pretty incognito (which I particularly enjoyed) not because I really wanted to but because sitting in the hostel for the final day I had in Southeast Asia seemed anticlimactic. I thought about my location on a map, farther away from home than I had ever been, and got some satisfaction out of the novelty of the situation. A whole day alone in Cambodia. I was at once excited and anxious. I remembered reading that Cambodia is ranked 166/180 in the world for corruption and poverty. I have traveled alone before, but it was in Western Europe. This is different.
The best place to start with a story is at the beginning. This isn't the beginning of the story, sitting at a hostel alone in the capital of Cambodia, Phom Penh, with more than 12 hours until I can begin the 20+ hour flight back to Chicago, receiving a pep talk and advice from someone who worked there after my friends left for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The planning for this trip started last winter when I was in DC, feeling stifled by the working world and drowning in the human rights violation reports I was reading. I was constantly wondering why all these things were happening, why so much devastation and tragedy were so pervasive in the world.
That's not the point of this though. The point is that while I was sitting at a desk working from 9-5, my mind wandered to different places. That's when I got it into my head that I needed to come to Asia. And now, I'm here.
This trip began on the 5th of July when I arrived in Hanoi, Viet Nam, after a flight that took me more than 8,000 miles away from home, to my 4th continent and 17th country.
I realize that the way I am writing this is bizarre- starting at the end of my trip, now sitting in an Internet cafe instead of the hostel to escape the torrential rain. I am a few hours into this day and I am doing great, pretty much avoiding contact except for the usual questions shouted in broken English on the street "WHERE YOU FROM? WHAT YOUR NAME? HOW YOU? WHERE YOU GO?"
I am going to write more and start from the beginning (not the real origin, though, the beginning of this actual backpacking trip 3 weeks ago) and tell how everything happened.
Right now, that seems daunting because of everything that's happened. Also, the rain is slowing down, and the clock is tick-tocking before this flight to South Korea I have to catch. I am going to the riverfront and the next time that I write will be from home!