Former volunteer Brian Coffin explains what it is about Cambodia that’s kept him living here.
Living in Cambodia recently has had its ups and downs. The press locally and internationally hasn’t been so positive. Not to say that the protests and human rights issues aren’t important, but sometimes it’s nice to pause and remind ourselves what we love about this country, what keeps us coming back or even what keeps us here long term. With that in mind I’d like to share a story from my recent vacation that highlights what I love about living in the Kingdom of Wonder.
My parents came for a visit and seeing as it was a short trip, after they got off the plane and had a day of rest, we were in a taxi going to Siem Reap. What struck my parents and eventually myself on this trip was the taxi ride there. The way up we were picked up in a mid 90s Toyota Corolla, pretty much what you’d expect: clean car, Hello Kitty window clingers and plush cartoon headrests. After a quick chuckle regarding the interior we were on our way. Almost immediately our driver had honked about fifteen times, putting my parents a bit on edge for the ride ahead. I assured them this was normal we’ll be fine.
Forty-five or so minutes later finally past the exodus of traffic and our driver’s phone rings the all too familiar Nokia tone. A few minutes later and the driver was still heartily chatting away on his phone, most of the conversation was repeatedly asking his friend what he had eaten for breakfast. Considering the more strict laws regarding cell phones and driving in the United States, I turned around to gauge my parents’ reaction. Seeing a bit of panic flashing across their faces, I subtly gave them the “don’t worry, also normal” face, and they reluctantly eased a bit back into their seats.
Driving along and he’s on and off the phone, again repeating what’s been had for breakfast, possible lunch plans. As he’s gabbling away on the phone, none too surprisingly, another phone starts ringing, and ah yes, it’s the iPhone this time. Quickly hanging up the Nokia he’s on phone two with a much more serious tone. “No no no no, sorry no more cars. I don’t have anymore cars to rent, sorry.”
A quick look to the back seat and again there are two nervous looking faces staring ahead. “Oh right, everyone I know in this country has two cell phones.” Again this doesn’t seem to convey the right message, so I just assure them that he’s telling the other end of the phone that he doesn’t have any cars to rent and he’s busy. I still have nothing but blank stares looking back at me. “Don’t worry it’s normal, everyone does it, no need to worry. Promise.”
Just as my parents started to ease back we heard a phone ring again. To even my surprise, it turned out to be phone number three. I look to our driver and he’s rapidly rummaging around in his jacket (the air conditioning was too cold or course), and from the depths of this parka comes the next phone. I immediately turn around to nervous looks, with my dad finally speaking up “Three? Is THAT normal too?”
“Well, I haven’t personally seen it, but sure, yeah why not?”
I’ve had my fair share of rides on buses, in vans, motos and tuk tuks, and all the while the driver juggling a phone and concentrating on the road and I’ve gotten more used to it. This driver was really challenging my ability to blindly trust him.
We stopped in Skun to see the spiders and feel creepy crawly, buy some snacks and continue the perilous journey. No sooner had we put wheels in motion we had the cue from cell phone number one. Not long after cell phone two and sure enough a few minutes later, cell phone three. I was most impressed when after juggling three phones and the steering wheel he decided to add into the mix the fruit he had bought.
He kept up his juggling act the entire six hours to Siem Reap, much to my parents’ horror. After arriving at the guesthouse safely we had a good laugh about it. The phone juggling taxi driver will definitely be a story we share for a long time.
Its stories like this one that keep me thinking about why I live here. Trips at home seem to be rather mundane, you get in the car, you go, and you arrive. In Cambodia a seemingly routine trip results in an unexpected but wonderful experience and story. What I love about living here is knowing that even in my daily routine something surprising and unexpected will happen, keeping in mind that this place is incredibly strange, but mostly incredible.
By Brian Coffin