InterNed in Cambodia Part 2 – Ad Hoc ArrivalsAugust 30, 2012
In the months following my Father’s Surprise Demise, I was engaged without enthusiasm in all of the usual tying up of loose ends type of tasks that one tackles post-tragedy, timed randomly to feel like they are taking place relentlessly, but gradually the post-mortem flood hits its high mark and sinks, receding, depositing its damages and debris and the river of life that flowed over its banks briefly just dries up hard into a dust filled ditch. There was a funeral, obviously. My mother had to begin to sort out all of their finances and assets since he had handled all of that from time immemorial.
The end of the process, or at least my participation in it, was a relief, to the extent that I could manage to be relieved and enraged and exhausted, all at the same time. Those last five weeks in America were similar to the previous five years. A tension-filled tedium, watching the clock, looking out the window: long days and late nights all heavily punctuated with over-packing and pointless planning.
The flight from America to Cambodia was a terrible ordeal, an absolute hell unto itself. I could probably author some massive and mournful and despairing lament about it all, the tragic tale of an epic journey spent nigh immobile, sitting on my oversized ass, fitfully attempting to sleep as I was hurtled across the Pacific, traversing the skies with the velocity of modernity, first to Seattle and then to Tawain.
I was afforded a few hours on the ground between flights, and the second intermission was spent in the Taipei airport, marveling at the asymmetrical haircuts of the Taiwanese youths working in the duty-free shops, all of them dressed to the nines. After a few short hours spent there, I can tell you with utter confidence that the Taiwanese are a nation of Anime characters whose sole occupational pursuit is pushing tax-free rice whiskey on weary travelers. Go write that down, Lonely Planet.
I remember very few details about my arrival in Phnom Penh, possibly due to the hurried consumption, within a bathroom stall, of a swallow or two of that rice poison being hawked by those cartoonishly Asian youngsters. It tasted like medicine, so I’d hoped it might cure some of what ailed me, and after fourteen hours on an airplane, with many miles to go before I’d sleep, all of me pretty much ailed. I managed to hold it down somehow and then the rest of the bottle went straight into the garbage, along with the dainty gift wrapping that was helpfully provided by a guy who looked just like Naruto, except that he was actually Asian. Bidding a fond farewell to the Toon Town known as Taipei, I boarded my final flight, onwards and upwards and then downwards and downwards. The plane felt like it skidded to a halt in Phnom Penh more out of exhaustion than intention.
My hotel, a modest affair in the Riverside neighborhood, had sent a taxi to the airport to collect me and the sight of the smiling driver holding up his “Mr. Ned” sign filled me with a sort of sentimental relief. I was as confident as ever that there’d be no other Neds nearby that day. There never ever are. Everyone, it seems, when recalling their Day One, talks about the traffic; however, I noticed not the careening cars or the terrible trajectories of the tuk-tuks. I chatted amiably with the driver as he made his offers for the morrow; ”I take you Tuol Sleng, I take you Killing Field, I take you, maybe … find some girls?” His steadily upbeat banter about nothing could do nothing to relieve my weariness and I experienced our entire journey in a half-conscious haze.
I asked the driver if he knew what the day and date might be, since it seemed so incredible that I’d left my former home almost literally in the past as well as figuratively, and he replied, “15 of March, sir.” There was no soothsayer in the taxi, no fortune teller just along for the ride, and still bleary-eyed I then replied, “The Ides of March are come.” He smiled, laughed, and didn’t get the joke. I shrugged and muttered more, “Beware the Ides of March.” Just as meaningless to him, more bewildered agreement. In those few moments I felt very, very alone.
I lurched from the air conditioned car, stumbled up to my hotel room, and collapsed onto the bed. Out on the street I could see and smell things all about me that were new and novel but I refused to acknowledge the loud demands being made on my sleepy senses. It wasn’t long past noon and I was fast asleep. The very same sleep I’d slept in America would be the sleep I slept right here.
I awakened later that evening to find myself disoriented within the total darkness of the windowless accommodations I had booked in order to save several five-dollar bills in some moment of self-delusion where I thought I’d somehow figure out frugality and try to save instead of spend until the end. I sat up and listened to the sound of the softly whispering air conditioner for a good long time, trying to decide if the change I’d just imposed upon my life was profoundly stupid or simply profound.
I knew I’d never know for sure that night, but I also knew I’d never know – ever – if I didn’t get up, walk outside, and have a look around. So, like an animal at the zoo whose cage door is left ajar, I turned myself loose into the lit-up hallways of the hotel, prowled past the people in the lobby, and slipped out into the streets of Phnom Penh. The time was approximately 10:00 in the evening. It was still March 15th, my first day was now my first night … and …
… The Ides of March are come?
“Aye, Caesar; but not gone.”