I went grocery shopping with Chris and Manette this weekend, and Chris was wondering how I was coming along in figuring out layout of the city. He asked me, "You know the point when your surroundings don't look the same way as when you first arrived?"
When he said that I laughed because I knew exactly what he meant. It's something I always think about. I look at my location as I see it in the present moment and then I try to imagine how I saw things when I first arrived. When comparing the two, it's funny to see how our perspectives of our environments change.
Before Chris even mentioned it, I was thinking about how things in Phnom Penh seem to be falling into place. If I walk down Norodom Blvd. toward Wat Phnom and take a left down a side street I'll find myself at Central Market. Keep going past Wat Phnom and take a right and I'll run into the river. Just a few blocks down the riverfront and I'm in the art district. If I take Sihonouk Blvd. toward Lucky Market and veer left into the side streets, I'll find myself in NGO-land, a district riddled with expats and do-good organizations.
Although I still don't trust myself to go too far without a map in hand, my landmark recognition is beginning to kick in and I feel more comfortable in my surroundings. The city no longer looks like a bunch of buildings that all resemble each other, covered in a language I don't understand, filled with people who all look the same. I'm beginning to see the detailed features of the city.
It's like my child eyes have been taken away and now I can see things as they are. Just 4 weeks ago, everything was new. Everything was something to be explored -- whether it be a street vendor, a marketplace, a moto ride or a tourist site. Now I've got my own Cambodian routine -- a regular lunch spot, pilates and yoga classes, weekend plans. Of course, I always like trying out a new restaurant or strolling down a street I haven't yet explored, but now I don't feel the need to write home about each and every new experience.
It makes me a little sad, no longer experiencing the giddiness that accompanies being somewhere out of my element, but now I have the chance to really dig into the culture here and find out what makes it tick.
I know I'm only here for four months and will never truly grasp the way Cambodians live, but I can still plunge below surface-level observances. To look not at what makes my culture and their culture different, but instead at what unites us -- what makes us all human -- is something I couldn't do in a two-week vacation. I can remind myself of that when I do feel a tinge of melancholy brought on by life feeling just like life instead of some great adventure. How many people get the chance to "step into someone else's shoes," per say, without merely reading about it in a book or a newspaper?
So I guess you can say I'm entering Phase II of my Cambodian experience. I hope I will still feel a little giddiness as I continue to try new things, but at the same time I hope I can digest the realities that the people here face.