If you made it past the horrible, punny title, thank you for your patience because I’m eager to tell you about Cambodia.
From the moment we stepped foot off the airplane and onto Cambodian soil, we could feel an energy. There’s a liveliness and an excitement here that’s hard to describe, but can easily be felt. Teenagers and twenty-somethings cut in and out of traffic on motorbikes, tuk tuks (motorcycles with carriages attached that were loads of fun and the best way to experience the city) cart passengers to the restaurants and markets, and even though everyone seems to run red lights and cut each other off, there are no middle finger gestures to be seen.
Part of the energy in the city has to be that it’s youthful. I’ve heard several statistics, but I’m told somewhere between 70-75% of the country is under the age of 35. The parks are full of kids playing pickup soccer-like games and keep-away with makeshift balls, restaurants are buzzing, backpackers and ex-pats smoke clove cigarettes in bars where beer is cheap and food is hot and tasty. I imagine Phnom Penh to be a bit like Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s Paris in the 1920’s.
The country has not been without its challenges. In the late 1970’s, Cambodia went through a terrible period under the Khmer Rouge regime. Millions were killed, and the country was war torn for many years. Tours and school groups can be seen walking through the halls at S. 21, a high-school-turned-prison where an estimated 20,000 people were tortured and held before being shipped to the killing fields outside the city. It was one of many prisons of this kind throughout the country. The people seem to have a spirit that says “we remember, we won’t forget, but we have to keep moving forward.” (I’m eager to tell you one way I experienced this in a future blog).
Our first concert was at an outdoor amphitheater space at a university; it was standing room only, and the theater was already mostly full before we even finished our sound check two hours before the show. We could hear the screams and singing of the audience while we were waiting backstage, and knew it was going to be a special night.
When I was a student, I booked entertainment on my college campus. While we certainly had wonderful concerts, it’d be rare to get a packed house at an amphitheater space for a new, relatively unknown, traveling-from-out-of-the-country artist. The people seemed so hungry for experiences and for music… it was frankly amazing.
At night, we found ourselves exploring the city with our new friends Kai and Sal. We tried foods like cow tongue, crickets, (both were better than they might sound) and a few local beers and cocktails. As we rode in tuk tuks to local, late night markets and bars with the city whizzing by, the warm breeze blowing my hair back, hearing my friends laugh and talk around me, and thinking about the amazing work we’ve had the opportunity to be doing, I felt overjoyed. What an amazing gift life is. Live it.