Phnom Penh, I’ve grown accustomed to your place

monks

Monks on morning rounds seeking alms and chanting harmoniously when receiving them.

We had walked for the exercise for approximately an hour to the Riverside neighborhood, much favored by tourists and other expats, early one morning.

Our reward was atypically complete breakfasts of eggs benedict with smoked salmon for one of us and a Spanish omelette for the other at a total cost of $8 including juice, fruit and a portion of a baguette.

We were enjoying our food in a small restaurant that has its open front facing the river called Tonle Sap when my friend Amanda idly spoke of the fulfilling lives led by our friends and relatives back “home.”

That got us thinking about our own lives yet again and the envy they might stimulate in contrast to the other way around.

Accustomed 3Accustomed 2After all, we mused, there we were in a pleasant dining spot occupied by only one other party with views toward the river and the palm trees alongside it.  A woman in mismatched clothing passed by with a basket of produce balanced effortlessly on her head.

In our daily lives, we see individuals and things — temples, teeming markets, tropical flora, monks in colorful attire seeking alms, national holiday festivals and unusual foods, for example — that most individuals we know may get to witness only on vacations or reproduced in travel sections and on travel channels.  What we expats in Phnom Penh used to view as exotic has become routine to us, in a good way.

Just as I became accustomed to Manhattan’s clamor and its intermingled races, I find myself taking for granted differences here that couldn’t be more dramatic.

Accustomed PlaceMy point is that becoming used to a place can mean forgetting how fortunate one can be to experience something of which others merely dream.  I count myself as pretty darn lucky to have made the leap here, however late in a life that is liable to contain many more adventures.

Halfway through the meal, we realized that our randomly chosen source of sustenance was special, though there are a few others operated by NGOs: It turns out that the restaurant dedicates itself to to helping Cambodian children.

You won’t find that in America.

e-mail: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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