This is a nation of roads that are alternately dusty or flowing with rain water, depending on our two seasons — hot or wet, it is said with a small smile. The sidewalks are impassable or absent.
Cambodia also is a country of a desperately poor majority, so what makes more sense than wearing sandals or flip-flops that are easily slipped off, especially since virtually all homes and many shops hew to a no-footwear policy? The clad foot certainly has been the exception here and elsewhere in Southeast Asia for millennia.
Thanks to Dr. Scholl’s, I finally found sandals with enough arch support that I wear them 95 percent of the time, even on two-hour walks, without causing my chronically inflamed Achilles tendon any more pain than with a good pair of sneakers. (They are unavailable in Cambodia, so I have a spare purchased in Malaysia.)
I have noticed construction workers scrambling on scaffolding high off the ground wearing nothing more than flip-flops, sometimes with bare feet. Following a recent downpour that flooded the streets between my gym and home, I opted to go barefoot like some locals, mostly children, rather than soak my sandals, which tend to stink for days after having been submerged.
It was a big mistake: I never had noticed how sharp is much of the asphalt. Stubborn as I am, I persisted, walking as gingerly as a hospital patient recovering from surgery.
That’s when I decided to purchase a pair of flimsy flip-flops to carry with me for emergencies when rain is a likelihood. I have yet to wear them so able am I to predict when a monsoon will strike; fortunately, our blinding monsoon rains do not normally last for more than the hour or two that I easily can occupy myself indoors until the inundation stops.
One consequence of the ease of removing footwear is how casually Cambodians take the opportunity to shed their sandals. They unhesitatingly bare their feet at the westernized café I visit and in restaurants, often sitting with crossed legs on chairs and thereby having exposed toes and callused feet that may well be darkened with unavoidable dirt.
At this point, I hardly notice them. And I certainly don’t mind them.
When in Rome. . . Or Phnom Penh. . .