'Helloo. Boding pass, passpot, ticket, please.'
(I smile and hand over the docs.)
'Ohh, you travel alone?'
'Alone? Yes, yes, I am travelling by myself.'
'Ok, you married?'
'Am I married? No.'
'So, you single?' (The transit officer at HCMC airport asks this question with a big smile on his face)
'Yes, I am single' (I am also smiling now, realising that he is probably weighing up whether I would make a good wife or not. I would tip on the latter, personally.)
Before I even got to Phnom Penh, I already had a smile from ear to ear. Things had not changed; there were still too many staff doing seemingly very little, they still had big smiles on their youthful faces, and they were still as cheeky as ever.
My Vietnam Air flight had gone very smoothly, with two seats all to myself, though when I set foot on the tarmac to embark on the HCMC - PP leg of my trip, I found myself staring at a small, rickety-looking, what-could-have-been-an-Aerolineas-plane. No worries, I thought. Then my attention was drawn to the nearly tread-bare tyres of the dodgy-looking aircraft. The french lady behind me remarked on the tyres. I just smiled, and thought, 'I am in South-East Asia, and isn't it wonderful.' The captain's announcements were both in English and Vietnamese, though I could only understand 'Vietnam' and 'Phnom Penh'.
After only 35 minutes in the air, we approached the tarmac on what seemed to be quite an angle. The wheels touched down,... and bounced back up... and touched down... and bounced back up. I was saying my Hail Marys, when the plane seemed to finally settle down and we came to a stop at the end of the runway. I had arrived.
Customs was the usual collection of slips; I think you could actually mark that you are carrying explosives, and they would still smile you past and collect your slip. The doors opened, and I found myself finally back in the land of plenty. The weather was perfect, not hot as everyone had warned me - I guess if you prepare for the worst, it can only eer get better...
An older guy approached me, asking where I was going. I told him where, thinking he may want to share a taxi. No, he wanted to give me a lift in his chauffeur-driven company Landcruiser. Ok, I said. 'What you doing in Cambodia?'. 'I am working at a school teaching English.' 'Oh, I look for someone to teach me Engrish!'. I had landed a job before I had checked-in. What can I say? Just damn good.
The Korean dropped me off at the Okay guesthouse, where we had stayed previously. To my utter surprise, nearly all the staff remembered me and started asking if I had returned. 'Yes', I said, with a big smile on my face.
After negotiating the room fee, I freshened up and headed out to meet up with two Pommy cyclists we had met in Vietnam a month ago. After springrolls and fruit shakes, the monsoons caught us out, and we headed to some indoor bars for a good night out on the Beer Lao. By 1am, I was happily back at the guesthouse, for once without a headache from too much grog.
What can I say, it is so wonderful, yet so weird to be back in Cambodia. Although I have been away for about two months, it seems like I never left. The air is fresh, the people are real, and I feel at home. And with 12 emails in my inbox this morning, I know I am not here alone.
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