Cambodia – Kingdom of Wonder

As the night progressed into day, the first of the fresh new year, I said my goodbye to 2018 and Australia, and a hello to 2019 and a move on… to Cambodia. I never expected myself to travel to this country, never felt any need or calling. Until recently. So, it just happened so. Even though people around warned me of the poverty, criminality, dirtiness and the heavy energy caused by the recent genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime (inflicting a population loss of around 1.800 million people, i.e. around a quarter of Cambodia’s 1975 population, in between 1975 to 1979), I decided to set off for this new journey, becoming a yoga teacher in a yoga resort (called Bohemiaz) in Phnom Penh.

The greatest motto of my life during my travels has become: “Keep things simple like the flow of a river and don´t forget to smile.” So, all I have is a few dozen thousands Czech crowns left on my life saving account (yes, the money I have been using for my travels is running low swiftly), great trust and a belief that all this is happening for a very special reason.

Cambodia has a hard position to gain my love after all the warnings (the snatchers in the streets, the pickpockets, the safety of a single blonde lady at night), doubts (Why such a poor, developing country?), fears (I am just a girl, after all…) and after Australia, the very civilized country of crystal clear sea waters and laid-back lifestyle of great comfort, where I have created many attachments during the quarter of a year spent there. The 1st of January, the day of my departure, was a day of many tears shed. This is something that no one can see from the pictures on Facebook I upload from the countries I travel too, but I really find it hard to leave places and people and then settle in new places. By the time I feel settled, I have to move on. So, this has been pretty hard and I cannot explain what great effort, discipline and strong will lies behind my ability to keep moving on…

Cambodia has recently been called the Kingdom of Wonder, thanks to the amazing Buddhist temples, prominently Angkor Wat, the beaches stretching over more than 440 km in the area of Kampot and Kep and Sihanoukville and the amazing islands, namely Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem that offer unique paradise-like atmosphere of white sand, turquoise waters, boat transport merely and very simple, laid-back lifestyle.

However, it is a poor country. And poor countries sought by tourists are often prone to crime. Bigger cities are known for snatchers and pickpockets. Also, there are poor people in the streets who are still greatly affected by the genocide of the 70´s – it is not rare to see a one-legged or a one-armed person. Almost every single family lost somebody in the killing processes and it takes a strong mind to go and see the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, about 15 km away from Phnom Penh, especially since many dozens of mass graves are visible above ground (the graves were often shallow; the prisoners were frequently asked to dig their own ones). Commonly, bones and clothing surface after heavy rainfalls due to the large number of bodies still buried in shallow mass graves. It is not uncommon to run across the bones or teeth of the victims scattered on the surface as one tours the memorial park. The Khmer Rouge regime arrested and eventually executed almost everyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, as well as professionals and intellectuals. Ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Thai, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Cham, Cambodian Christians, and the Buddhist monkhood were the demographic targets of persecution.

Currently, the country is run by Royal Government and the king, Norodom Sihamoni, is the representative head of the country. He became King on 14 October 2004, after his father´s abdication. Sihamoni is best known for his work as a cultural ambassador in Europe and as a classical dance instructor, a specialization he graduated from in Prague, Czech Republic. He is the only king in the world who can speak fluent Czech. I have seen him in person in 2006 when he came to Prague for an official visit and the National Theatre in Prague organized a special ballet performance to honour him and to commemorate the years 1962 to 1975 which he spent studying ballet in the Czech Republic. His behaviour was modest and honest, and I do believe that it reflected his personality. His Majesty is 66 years old and he never married which is certainly surprising in a very traditional country such as Cambodia…

My boss, the local owner of Bohemiaz Yoga Resort, spent about 13 years living in Europe too, in France. I enjoy talking to him in French (though his English is amazing too) and I love his two kids who live here (the other two live in France), the twelve-year old daughter, Lyna, who enjoys playing with my hair and who is always followed by her black puppy Princess, and the sixteen-year-old son, Nico, who is smart and thoughtful. Every Saturday, there is a family BBQ at the resort and the guests are welcome to join in, which is always a great celebration with amazing food, chill-out music and often also guitar playing.

I came to Bohemiaz with the New Moon and I do believe that it symbolically reflects my new beginnings… I am trying to become “localized” by trying to find my way around the city on a bike and a scooter rather than using tuk tuks and rickshaws. I have tried various street foods and streets drinks (from sugarcane juice to passion fruit lemonades), managed the repair of several of my clothing by a street seamstress (using my Cambodian sim card with data and thus also the online English-Cambodian dictionary to explain what is needed), bought a silk skirt at a local market for three dollars (the locals use riels as well as US dollars as their standard currency), managed to buy a shoe-repair superglue (all my shoes are gradually breaking apart on my travels) and incense for my yoga classes, tasted by now all of the Cambodian beer types (Angkor is probably the best one; beer here costs about one dollar and alcohol is generally much cheaper than in Bali or Thailand) and had my laundry done (for a dollar and a half) as well as my haircut – which is actually something with quite a story in the background.

After 12 years of allowing only my mum to cut my hair (as I trust her the most) I let another person cut my hair. For the last few weeks I felt I needed to break “the thing“ with not letting anyone but my mum touch it with scissors. And it happened here in Cambodia. 15 cm of my hair gone… ladies often get a haircut after a break up, feeling that they have lost their power… there must be something archetypal about this… to me, the fear of having a hair cut by a stranger had been supported for years by the fact that my dad wanted me to have short hair when I was younger while I desired long… I disliked the hair-dresser in our town, cried over every single haircut and grew wild when at Grammar School I put my foot down and let my hair grow long finally, against my father’s will… in 2007 I went short-haired after a big breakup and then resolved not to do that ever again, and not to have my hair touched by stranger’s scissors… the journey I have been on for the last half year teaches me a lot… among else that the past is the past. It is gone. And the present moment is here with its freshness… why carry fears and doubts and worries from the past to the present light? So, with the first New Moon in 2019, I decided it was time to let go of whatever no longer serves me… I let go of the fears and tears connected with hair-cutting as well as the remorse directed towards my parents who used to want me have my hair cut boy-style short which made me feel not pretty. I understand now that the beauty and strength in me has got nothing to do with hair and hair cutting… I choose to live the fresh present moment, the new cycle, freed from any fear, prejudice and heaviness of misunderstandings and misconception. I forgive and let go. May the new cycle higher up on the spiral arrive with bright light of sunshine…

 

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