Goodbye, paradise

The boat leaves paradise in an hour and a half. The ticket away means my trip is coming to an end. A temporary end, I told my friend this morning, and he seemed puzzled. Indeed, as much as I want this journey to continue, it will be a new and different adventure when I go traveling again. This portion, through northern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, will end tomorrow with a flight from Phnom Penh. Though there is a guesthouse here by the name ‘Paradise’ (we’ve encountered three thus far), I think specifically of the 7 kilometers of pristine white beach on the southwest coast of Koh Rong, an island off the Cambodian coast. Three hours from Sihanoukville by boat, the island is in its early stages of development, meaning a cluster of guest houses where the boats arrive with peace and tranquility on the opposite side, especially after the daily visitors leave. We were among the daily visitors yesterday, having trekked an hour in the noonday heat and departed by boat after sunset. The moment we were close enough to water, we dropped all our things and ran straight in. The water was crystal clear with nothing as far as the eye could see, neither fish nor leaves nor debris. There we spent the day, swimming and napping and sunning before endless beach and ocean.

That was just yesterday. Two weeks have past since my last blog update and so much has happened and I’ve written so much in that time! But if no Internet was readily available, I would write on an iPad journal and have since realized the tone of what’s written can be very different. Though unintentional, it seems I ‘speak’ more via blog, versus the stream of consciousness that comes from writing in a journal. Not good or bad, simply observed fact.

It also seems odd to post writings after the fact. I am no longer in the shadows of Angkor Wat, barely containing awe and wonder, no longer on a bus, passing stalls of dried insects, no longer puzzled by the people praying before the Grand Palace in Phnom Penh (which later I realized is for the late King Father’s funeral) and no longer staying in a room with construction on three of the four sides. It also doesn’t make sense that I rewrite about those events, those experiences, because what was typed before is infinitely more authentic with those emotions and thoughts unaffected by time.

Although… some things take time. Thinking back on my short time in Cambodia, the day spent in S21 and the killing fields near Phnom Penh is among the heaviest memories. The genocide at the hands of Pol Pot happened only some three decades ago! On a beach in Sihanoukville two days earlier, speaking to people we’d just met, we all agreed on the feeling of distance between us and history even though it’s really not so far. Even a generation before us, our parents, perhaps older siblings, have experienced the history we can only interact with in museums and books. Visiting the sites brings us closer and even then, we’re only affected a fraction in comparison to those who’ve lived through these events. S21 prison and detention center stands in seemingly a typical neighborhood in the Cambodian capital and only the barbed wire among its walls gives it away for what it once was. At the beginning of its existence, they were school buildings – a high school and a primary school. That was one of the most haunting facts to me. The day of and immediately after, it seemed we were walking through a dream, or a nightmare, seeing the unchanged brick cells where a person can’t extend their arms and later, seeing the bits of bone rising to the surface as we walked among burial sites for countless, nameless thousands. A heavy memory like this takes time and deserves time because the impact these places have on their visitors is far beyond an immediate rush of emotion.

How lucky are we?

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