Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rosy glow in Cambodia

This time it's a bus ride, heading cross-country from the Cambodian town of Siem Reap to the southern coast, and the promise of white sand and surf.

The VIP bus has left town late, as usual; has a suicidal driver, as usual; and marginal air conditioning- three for three. Still, there are far more horrible fates for the traveller in this part of the world. With iPod in hand and Gravol in the stomach, all is good.

The world goes by, flat, and baking. Here on the elevated passenger deck, it's like you're floating just above the road, a ghost moving through the world. The windows are tinted, cutting the ultraviolet out of the spectrum. The sky is a washed-out powder blue, the earth golden, the trees and grass a richer, deeper green. Seeing Cambodia, literally, through rose-tinted glass.

That's when the real trip begins.

The landscape before me, in that rosy glow, tugs at my memories. Rather than exotic, the farmland does nothing but remind me of the Rideau Valley, years ago. Flat into the distance, shimmering in the daytime heat. Villages and clumps of houses strung along the road like pearls. Raised farm paths running off at right angles from the too-thin highway, high-school art class perspective studies.

The fields behind the houses are brown, like after second cut; solitary trees trees mark the field boundaries. It's January, not July, and those are banana and palm, not maple or elm. But in the distance the strangeness becomes a familiar smoky blue-grey line, the forest edging the rim of the farmer's world. My world growing up.

The homes here are all on stilts, protection against flood or vermin. Made of wood and thatch and tin, they are in their own way not unlike the old Century houses that you'd find south of Ottawa until about 30 years ago. Thin and tall, grey clapboard, random outbuildings, a sense both of daily use and decay.

We pass farmers trucking their harvest to market. Dressed in white shirts and long pants, farmhands sit on top of the great pile of bags in the back. I have a body-memory: the good ache of muscle, the wind whipping my eyes, the sway of the high load of hay as we ride on top of the wagon home.

It's as if a ghost of the peace, the pace, of country life lost back home still survives here.

It's all vivid and beautiful, and I let more memories rise up: being a kid, future perfect and unknown, the greater world only dimly perceived or considered.

At the same time I'm on this bus, past imperfect, the circle's arc closing.

My iPod delivers a 70s soundtrack, summer music by Mongo Jerry, Sly and the Family Stone and War. I decide to go for it, to be here and now, and there and then at the same time. Osgoode with palm trees and water buffalo and rice. Cambodia with dairy farms and baseball and comic books. The music binds what is in my eyes and my mind's eye.

Entanglement and conflation. Old memories become fresh, and what's before me is bound in love and a warm glow of nostalgia. Both are stronger in my mind for it and it is good.

I am a little more whole and thank Cambodia for this gift.

Eight hours to Sihanoukville. Far away.

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