The air was humid and the dust welcomed me as I get off the plane. Everyone was rushing to catch their connecting flights. Some of the passengers are a bit grumpy due to the 3-hour flight delay during our stop-over. I was one of those people starting to lose patience with the recent mishap of this flight.
As I exit the immigration, I headed to the transport service desk. With no itinerary on hand, no hotel pre-booking done, I was a bit clueless on where to start. This is adventure, I told myself. A huge sign welcomed me at the desk – $2 motorbike, $4 tuktuk, $6 taxi. As I was on budget, I decided to take the cheapest one.
He came with a welcoming smile; and then he greeted me, “hello lady, where you from?” The smile on my face immediately faded. Why would someone I met for the first time ask me such personal question?! He didn’t even bother to greet me a good afternoon.
He introduced himself later on and asked my name too. His name is Kong, he was a cheerful chap and always ready with his warm smile and helping hand. He immediately grabbed my backpack as he led me to the parking area where his motorbike is. He took his helmet and hesitantly told me, no helmet for me. I took my hat from my bag and hopped on the motorbike.
My prejudices about this “rude” guy were slowly evaporating as we cruise the busy highway, with the sun in its glorious afternoon glow. But I kept a bit of doubt in my heart; the suspicious traveller in me was shouting trust no one but myself. He started chatting with me and told me about his country. He was telling me about the temples and all the touristy side of the Siem Reap; so my distrust heightened, and I was telling myself this is another tourist trap.
“Where you from, Teddie?” he asked again as I fearfully watch him take off his helmet while riding the bike. He said he wants to hear me clearly so he removed his helmet. I told him where I’m from. He asked more questions and how is it like in my country; he asked me if I’ve been to other places as well. I gave him vague answers, truths but with some details held back.
He then told me about his country, about the town where he came from. He met a lot of tourists from different countries and he read a lot about amazing stories from different parts of the world. He was apologetic about his poor English but wittingly used all the vocabulary that he knows to share what he has read or to tell me stories he heard from his previous passengers. He wanted to explore the world the way his passengers did… the way I intend to explore his country. He wanted to see the world but he has no money to afford it.
He also expressed his desire to have a family and that alone, was impossible for him. He needed to save money to pay for his bride’s dowry. He needed a more stable work to support a family. And he wants to see the world too. I feel for him… I guess once in a while, we all wanted to go outside our comfort zones; we want to understand the world more, and appreciate what we have through our encounters of different cultures.
It came to me that Kong was not being rude when he asked where I am from. He was genuinely interested where I came from.Even when he cannot afford to leave his country, he wanted to see the world.
He wanted to explore the world through the eyes of every visitor of his country. He didn’t limit himself because of his financial difficulties; he visited a lot of places through his books and his encounters with the travellers passing through his country.
I felt blessed that I am able to travel around the planet and see the places I want to go to with my own eyes, to experience the culture, to make my body feel the different weather of the country, to excite my taste buds with the different delicacies of the place. I was humbled… I was sorry about my prejudices about Kong and all the people who greeted me in the same manner.
After a 20- minute ride, we reached the city centre and started hopping from one hotel to another. Kong patiently drove his bike and waited for me as I check the rooms in every hotel we went to. He suggested some places too but most of them are packed.
When I finally settled to stay in this pleasant and simple hostel, located 5- minutes away from the old market, the receptionist welcomed me… “Hello lady, where you from?” I smiled and remembered how Kong welcomed me in the same manner.
When I went to Cambodia, I boarded the plane with only these in mind- to relax, to know the country a little bit more and to let my stomach feast with all the amok fish I can eat. I have been here a couple of times to do some volunteer work but never had the time to fully explore the country. As I embark the plane to my next destination, I left the country with a satisfied stomach, a relaxed mind and more importantly, a better understanding of this grammatically incorrect yet meaningful phrase… Hello lady, where you from?