Earlier this summer, I was resting from the sun in the shade of a bar in northern Cambodia, after a long day of sight-seeing in Angkor Wat. It was the first day off in what felt like a long while, and I was enjoying the quiet of a beer in a place where fishing nets and wicker baskets were the main decorations.
I was waiting for my fish and rice dish to come and was enjoying the second drink of the evening, when suddenly, and out of nowhere, I felt contentment rise to meet me. The unexpected sunset view from the rooftop was pleasing and even the songs on the radio matched my mood. I started to smile when a woman from across the bar smiled back at me and asked “are you loving my country?” I nodded and told her that I was indeed, loving it all.
She said to me “my name is too difficult for you to pronounce, so please call me Suzi”. And I said “well alright then Suzi, why don’t you sit here next to me and have a drink?” So she pulled up a chair and she joined me.
I had been writing in my note book before she arrived and she pulled the book towards her, and read it without asking for permission.
She read the first two lines aloud:
“Up close the vision differs, from afar the light reflects. And my dreams of Kampuchea star monks robed in saffron, a slow journey down the Mekong and poetry and song”.
She smiled and then asked me “what does it mean? It doesn’t really mean anything does it?”
I tried to explain to her that it really didn’t need to, but she only closed up my note book and asked “what is your favourite part about today? What do you love the most about my country?” Yet before she allowed me to answer, she asked a further question…
“…and what is the difference between shadow and shade?”
I drank some of my beer, put my note book into my bag and thought about the answer. I told her it was nice to be in the shade on such a hot and humid day. Bu this didn’t appear to appease her and so she continued.
“I have a Masters Degree in tourism and business administration, I speak four languages and my parents own a guest house near the river, please note, my business card” and she presented me with her card. I had nothing to give her in return, but I wrote down my email address on a damp serviette and she looked at it suspiciously.
She placed it carefully into her wallet and then said,
“But staying with business, what is the difference between shadow and shade?”
A series of small ants ran over my feet while a geko performed her acrobatics near the electric light bulb. The wooden fan twirled while a tuk tuk beeped his horn outside and the moon rose over another evening in the north of Cambodia. As I looked down onto the street, I saw a woman throw a basin of dirty water into the gutter, a dog bark at a child who was running, and a motorbike ride on the pavement. The sweat of the evening drifted down over my neck and shoulders and into a lake on my back.
Suzi sat there, cool in her blue and yellow dress, and she smiled at me patiently. Waiting for me to come back or to stay, with the business. But all I could say to her was “I don’t know Suzie. I don’t know what the difference is at all”.