I’ve mentioned before that I am generally not very good with vacations.
I am, however, excellent at shopping. This most recent holiday to Bangkok met somewhere in the middle.
From April 13-17, we celebrated the Khmer New Year by flying off to Bangkok, Thailand. From hearsay and past experience of being in Phnom Penh during this time last year I understood that almost everything shuts down, most people leave the city for island resorts or faraway treks and that it’s generally best to leave if you want to be in a functioning city. I was really looking forward to getting away from Phnom Penh for a while, taking a few days away from the constant feed of work, surrounding myself with something new, and most of all: eating McDonalds.
The beginning of the trip started out stressful, to say the least. Ritchie had misplaced his passport and realized two hours before departure to the airport that we he couldn’t find it. After two strained hours of him running back and forth across town from his office to his apartment and back to my apartment we finally, and embarrassingly, realized it was in his briefcase that we had checked at least a dozen times. After a few quick tears of relief on my part, we hauled our duffel to the terrace where we waited for our taxi. When he proceeded to arrive twenty minutes late, we were already pushing our luck on time when Allison compared her flight schedule to ours for another worrying twist. Although we were all on the same flight, the flight printout said we had different departure times, Allison’s at 5:05 and ours and 5:25. Since Ritchie and I had purchased our tickets two months prior and she only a few weeks before leaving, we figured something had gone wrong at the offices of AirAsia and that the later departure time would be the only thing that made sense, considering no one from the airline had called us to inform of a time change or anything of that sort. After a hurried drive to the airport, we stumbled with a sheen of sweat into the check-in area only to find that our flight (it turns out they were the same, and that it departed at 5:05 and not 5:25 like our papers stated) was no longer boarding and was ready for take-off. After a few moments of panic, Ritchie put to use his diplomatic, firm, and slightly terrifying (depending on who you are) force and got us on the plane. The moment I was buckled in, I felt a wave of relief that we had gotten to that point. I’ll boast and share that I am typically an excellent flyer: arriving 1.5 to 2 hours early, checking in beforehand via internet, double checking my luggage and passport, and triple checking my flight information; but I found that when travelling with individuals with less need to be organized or urgency, I had to let my earlier practices slide.
Although the flight was a short hour, by the time we arrived at the hotel thirty minutes away from the airport we were all exhausted. Ritchie and I had our room upgraded which was a nice surprise and the hotel was clean, quiet, and pleasant, if not sparse and all we wanted to do was lay on our cushy beds with the air conditioning blasting and watch bad cable TV. I had one crucial thing on my mind though and it was the Golden Arches. All the health nuts, vegans, vegetarians, PETA supporters, and high-class snobs can judge all they want but after seven months of not having my favorite cheeseburger in the world, the thin greasy patty with plastic-y cheese on a spongy bun, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. Over the next few days I ate McDonalds a total of 5 times with not one regret.
It wasn’t a relaxed vacation in any way. From people trying to plan things with no avail (you really realize how much you rely on mobile devices and internet access when you don’t have it) from simply not having enough time, energy, or just plain desire to do much of anything to restaurants that we thought were open ending up obsolete to trying to avoid the Song Kran water fight madness to simply trying to locate places on a map, there was always something going on or another issue to deal with and the two things I had set out to do in Bangkok didn’t happen: we showed up at the Museum of Forensics to find that it was closed (even though their website said they were open) and the place to buy a wax pot was also closed. Note to self not to go to Bangkok during water festival again.
I enjoyed the time in Bangkok and took a lot away from it, and when I say a lot of things, I mean a lot of shopping bags. I didn’t remember Bangkok being so huge, last time I visited with my mom in April 2012 it didn’t seem to be so sprawling and then of course, living there as a toddler you just don’t remember things like which Soi you’re on and at what Sukhumvit number you’re located. It was such a different environment than I’m used to with the gigantic Chanel and Marc Jacobs billboards boasting stick thin, white models in buttery leather and the whirr of the public transit and enormous bookstores with every magazine you can imagine and row upon row of shiny hard covered books. It took much longer to even get from point A to point B than expected so the entire time was spent eating in malls and shopping in malls with sore feet and a weary boyfriend. I picked up several pairs of joggies and silk shorts (favorites!), a pair of mismatched shoes, and plenty of earrings and accessories to tide me over in the land of shite jewelry known as Phnom Penh.
I realized how disconnected I am from a lot of modern technology or thinking when I started squealing with delight in the cinema during a 4D movie and being amazed at the easiness of ordering delivery without having to go over directions half a dozen times and waiting an hour. I felt a bit like a country bumpkin when oohing and ahhing at the looming skyscrapers and the type of restaurants I used to frequent casually and usually back in the states. Cafes with minimalistic décor and pickings for a true gourmand and creative offerings. Its not that Phnom Penh doesn’t have an offering of quality eateries and activities, it’s just that there are so few of them. A cluster of chic, modern boutiques and cafes is unheard of (so far) in the city of PP so when I was surrounded with them in Bangkok, it became a bit overwhelming. I appreciate those things. I really, really enjoy a good foie gras with parmesan cheese crisps and an extra dry martini with two olives in a chilled glass. I love walking into a store and finding, right off the bat, the set of rose gold stacking rings I’ve been thinking of for the past week or so. It is so nice to think “I want to see a blockbuster movie” and simply go to the nearest cinema and have a variety of films available with a gigantic tub of buttery popcorn and a side of nacho cheese for dipping. I have no doubt that all those things will come to Cambodia, and probably sooner than we can imagine or even like, as I know it will change things here in a way I can’t quite grasp.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about what is beyond Phnom Penh for me in the future and Bangkok was another step in deciding what I know I don’t want right now. I don’t have any plans on leaving Phnom Penh any time soon and would like to be here for the progress and change it will go through in the next few years, but I also realize that it is most likely unsustainable for me for a lifetime. I don’t have much desire to move back to Washington as I thought I would have at the end of my first year, but I don’t quite know where I’d want to move within the United States other than Washington either, considering my best friends of all time live there, aside from Pennsylvania (and soon to be San Francisco, go Brooke!). It’s a definite growing and deconstructing point in my life, so I know I don’t need to know all the answers right now. I think of when my mom and dad spent time in Bangkok raising my sister and I and how different it must have been twenty years ago. Last April when my mom and I visited our old apartment and the pool I learned to swim like a fish in I thought of the languid, hot days she got to spend with Rachel and I. The perks of having a maid and cook along with a flexible work schedule allowed her to be with us the majority of our days, which is extremely appealing to me when it comes to thinking of raising a family one day. While there are annoyances and difficulties of living in Southeast Asia opposed to a Western country (with cold weather!), I sometimes think there couldn’t be a better place to start a family. I’m sure my mind will change a thousand times between now and the time comes when I feel ready to have a baby, but I do hope that I remember all those things when the time does arrive.