Ecstatic feeling of happiness. Urban bliss.
When the wind is soft and cool and the sunlight strong and steady.
Careening and winding down and through the narrow streets on the back of a motorcycle taxi.
Heat and freshness blend onto my skin as if by an enormous brush, streaking through my hair and down my arms.
Do I love this city? The way each moto driver and pedestrian navigates an intersection as an individual with practicality and grace, inducing the energy of a chaotic, rock-filled stream. No stop light is an obstacle big enough to contain the merging rumble of traffic. As horns sound off as introductions, interruptions, warnings, greetings,
light streams over the top of yellowing flats,
web-like cracks woven into the balcony columns where fresh-washed underwear and blouses flash in and out of the shade thrown by high-rises.
I strain to catch glimpses of aging cinemas, where the neon lights have been stripped, the facade left pock-marked with small iron posts revealing a spectral outline of an old marquee.
At eye level, in every direction, a ripple of sea-green fabric blowing in the wind. Sometimes the mesh-netting extends for stories and stories into the air, swaddling one construction project after another.
I’ve heard people speak of a time when the city was full of ponds,
small lakes that filled up with rain from the monsoons and bred fish and water vegetables.
Sand replaced water
concrete and rebar replaced aqua-culture.
Now there is the beautiful disappointment of green construction-netting.
As it billows and crests in the breeze, it speaks of the ocean.
And somehow, with people piloting their everyday errands, tasks, desires, I feel that our eyes seek this out.
This gentle beauty and ephemeral joy in motion.
The driver has two metallic teeth – one on each side of his mouth. When he sets me down at the Chinese Embassy, one of the few sidewalks with towering trees above me, he smiles a glittering, bejeweled crease in his face.
And he laughs because I speak very simple Khmer with him.
I just say thank you.
Does my bewildered smile reveal something about what I love about the city?
Yesterday I spoke at length with the taxi driver, though his questions and responses whipped past my ears and leaped into the arms of steady traffic, honking, the crunching of cast-off water bottles and take-away styrofoam.
I even described the journey of my past year, living in Australia, receiving a research grant, my curiosity about the past and memory, and moving to Phnom Penh.
Missing my family when I’m away and they all live in Idaho, USA.
I told him that I like it here.
I didn’t mean that I like it everyday. I don’t know anyone who likes it everyday in the city. It’s a life. People live and love and tell stories of who they meet along the way.
They ride home in the evening, maneuver through traffic, and finally rest,
maybe for just a little while that night.
And I don’t know how other people catch momentary happiness.
But I can’t be both electrified by the sun and city
and focus on my swollen, child-like tongue at the same time.
So today there was a small joy. And I did not speak.