Asia Journal

Lessons From Cambodia: Keep An Open Heart

The world, to me, is like a blank white canvas and every new color that I paint onto it is a new place that I have had the opportunity to explore. It doesn’t matter how many colors I move from the palette to the canvas because the colors can never quite fill the page. I am always discovering new crevices or corners that cannot be reached, even with the thinnest of thin paint brushes. Like a moth to a flame, I have the insatiable desire to travel the world and discover new destinations. This powerful desire is what led me to the decision to make this three day solo trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia happen.

So there I was, day one in Cambodia… a third-world country where the language is unbeknownst to me, the money currency consists of absurdly large numbers on their bills, and there is not a single familiar face in sight. Yet I knew what I was getting myself into when I made the crazy decision to embark on this trip to Cambodia alone.

Straight from the airport, I jumped right into my search for the closest tourist attraction with nothing but myself and the giant backpack on my back. My search for the nearest tourist attraction, which in this case was the Wat Phnom, was unsuccessful.

Anyone that knows me knows that I am god-awful with directions; even with a GPS that requires me to simply follow the green dot that led to the red dot, I still managed to get lost. Now I suppose, in my defense, I might add that the GPS on my phone was in Chinese since I originally bought my phone in China! However, the red and green dots were still universal colors… so I surrender all excuses.

After walking up a street, then back down the street, and up the same street again attempting to follow the infuriating green dot on my phone, a Cambodian man in his mid-thirties asked if I needed help with directions. I politely refused his help.

Since I had never been to Cambodia before, it meant that this was unchartered territory for me. Although I usually love striking up conversations with strangers, I was unusually defensive and suspicious since I was in this new country, completely alone. Might I add that this was also my first trip to a different country alone.

After politely refusing this stranger’s help, I continued on with my search for Wat Phnom, which was having me walk in circles at this point.

After a short while, another Cambodian man approached me, this one was younger and closer to my age. He saw me staring at my phone and recommended that I not go in the direction that I was heading because there was nothing to see. He recommended that I actually go in the opposite direction since that is where all the popular tourist attractions are located. I could see in this stranger’s eyes that he was genuinely trying to help.

With this realization I slowly lowered my shield and listened to his recommendation. He asked my name and I asked his and after thanking him we shook hands. The kindness from this young man and from the stranger before him made me feel ashamed for my previous paranoia. I had every reason to be cautious since I was in the foreign country, completely alone; but at the same I also knew that I should try to keep an open heart and mind and not be so quick to judge.

With a more open heart, I followed this young man’s directions and with relief I realized that the green dot on my phone was getting closer to the red dot that I was starting to believe was nonexistent. I was heading toward my destination when I was once again stopped by another Cambodian man who wore a krama (a traditional Cambodian scarf) wrapped around the top part of his head.

I knew did not have anything to be afraid of. When this Cambodian man with attempted to make conversation with me, I reciprocated by answering his questions. His questions were typical questions out of curiosity: Where are you from? How long will you be here for? Is this your first time in this country?

I found out that this man’s name was Sok. Sok told me of his great love for Cambodia. Sok also told me that he has been a tuk tuk driver for many years and told me of the places that I must see during my time in Cambodia.

As our lovely conversation came to a close, I asked Sok if he would mind taking a picture with me to commemorate this moment. This brought a huge smile to Sok’s face which brought a huge smile to mine. We took our picture and I thanked him profusely for all the helpful advice he gave me regarding my time in Cambodia and then we bid our goodbyes. After our conversation, I continued in the direction of man number two’s directions and once again headed toward the red dot on my phone.

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