It was odd being able to touch the ceiling. I had already slid my pointer finger across it, drew invisible letters that spelled out my name. Around me, unfamiliar, blanketed figures filled the other bunks. Their outlines rose and fell gently, their breaths deep and steady, like the sound you listen for to see if someone’s faking.
I laid timidly for a few minutes that first morning. I think I felt weird because the bed was squeaky. My plan was to climb down the ladder like a ninja without making any noise and irritating the others. But what I really wanted was to just jump off and rush out to see everything I could before the cosmos realized this opportunity wasn’t meant for me, that there had been a giant mix-up. I thought traveling was for the luckier ones, but somehow, it was I who was sitting there, glancing over at my Reebok shorts, my sports-bra, my tank top, all hanging from a bed post 8,000 miles away from the white, wooden one at home.
For me, running’s a divine mystery. It’s an unexplainable means to a broader perspective, refueled rationale, a glorious, badass surge of assurance, which I adore. In a couple hours, my friend would wake up with an agenda of fascinating tours planned, visits to exquisite shrines of Kings, sacred grounds, palaces of the royals , and I’d be quite happy to join, but I’ve always been most charmed by those who are, like myself, sort of unremarkable. So on that first morning in Siem Reap, I padded down the pavement, panting, dying, baking, envisioning their storylines from behind tinted lenses.
Blue, rectangular street signs marked each block. Their use of the French word, “rue” offered a glimpse into Cambodia’s history. Children addressed me as, “Madame,” stretched their arms and cupped their hands together. Some easy-going guys, all kicked back in their tuk-tuks, popped up their heads and a few fingers to see what my deal was, but I didn’t need a ride then.
I was nervous in that new place, and nervous to cross the street, so I waited until I could shadow a local to the other side. I saw girls my age weaving their scooters through the road with kids on their hips. I thought about them learning to drive one of those things, maybe during their eleventh year, I supposed. I wondered if we’d be friends, if I’d be confident zigzagging through the road, had I grown up there. I wished that I could ask them questions, that I could communicate with sentences, a gracious exchange, my timely wit.
I wanted to peel back the layers of every lovely, intricate individual around me, and understand their reality in an instant. I wanted to be immediately braver, more involved, all-knowing, multilingual. But I was only a curious girl at the beginning of her trip, buying water from a family at a tiny outdoor shop, speculating about the mattress and TV lying just beyond their cooler.
A few feet away from my hostel, a group of adolescent monks stood chatting and I couldn’t even believe it, so I held back from snapping a picture.They were glancing at me, then back at each other, then back at me. These kids were robed in orange, whispering, roughhousing, giggling and then I knew why.
I pulled off my sunglasses and the smallest one shouted, “Where are you from?” then ran away victoriously. This caused the others to turn around and give him a bunch of shit, and me to walk away knowing I’d go on to discover some more of the delightful similarities, maybe rooted in human nature, that prove how lives from opposite sides of the planet can parallel in some adorable, underlying ways, but I just hadn’t realized it before.