Miriam Feder home


Report 15 Gathering Myself

Suddenly upon my return to Phnom Penh, I realize I’ll be leaving soon. Typical me, the next month seems a million miles away. Suddenly May is irresistible, now that I’ve rounded the Ides of April. As of today I have another week at KYSD and 10 days until I board a bus for Vietnam adventures.

My week in Siem Reap was a swirl of adventure, fun, a little bit of US business and reflection. It ended with delightful international traveler connections and information about Vietnam that made me reroute my earlier travel plans. Suddenly it seemed silly to fly from hither to yon and over again, all to the tune of lost days, almost $700 and failure to explore this neighboring country, when the access is so easy and the reviews are so strong.

From Phnom Penh I can hop a decent bus (reservation booked on the Mekong Express line–$13) to HoChih Minh City and six or so hours later be in one of the most exciting cities in Asia. (When I arrived in Cambodia a six-hour bus trip sounded like an impossible sentence, but now it’s just how it works and an easy way to see the shape of here to there.) From HCMC I can meander up the long coastline,occasionally weaving inland and back again, and discover great beaches, old cities, another impressive big city (Hanoi,) wildlife parks, world heritage sites, ethnic minorities, Vietnamese people, ruins and terrific food. Vietnam is supposed to be more developed than Cambodia but still a bit adventurous—probably as much adventure as I am on for after my residential stint. And it’s probably a great time to catch it–before it gets too slicked up.

I think Vietnam will be an interesting foil—culturally, sociologically and development wise—for Cambodia. I understand a little bit how the Cambodians think about their neighbors. There are huge ethnic differences, similarities, possibly a little gratitude and grudging admiration, and both recent and ancient conflict and territorial dispute. And it will be interesting to confront “The American War” that was such a coming-of-age issue for me, now as an historical reality that has been, by many measures, gotten over. (To the degree these things are ever really possible.) Here’s another country that had a very rough 20th Century and one that apparently has, in many respects, made astonishing recoveries.

So I immediately bought the ripped-off Lonely Planet guide from a street vendor and it has become a dinner companion. I need to dissolve my apartment, mail myself a package (probably the most challenging step. I think I’ll shlep and mail from Vietnam) and pass along goods. I walk each morning and notice the things I didn’t do here. I don’t kick myself about them—or only gently so. Mostly I watch the knob turn to “winsome” and feel the onset of short-timer’s syndrome.

I’m lucky that I’m busy at work, pushing out a major proposal, which helps to silence the short-timer’s call. Yesterday, a little poem sneaked out between passes of the flash drive between me and the Program Manager. For me it really captured the way I’ve come to see my work here, much of which is editing documents that need to go out the door.


English is a pudding,
chocolate—chopped nuts tossed about—
connectors,adjectives, “s”es and “ed”s
foreign to the swimmer’s native streams.
He pushes upstream, a hardworking athlete,
stroke by stroke sinking flotsam nuts,
or wedging them to the bank.

His exhaustion increases word by word.
In his native river, fish broth or ginger,
he floats downstream,
light, familiar, welcome to his needs.
Drain impatience, discard mockery
I’m awed by courage, bits of fluency,
and tenacity against the pudding-tide.

Perhaps I can dredge extra nuts
and debris tossed by errant breezes—
keyboard’s trick or a tired finger.
I run along the bank, what’s this?
Smile, ponder, ask, return.
Can I add to flow or flavor?
reduce confusion? Or leave it be.

So friends and followers, this weekend I hope to really finish the photo editing (Siem Reap, my office New Year party and the Killing Fields) and post them to website and facebook (I’m closer to up-to-date on Google+.) Also I’ve noted that Facebook is often blocked by the Vietnamese Government, so don’t panic if I quiet down here for the next month and don’t rely on FB to notify me. Email will work fine. (nochowfun@gmail.com)