Thursday, February 27, 2014

Birthday Week with a Wonderful Friend

This week has been extremely bitter sweet for me.

Jenny and I started the weekend with a trip to Oudong, a necropolis for the past kings of Cambodia. We wanted to spend her last weekend in Cambodia with an excursion of some sort. We decided on Oudong because of its proximity to Phnom Penh. It is about 90 minutes by car and two hours by tuk tuk, we went with the latter. It wouldn’t be an adventure if we opted for a smooth, air conditioned ride. The roads get pretty dusty once you leave Phnom Penh’s city center and to combat the smells and dust, we brought our traditional Kramas, traditional Cambodian scarves, along for the ride. Just last week Jenny was taught how to wear one correctly and we put her new found skill to use.  As you can see from the picture, our hair, mouth and nose were pretty well protected. Needless to say, we got plenty of stares but this just made our ride so much more interesting.

We arrived around 3pm, really the perfect time for a visit because there were barely any tourists and the sun's rays were kinder. It also made the climb up 509 steps much easier. I don’t know if we could have done it in the blistering noon heat. Once we climbed up we could not believe how beautiful and clean everything around us was, it was probably one of the cleanest sites I have seen in Cambodia after the Royal Palace. The details in the buildings were refreshingly different and we could not stop staring. We walked to and from every corner. We met male nuns that take immaculate care of the property. Yes, there is such a thing as male nuns. They are called Ta Tei in Cambodia and are not ordained so they have a lower status than monks. It was a really peaceful experience. 

We ran into our upstairs neighbor in one of the rooms, out of all the places! This room had 4000 Buddha figures from all over the world. I don’t think they were of any significance except that there were 4000 of them in one room. Once we were finished exploring the grounds, our neighbor advised us to visit the nearby Wat. The grounds around the Wat were also really well kept and the Wat was very different from the ones I have seen in Phnom Penh. It also housed about a 100 male monks and female nuns.

We had a lovely day trip and arrived back in Phnom Penh around 6:30pm with enough time to shower and get ready for Jenny’s farewell dinner with friends. Jenny decided on Dolce Vita, an Italian spot in Riverside, for dinner. It was a lovely evening filled with old and new friends and a lot of dancing. At midnight, I officially turned 29 and was embarrassed by my friends who requested the venue to play music for happy birthday so they could sing to me. And then Asghar called and my lovely TEDxJacksonville team wished me a happy birthday. This definitely helped with the homesickness.

Sunday was a lazy day at home. I spent the day catching up on emails and my to dos. In the evening, I decided to indulge and treat myself and Jenny to a delicious birthday dinner at Quitapenas, a Spanish tapas restaurant. Let’s just say I fulfilled my inner glutton’s desires. We had tuna tartare, scallops, fried goat cheese balls, calamari and steak. Jenny and I were in heaven. Having known about my love for good chocolate, Jenny snagged me a giant bar of Swiss chocolate while visiting Singapore. It was such a sweet gesture. And it came with a beautiful card. Those of you that have known me for a while know that I love my cards more than my presents.

This was also my last week with Jenny and it has been really tough to process. We have become great friends and I am not sure how I will go on in Phnom Penh without her. Yesterday was her last night here and we decided we needed to have some new experiences before she could leave. We took the City Bus for the first time, a month long trial public bus system that is actually really efficient and cheap. We went to the roof top of the tallest building in Phnom Penh to catch the sunset and we went to one of our favorite local restaurants and ordered dishes we have never tried before. It was a great night.

She left this morning. I know I will see her in a week in Myanmar and we will definitely stay in touch and visit each other wherever we may be but it is still tough to process. She was my first ever roommate and she quickly became much more than that. I have always been weary about having a roommate but Jenny and I were a perfect match. We could talk about anything and everything because we just got each other. We shared stories about moving to a new country from our country of birth and maintaining our culture while having an identity of our own and always being the different ones. We discussed our parents, our families, our pasts, our hopes for our future and everything in between. Our three months together were wonderful and I will miss her immensely. 

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