What I have noticed about being away, and still can’t shake off, is how mornings in each foreign place are so strikingly different from what one is used to; how different they are from each other — how foreign the word foreign sounds after a while. I like to believe it never hits you you are away until you wake up feeling displaced. Or that you haven’t really made a place your home until waking up comes so naturally and matter-of-factly there is nothing to it; until what was not your bed now feels like yours, and is even adorned with your peculiar smell.
It is brighter, earlier, in some places. Your mind races to make all the connections — back home, comparing, you might have been (1) preparing for school (2) relishing a particularly delicious dream (3) kissing your lover at the crack of dawn. And you think of how, back home, it is similarly bright only at seven. Exactly twenty minutes before flagraising.
Instead of being awoken by an alarm, Vanna’s motorcycle pulling into the front porch, does. He brings with him a motorcycle trailer to ferry us and all our bags to the bus terminal. There was no time to lose. We left Phnom Penh on our third morning, scarcely enough to have completed the tourist circuit in and around the capital — much less enough time to have stocked up on the US$9 cartons of Davidoff cigarettes. There was no time for contraband cigarettes for the Angkor Wat beckoned.
The Mekong Express ambled out of the city, and in the vicinity — as far as the eyes could see — mornings here, meant, baguettes; streets full of them. The more cynical among us say baguettes are only the good that French rule had left to Indochina. Well before noon we are midway there, when I notice for the first time on the road in Southeast and South Asia, that I have not given any thought to the condition of the road I am travelling on; either because the roads have improved, or I am used to them by this time. Instead, I happily recline ten degrees, smash into my neighbour’s lunch, and attempt to enjoy the on-board Khmer “comedy”.
My neighbour, a Khmer-Chinese man, laughs so hard at the ongoings onscreen, culminating into an already creaky seat rocking under his weight, when an effeminate man in the program is paired with a masculine woman. Then in a language I seemed to understand, he describes the hilarity of the situation to his wife, who is only marginally interested.
I shut my eyes and found myself at home in Indochina, somewhere between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (though before Kompong Thom). Where my mother tongue, Teochew, is widely spoken and even overheard in buses, when other mornings in other places see the same middle-aged men finding humour in the same bad jokes.
I recline another ten degrees, this time smashing into my neighbour’s lap. Curling my thigh around hers, I begin to think: I want every morning to be like this.