It takes five hours of bus travel on a pretty even mix of paved roads and bumpy dirt roads to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Unless your bus hits a ginormous pothole and you get a flat. Then you wait a while, miss your chance to get into town before lunch and have to stop for food, stop again to switch the bald front tire with the less bald back tire, and 10.5 hours later pull into Siem Reap.
I can now say I've had flat tires on four continents. Thankfully we had a stack of movies to watch. They were all in English but the kids didn't care, and it helped me out. I sat with Ry, a teenage boy who speaks about as much English as I do Khmer. We pointed at things outside the window, shared snacks and I made him a friendship bracelet.
When we arrived at four, we went straight to the Khmer Cultural Center. The kids had requested we go and were so excited. I was eager just to see them enjoy the experience. As we started to walk around, we heard loud music and walked up a hill to a little stage nestled in the hill. It was designed to look like a village from some point in Cambodia's past, but again the Khmer language thing got in my way, so I don't know when. The show was a hoot. They did a dance and pulled a guy up from the audience to take part in a wedding ceremony and dance. The actors hammed it up and made it super fun. The kids loved it and were glued to the performance (or so I hear, I was too.) We went straight from that show to another one depicting a similar course of events in a different era. In the third show, which seemed to be the most historical, they picked Jim from our team to be the audience participant and we all cheered. He did great, yelling Cambodian things he didn't understand, wearing a big headdress and sitting in a bamboo throne. It was a great end to the cultural center.
I got to spend a little more time with Sieng Hai and Pichhing, I just love that these 14 year-olds--who wear skinny jeans and style their hair--will hold my hand. It makes me go all gooey. All the teen boys seem to really value attention, which makes total sense since they probably don't get a ton of it. But the sincerity of emotion and the willingness to express affection move me. I love it. As much as it means to me, who is not an orphan and was not raised with 30 other kids, I just am grateful and eager to show that same affection to them. I made a handful of yarn bracelets and gave most to the older boys. Rathanak, one of the older boys, is quiet but has this killer smile. We started goofing off today, and I made him a bracelet too. Srey Mom, a sweet girl, attached to my left hand for most of the day and saved me a spot at dinner, and I hugged on her a lot, I just love her smile.
Tomorrow we will meet the kids and go to Angkor Watt. It is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, and none of them have ever been. I can't wait to share that with them! We've divided the group into teams by color and as a proud member of the green team I'm happy to say our group is stacked. We get Pichiing AND Sieng Hai and even Rathanak. It's going to be a fun day.
As enthralling as the cultural center was and Angkor Watt is to me, it's so much greater to these kids whose heritage is represented. They get to see a new part of their own country and some amazing things built by their ancestors. I'm so glad for them to have this experience. But for me, I'm mostly glad I get an extra day to hug their necks, hold their hands and take a bazillion pictures to hold me over until next time.
OH, I almost forgot. While we were walking through the cultural center to the show, we saw a Cambodian music video being filmed! HOW COOL IS THAT!
Okay, photos are taking eons to upload, so I'll add some later.