Daydreaming of Cambodia: Asia, Part 1

The view towards Old Town, Siem Reap, Cambodia, April 2013

Of all the places I go when my mind drifts, when it puts itself on 'sleep', when I'm just numb and dumb and moving slow, or in fact checked out completely, with a tingling bum from too many photoshop hours in this chair, I go, I go, I happily go, to the far off places I've been. 

In the spring of 2013, I went on a trip to Southeast Asia for six weeks. I went alone. I went to meet and shoot and wander, and to be both completely off the grid and completely on, as I ignored every single email but posted hundreds of photos on Instagram, photos that just flowed out directly from a moment I'd just had, alone but never alone. Solo on the wandering path I'd created for myself. Buoyed by the heart-ing of the images from friends back home. Surprised at myself as I strode confidently into each new day of unknowns.

Everything was new, and I was humbled. Alone but not alone, I was electrified by the indelible faces I was meeting. Western faces and Eastern faces, and everything in between.  Faces that surprised and astonished and tickled me, ones that hugged me and scared me and made me cry, ones that had the same mission as I as a wanderer, and ones that had lives so different I was rendered speechless.

Banteay Samre temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, April 2013

I wasn't supposed to be there, I knew, not really. I "shouldn't" have gone at all. My heart was still broken from a break-up a few months back, a five year chapter that snapped closed with a whooshing devastation, knocking the wind out of me for six whole months. My gut ached with loss and loneliness, as my best friends floated down aisles and into delivery rooms.

Though I felt I should have rebounded more quickly, my sadness made me listless in business. As any business owner knows, dropping the ball for a day can be terrible, but watching the ball slowly roll away from you, week after week, without making the slightest effort to chase it leads to epic loss. My photography business was hanging by a teardrop. My contracted deadlines, my financial obligations and my guilty conscience for even considering such a long time away all narrowed their eyes into a slit, in unison, in warning. "You can't afford it, and you don't deserve it." 


I've seen that movie, so to speak, and it sucked.  I'm no longer gullible enough to believe the curious put-downs my brain generates when it's searching for an answer.

I just go out looking.

For the answer.

Because to know what's behind the curtain of my need to wander, is an answer I deserve.

Siem Reap, Cambodia with Beyond Unique Escapes

I calmly considered all the obvious logic that might have prevented me from buying the one-way ticket, but something kept pushing me towards this adventure. I knew if I wanted to get my business back on track, I needed to spend some serious time alone with my thoughts.

Though it would be far from my first solo trip to a far-flung place, it was different than the others. I was listening closely, for once, to the echoes of history, as well as to the people I met. Less of the hair-tossing yoga girl I was in India at 25 (though I love her, too) and more the family-lore-loving listener, aiming to just connect with other humans. Alone but not alone.

Part of me leaving like this, with so much in flux, felt bratty. It was indignant and solipsistic. It was saying, "Of all the things I want in life but that are out of my reach, (aisles, delivery rooms, firework-crusted career success, endless world travel) world travel is the one that I can grasp for myself. Right now."

But questionable motives aside, I also knew that travel heals you, in its own way. To be lost and dirty, to be hungry and queasy and to be language-dumb, means to soon after be cared for, welcomed in, shared with, fed til you're stuffed to the gills and your eyes are crinkly from laughter.

Spicy Papaya Salad at the Golden Butterfly Villa, Siem Reap, Cambodia, April 2013

To hear secrets, to rock baby sisters, and to make papaya salad. To shuffle awkwardly to new music, feet still thumping with new rhythms long after you've lowered your lids. To bear witness to the lives and stories and tragedies of others, unsure of how you could have possibly continued existing, across the world at home, and still be breathing, had you not followed your fate here to this place.

Ultimately, the ground sang. The faces roared. The shape of those moments will be detailed in future posts, and I can't wait to set them free with words, they shouldn't live only in my head.

The whole country of Cambodia imprinted me with hope and renewal, a country that has been through so much, but who in 2013 had so much pride on their faces and love on their lips.

And then.

I returned home. My bills and my mistakes were all still there, and (surprise!) they were compounded into even more nightmarishly twisted versions of the messes that I left. My trip didn't "solve" anything, not that I thought it would. I patched and apologized and saved money, I was honest and earnest and direct with clients. I wasn't afraid to ask for help from my friends, my family and my community. I am still in business, thriving even, and I am smiling.

And what fun, I think now, to finally be writing about this trip, nine full months after returning. What a thrill to have finally given myself permission to let these memories blossom. Much more to come soon from this trip! This is absolutely only the beginning.

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
— Ernest Hemingway

NOTE: All photos here were taken with my beloved Fuji X-E1, which proved itself brilliantly as the off-duty photographer's right-hand man. I was too busy soul-healing and temple-traversing and existing outside of my norm to be using the camera I use for work (I didn't even bring it). This is the camera I reach for when I set out to just... be.