Everyone has a story

Besides The Killing Fields, Phnom Penh was a food tour with new friends.

Food tour with new friends
Food tour with new friends

Keiron met Claire and Sarah-Marie during their fall internship at Ashoka, a social entrepreneurship organization in Washington DC that believes, “that anyone can learn and apply the critical skills of empathy, teamwork, leadership, and changemaking to be successful in the modern world.” By coincidence, providence, or the puppeteering of Fate, Sarah-Marie and Claire found themselves, post-Ashoka, applying their freshly cultivated skills to world-changing initiatives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, respectively. Keeping up our pace, Keiron and I joined the two “changemakers” on a ride to the riverside town of Kampot in southern Cambodia.

River view from Kampot
River view from Kampot

Kampot was charming. The beaches of Kep, enchanting. And the historical overlooks of Bokor National Park, enthralling. But what was intriguing was Paul, a late-aged Australian man and co-owner of the riverfront restaurant, Frangipani. The food was good and the conversation was even better. It took a few pitchers to get old Paul and his wily friend Raymond to tell us their life stories, but once they had a crowd they became regular raconteurs.

Drinks of the night
Drinks of the night

Paul had settled, drunk and in love with the people and the region. His Cambodian employees are like his kids with whom he shares laughs, advice, and drinks evenly, and he’s about to open a karaoke bar up the road for locals and travelers alike.

Raymond on the other hand worked at the Swedish Embassy in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge took power, committing their atrocities against the people, including Raymond’s wife. He took refuge by traveling all over the world, including a suicide mission to sail the globe in which he got caught up in South American drug cartels, found Western princes on Pacific islands, and hacked his way through East Asian jungles for months before settling back in Cambodia to start a new life.

If there is an Odyssey to be written about anyone, it’s Raymond.

Our new friends had stories of their own: Isabell, an Austrian woman who lived high on the thrill of everyday adventure; and Chai, an Indian boy taking time off from his studies of bioengineering in Singapore. Each one of them, including the people I’ve met before and after them have had an impact on me, if only from the depth of their personal stories. Life isn’t a story, it’s life; it’s incomparable, but the way in which we convey our lives to others is by storytelling, by sharing blunders, triumphs, and experiences, which leads me to wonder: What impact does my life, and consequently my story, have upon the world? How are my experiences, my real life account of my events affecting you? Positive, negative, demeaning, inspiring? Food for thought.

After drinks, the gentle whistling of familiar and foreign tunes, and the bumping of billiard balls with new friends, we packed in and packed up, returning to Phenom Penh to continue our journey towards the conclusion of Keiron and I’s partnered journeying, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Want more details? Check out the Backpackin’ Ben Tumblr for extra pictures!

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