Monday, 22 February 2010
The Kingdom of Cambodia has a shrink - sorry - psychiatrist population of twenty. What I’m wondering is, does this mean that if I have a breakdown in Cambodia I’ll be laughing or buggered?
I’m tempted to think that if one’s wont to have a breakdown anywhere, then in the middle of nowhere is probably the place for it. Not that I’m exactly scheduling it in, but you never know. As my mother keeps reminding me in what is starting to become a slightly unnerving fashion, when travelling in these out of the way places one’s got to think ahead. Be prepared for every eventuality.
Cambodia also has 60,000 resident Buddhist monks, so I’m thinking maybe they’ll be a bit more useful to me in the event of an eruption of chaotic mental activity – more chaotic than usual that is. I’d like to think so, but I’m not willing to bet on it. In my experience no amount of meditating is capable of nullifying the wanker gene when it’s inherent. Nope, you’ve got to look out for yourself in this life because no other bugger’s going to do it for you. “We’re on our own kidda,” – more wise words from Mater.
When I get to Cambodia I’m planning on doing largely not that much. Hit and run tourism isn’t really my thing. A temple a week is about the extent of my site seeing aspiration and that’s cracking on some I reckon. Besides which, after a week of three hours of ashtanga a day – starting at 5am to avoid the blistering 40 degree heat that comes later – all I’ll be good for is lying in a heap, grappling with my, by then no doubt none too stable mental faculties.
A French religious mathematician (whatever such a thing may be) called Blaise Pascal said in 1653 (or sometime around then - who’s counting?) “all our miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly alone.” My feeling is he may have had a point there. So I thought I’d try a bit of that. Rather than aiming to see every temple in South East Asia in the space of twenty-one days, as I understand to be the expected procedure the minute wheels hit tarmac in Siem Reap, I’m thinking I’ll aim to see almost nothing. I’ll try sitting by myself for a couple of weeks in a place where my nearest friend is 4000 miles away. Maybe I’ll make a friend or two out there. Maybe not. It matters little.
If a county’s visa application procedure is any indicator then it seems it’s going to be a quietish trip anyway, which is a promising start. Getting a visa sorted for India these days involves an interminable and entirely opaque pantomime of head nodding and bureaucratic paper shuffling that led me quite quickly to imagining that poking myself repeatedly in the eye might provide an entertaining distraction. Bodies of an international variegation drape themselves across every available horizontal surface and wait, and wait, and wait, the air moist with the not entirely appetising coagulation of stale sweat and curry powder.
At the Cambodian Embassy, way off the beaten track in Willesden of all the random places, you press the buzzer “gently and just once please” on the front gate of a modest semi-detached off the main road. A charming smiley Cambodian lady bids you past the gleaming black Porsche Cayene parked out front (!) into the oak panelled reception area. Not another soul is to be seen. Nobody else, it seems, is after a visa to visit Cambodia this Spring. She follows me in and trots behind the reception desk, asking me for the simple one page form that I had, in seconds, downloaded off the internet and completed, requests £15, gives me a receipt and suggests I come back next Thursday to collect my updated passport. The entire transaction takes about 45 seconds before she's ushering me convivially back out onto the streets of North-West London with another beaming smile. Collecting the visa was even more efficient by a good second or two.
Despite, or perhaps because of their, to say the least, chequered humanitarian history, the biggest danger in Cambodia these days is apparently the landmines, of which there are a reported six million still live and dotted about the countryside. So if my head doesn’t blow up under the pressure of my own relentless company, it’ll be my body. Still, a shrink’s not going to be much use in that event either. But then neither is a Buddhist probably. Still, if I do accidentally blow myself up it’s warming to think that at least I know my Mum will miss me. Not entirely alone then. Not yet.