Sous s’dey! That’s Khmer for “hello” and one of the few things I can say in Khmer.
I left home at 5:00AM on November 15th and finally landed in Phnom Penh very early in the morning on November 17th. It was an action-packed trip and I’ve never been more grateful for a bed in my life. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
Given how stressed, anxious and excited (not to mention a couple breakdowns) I was a few days before I left, I was surprised that I was cool as a cucumber that morning. It probably had something to do with the fact that I got everything out that I needed to beforehand and the fact that I was very sleep deprived for several days as well.
When we got to the airport, I got my boarding passes for my flights to Vancouver and Shanghai but they told me I needed to get my final boarding pass, from Shanghai to Phnom Penh, in Vancouver. The baggage tag machine wasn’t working properly but, surprisingly, I was glad it happened because it gave me time to talk to the West Jet woman who was helping me.
Not only was she really nice but she started telling us about when she hitchhiked across the Sahara in the 90s and how her husband spent two years in South East Asia years ago. He only came home because he got malaria. Pretty badass!
Then, I said goodbye to my Cub and mom, got through security without them taking away my hummus that I made to snack on and boarded my flight to Vancouver.
I had a few hours to kill in Vancouver so I set out walking to stretch my legs. During my time there, I did a lot of walking to get some movement in before my 12 and a half hour flight to Shanghai. Plus, the international departures terminal is like a shopping mall but only comprised of duty-free stores and fast food restaurants. I got everything with my boarding pass figured out, found my gate (which was near this giant fish tank–see below) and soon boarded my flight to Shanghai.
That was when the real fun began.
They made the call for everyone sitting in the rear section of the plane to board and everyone got up–including those who were near the front of the plane. That was fine. But, once I got on the plane, people would just stand in the middle of an aisle, with no thought for the people who want to get to their seats behind them. It took a little while but I got to my seat at the very back of the plane.
I was sitting beside someone, which I groaned to myself about a little bit because I was really hoping to have seats to myself so I could stretch out (I use that phrase very loosely) and get a few hours of sleep in. But having a seat buddy turned out to be much better than trying to sleep in a cramped little area all alone.
So I decided to take the opportunity to made a friend. We started talking about the airline, whether or not I spoke Mandarin and what a girl like me was doing on a plane to Shanghai. It turns out that my new friend is from the Shenzhen area but moved to Canada a few years ago with his mom. We killed two hours talking about the differences between Canada and China, which he seemed to enjoy telling me about. My friend also spent a lot of time trying to convince my that Cambodian food isn’t very good, that Cambodians make their houses out of grass and that I should really just become a teacher in China.
Then the (crappy) food came. Despite the fact that I called the day before I left and confirmed that there was a special meal for me, the flight attendants seemed to have no idea (which isn’t their fault if they weren’t informed) but then they brought me the replacement meal after I got my new friend to communicate what I can’t eat! To boot, they were kind of rude to me the entire flight.
Anyway, after the terrible food was consumed and the tiny trays packed up, the flight attendants tried to help us adjust to the time difference by closing all the windows, turning off the lights and basically forcing us to sleep. That was fine and I got a couple hours in but they kept us in the dark longer than they should have–they served us “breakfast” at 3:00PM Shanghai time! After that, I think they just wanted people to sleep so their job was made easier.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, they made an announcement saying that we were beginning our final descent to Shanghai so everyone should stay in their seats and not use the washroom. So everyone got up, walked around, went to the washroom and just stood around. I also discovered that “beginning our final descent” to China Eastern Airlines means “we’ll probably be landing in the next hour…maybe”.
Eventually, we reached the ground. My friend and I walked fast to where we thought we needed to be because his flight to Hong Kong was boarding in half an hour. We found out which gates we needed to be at, walked through a crazy maze of unnecessary hallways to get through security and finally to our terminal.
My friend left soon because his plane was boarding but he did me one last favour–got me access to the internet so I was able to email people, check Instagram 5000 times and waste time fairly effectively. Unfortunately, I had more time to kill than I anticipated because boarding for my flight was delayed.
During the time I was waiting for the plane to board, I did some window shopping, some walking and went on a great search to find some water. Turns out, all they had was warm water that had been sterilized but no cold sterilized water. So that was weird. As I was walking near my gate, all of these Cambodian-looking people in forest green uniforms appeared and were hugging each other and talking loudly. It looked crazy and I just kept thinking, “This is how the Cambodian army travels?”
After much waiting, I was very happy to be boarding, especially because I was so tired that I felt like the floor was moving beneath me. Of course, my seat was in the middle of the army. Talk about awkward.
Fortunately, the guy I sat beside, Tim, was very talkative and his English wasn’t too bad. He wanted to know why I was coming to Cambodia and why my hair was so short (as if he even dared to ask that! My hair is crazy fashionable!). After a few minutes, I noticed some of the guys started shouting things at him so I turned back to see if they were angry. They were all looking at me. All of them. I turned back to Tim and asked, “Why is everyone looking at me?” and he replied “Maybe because you are very pretty”.
We talked a little bit more but I was very tired and kind of getting cranky so I put my earphones in and tried to sleep the fly away. Not before he gave me his Skype name, though.
After another eternity on an airplane, they finally made the announcement that we were in our final descent into Phnom Penh. Again, we circled the airport for at least an hour. Then they announced that we weren’t able to land because of a storm so we were going to land at another airport.
That didn’t work for me. You see, I was supposed to get picked up by someone from IVHQ who had my flight information. However, I didn’t have any way of calling and telling them that they had taken us to another airport. I tried to talk to the flight attendant and confirm we were going to another airport and find out what I could do once I was there but she didn’t speak much English.
Somehow, I lucked out and we landed in Phnom Penh. It was kind of hilarious because, the moment we hit the ground, the Cambodian army got up and started getting their things. I assumed it was a language issue, since they don’t speak much Mandarin or English, which all the announcements were in. Plus, Tim said that this was only his second time on a plane in his life.
I was still worried that my ride would have gone since I was late but, after getting my bag, getting my visa, going through customs and passing by the army again (some of whom yelled to me), he was still there. Within half an hour, we were at the house in which I will be living for the next 10 weeks.
Of course, there’s lots to say about my first impressions of Cambodia but, that’s for another post.