I am now in Cambodia. In fact, I have been for three days, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to sit down and write something to let you know. It’s been quite a whirlwind few days.
Let’s cast our minds back to Saturday at Heathrow airport. Imagine how thrilled I was to be lucky enough to get a window seat on the plane and that I would be able to look out at the land below. This was my view from the window.
Oh well, even if I could only look at a wing, it was still a good flight. A long 14 hours and one transfer later, I was touching down in Phnom Penh and getting my first glimpse of the country I am spending the next month in. Cambodia is a fascinating country with a past that is both rich and dark in equal measure. The people in Cambodia are very welcoming and friendly. I am spending the month in Kampot, a city with about 40,000 inhabitants on the south west coast of the country. Kampot is known for being a more laid back city, and the easy going outlook of the locals give no indication of the challenging times their country has faced just a few decades ago.
I began to notice the cultural differences the second I stepped off the plane – despite the familiarity of a Costa coffee shop and a Burger King outside the airport. On my two and a half hour taxi journey from the capital to Kampot, I was struck by the enormous number of cows the country has. I also learned that if you aren’t honking your horn while driving, you aren’t doing it right. I even got a chance to play the “Strangest Thing You Saw On The Back of a Motorbike” game. I thought a family of 5 on a motorbike was an early contender within the first 20 metres out of the airport, although it turns out that this is pretty normal here – I saw another dozen or so of them during my car journey. A collection of 6 spare wheels stacked on the seat was a runner up. However, the winner had to be a stack of cardboard boxes about a metre and a half high, with a man casually sat crossed legged on top while his friend expertly weaved the motorbike in-between traffic. I guess the only weirder thing you could fit on the back of a motorbike might be me …
Holding on for dear life.
The rest of my first day consisted of a tour of the town thanks to Kim, one of the lovely members of staff at Epic Arts, and dinner with some more members of the Epic team. Cambodian food is wonderful, tasty, interesting and affordable. In fact, every meal I have had out here has been sublime. I only stop eating to work, have water, occasionally teach and sometimes to breathe.
Speaking of teaching, I have been put to work. For the past two days, I have been working with the Epic Arts team – a talented group of 5 local performers in their mid-20s. We are creating a series of short videos, that will benefit from my experience with physical storytelling and silent movies. Over the last 48 hours, we have had some lengthy discussions about the nature of clowning, bonded over silent masters like Chaplin, Mr Bean and Buster Keaton, work-shopped ideas for a few of our films, and thrown ourselves into a number of clowning games.
I set the group some ‘complicity’ clown exercises this afternoon, expecting them to find them challenging. Partially because they are challenging exercises but also because of the language barriers (not only am I speaking a different language, there is also a mixture of deaf and hearing artists in the group). They picked up this complicity game faster than any group I’ve ever worked with, which led me to say “That’s astonishing, it’s like you’ve been working together on this for years”. To which they replied “We have. For 4 years!”
That’s not the only time I have been taught a lesson in the last couple of days. This lunchtime in the Epic Cafe (try the homemade banana jam if you ever get there), I was struggling with the heat of the day when I said “I can’t believe this weather!”, to which the reply was “Yes, sorry. But don’t worry, the rainy season finishes in a few weeks, and then the hot season will begin.”
By the end of this month, I fully expect to have melted into a puddle, topped with a misshapen red nose. But, hey, it’s totally worth it for this experience. I’m loving every minute of it.
From me in Kampot, and from my new friends Bobby the Cockroach and Harry the Gecko, we wish you all the best with whatever you are doing, wherever you are.
Until next time,
This project is kindly supported by: