Siem Reap Night Market, by Noah Strouse

The blue/yellow neon sign floats gently on its tired rusty frame, high above the evening lull of its namesake. In the dark sky, (any alleged stars being perpetually veiled by the monsoon season’s thick swollen clouds [whose scientific names it seems I have dutifully forgotten]), the sign appears spectral, hanging weightless and patient as the thin crowd below snakes through tuk-tuks and motorbikes. Stalls and shops line the alleyways, each with its own staff beckoning foreigners to enter, lusty massaging claws reaching out to pull you inside. Haphazard cobblestone, dry dirt road, and the occasional mud puddle conspire to trade places underfoot at will, further turning the evening stroll into an obstacle course. The heat, though nowhere near gone, has lifted from the day. Everyone walks a little bit lighter. I breathe a little bit deeper. The breeze is soft. The river melts into night. Pub Street looks a little less garish. The neon sign floats higher.

Night market snacks:

1. Delicious onion/chive filled fried rice dumplings.

2. Ice cream.

3. Banana pancakes.

It’s been a strange couple of days. Mainly, I’m figuring out how to process some seriously uneasy binaries. Inspiring hope and overwhelming horror. Beautiful children leading blind limbless landmine victims down the street by their stumps. Rapid emotional investment paired with rapidly developing coping mechanisms. The Ly family, with whom we are to live for the next five weeks, have welcomed us with open arms of warmth, endless smiles of trust, and clasped-hand-bows of respect. The two superwomen with whom we will be working, Ponheary and Lori, are out of this world. It feels like everything at once is happening all over this city. Yet, 90% of people seem to be listlessly searching for work.

15 minutes back to the guesthouse, along the river, across the bridge, past the gaunt dogs, tail-less cats, and walking toads (apparently they don’t hop in Cambodia). Shoes outside. Up the stairs. Brief pause on the most amazing wooden chairs you’ve ever seen, seriously. Into bed.

–Noah Strouse, New School student participating in international civic engagement course.


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