When we arrived in Sen Monorom (the Capital of Mondul Kiri province) at about noon, we were astonished. The busy hustling otherwise known from even the smallest Cambodian townships didn’t seem to happen here, in the mountains at the end of the world. Rather, it appeared to us like a piece of scenery from a western: We were trotting past houses along an only main dust track, and all heads were turning towards us, the white strangers. Not even the normal steady PA orgy out of megaphones from market and temple that Cambodians seem so fond of happened here. No, it was quiet, and the heat was bearable. That was one reason why we had come to Sen Monorom. The mountains. A few degrees less than in the dusty hell at sea level.
There were two other reasons. For one, we had planned to teach English to kids and monks somewhere in the countryside. This really shouldn’t be a problem. But our timing was off: In a few days it would be Khmer New Year, and the entire country was in a state of emergency. No thought of school. Well, Khmer New Year was the third reason. People had told us that it is best celebrated in the countryside. Everybody was heading home to their families. The cities orphaned. But there was a timing problem here as well: Nobody ever knows exactly when Khmer New Year is happening. Sometime between 11th and 16th of April it seems. So there might be a few days left. A few days at the end of the world.
Time for starting a project that we had had in mind for some time: Sitting on a chair and watching the street. A classic diversion not just for old people in countries like Morocco, Greece, or Cambodia. We had witnessed this quite a few times, and Julian had even tried it before in Greece. Sen Monorom seemed the perfect place for this.
The plan was to stay in a central restaurant during their entire opening times. But we weren’t that tough. Cambodians get up at 4. At least we arrived there at our own breakfast time (at about 12) and stayed in the establishment for about 7 hours. Right in the middle of Sen Monorom. We couldn’t have imagined how exhausting and breathless these 7 hours would become.
The joint was filled with the men of Sen Monorom, who were passing the holiday week watching two Muay Thay fights at the same time on TV. Or playing domino with a gangster attitude and for a lot of money. We could hardly tell the fighters apart – always two small Asian guys in red and blue shorts – and found it amazingly boring to watch. Then we unsuccessfully asked ourselves why domino does work, that is why there is always someone who can play. If someone knows a short proof, please tell us. Finally we turned our attention to the street. There, too, something was happening all the time. Not half a minute without someone coming into the restaurant or leaving. Dogs, birds, cleaning fish. Buses, kids, and many many motos. In the background always the roar of the TV crowd. No chance of quiet. Yet the most interesting things happened inside me.
First there was amazing resistance: Boredom, rejection, fatigue, the food didn’t taste good, all of this doesn’t mean shit to me … all kinds of negativity were there to watch. But I just stayed there, watching all these states and talking about them with Julian, just like about the exterior events. Just like the exterior events it was moving and changing all the time. Finally such things as acceptance and realization arrived, and the feeling that it was all happening in me and was all equally meaningful or meaningless. Perhaps the most impressive thing: How outrageously deep, detailed, and complex reality was – the closer you were watching, the more was happening. Sheer infinity happening in these hours in a 200m street section, a restaurant and two heads. I got the feeling that this hanging out and watching was the craziest, most radical thing I had ever done. And that the centre of Sen Monorom, a township of 6000 souls, is still much too stressful for this venture. Next time in the woods. Try it yourself, if you dare to. Just sit down somewhere, stay there, and watch. As long as you can manage.