• Tara B. Vasi

Day 7: Free Day on Koh Rong Island, “I am here now”

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

I woke up sweating and tangled in my bug netting that suspended from the bunk above me. I open my toiletry bag to retrieve my tooth brush and paste and notice my *emergency Snickers bar* is half missing and the wrapping is mangled and chewed.

My grandfather gave me the snickers bar at my mothers house when we were all visiting Boston for my brothers surprise 40th birthday party. “You aren’t you when you’re hungry.” The commercials are true, and hanger is real.

The snickers had not been opened yet, so there weren’t delicious chocolatey fumes spreading around the room. The toiletry bag was zippered shut and inside my main back pack that was also zippered shut. Mice are my nemesis and give me the willies more then snakes and spiders combined.

I put on clothes from the back pack because I don’t have any other choice and head to the only restaurant on our side of the island, the Bungaalo Resort Palm Beach. I get there at 7am but knowing the buffet is served until 930am, opt for coffee and a nice seat facing the Gulf of Thailand until my hunger wakes up.

The coffee is the thickest and brownest I’ve ever seen. When I pour around 4oz of milk inside, the brown color doesn’t lighten up a shade. So far the only thing I have missed about my life in the States is my morning coffee, but we all could have seen that coming. (I miss my family too)

The dock is full of people waiting to get off the island via ferry.

Stray dogs are splashing in the water, playing with a plastic bottle. The majority of them look odd, with short legs but full sized bodies.

There is a Cambodian woman walking about with a trash bag picking up trash in front of the resort, and a man training behind her racking the sand.

Many of the tables at the restaurant are full. A Cambodian man asks if he can sit next to me at my table and we start chatting. He asks if he can take a photo of us and I agree. A few other men see him taking the photo and ask if they too can take a photo with me. I agree, because whatever, but wonder if this is the first time they have seen a real live white woman…

I start to get hungry so walk towards the buffet, but there is no food left, so I order another cup of mud. I consider how it will affect my bowels, but disregard my concerns.

The ferry leaves, taking all the people that came to the island for the festival with it, and we have the island now virtually to ourselves.

I walk into the village. I was expecting shops, but it was a small community of shacks, a school, and a temple, and completely littered with trash. I don’t bother staying but a minute and head back to the Palm Resort, now completely famished. My Fitbit buzzed 10k steps at 9:56am and I thought maybe that was a new record, but remembered when I’d teach morning sessions at F45 and got 10k by 10:00am nearly everyday.

Because the restaurant was the only restaurant, they set tourist prices, so it seemed slightly reasonable in US standards but way over priced for Cambodia. I ordered a Chicken Sandwich (my first and so far only “western” meal), coffee, and a bottle of water for $8. The restaurant didn’t have us pay for each meal, but instead we all had tabs that we paid at the end.

After lunch digested, I practiced yoga on the beach. A few young boys watched me and giggled.

We had planned to hike to the waterfall around 2pm, but they cancelled the guided tour, assuming because there was not very much rain, that the waterfall had run dry. The boys went earlier in the AM regardless and didn’t extend the invite to the rest of the group. Grrr... but they did send a photo. Grrr...

The waterfall ended up being beautiful and flowing rapidly, though because we didn’t know how to get there, we couldn’t go see it. I was sad about that.

I sat and read my book for a while and took another dip in the water. The boys wanted to play volleyball, so I joined in, representing the women in the group. The ball was flat, so we asked for a pump, which was broken. A few young Cambodian men saw the boys struggling and came over to help. He threw the pump out of the way, put his lips over the pin and blew the ball up himself. They decided to join us. It was James, Kenny, and the two Cambodians versus me, Florian, Joe, and Owen. The ball went flat two points in, but we had a great time and played for about an hour. I hadn’t played volley ball since high school, and crushed some shots, because I rule. The two Cambodians were like Jordan and Pippen working as a team and completely took over the show. I worked up a sweat and didn’t break a bone, so I was happy.

We had dinner and I went for the Khmer Curry with Chicken, because I seriously cannot get enough curry, vegetables, chicken and rice. They played one of Pink’s albums on repeat and I remember that the night before they played exclusively Adelle.

Eight of us played UNO for over and hour and it got quite heated. Lara was on top of making sure everyone picked up the appropriate amount of cards and Lasse constantly got the 6’s and the 9’s mixed up. Everyone kept laughing when I referred to the +2’s, and +4’s as “mean cards”. I don’t remember having +4s when I played UNO as a kid or the option to swap out hands with someone.

I met a young man who worked at the restaurant as a volunteer. He was handsome and pretty ripped. His name was Karl and he was from South Africa. He had been volunteering at the resort for 6 months, working in the restaurant in exchange for room and board. He worked in Tech back in South Africa and realized he didn’t want to live that life anymore and found the ad for the work exchange online and applied. The owners, a husband and wife, of the resort were Westerners, though the workers were Cambodian except for a handful of volunteers like Karl. They were expanding the resort at a rapid rate as we could see from all the half built bungalows around our own. Cambodia and Laos are considered third world countries, but Thailand is not, because tourism in the last ten years has seriously boosted their economy. Cambodia was still recovering from the genocide. Had that not happened they’d be more developed and prosperous than Thailand at this point.

We all decided to call it a night. I stopped on the way back to the bungalow to sit and watch the stars. There was no ambient light from streetlamps, bars or buildings, so the stars shone extra bright. I could hear bugs and other jungle animals but there was a definite hush in the night. There was a lightning show going on, but thunder had yet to break. The sky captivated my attention more than any show or movie on Netflix could. I kept thinking, I can’t believe I am on an island off of Cambodia looking at this beautiful universe. I am here now.

“I am here now” is a mantra I have been reciting more and more since I decided to leave San Diego, California and move back to the East Coast.

I spent many cold mornings at the tail end of 2018 out on the back porch of my grandparents house. I drank my piping hot coffee in the purple hand made mug that my mother bought me for my birthday, wrapped in my favorite blanket and looked out at the lagoon as the ducks walked on top across a thin layer of ice. I would breath deeply and sigh the exhale, curiously watching my warm breath dissipate in the cold morning air. I’d think, “I am here now.”

“I am here now” has helped me feel gratitude for where I am in MY life and not to compare my life choices to other peoples life choices. Its reminded me to let go of the need to explain or defend my life choices to others. The mantra signifies confidently accepting my past decisions, fully experiencing the present moment, and surrendering to the unknown of the future. The mantra reminds me that where I am is exactly where I am meant to be, and I don’t need to live my life to suit anyone else.


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