Being a Woman
On our last day in Siem Reap, we decided to give ourselves a break from all the history and culture and just enjoy the rhythm of the place. So by mid morning we landed up at Old Market which is like a square labyrinth chockablock with shops selling everything from herbal medicine to iphone covers. After indulging in some last minute shopping alongwith lots of friendly bargaining with the vendors we drifted into the cool interiors of Cafe Central, situated at one end of Pub Street, abutting Old Market. Since it was a Sunday morning, there were only a few patrons lingering over their morning cuppa and we joined their ranks and appropriated a corner table with a huge window right next to it.
Sitting there, gazing out of the windows and watching visitors from all corners of the world passing by, I truly felt like a traveller. That picture is still so fresh in my mind ; the muted strains of Blues music playing in the background, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, clink of crockery, the low hum of the staff chatting in Khmer, palm fronds whispering in the refreshing breeze from the ceiling fans and me draped over a chair watching the world pass by. The occupants of the Cafe were no less interesting. There was a beautiful, well dressed Chinese mother with her son at the next table. She was busy correcting papers with a lot of musical notations in them, while the little boy was scribbling away in his notebook. A true Tiger mom !
Yet another table was occupied by a slightly elderly gentleman with snowy white hair and twinkling blue eyes, who was charming the young waitress with his banter and making her giggle. Two young guys sauntered in, dropped their backpacks next to their chairs and immediately immersed themselves in a map, probably looking out for the most adventurous route to take.
I looked out to catch a glimpse of a tuk tuk with a European couple in the trademark tourist look that we all sport – hat, sun glasses, smears of sun screen and of course continuously swivelling heads ! In the street outside I could see a melange of heads in all colours; blond heads mingled with black, brown and russet with a few bald domes thrown in for relief 🙂 . This variety was also reflected in headgear, and straw hats jostled with cycling helmets, floppy hats, caps and berets. Threading their way daintily through all this were two little Cambodian girls with the silkiest hair I’ve seen, talking nineteen to the dozen. Whoa ! In the midst of casually sauntering people there was a small group who I noticed because of the serious look on their faces. A Japanese family crossing the road with single minded determination, focused only on their destination.And yes, they passed my window swiftly before I could notice anything else !
Then my heart did a lil shimmy and quietly melted into a puddle. How could it do anything else at the scene before me – a tiny Cambodian girl smiling shyly at the nearly 6 ft European with heavily tattooed arms who ruffled her hair before striding along ? Well, the said organ got back on track at the sight of a group of teenage girls with their parents. Teenagers everywhere do seem to be in their own world. They have intense bouts of conversation in which the whole body takes part. The head and hands are thrown around with abandon and there’s the mystifying giggles which seem to have no earthly cause . It reminded me of my darling teen back home.
I felt a twinge of envy at the shop keeper across the road who had a stall selling water colours . The entire 3 hours we were at the Cafe, I didn’t see a single sale happening at his shop, yet he looked so relaxed and happy. His contented demeanour reminded me of a cat sunning itself on a wall watching the world pass by. In stark contrast was the group of cyclists whizzing past; fit looking youngsters with sun kissed skin and the wind in their hair, gliding smoothly along with the supreme confidence of youth. Just a glance at them was enough to make me feel tired !
As I was drinking my fill of the people and surroundings I was struck by the thought that I too formed a small part of this mosaic. An Indian lady gazing out of the window, trying to weave a quilt of impressions to be taken out and admired, as a respite from the demands of daily life back home.