In Cambodia, the people are so hospitable it breaks your heart to see them fumble upon committing very inconsequential mistakes. A waitress falls all over herself trying to please. Bell boys are profuse with apologies if your room is warm. It’s not just that it’s romantic to see people like those lovely Cambodians pour their heart into their service, it’s like their own well-being are largely dependent on somebody else’s satisfaction.
The feeling you get from walking Siem Reap’s eskinitas that are lined with pretty, ambiencey restaurants, art galleries and boutique hotels is not the same feeling you get from walking the super stylized but admittedly architectural wonderlands of Ayala, Makati or any place in good old Manila. Karinderyas sit next beside fancy restos, tuk tuks, not airconed taxis await outside charming coffee shops and pubs. Book stores sell pirated copies of hard to find books, one of Cambodia’s best ideas. I have not been there long enough to qualify as the best judge of cultural superiority but Cambodia’s urban make-up is so far ahead of Manila in terms of pretension elimination. I don’t think it’s ever been a priority of any city to eliminate any trace of pretentiousness but tourist hubs like Siem Reap and Bangkok, which by their touristy nature ought to exude a high sense of grandiosity, have almost zero attempt to be extravagant, classy or exclusive which can hardly be said of Manila.
I’ve also been to Hong Kong and though I didn’t love it, it was an eye-opening experience. What has the world come to when someone gets enamored and googly-eyed upon seeing working, efficient transportation systems? Before HK, Thailand, which was only mildly eye-opening. It’s not like I’ve been to many places and it’s not as if HK and Thailand are the best representations of of How Things Should Be but they’re good enough. The thing about our Asian neighbors is that they seem to have put much thought into things as basic as public transportation.
I’d love to one day be in another place and though I can’t be certain that it’s any of the places I’ve been to, I’d definitely consider Cambodia. I remember as a grade-schooler being a fan of Nueva Ecija and leaving it sad when summer finally comes to an end. The feeling is magnified but the sad thing is I’m not so sure that I really truly want to be elsewhere right about now.