I was golloping my rice and mushroom as I still had to go back to my room, use the washroom for one last time, change into sneakers, get my kept-ready backpack and put a light quote of lipstick before the guide would come for the pick-up. The restaurant was across the street of the hotel; hence I could easily keep an eye on the passerby and that’s the reason I chose this place for lunch but the chef took all the time to prepare my food. However, this was one of those few times when I managed to finish my food way faster than my usual keep-chewing-till-you-can-gulp nature.
I was back on time, there was no unknown face at the reception waiting for me, the sweet lady at the reception gave me a lazy smile and went back to her thick long register copy. There was a tuk-tuk standing in front of the hotel, a young man was talking to a couple and I waited for someone to show up. 2 minutes.. 5 minutes and just 1:30 pm. Should I call someone or wait for another 5 minutes; I took out my phone and looked at the hotel entrance once again. The young man standing by the tuk-tuk was frequently looking at the gate while talking to his guests. I had a doubt!! I walked to the gate, that the young man saw me and came inside:
‘Yes, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that you are my tour guide for the day.’ Wouldn’t this be easier if he would have just come at the reception once or drop a message!
‘No problem. We are on time. So Good Afternoon Payel and welcome to Cambodia. I want to thank you for booking your sightseeing with me. I will be your guide for the day. I also would like to inform you that this entire tour will on a tuk-tuk and as the tour booked by you is a shared tour, you will be sharing the tuk-tuk with another couple. I hope it’s ok.’
I was listening to the young man with wonder. Most probably at his late 20 or early 30, of medium height, well groomed and an unnoticeable pair of well-varnished cheeks which was doing absolute justice to his blue jeans and blue denim shirt, this young man spoke every word just the way you are reading them. No typical Cambodian accent, a soft yet clear voice, every word pronounced with precise clarity and he was the only Cambodian I met during my trip, speaking so good and unbroken English, even later my co-guests had voiced my thoughts to him with bosting appreciation.
Before moving further, may be you need a little brief of this tour. This was in Battambang, a city at the north west of Cambodia. An all of a sudden so quiet a city this was right after Siem Reap. When the first day at Battambang was little difficult to adjust with, the quietude wraps around you slowly and it gets cosy. The tour for the day was to the country-side of Battambang, where we were supposed to get an experience of Bamboo train which I was very keen for and it also included a Bat cave which I had made up my mind to skip. Whether I did skip or not, that has nothing to do with this story. Oo, I should not forget the couple, my co-passengers were an almost-hitting-their-old-age British couple, who came for a visit to their son who lives in Thailand and on their way back they made a small trip to Siem Reap- Battambang then back to Siem Reap and then UK. And if you are thinking, yes old people and I have some unknown metaphysical connection which somehow gets connected through invisible magnetic fields.
Usually a tour guide’s work to give correct information of the tour, help the tourists understand the significance of the tour they are availing, making sure his or her guests are following the lead or not losing their way while engaged in clicking pictures, communicating with the guests to understand them better etc. Most of the times I have come across guides who are quite passionate about their work which makes them all stand out in their very own way. But when passion is overtaken by compassion, when professionalism is words straight from the heart, and when knowledge is the drive to wisdom, such talents can only be valued and treasured for life. This young man was such a talent.
He knew his history, the myths from the past, the current political happenings of the country, the social beliefs in the villages, how are they different from the city lives of his country; but he also knew there’s a bigger world beyond his land and life is lot different there. Like different countries, religions are different, cultural practices vary, so does the social credence.
He wanted us to know the history, current political scenario, the social structure of his country and we couldn’t distract ourselves from his presentation; the young man went out of the way to make our tour a special one. We went to interior villages, stopped by a village grill to taste chicken takos (which is actually small pieces of chicken grilled on bamboo stick), we saw the village wives playing bingo in the lazy afternoons and sometimes, he would stop his tuk-tuk in the mid of roheline bliss.
‘Is dowry system still existing in your country?’ the young man and I were sitting behind the truck on our way back from the killing cave, while I asked the British man to seat at the front with his wife, as he was adamant for me to seat inside the car with his wife like we did while going up to the cave.
‘By law it’s abundant and it’s illegal, but you never know. In the country side where education and awareness is still a challenge, may be there it still exists.’
‘Right, but here it exists in big way. How about women’s education? Does the society allow it in the village?’
‘Oh yes, very much, not only the society but the government is working really hard for the education and well being of every girl child in the country. Even the society now-a-days encourages their daughters for higher studies, employment, being self-dependent.’
‘Even in the village?’
‘Yes, very much, there are laws in favour of women rights, women education, so I will say we are improvising with time.’
‘That’s really nice to know, because here we are still many years behind and lot needs to be done in terms of everything. So are you from a city or a village in India?’
‘I am from one of the metro cities actually, but I am well connected with village as both my parents have been from country side, my mother’s family is still living there.’
‘Ohk, Oh we have reached the bat cave.’ (Ohhh- Bat cave!!)
The British couple were the first to be dropped, after 20 minutes drive it was my time to say ‘thank you for that amazing tour.’ But more than me, the young man was more thankful. We took some good 5 minutes to bid our final Adios. There is a feeling of happiness and then there is contented, if the first is finding a shop selling your favourite ice-cream, the second is the joy of tasting that ice cream. This tour was the later. My Cambodia trip taught me one thing again and again; your gratitude exalts your honour so wear it with pride. So never forget to unbox your sixth senses before stepping out of your house!!