I struggled to make “the call”…to gather my belongings, commit to a new lease (which for a nomadic soul, is well..), and to chose the right spot; a spot that I would call home, but also my office - one where I would feel comfortable (no, I don’t need much), happy, but most importantly - inspired!
(The view from my deck.)
As a city that appeals to and attracts many expats, the options in Siem Reap are as diverse as they are plentiful; from upscale apartments, condos and houses with the most luxurious trimmings and facilities (modern tubs, swimming pools, spas, bars…you name it - it’s all here), to the more budget-friendly, modest and simple places to rest one’s head (I happen to fall into the latter category).
I just left a modern, bright and large western-style apartment here in this ancient capital, and wasn’t sure what to expect with respect to my transition to the place I now, as of today, call home.
Somewhat in a rush to find my new crash pad, I reached out to a realtor who generally works my favourite area. “My budget is X (lowwwww), I wish it where X (in this area), and I need it as soon as possible (aka: now)…if possible” I told him when asked. “I’ve got just the place!” he replied, “Meet me in half an hour.”
Not expecting such a quick turnaround, I quickly reached for my toothbrush, ran it across my teeth, tied my hair into a questionable bun and hopped onto my bicycle to meet the man who would unknowingly introduce me to the place where I tonight feel magic will unravel.
By “magic” I mean that juice that fuels the soul and the energy that lifts the spirit to a point of feeling optimistic, motivated and creative…one that is also greatly enhanced by this home’s location, providing for an ideal nightly view of a moon that shines almost as brightly as one of the most beautiful of all (the Super Blood Moon that made its majestic appearance over Southeast Asia a few nights ago).
When I first stepped onto this deck, where I am currently writing this from by candlelight (as well as the glare emanating from my laptop….‘same same but different’), I was mesmerized. I pictured myself on this deck, working alone as I often do into the wee hours of the morning on most nights, sitting on these sturdy wooden beams with my numb blood-deprived legs crossed under my butt and my spine hunched over the keypad as I tap letters with all but my once-removed now floating index finger on the right (I can just hear the seated posture-assessment folks in the newsroom I once worked in having a field trip with this one - that said, you are correct, I think I shrunk by a few inches in recent years).
“Yes” I thought, “this could work”…I was then kindly ushered inside.
I have seen Cambodian homes before, both from the outside (obviously - by virtue of being here) and the inside. Forgive me please, but despite coming from a family of architects I can only speak in the most layman of terms (clearly because their architectural wisdom failed to get infused into my DNA). I could read about it, and will, but I want to mark this, my somewhat ignorant moment, with those precious (to me) first impressions…
Imagine if you will, a combination of awe with a touch of claustrophobia. High thick wooden walls, varnished to perfection, creating a space that feels safe but enclosed. As a grad student in Canada, we used to speak so highly - of high ceilings (oh how we loved them, especially in the apartments many of my friends lived in, in Montreal)…in this particular space, however, the continuation of the same wood, the same shade, the same lines and small windows created (for me) an initial sensation of being enclosed in a glossy jewelry box; a beautiful dark red wooden hand-carved jewelry box, but still, a box.
Then, within a few short moments, all of that changed…
I was suddenly struck by the home’s intense fragrance - aged wood, somewhat reminiscent of incense. All of a sudden, a space that appeared tight at first thrust me into a state of calmness, ease and security. It was a feeling that I found especially fascinating given that the natural wood that makes up the walls of this space do in fact glisten with varnish - the floor, however, does not. I’m not sure what type of varnish was used to make it glow as vividly as it does (I’ll have to ask), but whatever it is, it does not detract from its natural beauty and - it is special.
The beautifully crafted roughness of this space then reminded me of European stables…
One of my most beloved pastimes as child was spending time around horses - especially, in their box stalls; listening to their approaching hooves as they were brought in from the paddocks at sundown, the crunch of dinner time, followed by that simple moment when we could simply just be, together, with no expectations of bits and bridles, to share a moment of calmness as we retired another day. I remember those moments fondly…and I’d be lying if I said I didn't picture a resting horse in my newfound space today.
(A snapshot from my visit to a stable in SR a few weeks ago.)
While this may not make much sense to anyone other than me (sorry), I realize that this new space, that I now proudly call my home (for the next little while), is exactly where I needed, and need, to be at this point in time.
It’s a home, built in traditional Cambodian fashion…and it speaks to my soul!
Interestingly enough, I also happen to visit another small village in Cambodia’s countryside today…homes were jus as, if not more, beautiful than the ones seen here in town. Propped up on wooden stilts - some with ground floor additions, but most without. Simply put, they are truly beautiful…
I then overheard a comment by a family member whose home had received “upgrades” from Westerners seeking, with the best of intensions I’m sure, to better the living conditions of the family.
Resting on the traditional foundation of wooden beams and floors of Cambodian homes, was the result of a home “improvement project”…a home with four walls made up of steel, a little thinner than that of a shipping container. The home also bears a plaque, nailed into its front facade displaying the names of the organization and people who helped make this possible.
“We don’t sleep in there” said one of the ladies in passing, “we sleep underneath the home (on an outdoor raised wooden floor underneath the main structure of the house) when it’s hot.” While nights are a little cooler at this time of year, the climate here, in this Southeast Asian country is - hot. (Something that is perhaps worth thinking about.)
I’m now smitten with my new steel-free Cambodian home, and hope to learn more about its beautiful, majestic, unique and traditionally-perfected architecture.
*HERE ARE A FEW PICS FROM THAT ROAD TRIP TO PRADEK VILLAGE (which I've already posted on Instagram.) I hope you enjoy them and invite you to follow my account - there are many more!