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Zen through Madness

By: Jet Odrerir Posted: December-23-2011 in
Jet Odrerir

Zen - A mind at peace. A place of clarity and reason found amidst the chaos of reality.

Cambodian roadways - Total lack of rhyme or reason. Sheer madness.

My first trip to Cambodia in 2001 was a lesson in freeform transportation. There were no reference points for how things worked on the roads here but it felt at times like a live version of the old video game Paperboy. “How aren’t there stacks of twisted vehicles along every roadside?” I thought. Upon arriving in Kampot I decided I could venture out on a rented Honda Cub. Things moved so slowly there that it was easy to steer around the pigs, carts and occasional moto, I began to think I was getting the hang of it. Until I got back to Phnom Penh.

Take cues from the local drivers maybe? I was not soothed by riding in the back of a Camry driven by a Mario Andretti wannabe or by motodops smelling of paint thinner. Maybe I’d make up my own rules, after all everyone else did. I of course made it out alive and a few years (and trips) later ended up moving to Cambodia.

Living in Cambodia forced me to take a more active role in my transport and I chose to self-propel rather than attempt navigating at speeds which required cat-like reflexes, say, 20-30kph. I found myself going faster and faster on my velocipede as I got a better understanding of how people drove here; the turn of the head that replaced the non-existent turn signal, the bigger is better rule and definitely, especially at that time, the “how is the oncoming vehicle going to traverse the craters in the road” rule. With crummy roads and every car owner desperate not to make any repairs that were not absolutely imperative, cars (SUVs were only for NGOs back then) made their way around every road absence causing them to be left, right or center at any given time. One of my favorite shirts at the time said, “Oncoming traffic, all lanes”.

I was soon riding my own moto and noticed it could get more than one person, plus goods across town all at once. Quite a thing. Times and fortunes changed for Cambodia, more vehicles, better roads, more people. Ponies weren’t in Phnom Penh anymore. Bicycles became passé. Speeds increased. That American aggression, “I own the road” attitude began to rear its ugly head. I found myself getting more agitated at the constant left turns from the right lane and right turns from the center of the road, the randomness of the driving even with the medians and traffic lights being installed throughout the country.

I thought I could outsmart everyone else and through keener driving skills and keeping ahead of the pack I would be away from the, “What was that?!?” move at the previous intersection. My heart raced faster as my moto did and the censors would’ve been busy had I been on some reality show, loudly voicing my irritations to all that would listen. (Me, namely)

And then it happened. My moment of clarity.

Drivers are always, everywhere, trying to get the advantage, make a move, get to the front. But here I was at an intersection clogged with every type of vehicle packed into such an enmeshment that it seemed that only a crane pulling cars out would be able to free it. We sat. We all sat. It was absolute madness, comparable to a Republican debate in America where logic and reason simply can’t be found. As packed as people were they all just wanted to jam in further. somehow thinking they could break through. The similarity to a Buster Keaton movie caused me to sit back and laugh, shutting off my moto and just enjoying the show. I had been broken. I now understood the, ”Oh well” smile.

As I looked over the scene bemusedly it occurred to me that every time I had raced from light to light, zooming between vehicles and getting the jump at the next light I hadn’t been gaining any time, I had been wrecking my day. Hey, I was in Cambodia, there’s no such thing as late here so why get so worked up? No more for me.

I found a little bit of peace that day and now as I move along with traffic I keep clear of the kids practicing their Supercross racing moves and oversized hunks of Japanese refuse belching and honking by. And I always try to remember to smile as I pull up next to them at the next stoplight.


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