As I strolled along the open park smack dab in the middle of frenetic Phnom Penh traffic on Sunday afternoon, I noticed something wonderful and altogether calming about the scene before my eyes. A bountiful number of Khmers scattered themselves about playing badminton without a net. The young hearty Khmer boys chased homemade soccer balls on the pavement, trying to shoot on the goals made of chappals. Budding fathers ran around trying to fly a kite in the heavy air with their baby daughters. The center of attraction seemed to transfix each person as they walked past, grabbing them and holding them close enough to feel the sweet colorful mist as the wind changed tide.
I’ve walked this path many times over the past month and always wondered what a huge mote with random spouts and gadgets inside it was doing in the middle of such a gorgeous park made to commemorate Independence Monument of Phnom Penh. I figured it was some sort of fountain but remained perplexed as to why it was never on. Isn’t that the point of a fountain?
Today I found the answer, which perhaps is not the answer as it were, but an answer to momentarily satisfy my quizzical nature nonetheless. In fact, I propose, on the off chance my answer is not the answer, it should defeat the answer and become the new answer. On on.
Walking through Phnom Penh, or any metropolitan city in the world, being a woman, wearing a skirt and big dark shades somehow brings attention to oneself. Slowly but surely, if one checks off those requirements at any point in their life, you learn to elude the attention. Each woman has her own way of handling it. Some just smile through, not a worry in the world. “Let them follow me!” she says. Some put a stern face on and think, “If this m-f-ing moto dude doesn’t back off I’m gonna show him what ‘pretty lady’ means in America.” Others cower behind their friends and hope someone else takes care of the situation. I, on the other hand, have experimented with each option in each of the big cities I’ve visited. In this special one I currently reside, I am sorry to say that after 10 minutes of no-worry-Mary I turn into pretty-bitchy-Veronica. To my credit, Mary gets pitiful moto-drivers following her around begging her for money so he can feed his family and a ladle full of guilt for the rest of the day while Veronica gets to ignorantly convince herself she didn’t hear that creep proposition her in the middle of the day on Sunday afternoon!
To my surprise, Veronica couldn’t help herself this afternoon. She fought back the urges as she watched the adorable little Khmer children clap and laugh in amazement as the normally stagnant fountain finally came to life. It writhed and jumped and changed with the energetic music. The delightful colors did the wave while new spouts came to life and awed and dazzled even the most dubious audience. Both Mary and Veronica have visited Vegas but there was something in the air that could trump Cirque Du Soleil on New Years Eve at the Venetian.
I realized the answer, which perhaps is the answer to an even bigger question in life, is that we always want what we cant have. The moment we are offered too much of a good thing, we spit it out and think “Oh vile substance! Be gone!” The moment we realize something amazing and beautiful and unthinkable is available at our beck and call, it sheds itself of all fascination. Does that moment change over time? Does maturity wash it away with age and bring back never ending appreciation for all that is great? Or does our threshold for greatness simply diminish as we become jaded and realize greatness can be found in even the most minuscule of things. Perhaps that is what the old couple feels, interlocking hands while they sit on the bench, their insouciant gaze into the world bringing a sagacious smile to their face as they observe the little things in life.
In this moment, as Mary beat Veronica down and smiled in full glory at the perfection of this Sunday afternoon, I understood why this lovely fountain is never on.