Each morning, as the neighborhood birds, beetles and lizards begin their chatter and I am merely one precious hour shy of a satisfying night’s sleep, the newest member of our family shakes the sleep from his head, tags jingling with pride and enthusiasm. He clears his throat and emits a high pitched whine which rides the airwaves up the stairways and through thick hardwood doors. The hum of air conditioners does little to tamp the tone that jolts me from my dreams and doesn’t cease until my feet hit the floor. Good morning 5am!
In November, we adopted a street dog. Bonecrusher or Bones for short, named by the Bushbaby after hearing a euphemism for Dengue fever, the local mosquito born illness. He’s a great dog, considering he’d never been walked on a leash nor set paw in a house before arriving at our door. The guy has never once had an accident. And most importantly, he’s incredibly gentle with Colette and her friends. He patiently tolerates the tutus, headbands and big snuggly hugs.
It hasn’t been love at first sight as it was for me when I first met MY dog, Banjo, rest his legendary soul. But I’ve realized that Bones isn’t MY dog. He’s our family’s dog, and more specifically- Colette’s. So like any tender-hearted mama, I love him more all the time when I see how much joy he brings my lady. But back to that daily wake up call…
I strap on my sneaks and am out the door by half past five. If I’ve managed to prepare myself the night before, my iPhone is charged and loaded with my current favorite podcasts (The Daily from NYT, The 10 Minute Writers Workshop, Civics 101, Hidden Brain, and the usual suspects: TAL, TED, Lore and RadioLab). There’s no need to grab clean up bags since the streets and shrubs are full of them.
Some mornings I am nearly cross-eyed by the injustice of it all. Why can’t I be nestled into bed next to my husband at this obscene hour? Why can’t I get up on my own terms? Enjoy a coffee, check the news, putter around the house a bit. Banjo never did this to me! By the time all of these questions have been chased from my head by some riveting interview (or simply, Shankar Vedantam’s voice!) piping through my headphones, I’m hitting my stride on the riverwalk.
A variety of exercise groups mark my progress along the route. The first park I cross is Independence Monument where groups of men play a version of hacky sack. They lob a beanbag the size of a baseball back and forth using only their agile and dexterous feet. Other duos whack birdies to and fro in spirited games of badminton.
Next I cross over toward the riverwalk and through the throngs of well-fed pigeons that congregate in front of the palace. Bones is a keen hunter and will leap 3 feet in the air trying to sink his teeth into these plump little tarts. Last week he actually got one and I had to jerk him back in an effort to save the thing from his jaws of death. I may or may not have succeeded.
Onward to the riverfront where speakers blast Cambodian pop music to a group of early risers who clap and high-step to the tinny beat. Incense from a nearby pagoda, fried noodles from street vendors and sewer gases from the Mekong crowd the narrow passageways of my nostrils. I switch to mouth breathing and taste it all now too.
Further down the walkway an instructor guides a group of yogis through sun salutations. Around the next bend, a tai chi class is in progress. Unified in white, they swoop swords in graceful arcs and some mornings snap red fans open with a quick flick of the wrist and a loud POP!
I continue to the end of the path where a cluster of passenger boats is docked, resting from the night before and awaiting their sunset cruise assignments. I glance at my Fitbit to check my steps and the time. If I have some to spare, I climb down the concrete stairs etched into the side of the retaining wall to the river’s edge. It’s pretty ripe down there, but I enjoy the change of perspective and elevated heart rate that comes with sprinting back up the two flights to the street level, usually chased by stray dogs. There are around 10 sets of these double flight stairways that I shoot to accomplish, but usually only manage half that before my olfactories are overwhelmed.
Heading toward home now, the sun inches higher and intensifies. We take a slightly different route down a new section of the path, in front of nice hotels and restaurants. I peek through the fences, twined with fuchsia bougainvillea, into courtyards where gardeners take great care. The path ends near a ferry launch where motos stream like minnows off the decks. Almost all are loaded to the gills, families of five sardined onto that seat built for two, darting through the morning traffic, on their way to schools or markets.
I’m home in 15 minutes and patting my buddy on the head, thanking him for waking me in time to experience another colorful morning in Phnom Penh.
***all photos were taken with my “ancient” (4 year old-ha!) iPhone 5***