We’re staying in a little house not far from the studio, the three of us together and a woman named Priska. It is a typical Queensland house, wooden wall, stilts and shakes like an epileptic when the wind blows. Originally, it was just going to be Sophie staying here; Vannac would stay at the studio, and I would stay in Cambodia. But then I decided to come down and we raised enough money for Vannac to spend at least part of the time in a rented room, so after a few frantic emails, Priska made space for us. It has worked out perfectly: the studio space would not have been nice to stay in, as the studio is in a mini-warehouse, not terribly cozy, and without cooking facilities which would have been problematic. And, Priska, a Swiss-born traveler and world-wise person herself, has adopted our young Cambodian as her temporary son. She is delighted to have not just a person from such a different culture a her house, but a Buddhist no less! They are very happy going to the Buddhist center together for meditation on Sundays and Mondays; and Vannac is enjoying his celebrity status as an Authentic.
Having spent so many years as the foreigner in Cambodia, it is fun to see the roles reversed—instead of the white person being the object of curiosity, Vannac is on the receiving end of all the questions about what it is like to be him. And I think he quite enjoys it. When Sophie and I leave the room, Priska asks the questions that would be awkward to a Western ear, like whether all Cambodians have skin colour like his; what his eating habits are and whether they are like all Buddhists; and some that even Sophie and I are curious to hear the answers to, like what he thinks of Edith Piaf and organic dark chocolate. (“Does it have milk?” “No, Vannac.”)
So when Nicky learned that Priska’s house was a little more expensive than the other houses on the list, and she wasn’t even giving Vannac a discount, she and James took to the email and asked Priska themselves to lower the price for him. She was a bit embarrassed to receive it and sat Sophie down and explained that she set the price for a reason and a discount would undermine her fairness; but, at the same time, she did want to give something to Vannac’s cause, and she would be happy to offer him the remaining two weeks in her house for free. This is great as Vannac is very well off here, we are close to the studio, Sophie and him can do homework together in the evenings and review class material that Vannac might have missed; so, between these accommodations, Priska’s help with everything, the bikes that Nicky and James have lent us, lifts into town and to the markets when needed, we are all very well looked after indeed. Actually, we are all getting quite spoiled, and I am becoming wary of what seems like a puffy chest and do-no-wrong doe-eyes growing on our innocent one….