In order to give you an idea of how we live our lives, I want to tell you the story of my wife’s 50th birthday. If we had a motto, it would be: Live small. Have fun. Make friends. Love with your whole heart.
Before I tell this story, you should know a little bit about my wife. She is this rare, ageless, magical creature who never lost her ability to dance, play and be joyful without worrying what she looks like or giving a fuck what anybody else thinks of her. If you can’t already tell, I am madly in love with her.
When we travel together, we seek adventure with our hearts totally open to wherever the wind will take us, which almost always ends up leading to new friends and learning things about the place and people we never would have otherwise.
For her 50th in early 2014, we were spending three weeks traveling in Thailand and Cambodia. The night before her birthday, we flew from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We arrived after dark and were picked up by our guesthouse’s official tuk tuk driver (and sometime tattoo and mural artist).
We were welcomed at the front desk of the Firefly Guesthouse by two of the nicest people I’ve ever met—two adorable, young Cambodian men. They made copies of our passports and welcomed us to our room with slippers, bathrobes and some iced tea. Because it was her birthday, we had splurged on the suite for $20 a night and it was AWESOME.
We woke up early and ordered breakfast at the open-air, covered, rooftop patio bar. The same sweet guy that checked us in the night before brought us our breakfast. In addition to what we’d ordered (fruit and eggs), he surprised Pauline with a little muffin/popover-like cake with a lit sparkler in it. Several of the staff gathered round us and sang Happy Birthday.
This little experience was not standard Firefly service. Our new friend happened to notice it was Pauline’s birthday when he looked at her passport the night before, so he got up early, walked to the street market and bought her the pastry. This was a sweet gesture of kindness from one human to another.
We rented bikes from the front desk (provided by the non-profit the White Bicycles) for about $2 and pedaled away for our day’s adventures. The streets around Siem Reap are pretty bike-friendly, especially on the way to/from the main temples, however the air quality is pretty bad so I had some trouble breathing (I recommend buying an inhaler and a few dust masks if you have even mild asthma).
After a thoroughly satisfying and exhausting day of exploring the old city of Angkor Thom, we hitched a ride on a tuk tuk to town. We wandered through all of Pub Street and the night market. By the time we decided we were pooped out and ready for bed, we realized we didn’t have enough money left for a ride back to the Firefly and now we were too tired to walk back.
We got some money out of an ATM, but it only dispensed $100 bills and tuk tuk drivers don’t give change. As we shuffled around aimlessly, contemplating spending some money on something we didn’t want or need just to break the large bill, we stumbled upon a little bar called Linga with a rainbow sticker on the sign. Leave it to us to almost trip over a gay bar without even trying! We took it as bashert and sat down at a table on the market sidewalk next to the tiny stage and ordered a few beers.
In short order we made friends with the only other person sitting near us—a sweet Aussie boy named Maxim, who was studying urban planning and transportation infrastructure in Cambodia and was head over heels in love with bike-friendly Portland, OR, USA (the place we call home). In a former life I was a bike and pedestrian planner in Portland and still travel mostly by bike or public transit when at home, so we had lots to talk about.
We learned that Maxim had found out about Linga in a guidebook and there was going to be a ladyboy show that night. Since we were all so early to the party we had front row seats. Revived by our beers, new friends and the promise of adventure we were game for what ended up being an incredible show with some fierce, homegrown drag queens, followed by a great DJ. We met some of the performers and stayed up until 2 am dancing our asses off with our new friends.
After trying so hard to find change for a tuk tuk, we ended up walking back to the Firefly anyway with Maxim (who was staying just one block over), giggling the whole way.