True grace un­der pres­sure

FOL­LOW THE READER

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - FIONA AVERY

ADE­LAIDE, SA IT is noon in high sum­mer in Cam­bo­dia and stink­ing hot. We are trav­el­ling by tuk-tuk on a dusty red dirt road dur­ing the dry sea­son. There are no crops to tend, just a few sparse trees in bar­ren fields wait­ing for the rainy sea­son to bring them back to life and, with it, food for lo­cal fam­i­lies.

The only colour comes from the ubiq­ui­tous blue plas­tic bags, en­tan­gled in the strug­gling veg­e­ta­tion.

We have been out since dawn, with our driver, in­clud­ing a trip to the fa­mous float­ing vil­lages. We’d had an in­for­ma­tive and en­joy­able morn­ing, al­beit with two young tour op­er­a­tors who made ev­ery ef­fort to ex­tract the guilt dol­lar. Now we are on our way back to Siem Reap, look­ing for­ward to a tasty lunch and a rest, fol­lowed by a search of the mar­kets for sou­venirs.

Cov­ered up from the harsh sun in trousers and shirts, sun­glasses and hats, we also wear a splash of colour, our kra­mas, the na­tional ac­ces­sory of Cam­bo­dia, made from rough cot­ton and gen­er­ally in red and white checks. They are used for pro­tec­tion from the el­e­ments, and for car­ry­ing ba­bies, wood and food. Ours have a spe­cial mean­ing — presents from a house-build­ing char­ity that has taught us life in Cam­bo­dia is very hard.

The road is bumpy, dusty and some­how fun. Then we get a flat tyre. Luck­ily, there is a tree ahead, about 10m from the road­side, where a man is ek­ing out a liv­ing with a few tools, in­ner tubes and re­pair equip­ment.

While our re­pairs are un­der way, along comes a weath­er­beaten man of in­de­ter­minable age with rags on the lower half of his body. He is rid­ing a very old and rusty bike. He stops, alights with grace, leans his bike and a crutch against the tree and hops over to the pro­pri­etor. He bor­rows the old-fash­ioned hand pump, hops back to his bike, pumps up his flat tyre, hops back with the pump and then back to his bike, slings his crutch over his shoul­der and rides off, ped­alling with his one leg.

We stand silent, self­con­scious of our place and ad­van­tage in the world. We are both so moved by his grace, which more than out­shines his ex­treme poverty. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to our Fol­low the Reader col­umn. Pub­lished colum­nists will re­ceive OSA Brands’ univer­sal travel adap­tor with USB ($39.95) and Ta­tonka Check In bag ($29.95), ideal for keep­ing doc­u­ments safe, with zip com­part­ments, belt loop and de­tach­able shoul­der strap. More: 1800 558 707; osabrands.com. Send your con­tri­bu­tion to: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au.

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