Learning to Listen


The trip to Phnom Penh was good. Having an eight-year old in the car with us made it more interesting.We loved it. And he speaks fluent English and is a bright kid. At one point we were talking about languages and he announced that he likes “Australian,” and proceeded to impersonate his best English Australian accent, “Good day, mate!” Not bad for a kid who lives in an non-English speaking country…

I am now sitting at a restaurant waiting for a couple I’m meeting with in a few minutes. This is the first time since I got here that I was able to catch a little breather. A time to reflect on what I’ve learned from this trip so far.

And I have learned so much from the Cambodian people. This time I learned afresh that it is always good policy to listen to people who know what they are talking about. The Cambodian people are NOT vociferous. I would not call them brash or aggressive. They go about their business navigating through incredibly complicated traffic and eking out a living with little resources but a wealth of creativity and moxy.

There is only one place where I have noticed that Cambodians sort of assume a new persona, and that is at the bus station. There is nothing like the experience of catching the bus at a busy “bus station,” actually, a small building that has a little restaurant, a sidewalk and a group of people intent on getting their bags onto the belly of the ship and getting on with their trip.

For an outsider, the place looks ike the picture of chaos. People are talking as loud as it is humanly possible for a Cambodian larynx. No one seems to be in charge and everyone is. To complicate matters, on this day, the owners had decide to tear up the whole sidewalk and insert new blocks of pavement. We were literally on the streets transacting luggage business and we had six volumes.

The guy who was taking the tickets saw our stuff and immediately said we would need to wrap all our bags in plastic bags. I said, “That’s okay, we don’t need it.” He insisted, “It might get wet. You will need it.” I said, “No, thanks.” You see, I like to do things my way, and in all my years traveling by bus in Cambodia, I never had to do that. But through the noise of the cloud, he kept saying we had to do it. I thought it was a gimmick to get me to buy the bags. Sure enough, when I asked how much the bags were, it was one dollar per bag. I knew it. Somebody had discovered a new way to make a buck.

Then enters the wife. And that is another lesson hopefully you have learned if you have been married as long as I have: when in doubt, listen to the wife, and if not in doubt, listen to her all the same. Naza heard the word “flooding” and she said, “We are doing it.” End of discussion.

Wrapping all of our bags in plastic bags was quite the chore. By now it was getting hot and I was sweating a lot. I want to get into the air-conditioned bus! Where are those wrapping machines you see at airports in the U.S. when you need them?

Along the way to Battambang I began to understand the full extent of the effects of the heavy rains Cambodia had recently and which is still plaguing Thailand in a big way right now. We had to go through stretches that appeared like there were no roads underneath. The waters were high and yellow cake dirty.

When I arrived in Battambang and saw the wetness and dirt outside on the plastic bags, I thought about how stubborn and stupid I had been, not accepting the guy’s suggestion when he first mentioned it. I was thankful we did what he insisted we should do. I realized he was not simply trying to make things more complicated for us, he was not taking advantage of us or being mean. He was not being a tyrant or a dictator. He was just looking out for us — He had our best interest in mind.

How does that parallels our relationship to God? I will let you draw that conclusion. Let me just say that I have caught myself resisting things that God clearly says I should do or not do. And at times I have paid a price for my inability to listen. 

And that is only one of the many lessons I have learned from Cambodian people this time around.

Ivanildo C. Trindade