This story is an on/off affair that bridged two countries and a couple of years. It all started with Couchsurfing, the interesting community that connects people throughout the world for the purpose of making new friends and literally seeing if they have a couch to sleep on.
Back in the day when I was working in Yangon I had created a Couchsurfing account, knowing that Yangon is a difficult place to find accommodation (although having a foreigner stay in your place is illegal in Myanmar). Needless to say I was very popular with requests coming in every other week. Most of the time I didn’t really want someone to stay but every now and then I had some great encounters with people, some of which I still stay in touch with.
One find day I got a message from a lovely American woman that was traveling in to Yangon for a few days from Phnom Penh on business wanting to meet up. I have to say I do appreciate people that have the courage to randomly pick someone out of an online social platform and say “let’s meet up!”. Outside of dating sites I don’t recall having done this.
The plan was to meet at The Strand, a Victorian era hotel that opened it’s doors in 1901. Despite it’s high priced room (about $600/night) it’s teak bar was a lot more accessible and was the starting point of most expat’s Friday nights out . The old colonial styling mixed with a modern vibe, and backlit bottles on a mirrored wall behind the bar. Given it’s social and cultural standing, I figured it would be a great place to meet (and quiet given the mid week date). Preparing to leave I decided to put a shirt on, thinking I might as well make an effort, even though my assumption was that this was a friendly drink between two interesting people.
At the bar, my chin dropped to the floor. I was greeted by a beautiful African American woman in a long emerald green floor length evening dress. The night was a hilarious, sarcasm soaked, conversation with little or no awkward moments. It was clear that this was a meeting intended as a date, which was totally fine with me. Not only had this woman had a colourful and varied career that required both charm (for which she abounded in) and intelligence (with she demonstrated with razor sharp wit) but in creative flare. Currently developing a successful socially oriented business, and art directing with some socially challenging messages she was also one of those responsible for the revival of a dance movement in a major US city (and quite famous for it). Although to add to all of that there was a movie script/idea in the back burner the concept of which was fantastic! I felt very much in the shadow of exceptional talent. The night ended only for the awkward bushing of the staff around our feet and all but one light being turned out. Outside, and by complete coincidence, the taxi that randomly drew up under the pillared portico was one of my regular cabbies and I was greeted with big smiles and lots of energy. My date simply looked at me and stared, as if this wasn’t the first time I’d been here and jumping in a taxi with a beautiful woman. The stare turned into a huge laugh and merciless teasing. Although my seeming familiarity with the city appeared to impress.
Having politely dropped her off to her hotel, only after a rather voluptuous kiss on the lips, we parted ways. That was the last I would see of her until I went to Cambodia, her home turf, 18months later. A few cheeky emails were exchanged in the interim and some frustrating clash of schedules prevented meeting up.
She was certainly on of life’s oddities. Intelligent, creative, talented, and beautiful. That relatively crass analogy of single women/men likening them to parking spots – they’re either taken or “disabled”… So what was the catch?
Arriving in Phnom Penh for a month of work (more on that another time) I had the chance to spend some few hours with her. For me, no matter how insane my schedule is, I try and make sure I have time for someone I’m really interested in, believing that people are worth investing time in. Our dates varied between drinks and heading out to Phnom Penh’s Blue Chilli bar (home of the amusing drag shows as she was looking for talent for a new advertising campaign for her business) to walks along the promenade.
As much as I enjoyed her company there was something about it all that left me uncertain. I don’t think I ever managed to put my finger on it (keep your mind out of the gutter..!), but the conclusion was a rather frustrated and sudden end, and all over organising a bike ride. It was the day I was leaving that the mood had thawed enough for her to agree to meet (with her friends) at a very very lovely boozy brunch place, that now appears to be the Artillery Arts Cafe (perhaps it was then too). She even warmed up to me but it was time to leave and I felt frustrated.
In hindsight, I wonder what it was I was picking up on. I find if I’m not totally at ease with someone, for whatever reason (their issues or mine) I hold back. The vicious cycle begins and it all implodes quite quickly. At the end of the day the best thing works out, even if it feels crappy at the time.
Reaching out to say hi (for my next trip to Phnom Penh) she told me she’d found “her man” and was off doing what she’d been dreaming of since we talked the first night (cycling in Europe). I was very happy to hear it.
Tales of dating are set to continue…!