I returned to my seat and found my grandmother rummaging through her slah and mahlu kit.
“Yey pbanh samrahn klah thdei?” I asked. Were you able to sleep at all?
“Luh thda ndik thdei, chauw,” she answered. Slept just a little bit, grandchild.
She placed her betel nut bundle in her mouth.
“We will be in Taiwan soon,” I said in broken Khmer.
Pink juice stained the corners of her mouth as she chewed. “And then how much long do we have to wait until the next plane?” She asked.
“Only one hour,” I replied.
I felt so responsible for her. I reached under my seat for my bag and pulled out my notebook. Our itinerary was folded between the pages. Los Angeles to Taipei. Taipei to Phnom Penh. One month later, Phnom Penh to Taipei. Taipei to Los Angeles. One month did not seem like such a long time at home. Though we were still on the plane, on just beginning the journey, it seemed as though much time had already passed, that we were already so far away and would be only father. Traveling seemed to do that, to stretch things out and also to condense them again. I knew that when the time came to step back on the plane, to return home, I would again feel like I had only just arrived.
Not knowing what would happen in that stretch of time made me anxious. The photos I had seen of Cambodia were either postcard photos of the temples of Angkor or small black and white prints my family had managed to hold onto through the ordeal of A Pot. I know that my parents sent my school portraits to Cambodia. I remember the envelopes they used, the airmail envelopes with the red and blue stripes around the edges. My relatives’ letters would arrive from Cambodia slightly wrinkled, the Khmer script curling on thin graph paper. The words were indecipherable to me. I never learned a character. I couldn’t write my own name. These were things I realized worried me about my imminent stay in Cambodia.
The pilot’s voice came on and I discerned from his garbled speech that we would be landing soon in Taipei. A short layover, and then another four hours to Phnom Penh.