THE LIVING ROOM
“You’re going to Cambodia?” Maria exclaimed. “You must go visit my friend Simon. He has a restaurant called ‘The Living Room’... its in Phnom Penh.”
I made a note of the name on my iPhone, along with other details... Simon’s partner Sophie. Something to do with the Hotel Cambodiana... Maria was babbling away amicably, as she always does.
I told Maria that I had already booked our accommodation and assured her we would seek out ‘The Living Room’. Maria can be very forceful. She is Filipino, married to an anglo and imports gourmet foods from around the world, and specifically SE Asia. We are customers of hers and have known her for years. Maria is a good saleswoman, open and chatty, and always makes us feel like we are long lost friends. I wonder exactly how much of a friend Simon is... after all, she refers to me as ‘her good friend’ as well.
Months later in Phnom Penh we decide to seek out The Livingroom. It has been recommended by another acquaintance as well, but they, and Maria, were sketchy on the address.
Our Tuktuk driver weaves us through the busy streets and we make our way to Street 222. Unlike New York, the numbered streets in Phnom Penh dont seem to follow any kind of numerical sequence. The street before 222 is 214 and the one after is 228. It doesn’t matter because our driver doesn’t have any more of a clue on how to find the Living Room than we do.
We travel up and down 222 several times to no avail. I suggest to our driver that he asks someone, but the ability of men to ask for directions seems to have evaded this culture too. Eventually he concedes and asks a fellow Tuktuk driver. After much discussion and waving of hands... mine included, we discover The Living Room on street 306, about 10 streets further away.
It is an oasis. Shady gardens surrounding an elegant French villa. A soft spoken waiter directs us to a table on the first floor on a wide open balcony. We sink into blue and white cushions on white cane armchairs and study the menu. We are somewhere between lunch and dinner, but have lost all sense of time. Ceiling fans whir gently above us.
I mention Simon’s name to the waiter. It is a tenuous connection and I am half hoping that Simon is not available.
“I am sorry.” He apologies. “Simon is not coming to the restaurant today..”
“Its OK.” I respond. “He is just a friend of a friend.”
We order Soy Chai Lattes and Fish Cakes and spicy Sping Rolls and enjoy the tranquility of our surroundings.
Sometime later the waiter informs me that Simon’s business associate is downstairs. I thank him, but we decide not to make contact. The connection has almost disappeared.
We are loathed to leave the peace and quiet of this lovely villa, but there is still so much we have to see in Phnom Penh... there is a river cruise and dinner. And probably another visit to the FCC for a late cocktail.
Just as we are leaving the garden, I see a young woman sitting at a table. She is slim, attractive and dressed very neatly in black, a laptop and a pile of paperwork spread out across the table. I hesitate.
“Are you Sophie?” I ask.
“Yes.” she says.
“I am a friend of Maria’s, from Sydney. She recommended the Livingroom to us.”
She smiles warmly. And we chat enthusiastically about our travels and Cambodia and Maria. And I am glad. The next time I see Maria, I can tell her I’ve met Sophie.