Cambodia Is Close to Canada (and not just in U.N. seating)

Almost three weeks in Cambodia brought some unexpected links with Canada. We were visiting my daughter Katie, who has turned her back on a high-flying legal career in Toronto (she was a clerk at both the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in Ottawa) to do good work among struggling NGO’s in Phnom Penh. Katie took us around the country, including an evening performance of a circus in Battambang that helps to give street kids a profession.

Fresh from my being mistaken as the starter at the Deer Creek Golf Club, I was standing around in my Tilley hat while the milling crowds waited to be told to head for the big top . At this point a French gentleman approached me, the authority figure, to ask loudly if I was in charge. I’m afraid that I missed the opportunity to take charge of a circus, with jugglers, acrobats and tightrope walkers . . . surely the perfect career for a retired publisher.

Later, down in the southwest corner of Cambodia, in a forested natural area with road signs warning of elephants, a more direct Canadian link appeared. We were visiting the Four Rivers Hotel , which consists of private tents set on top of floating docks on a tidal river 15 kilometres in from the Gulf of Thailand. The manager, Francois Lamontagne, revealed himself as a man from Lennoxville!

Excited conversations about Sherbrooke and North Hatley ensued. Yes, he knew Hugh MacLennan! From a later career in film in Montreal he knew my friends who worked on the Trudeau documentary, and he had great tales of Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin, another Eastern Townships man. How on earth did Francois end up running a lodge on a warm Cambodian river, where we could swim to an island where fruit grew wild on every tree? Ah, he told us, it was a long story.

When we were half an hour from departing on the boat (an African Queen lookalike, minus Humphrey Bogart) I strolled into the little library, where previous visitors had bequeathed worthy books to later guests. There, to my delight, among a smorgasbord of books in various languages, I found Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro, with its dedication to her Port Hope son-in-law. To hold Alice’s book — even if it was the U.K. edition – while the sound of the jungle clicked and whirred around us, was almost too much happiness.

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