Thailand is sooo easy compared to living in Cambodia. Something that takes three steps here, took one step back in T-land. Even with many Cambodians’ better command of English, the conveniences of Thailand can’t be beat. After all, there are greater numbers of tourists visiting Thailand and I’m willing to wager, more expats, too.
Thailand is also more developed. I’m sure my Thai friends (and family) were wondering why in the “wide wide world of blazin’ moto seats” would I want to move here. And it was also a tad embarrassing to answer, “Siem Reap” when they asked where in Cambodia I was moving to because Siem Reap means “Thailand defeated”. But for the sake of politeness, they just blanked out for a few slow seconds and returned to normal conversation.
Our flight was relatively uneventful, as you want your flying experience to go, with the added baggage of us stressing over our luggage allowance both in Chiang Rai and Don Muang (Bangkok) Airport. Between us, we had purchased additional weight, but we were having mini freak outs over guessing whether or not we were under-over. As a result, we asked a nearby yoga studio if they had a scale we could borrow so we could weigh our stuff before hitting the airport. They did and we were surprisingly okay.
We arrived in SR on a Wednesday, late afternoon. I was supposed to go to work for an introduction on Friday and then that turned into another meeting on Saturday, and then I was to start work on Monday. That left all those other empty time-spaces dedicated to searching for a home. I thought we could find a place before I started work, while my b/f said we’d probably live in a guest house for a month before we found our next home.
Despite my unrealistic expectations, we moved into our new apartment on Sunday, the day before I started work. We endured help and hurdles and moving guest houses before this, making our first few days packed with action and more action, and followed by exhaustion.
Our first guest house concierge was excited about me working at a “reputable language school” so he arranged for us to be taken around by a real estate agent one afternoon. The places we saw were too small and too hot. We needed just right. But I was curious what we were going to see and grateful that the concierge tried to help us.
Another agent, a slick European, showed us humiliating specimens ranging from a shared home with an incessantly yapping dog and a house that looked haunted and smelled worse. Facebook groups allowed us to hook up with more agents and one of them showed us an eerie commune that felt like The Lost Tribe of Israel meets Backwater Billy from Arkansas. We politely declined.
As you can imagine, we were discouraged, but as it turned out, the first place I saw was the best. So, we asked for a second showing, this time renting a tuk tuk so b/f could join (she only had room on her motorbike for me the first time), and after some fancy talk negotiating the price, we were ready and nabbed it before we had to spend another night in the second guest house, which oddly enough had graffiti in the room. Hmmm…
It’s too soon to tell, but I think we did alright. I certainly hope so. We stayed within our budget ($300 USD, yes, they use American dollars. The Cambodian Riel is used as change, mostly, but damn handy at the local markets and for tuk tuk rides). We’re also close to work and far enough away from touristic centers so it feels like we are living in Cambodia, not “Do you need a tuk tuk ride or a massage?” Angkor City.
Now, I’m not sure if our apartment is the norm or a rarity, but based on a friend’s place, and ours, it appears apartments have hot water “on tap” and that’s probably one of the bigger changes for someone who used to boil water in the kitchen to clean her greasy dishes.
We also have a gas stove and oven (!) and a bathtub, too. In Thailand, ovens (that don’t look like a glorified toaster oven) and bathtubs (that aren’t in a 5-star hotel) are as rare as a dog on a leash in SE Asia. Interestingly, apartments (even the one that was too small) are not as tiny as places in Thailand as well. It’s strange because new apartment buildings in the Land of Smiles have a tendency to be cozy shoebox-size studios, whereas here, based on what I’ve seen, you’re more likely to have space and sectioned off areas for kitchens.
Another change I’ve noticed is, without the convenience of a major department store or mega mall, shopping for household goods is a bit like searching for Noah’s Ark – if this exists, why is it so hard to find? Pillows were a fluffy challenge as most locals looked perplexed when we asked, their faces reading, “Where do you buy pillows?” Although, now that I think about it, getting another apartment key was more of a hassle than we anticipated.
My b/f’s first attempt to get a key copy was at the Psha Leu (or crazy local outdoor market on steroids), but the key he paid for didn’t work. Of course, we asked the landlady, but she had to ask her father and we never got anywhere with that. Then, we asked around at another market (for tourists) and found that a row of “key makers” were situated under a row of scrawny trees across from a mega bank.
We found the first guy to be too expensive, but the next one would make a copy for $1.50. Then the guy took our key and got on his motorbike and sped away.
“Where is he going?”
“Is he going to get the key made? But I thought he was going to do it here.”
These men sat behind crude-looking wooden H’s with rings of keys on them and plastic boxes with tools in them.
“He just took off with our only house key.”
Then another man showed up on his motorbike, parked under the tree and started to play with his phone while smoking a cigarette. I started to feel even more vulnerable. Five minutes later, our guy returned and filed down the end of our new key on his motorbike’s foot rest. He held up the two keys and handed them to us. After much fidgeting, willing and finessing, we got the key to work – I think.
We’ve had more success shopping for small appliances at Lucky Mall (it’s not really a mall, okay, it’s a tiny mall). Although, I’ve been finding it rather amusing when salespeople and vendors tell us that such and such product was Made in Thailand. I usually, rather facetiously, repeat that information to my partner, “Oh, it’s made in Thailand.” That would be like someone at Sears trying to tell us that this Made-in-China fan is top quality. (To be fair, I think things made in Thailand compared to Cambodia are better, but that’s like saying Japanese cars are superior to American vehicles when America doesn’t even produce or hardly produces their own cars.)
I won’t lie. There are times when I miss my old life in Thailand because it’s familar and easy. I didn’t fully comprehend how good I had it, but that is not enough to make me return, at least yet. Because I remember Thailand, in 2009, for me, was challenging at the beginning. Ecuador, in 2010 was difficult as well, at the beginning. I adjusted and things got easier. And even though I was only in Cuenca for 6 months, I’m so glad I did it. Being shaken out of our comfort zones can be a grinding experience that I get why less than half of Americans have a valid passport.
But I know that the resistance to change and what is different is followed by adjusting and squirming, and acceptance will silently lag behind that. I also remind myself that I was itching to leave Thailand. Being comfortable is not necessarily a sign of happiness or contentedness, and of course, constant change isn’t either.
And it’s not really, for me, about finding a home. I already tried to do that in the US when I moved from State to State – and when I first moved abroad. I have a home in Thailand. I have a home in Hawaii. And I know in my heart that my brother’s family would love it if I moved back to the American South.
Trying Cambodia is about living life, breathing through my tippy toes and finger tips, challenging myself and simply, taking chances. It’s about having experiences, I think, and currently finding a decent shelf or two, and a set of pillows for the couch.