Cambodia · Expat

Reflecting back on my first crazy year in Siem Reap

On July 15, 2015 we moved from Chiang Rai, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Yippee! Right? Wrong!

First of all, there was no honeymoon phase for me. As you might remember, it was looking for a place to live straight away and starting work.

And work was an uphill slog. Most of it had to do with adjusting to a brutal schedule and a new way of doing things (not to mention being in a different country), but experience kept me climbing, kept me pushing though. Now, it’s rather amusing to look back at how hard it was to learn my students names! Back then it was just another one of those micro-adjustments that made me feel like I was holding the world up on my shoulders.

During my most depressing moments (6 days a week at 6am, anyone?), my b/f would console me with the reminder that the classroom hardships was making me a better teacher, but I didn’t want to be better, necessarily, I wanted things to be easier. I was tired of feeling tired all the time.

Up to my neck in oranges at Phsar Leu.
Up to my head and shoulders in oranges at Phsar Leu.

Despite the challenges though, I recognized what I liked – my colleagues.  I liked who I worked with. I liked working with Khmer staff and teachers, as opposed to just expats which was what I was used to. I know this is going to sound like a contradiction, but I had to admit, scheduling aside, I liked my job. Hopefully, I don’t regret saying that!

I also believed that where we lived, while was the best choice at the time, played into feeling like everything was a struggle. We lived in a light industrial part of town complete with invasive noises from blaring wedding dance tracks to funeral wails, from big rig trucks honking to a metals shop that sometimes started banging and clanging as early as 6.30 in the morning.

It was also incredibly hot in our apt. We cooked in full afternoon sun. I swear you could bake a pizza on the bed, fry an egg on our walls and start a Panini press on our deck.

And even though Siem Reap has city garbage pickup, burning is still a popular form of ‘getting rid of waste’. These are not the fireplace smells of a cold winter’s night, but a, “dear god what are they burning?” Is that a mattress? Are they burning plastic? Medical waste? Why not?!

While it was a difficult place to live at times (frequent power cuts- burning- hot-smoky-dusty-where are the roaches coming from?), we liked our landlord and her family, it was close to work and we felt very safe there. It was a year I’ll not likely forget. I mean, I want to forget it, but it is inevitably tied with our first year here.  No, insulated expat enclave for us!

No expat enclave, just me and my sausages...hammock time.
No expat enclave, just me and my sausages…hammock time.

It was no surprise then that I wanted to leave Cambodia. We had many talks about where to go next, but essentially I just drove my b/f bat shit, airing out my grievances and frustrations. He was having a gentler experience, but we could agree on one thing, neither of us wanted to return to Thailand. No matter how much more convenient it is to live there, day to day, it’s still a visa/immigration nightmare. It’s a political minefield (hello, military junta) and frankly, I’ve done it already! I wanted to try something new.

So, eventually I told myself that I needed to see out my work contract and accept where I was. I had to stop dreaming of the next place. I moved away from gazing longingly at the fence and declaring how much greener the grass was on the other side and stopped fighting over what I thought my life should be, and started to enjoy myself. You don’t say!

We’ve started to discover more places to eat, specifically, cheap, tasty and Thai. We realized joining the gym did more for our bodies than exercise; it helped us feel pampered and got us into a green environment as the pool is surrounded by trees and plants. We did a lot of talking about what we wanted and needed. We explored more and finally, finally, found a new apartment.

The river is not just a block away. Sooo green and nice.
The river is now just a block away. Sooo green and nice.

The latter is really huge. Since moving, I feel like a tourist again, checking out new places to eat, walking along the river with renewed contentment, nesting and spending time just looking out at our new views and enjoying our little space. Initially, we were worried about moving from a two bedroom to a one bedroom, but it is turning out that we don’t need as much space as we thought we did.

The move was also easy because we did go minimal with our big move to Cambodia and I’ve been careful about spending money on frivolous items. I hope living in a smaller space helps us to keep clutter down (down, clutter, down boy!). Because I must say, there is nothing like packing and unpacking to make you appreciate having less crap.

We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m in cautious love with our new digs and neighborhood. Our second (dare I say it?) year should be smoother and a whole lot better.

Life is sweet.
Life is sweet.

What about you? Have you ever lived someplace that took some adjusting and getting used to?

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42 thoughts on “Reflecting back on my first crazy year in Siem Reap

  1. It did sound like a bit of a rough start, but nice to hear that you saw the positives to it all. Having good company around always helps, whether at home or where you work. You feel..wanted, and it sort of drives you to be a better person and make a difference 🙂

    Decluttering can be hard, but it seems that over the years you’ve managed to do just that. I remember reading a bit of that previously on your blog 😀 Saying goodbye to things can be hard but at the end of the day, change is constant and we have to let go.

    Ice-cream oreo dessert! I hope you enjoyed that 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mabel. Yes, it was a bit like climbing a mountain where I kept waiting for the plateau. I think I finally hit it and things should be smoother all around.

      Got my work schedule, too, and that’s looking like another breather. Thank god!

      Yes, the sundae was yummy. I must try not to go back to often! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you liked it Heather. I’ve done other audio posts, but it’s been a long time. On my menu, there is the option ‘Listen’ and that is where I have all of the readings on Soundcloud.

      They take a bit of extra work, but I’d certainly like to try to be more consistent. Maybe I’ll go back and do a few to make up the big gap. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think once you get over the shock of ‘is that me?’ then it can be a great way to go over your wriitng and have fun reading your own work.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No more shock for me as I’ve recorded myself several times, even when I was working as radio DJ back in college. I. HATE. MY. SPEAKING. VOICE. I like yours! Why can’t I have a voice like yours????!!!!

        He he insecure-much…Well, I’m still thinking about it, so…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m sure your speaking voice is just fine 🙂 No, I don’t want you to send me a demo. Hahahahhaa.

        Like

      4. HA HA HAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!! Like I’d have the gall to do that!!!! I did record two songs (no music accompaniment) and shared but I don’t think I’m going to do anything like that again he he…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It must have been a real hard beginning for you. I think it is good that you were able to overcome the hardships/ deal with them and not just trying to get away from there and move to some other place.
    This makes me wonder how long I would have survived, perhaps a month? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, when you put it that way, it is easy (or seemingly so) to just move on when things get challenging. The tough part is knowing when to cut your losses or stick things out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I hear your cry Lani.

    I like the sound of your new place.

    Glad you enjoyed working with your Khymer colleagues. Do they speak English in the teacher’s room or the local language?

    All my former Turkish colleagues spoke Turkish only. They even gossiped about me in Turkish, in my presence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re supposed to speak English at the school, so the Khmer teachers speak both. With expat colleagues it is English and when their own, Khmer. It’s fine. Everyone is pretty much positive, helpful and nice. Sometimes we speak Khmer we, foreigners are trying to practice, they offer free Khmer classes, too.

      Sorry to hear that Turkey is different. I’m really surprised that you continue to stick it out.

      Like

  4. Wow, a year already! I remember when you announced the move, one year ago, hehe.

    I didn’t like Shanghai that much after moving there from Beijing. But after some time I got used to it and it was ok. Being in an apartment you are comfortable in is key, I think. It can make you feel so much better about many other things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. You got it. Location, location, location. 😛 I wasn’t wild about our first place, but when you feel rushed to settle in, it’s difficult to feel like you have time to be choosey.

      While our new apt isn’t perfect, I’m grateful that we found it.

      I know, a year! Where does the time go?

      Like

  5. Congrats on one year Lani! You did it!

    That first year sounds insanely tough. I can’t believe you woke up at 6 am for 6 days.. and worked until what time? That’s madness, woman!

    When people say that home/hotel is “just a place to sleep,” they are very wrong. Living in a home you deem nice and comfortable can change your whole perspective on LIFE. I’m glad you found a new apartment in a nicer neighborhood where you feel a little more cozy. Even with a hotel (and maybe this is just me getting older kind of talk) I feel like it’s getting harder to “rough” it. While a hotel is “just a place to sleep”, after a long and exhausting day hiking/exploring/working, the last thing you want to do is come back to a hot and sweltering hotel room with bugs and noise and uch. No thanks.

    Best wishes to you in Cambodia!!!! I’m excited to hear about your 2nd year adventures 🙂 Hopefully I can visit Siem Reap while you’re still there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mary. Yes, I was thrown into the deep end and now I know what to look out for, but they, the school is also recognizing how much they need to help their teachers in this regard. All the new teachers this term got easier schedules. (Oh, why, must I be part of the paving??? :P)

      Hotels. Ha, ha. Yeah, I turned the corner somewhere around 30. Suddenly, backpacker hostels and g.h were no good. I needed an upgrade. And the same with transportation. I could no longer do those long haul flights, changing 5 planes, just to save a couple of hundred $$$.

      Thanks for sending your kind wishes. I’ll take them, gladly and put them in my room for rainer days! Yes, please visit!

      Like

  6. It was fun hearing your voice. You have a great reading voice.

    Liking your fellow workers is a good start. And your boyfriend sounds so supportive. Nice guy. It sounds like you’re happy that you stuck it out. But too much noise, too much heat, and a brutal work schedule would shatter anyone’s nerves. Joining a club, finding nice, reasonably prices eating spots, and moving to an apartment that I assume was quieter and more pleasant sounds like an excellent idea. My theory is: Don’t be a wimp, but don’t be crazy macho either. I hope your second year will be more like a delayed honeymoon for living in Cambodia.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks on so many counts, Nicki! So far, so good. We’re really loving the convienience of our new place especially during the rainy season.

      Yeah, for whatever reason we had an uphill climb and now the quiet and ease is even sweeter.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yea, it’s taken me..several years to adjust to the city where I live now….Midwestern Canadian flat prairie big city. Rocky Mountains are over 120 kms. north of us. If you read the lst paragraph of this blog post: https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/marriage-of-cowboys-dolls-bicycles-and-chopsticks/ gives one sense of different cultural dynamic than Vancouver or Toronto.

    It’s annual Stampede rodeo show time right now…so I’m going off…there’s a bike yarnbombing event of course at a knitting wool shop. Will be back here.

    Glad that you’re adjusting well to Cambodia even though it sounds real hot in your apt.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, no. That’s the old apt. The new apt is pretty much perfect. Thanks though. I’ll take all the kind words and well wishes 🙂

      Have a fun rodeo time. Yes, middle Canada I’m sure is vastly different than the coasts. Same for the US. Different culture, for sure. But all of it so interesting!

      Like

  8. Adjusting as an ESL teacher has a lot to do with one’s job, I think. Having great coworkers is such a life-saving thing as an expat. My first job in Ecuador was not doable because of the work environment and the 1 coworker / roommate with a temper. The second one in Costa Rica, I had a very sweet boss, but the job didn’t pay enough. Takes some trial and error to find a place that will work for us. And usually the greenery calls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. I knew my job was a big part of my success or failure as a Cambo expat, and my colleagues definitely made sticking it out, easier. In some ways, work was a bit of an escape.

      Like

  9. Think the toughest adjustment I ever had to make was living with my grandmother and aunt for a week… boy was that hell! But erm, for a week, ha!

    Why do we always think there’s greener grass over the fence? That there’s always something better. That there’s a “better” to begin with. It sounds like you’ve bedded in pretty well and made some adjustments to make life more comfy.

    Oh, and awesome to hear your voice!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jaina. Yeah, living with family can be a special kind of hell 😉 I give myself a limit. Plus, it’s hard to be in someone else’s space. I know it’s challenging for me, the other way around.

      The grass is greener syndrome. Don’t know why we do it. Drives me crazy. I think I’m better (at least for now!).

      You haven’t been blogging lately. Hope to see you soon on the sphere!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suffer from the grass is greener syndrome too. Like you, I think I’m a bit better now. I can spend way too much time comparing what I have to others. Need to stop!

        Yeah, I took an unexpected mini hiatus. Totally unintentional, just sort of happened. Want to get back into it all – blogging, Instagram – soon though. Life threw a curve ball and blogging took a step down. C’est la vie, eh?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yup. Take it as it comes. Hiatuses are usually good. A bit of cleansing…lean into it 😉

        Like

  10. “No matter how much more convenient it is to live there, day to day, it’s still a visa/immigration nightmare.” This about Thailand I agree soooo much!
    I think we may be moving on to Bangkok soon as I am a city girl and the school options are so much better for Z… Or Portugal, which is where I really want to go next… That country has my heart!
    I think my hardest time moving, was when we moved back to the states for 5 years between Taiwan and traveling. Readjusting to American life was fraught with frustrations and anger. I hated it. I never felt at home in my home country, which is one of the reasons we left again.
    Anyways, I am glad things are getting better in SR (Doesn’t having a nice apartment/house make such a huge difference?)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny that you mention Portugal. Another expat couple who is on a retirement visa in Thailand, just announced that they are leaving to go there.

      Bangkok, I imagine, would have better schooling options. A little crazy, but I think if you lived away from the city center and closer to Z’s school, probably managable. Bangkok truly is FUN.

      Yeah, yesterday, the b/f asked if we would ever go back to the States. Hard to tell, but watching what is going on back there? Shhhiiittt. I don’t think so! But seriously, like you, I don’t fit in.

      Liked by 1 person

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