// I love milestones because they give me a chance to reflect and disrupt my day-to-day routine and forward-oriented thinking.
// The things that initially shocked me the most about Siem Reap was the poverty, specifically, fewer infrastructures (i.e. the lack of paved roads, how dirty it was), and how much better Cambodians spoke English. Later I would learn that Siem Reap is the second poorest province in Cambodia. I found this rather shocking considering how much money comes in to this little city due to Angkor Wat.
// Thailand, on the other side of the border, has a bigger middle class, better infrastructure, and of course, a very different history. They didn’t experience the genocide of two generations of their population due to extreme ideologies, execution, torture and social engineering.
// Cambodia is a young country with 50% of the population under 22.
// Wedding parties circumventing traffic and baby shops dominating the landscape certainly add to the feeling that Cambodia is literally a growing country.
// When I lived in Thailand, I was acutely aware of the two-tiered pricing, one for foreigners and the other for locals, with the foreign rate being minimally twice as much as what the locals paid. I learned to bargain and figured out what I should be paying versus being ripped off or cheated. I think this is quite common among many Asian countries. So, when I moved to Cambodia, I brought this skill-set, if you can call it that, here.
Embarrassingly, I remember trying to bargain with a motorbike driver to take me home from the gym. We argued and I walked away and then I started again with other group, only to walk away again feeling angry at the thought of being duped into paying an unfair rate. I decided to walk home only to get caught in the pouring rain. At the end, the realization that I was arguing over 50 cents (or 2000 riel) sat sadly in my soaking wet hair and clothes. I didn’t need to be a miser. Sure, I wasn’t flush with cash as many locals saw foreigners, but it wasn’t necessary to bargain down to pennies either. So, these days, I don’t haggle the price before I get in a tuk-tuk, I just tell them where I want to go and give them a little more than a fair rate, say thanks and walk away.
// I was in for more culture shock between the countries than I anticipated, and I think this mainly derived from going from a comfortable environment (after all, I lived in Thailand for about 5 years) and knowing the language (enough to be functional and lightly conversational) to being uncomfortable (new, lost, learning) and having to rely solely on English (and even though, the BF knew enough Khmer to impress the locals, in Thailand, we were a stronger team when it came to navigating the local language).
// It’s funny because I thought I was “roughing it” by living in Thailand because compared to the US, Thailand has a lot of catching up to do. But during the years that I lived in Thailand, it developed and changed a lot, and I got used to those creature comforts. I also had gotten, for the most part, used to the cultural differences and the way things are done in Thailand.
// In other words, I was attached to my lifestyle in Thailand whether I recognized it or not. It’s kind of crazy, actually, how slow we are to adapt and then how quickly we accept something as a “norm”.
// This reminds me of how often we quit or move on before the tide turns. It’s a damn tricky decision, no doubt, when do you hang on or when do you cut your losses and pack your bags? For me, there was no other place to go. I didn’t want to go back to Thailand no matter how much I hated adapting here. Perhaps there was some pride mixed in, but I think there was also this push for I want more.
// More, as it turned out, was not where I expected it to be. Because living in Cambodia has turned out to be a huge resume booster. I was given IELTS (International English Language Testing System) preparation courses which initially scared the bajeezus out of me. Then I was asked to teach the Public Speaking and Debate classes. These are not only more challenging classes from the General English program, they pay more, too. Cha-ching!
// But if I had quit Cambodia a year ago, these opportunities would not have likely come my way. More time here and money has also allowed me to still travel to Thailand to see family and friends, but also to new places like Penang Malaysia and Southern Cambodia.
// My latest trip actually made me realize that if my experience of Cambodia had just been Siem Reap, I’d have such a limited and inaccurate view of the country. There are cities with better infrastructure. Even though intellectually, I know how different cities can vary within a country, I believe we often construct our worldview based on what we physically see.
// This is probably why we are enamored with first impressions and ideas about something, and hold on to them long after it has held its use. That is to say, you think you know someone because you see them act a certain way, but what about all those other things you don’t see that make a person more complete and complex?
// I think about this because I wonder who expats were before they became expats. Who was an accountant? A police officer? Who had this whole other life in this whole other world before I met them for a slice of time?
// Who were you, Cambodia, before the Khmer Rouge? Who are you now? And where are you going?