Falling off Vespas and other Things I DoNovember 21, 2006
I’ve always taken the view that work (well, enjoyable work such as writing) is the polar opposite of being dead. Sometimes that thought pops up into my mind when anything really gloomy happens such as driving my Vespa into a black wheelie bin a Khmer has left in the middle of a slummy run down road after dark or waking up with my clothes on at midday.
When the two things happen within a few hours then it’s definitely time to write. So not remembering how I got home and nursing a knee so bashed that it makes me feel like an extra from an especially brutal episode of ‘Band of Brothers,’ has been the spur to write. The fact that on Sunday (my housekeeper’s day off) I was alone and immobile in my lodgings and the contents of my fridge were somewhat less than the daily rations of a Second World War Russian prisoner only served to spur me on even the more so.
In fact, I’ve learned a few things about expat life over the last few years.
Firstly, you have to make creative use of your time, which means working, reading or talking to intelligent people. Should you fail in this task, you end up not knowing what to do with yourself and going barmy or drunk in a ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ type way. Being wild, fearless, crazy and drunk only works for a time. The crusty fag end of the night is not time to go for another ten beers – it”s time to go home. That much I’ve learnt.
Secondly, I learnt to grow out the stage of being, in the words of Jeffery Bernard, ‘c*ntstruck.’ Many an otherwise intelligent and successful expat has floundered and come unstuck after succumbing to the disease of becoming ‘c*ntsruck’ and has found this problem interfering with their lives in all manner of negative ways. It’s better by far to have two propositions in four years from well brought up respectable young women than two propositions daily from foul mouthed and troublesome ladies of the night.
Another thing I’ve learnt from living in Cambodia is that there is far more to do here than getting drunk and beating people up, although anyone who takes a late night trip down Street 51 in Phnom Penh may think entirely the opposite.
Next, Cambodia is the perfect place to live for anybody with a phobia around slugs and snails. In four years, I’ve seen neither.
Also, over time, you will suffer the legion of savage indignities that the expat is heir to. On the mild side this could be getting queue jumped at the supermarket by a rich and overbearing local, or on the heavier side, being ploughed down and left for dead by a drunken local bank manager driving his Lexus down the wrong side of the road.
Sixthly, being poor and foreign in Cambodia is another savage indignity not even worth considering. Cambodia has to be the worst place in the world to be poor and white.
Finally, don’t get ill here a Cambodia is no place to be sick either. Most Khmer medical practioners (and I use that phrase loosely) have the bedside manner of Dr Joseph Mengele and the medical skills of a Polish plumber. After cracking my knee a few days back, I disinfected the wound with alcohol and applied iodione – a local ‘doctor’ would have probably reached for a saw. Imagine the doctor’s quarters in a ship’s galley during the Napoleonic Wars and you’ll have some idea what a Khmer hospital is like.
Yet looking down from my window now at the street scenes below (having hobbled painfully over), provides temporary solace as I see cheery, industrious Khmer folk going about their every day business, seemingly without a care in the world.
Looking down from my window in London way back when, I would have seen a diverse crew of tattooed pit bull walking menaces-to-society, fat mums with their hair tied back harshly (the legendary ‘Essex Facelift’), ten year old muggers-in-waiting and the sort of alcoholics who would drink lighter fluid if they ever ran out of cheap sherry. Howerver, I believe the latter category are now mostly living in Sihanoukville.