10 things I Will Miss About CambodiaMarch 16, 2014
After a twelve-month stint in-country, Nathan Thompson is leaving Cambodia and returning to the UK. In his final K440 article, he reflects on the uniqueness of the expat experience he’s leaving behind and lists ten things he’ll miss the most.
General Female Hotness
When it comes to women in Cambodia, both the locals and foreigners, I often wonder if I’ve died and gone to suicide bomber heaven. Official figures from the F.B.I (Federal Booby Inspectors) say that 80% of Cambodian females under the age of 40 are hot. And that’s a fact. As for the foreigners, most Western women break out in glowing tans and don tiny shorts the moment they arrive.
When it comes to relationships, the pairing of Western men and local women has been going on ever since the first explorers tumbled off the boat and into the arms of village girls who quickly developed a fetish for big noses and fat wallets. It doesn’t seem to work so well the other way around though despite the fact that the majority of Cambodian men are fit and muscular. Are Western girls indifferent to their rock solid abs? Who can tell, but for me, I am not looking forward to pasty old Blighty where the women spent half the year wrapped solid in coats.
General Meteorological Hotness
Cambodia is like an opposite Narnia – always summer and never Christmas. The dual season arrangement makes it feel like you are living in some gloriously warm eternal present. Even the rainy season isn’t that bad compared to Britain where rain is a war of attrition wearing you down over weeks of grey sky. Cambodian rain is short, sharp and direct like a slap to the chops from God Himself.
No Festive Period
I’m no Scrooge but it would have taken more than a rosy-cheeked urchin with an expertise in turkey-sourcing to have convinced me it was Christmas day – and I liked it. There was no dash to buy presents, no holiday traffic and no post-Christmas depression lurching from food-coma to food-coma trying to recapture the sherry-dashed glory of Christmas Eve. As for New Year, well, it was easy to avoid that anticlimactic hangover-bait. January was free of adverts trying to guilt trip me into buying useless gym memberships. The whole absence of the festive season filled me with a relaxed warm glow.
Britain’s beaches are a cocktease. They have a dramatic and empty beauty that lures you in and on a rare warm day you even consider taking a swim. So you start paddling, ignoring the frostbite chewing on your feet, pressing on, the water rising to waist height and just as the piercing cold envelopes your crotch you turn and run back to dry land, pale, shrieking and suddenly feeling wonderfully warm as the early stages of Hypothermia start shutting down your system. Britain’s beaches are best admired from a distance. Not so in Cambodia. A swim in the sea there is a warm, expansive experience on a palm-fringed beach. Every time is a joy.
This is obvious and barely needs mentioning. Things are cheap here. You can afford to live a good lifestyle. Whereas in the UK you can afford a damp bed-sit overlooking a landscape that makes the Swamps of Sadness from the Never Ending Story look like Bali. Sure there is traffic and fecal dust but you can always get an inhaler later in life; if global warming hasn’t finished us off by then.
The Phnom Penh expat community is like a village populated by clever people. In fact I was just discussing with another journalist about how Phnom Penh is like a sexy village where interesting people hang out and get laid. Sure there are the unsavory “deathpats” but they segregate themselves at Golden Sorya Mall. Ignorant people generally don’t show up living in Phnom Penh because they’re probably not aware what an awesome place Cambodia is to live. And due to the high turnover of people expats are open to making new friends.
For those who don’t know these are high-pressured water pistols used for cleaning the back area after defecation. Without putting too fine a point on it, there is a certain freshness you get after using a bum gun beyond the inefficient and wasteful toilet paper method favoured in Western countries. Of course we’ve all experienced the sting of an over-pressurised bum gun or the ones that are too weak and just dribble. Like many things in life, you have to find a balance with your bum guns. But either way, it’s going to be a shame to go back to toilet paper.
The UK has the most surveillance cameras per head in the world. You can’t get away with anything. Now obviously serious crimes should be punished but I for one appreciate being about to get away with silly driving infractions by speeding past waving cops like James Dean on an 110cc Suzuki.
Cambodians are a bit more informal than the bow-loving Thais and Japanese but they still retain this noble gesture in certain situations particularly around monks and statues of the Buddha where it’s normal to prostate yourself three times. Having lived in a temple I have learned to get over the weirdness and bow with sincerity. It’s enjoyable to give respect to elders and monks; it weakens the ego and puts the breaks on clever-cloggishness. It’s a wonderful way to begin an interaction.
Happy Smiley People
Cambodians smile a lot. And they are notably helpful to foreigners even when most of us earn a criminally higher salary. Whatever the problem, from a broken moto, to a cut knee, my Cambodian friends have been ready with a smile and an earnest (if not always effective) solution. Sometimes I go and eat pork and rice from a dust-covered shack down my road. I can afford better food but the charming smile of the lass who runs the stall is worth at least my RDA for Vitamins A, D and Omega 3.
‘Kite boy’ image courtesy of Darren Wilch. More of Darren’s photography can be found on his facebook page.