The Trouble with Tradition

You know how it is when you’re aware that you really must go on a diet and lay off the chocolates. It can be pretty tough to maintain your resolve when there are twenty boxes of chocs wanting to say hello every time you leave the house, right? Well, being a single expatriate in Cambodia is like that.

I so can’t be bothered with female company, and I go out to chat to the guys, but unlike the choccies girls here don’t stay in their boxes and after a couple of cokes it can get a little tricky. One evening I was just starting to formulate the thought ‘Just one can’t hurt, can it? What if I just take off the wrapping?’ It was just at that moment that I received a text from a factory secretary, declaring her deep and undying love for me. It was very sweet – and damned smart too; women do that, don’t they? About twenty minutes previously she’d phoned me but the conversation wasn’t very successful on account of the volume of the music in the bar. Clever girl that; it worked too – put me right off my confectionary.

I must explain; this girl has been my girlfriend for about the last sixteen months – without me realising. Seriously – there was a bit of a cultural misunderstanding. She was of the school of thought that maintains that good Cambodian females must be totally passive and have males make all the moves.

Additionally, she subscribed to the peculiar Cambodian habit whereby the girl has to feign disinterest as a way of testing the suitor’s seriousness. I saw her with a chaperone a few times, then for a couple of dinners, but she never displayed too much interest and never called. She was then offered a job as an accountant in a factory about 100 km out of town, in the city where her middle-class family lives.

She’d asked me to make the decision but I’d said that that was inappropriate; she took the job, so not only did I not hear from her, I didn’t see her either. I assumed the relationship, which hadn’t even got started, had fizzled out and I turned my attentions to another.

I found out about six months later that this girl was still waiting for me to call, and as I found out just recently when she initiated contact, she continued to tell everyone that I was her boyfriend. She’d tell everyone how she felt about me – except me.

Maybe you can see why the text message was quite a shock. The reason she contacted me after so long was evidently because an American with a home in New York and another in Florida had proposed to her but she was in love with me (I turn out to have been her first and only love). She said something about needing to see me in order to take me out of her heart before she could think about him.

I see her for a couple of hours on Saturday evenings before I return home for the football (being the glorified village that Phnom Penh is, one of the country’s leading television celebrities was munching his burger and fries at the next table, quite unhassled).

She must have reflected on the past misunderstandings because she’s definitely more forward now – last time she darn near held my hand. Cambodians; women; Cambodian women – I plead ignorance, and I have no idea where this is going. Except that I do since she’s certain – the American was the second wealthy suitor her parents had arranged; this girl makes her own decisions. She’s dark, gorgeous (I was rather shocked at some photos she sent me; turns out she models the clothes the factory produces), tolerant, trusting, trustworthy, low-maintenance and frankly, I like her decision – it saves me from making any more bad ones.

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