InterNed in Cambodia: Part 1 ‘Sudden Departures’

Prior to February of this year, it had never, ever, not even remotely ever, even slightly, never – at all – occurred to me, at any point over the course of my entire life, from birth up until some fateful and arbitrary moment early in that month, that I might someday travel to Cambodia.

Not for a visit nor a vacation. Not for Angkor Wat nor Anchor drafts. Certainly not to indulge in tragedy tourism, standing in line reluctantly with the other dutifully depressed tourists, making somber and solemn pilgrimages to the Historical Haunted Houses left behind by the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. No way.

I’m just not a big fan of turning places like Auschwitz into tourist attractions. One man’s memorial is another man’s historical theme park. They may as well put actors in period dress and have them improv with each other all day like at a Renaissance Fair or some Pioneer Village. They’ve already got a totally realistic (i.e. real) backdrop already in place, so costumes are a no-brainer. The enormity of certain crimes should never be hidden, forgotten, or minimized, but that doesn’t mean we need to open a souvenir stand at the site of every noteworthy massacre and then charge admission, either.

I kind of figured that was all there really was to do in Cambodia: Contemplate genocide while buried in a haze of sweltering heat, senses dulled on the outside, feelings deadened on the inside. The tourism ministry was wise to have hired the fellow who came up with Kingdom of Wonder, if I’d gotten the job there would probably have been more vertical traffic off the Japanese Friendship Bridge than the traditional, horizontal, cross-river kind.

My brother had spent all of January in Cambodia and Laos, on his once yearly vacation: a month spent checking out whatever international destination that happened to strike his interest. As for myself, well, I just needed to go anywhere abroad. Anywhere at all. Paraguay? Sounds okay! Uzbekistan? You got it, man! Somalia? Uh … I don’t have a rhyme for that, but I bet they have a museum housing the remnants of those Black Hawk helicopters. You can probably get your picture taken sitting in the pilot’s seat, while being menaced by locals carrying Kalashnikovs. They don’t actually work there, but pointing assault rifles at white people cheers them up when their pirate gigs aren’t panning out.

I wasn’t going to be picky about it. Any suitably foreign destination where I’d be welcomed with open borders, if not open arms, would suit me. Any dream would do. I was (and still am) about halfway through an MA-ESL, but I thought that my résumé might look pretty goddamned strange had I gone ahead and obtained that degree without ever having held a paid teaching position at any point prior to graduation. It just seemed like it’d have some kind of vaguely unwholesome connotations for potential employers, and I raise enough eyebrows already just by being myself on an average day. I get exhausted by all the explanations.

Dropping everything and getting the hell out of America was already on the agenda, at least as an abstraction. Living and working anywhere else on Earth sounded better to me than standing idle day after day, mired in the wretched familiarity of “Home, Sweet Home.” Escape from America had become, at the very least, an aspirational goal. A goal that I would likely have very slowly “aspired” to over a period of several more years, prolonging the planning, biding my time … And, sooner or later, something would have happened to slam shut the few wide open doors that I had remaining. Best case scenario, I’d have ended up getting some unfortunate woman pregnant, one whose conscience was too rigorously masochistic to permit an easy escape for any of us; man, woman, or woeful child. Best case, mind you.

I’ve no idea if TEFL certificates have an expiration date, but I’d say 18 years without use or application of one should curdle it quite thoroughly. I needed to leave. I intended to leave. I wanted to leave. I thought I would leave? Unfortunately, I find that I often like the idea of a given thing so much that I don’t ever even bother with the actual doing of said thing. So, how did I manage to get off my ass and get on the plane, in the end?

Well, as luck would have it, my father dropped dead right in front of me. I very much doubt that he arranged it just to teach me a lesson or impart some kind of cross-generational wisdom, it wasn’t his style. Wherever it was that I got my flair for the dramatic, it sure as hell wasn’t from him. All the same, he did manage to squeeze in one last bit of crucial parenting in those final moments, despite having lost consciousness, because that’s just the kind of pro he was with all of that Dad business, from his first day on the job to his last day on the Earth.

Our final father-son talk was silent but for his ragged breath: brevity being urgent, now that he was due to depart. Words wouldn’t work when what I wanted was a way of understanding the moment. What I got out of his sudden stillness was this:

“Ned. Wake the f*ck up. I’m dead, or near enough to it. We don’t need some assholes in uniforms to make it official. I am now dead. You are still alive. Act like it. Go live.”

Go live … in Cambodia?

Ned Kelly

Part 2: ‘The Shock of the Culture Shock’ comes next week

11 thoughts on “InterNed in Cambodia: Part 1 ‘Sudden Departures’

  1. Anna Reply

    You’ve whooshed some vitality into my day without me even taking the first sip of my morning coffee – really looking forward to reading more. Thanks!

  2. Vladimir Reply

    Ned, you can really write. This is the kind of stuff we need. More please!

  3. khmerhit Reply–not bad, Ned. but we still need evidence that you have left the small college town in the mid-west where these musings were hatched..

    • NK Reply

      Thanks. This being Part 1, I wanted to sort of lay out my reasons for exiting America when I did, and show how essentially arbitrary my choice of Cambodia was. I was given the courage to leave because my Father died, unexpectedly, at age 64, about 7 months after he retired. Obviously, the death of a parent is a big event for all or most of us, but this really rattled me. Here today, gone tomorrow. Such is life, to quote another guy.

      I have been here for 6 months now, so my views on Cambodia have gradually developed and evolved and so forth … It’ll come out in the wash once you read all the parts.

      Incidentally, Minneapolis is not a small college town. The University of Minnesota is the 4th largest university campus in America, tens of thousands of students. Our football team is terrible, granted. Minneapolis-St. Paul is the 16th largest media market in the USA … The arts capital of the Midwest, one could say.

      Aribtron rank by pop in order: NYC, LA, Chicago, San Fran, Dallas, Houston, D.C., Philly, Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix, Puerto Rico … Twin Cities! Remember kids, there are 50 states and I think they rank the top 300 markets.

      Sorry, just showing a little pride in my hometown, even if I was beyond sick of living there. =).

      —- And to all other commenting persons, known and unknown:

      Thank you for the praise and encouragement, it actually does get read and appreciated – at least by me. (I suppose famous people probably hit a degree of notoriety where even that becomes a horrible ordeal. Here’s to Fuck That! And cheers for reading.)

  4. Gabi Reply

    Wonderfully entertaining and well-written piece. I love your musings and deliberations and look forward to more (or do we have to find you at the Garage Bar to hear them?)

    • NK Reply

      Thank you, Gabi. The second installment of this particular “arrival story” is already submitted, so I’m guessing The Management will post it sooner or later. I’ll work on the third once I see the second go up. After that I’m going to diverge and talk about whatever Cambodia related thing I feel like … probably in series or installments of 2 or 3 on a given topic because I have trouble with short form writing. I’m at Garage quite a bit for obvious reasons, but I go other places as well, I don’t just hide there like a hermit! Easy to find me there though. You could also go see my band play starting from end of September.

  5. Frank Yetter Reply

    Hi, Ned…so where in Greater Boston did you live (leave?)? Nobody outside of Quincy and Billerica knows about both the Renaissance Fair and Pioneer Village, unless you’re the sad kind of guy who spends his time reading Labor Day “Things To Do” calendars online or abandoned Lonely Planet guides while tucked away in the Mad Monkey Guest House well after closing time.

    Great piece; wonderful writing.

    Looking forward to connecting in The Penh at some point.

    • NK Reply

      Hi Frank, didn’t see this. I’m from MN not MA! We have a RenFest that is pretty popular in the metro area … and numerous “tourist attractions” with names like “Pioneer Village,” though I’m not sure where I got that exact phrasing from, I’d been to a bunch of them as a kid – in Northern MN it’s always about Les Voyageurs, in SD they are always about the Souix or the gold rush etcetera.

      Boston has enough history, you’d think they wouldn’t need to do any reenactments to get people to show up. I’ve heard that one company runs a lot of the Renaissance festivals in America, so they may be responsible for both.

      Thanks for the compliments!

      (I’d found your site and bookmarked it earlier, and Gaby’s other site as well, but I haven’t had more than a few minutes to check them out yet, I’ll be sure to soon!)



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