K440 Expat Interviews: ‘Horace’

After stumbling into Cambodia 15 years ago, long-term expat Horace has made the country his home. Marissa Carruthers talks to him about the highs and the lows and how Cambodia has changed over the years.

“I much preferred the Cambodia of old than the Cambodia of now,” Horace says with a smile as he reminisces over the grittier days when there were less Westerners, fewer luxuries and much more of the crazy chaos that had him instantly hooked when he first crossed the border from Thailand in 1998. “Cambodia has lost its charm and its edge. It’s not as interesting as it was back then. It used to be so exciting.”

It was by chance that the 46-year-old Londoner set foot on Cambodian soil. Set for Australia for a friend’s wedding, Horace decided to explore South East Asia on his way.

Unimpressed by Thailand, he headed for Cambodia and as soon as he passed the border he fell in love. “The moment I crossed the border at Poipet and saw a huge lorry, and I mean absolutely huge, loaded with second-hand clothing I knew I’d love the place. There was something about the chaos of Poipet that I liked and thought ‘this is right up my street’. I never made it to the wedding.”

Armed with a supply of drugs, Horace headed straight for Siem Reap and spent his first month in the country taking a more hedonistic approach to exploring the temples. “I crossed the border with a load of drugs and spent the first month at Angkor Wat,” he said. “I visited one temple a day just doing acid and partying.”

After four weeks, Horace went to Phnom Penh to extend his visa and carried on to Sihanoukville, where he was offered a job teaching English – a profession he remains in today. “There were only about 30 expats in the whole area back then. Everyone knew everyone and you would walk into a bar and see the same faces.”

After a two-year stint in Sihanoukville, Horace made his way to Phnom Penh with plans to visit the friend in Australia whose wedding he had missed. “I was making my way to Australia again because my friend had had a child. I never made it out of Phnom Penh.”

Since then, he’s been back to England three times and said there’s not much he misses about home – a place he has no plans on returning to long-term. “It seems to be at about five years that people realise they can’t go back home. This can send some people a bit crazy but most of them come round and accept it.”

For Horace, the biggest changes he has seen have been the rise of fashion, the roads and the infiltration of Western commodities catering for the rising number of expats. “There was no fashion back then. There were no girls wearing those t-shirts with the slogans on, all they wore was their school uniforms and that was it. The roads now are nice and have been Tarmaced. There was a time when you had to drive down Street 51 on the pavement because the road was so bad with potholes that you couldn’t get on there. There were a lot of roads you couldn’t drive down.

“I remember when they first introduced those traffic lights that count down and have arrows. No one knew what to do, everyone just sat at the traffic lights watching them. It was absolute bedlam, it was beautiful. Phnom Penh now has too many Westerners. Back then there was no Western food available in the supermarkets and there were no Western restaurants. Now there are too many.”

While Phnom Penh and other urban areas have seen huge changes in infrastructure, sanitation and development, Horace said progression in the countryside has been much slower. “I cycle in the countryside every day and that hasn’t changed as much but it’s changing. They now have roads, electricity and toilets. This is progress and it’s good.”

Another change Horace has noticed is the shift in the range of expats choosing Cambodia as their new home. “There seems to be a lot more accountant types moving here these days who all learn to speak Khmer very quickly. Why would anyone want to speak Khmer? It’s a stupid language and makes no sense. If people can speak it it’s only because they’re married to a Khmer woman or because they think it’s trendy. There’s no need to speak Khmer in Cambodia and they would rather speak English with you anyway. As an English teacher that means we’ve done our job. Now the middle-class can speak English. Mission accomplished.”

For the moment Horace plans on staying in Cambodia before exploring the world on his bike. “ I’m planning on moving when I’m 50. I’m going to travel the world on my bike. Maybe spend a year around Cambodia then do South East Asia. I might even make it to Australia.”

Marissa Carruthers

14 thoughts on “K440 Expat Interviews: ‘Horace’

  1. Jeb Reply

    Yea, Cambodians should stay in a state of perpetual underdevelopment and biting poverty so some western burnout can live out his dystopian fantasy. Another credit to an expat community world renown for its high quality!

  2. Jay Reply

    This guy better start his world tour now. He has no business living in Cambodia. Arrogant prick – as an Englishman he expects everyone to speak English, bloody Colonial attitude this. Where does he live? Most of the rural, and I mean rural, areas still have no electricity or only part of the time. Get out of here.

  3. Bo Reply

    I’d like see the new architectures in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in Cambodia look more like Cambodian, than look like those in Hong Kong or in New York.

  4. Dave Reply

    “Why would anyone want to speak Khmer? It’s a stupid language and makes no sense. If people can speak it it’s only because they’re married to a Khmer woman or because they think it’s trendy.”

    I moved to Cambodia in 1996 and learned Khmer because I could. This guy sounds like a complete moron who, because he hasn’t bothered to learn Khmer (or is unable to), ridicules those who make the effort. After 13 years there how could you NOT learn Khmer. fingers crossed I never meet this guy. He sounds like a jerk.

  5. bryan Reply

    An extremely sub standard article, I blame the author, which seems to have caught the attention of the sanctimonious lobby. Jeb at no point does Horace suggest that Cambodia should remain in a state of perpetual underdevelopment. Jay if anyone sounds like an arrogant prick it’s you. Dave it is unwise to label others a moron when you don’t know the difference between 13 and 15.

    • Dave Reply

      Yes, you’re right Bryan. Obviously, my typo completely negates my point. I will try to type it once again so you can appreciate it’s complexity without that darned math ruining it for you. (I did however manage to navigate your response despite your tardy use of commas, but that’s just my masterful deciphering.) So here it is in a nutshell:

      Horace has been unable or unwilling to learn Khmer. That is fine, but don’t be so condescending as to label a (local!) language as “stupid and making no sense” and suggest anyone who learns it as somehow having some less-than-acceptable reason for doing so.

      I stand by my original assessment of this guy. Jerk.

      • bryan Reply

        I think you just proved the old saying “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”.

      • bryan Reply

        Just read a response by Horace, over on the forums. It would seem that Ms, Carruthers has not been totally accurate when quoting him.

  6. Josh Reply

    “There were no girls wearing those t-shirts with the slogans on, all they wore was their school uniforms and that was it.”

    Sounds like this bloke came to Cambodia aged 31 for the underage brothels.

  7. red sparrow Reply

    I do not understand the point of the story. There is nothing interesting or extraordinary about an unwashed English teacher doing drugs and tripping around the temples.

  8. Thai Expat Reply

    And I thought there were some arrogant expats in Thailand. We have nothing on this guy. Glad he didn’t settle here!

  9. Nam Expat Reply

    well 15 years ago Vietnam was a great place to live and you could earn $20-$25 usd an hour,and travel to Cambodia or Thailand. Now, They still pay $20 an hour if your lucky to get 20 hours teaching a week. Cambodia and Vietnam were once a great place to live,teach and work. This is not the case now,however Thailand is far worse! It does help to learn the Language and avoid the majority of ex-pats in south east asia at least.
    I hate to think how things will be in ten years from now? Maybe we will talk about how great things were in 2013?

  10. Bangkok Frank Reply

    Love to know what kind of English his students learn, sounding like some drugged, slurring hippy?

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