You Will Have Realizations
In the village you will not have air conditioning and this means that mattresses are a menace to a good night’s sleep. Cambodians sleep on a straw mat on a wooden floor or cot. So say, one sweltering night, you try it and find it works a treat and you realize that there is little difference in the quality of your shut-eye that night or any other.
It turns out all that stuff about having the “perfect mattress” is hype. A mattress is one of many supposed essentials you can learn to do without and your life in the village becomes a process of freeing yourself from the conditioning years of advertising has inflicted on your brain.
Underserved Positions of Privilege
Cambodian society is very hierarchical. Everyone has a place and they stick to it with characteristic stoicism. As a guest and foreigner you are afforded quite high status in the village. Which means that chairs are quickly found, the best food is cooked and you will sit nearest the statue of the Buddha during communal meals – which is the Cambodian equivalent of being head of the table.
At first it’s a bit weird; you have all this respect but are not sure what you have done to earn it. But then, in village life, the idea of needing to earn a high position is moot. Some rare people rise through the ranks but places in the hierarchy are dished out at birth and stuck to like the old British class system or Indian Castes.
However, unlike the British Class system, there is no resentment/guilt complex around societal positions because Cambodia never flirted with the idea of being a meritocracy. So you can enjoy your privileged status responsibly.
You Will Really Get to Know Serey Mun’s Back Catalogue
It’s easy to dismiss Khmer pop music as substandard J-pop but one man defies such dismissal: Serey Mun. Effortlessly combining the smoothness of Peter Andre with the moves of a half-decent Jacko impersonator, Serey Mun has sung and rapped his way to the top.
Backed by a crew of obese, recorder-playing bouncers, Serey Mun is the best music you will hear in the village where any ceremony (and there are many) requires music to be blasted from a speaker stack that would make any Full Moon Party like a cake-sale for the Kington Choral Society.
You will learn to love his music through merciless repetition and your life will be enhanced in three key ways. Firstly, you get to listen to Srey Mun and he is genuinely good. Secondly, you are now officially “down with the kids” in Cambodia. Thirdly, you will be able to do the hand-flipping wedding dance-around-a-table better than ever.
Free Non-Snoozable Alarm Clock
While we’re on the subject of music played at a needlessly extreme volume we should talk about early rising. When you live without air conditioning, early rising is essential as it is impossible to do anything between the hours of 12-3pm. During these hours the wise man hides inside while fools gasp and collapse under the atomic sky.
Therefore, the earlier you get up the more you can get done. That’s if that pesky snooze button doesn’t interfere with your good intentions. But you don’t have to worry about that in the village. When ceremonies are being conducted, they play folk music at 5am very loud; this, combined with your lack of mattress, means that sleeping in is not a pleasant option and you can achieve that sleep pattern you always (ahem) dreamed of.
You Will Get Healthy
Once your guts have adjusted to the bacterial environment you will develop a stomach of iron – then you will find yourself actually feeling healthier and more energised from your food. Why? The massive lack of sugar and fat in the Khmer village diet. All the foods advertised in the West as “guilty pleasures” are not available hete so a healthy lifestyle is impossible to avoid. Their food is home-grown and organic and the ubiquitous soup aids digestion. Anxious label-reading and boring conversations about making the “right food choices” are absent because, well, what food choices?
In a world where you eat rice and soup 90% of the time, the ironic thing is you get healthier… after being roundly trounced by the local bacteria. Fear not though, bacterial stomach upsets can be dealt with by a local doctor. One such doctor prescribed me – a male – antibiotics that turned out to be designed for treating vaginal infections. It fixed my stomach infection fine and, I’m sure, if I had a vagina, it would be in excellent shape. Badly prescribed medication aside, living in the village will probably make you healthier.
Cambodians have a saying which, badly translated, goes something like: “if you drink and are not drunk, why drink?” I hear it’s funnier if you speak Khmer. They have drinking rituals that would put any first year student to shame.
For instance, if you take a sip of your beer without first clinking your glass with everyone else, you are deemed “thirsty” and must down your drink immediately. If anyone wants to take a sip, they must clink glasses with everyone beforehand. Trouble is, when your glass is clinked you must also drink. The result is a very fast rate of drinking.
The situation is worsened by the fact that the beer cans are small and ice is added to the drink. It makes you think that you couldn’t possibly be that pissed and you probably can drive your moto home. You are wrong. It is time to get a sober friend to drive you home, bumping and hiccuping all the way.