While in most respects Sovanna shopping mall seems to differ little from City mall or Soriya mall, there is at least one way that it does. Here, what I have in mind are the several occasions in which I encountered people afraid to use the escalator. Why is it that I have never seen a patron afraid to use the escalator at City mall or Soriya? Why have I encountered this many times in Sovanna? Who knows?
The first time I witnessed this, my girlfriend and I were on our way to the top floor to look at books. We came upon 3 children standing before the escalator with horrified looks in their eyes. Above, one of their braver peers was calling to them, trying to coax them into mustering the courage to ascend.
My girlfriend took the hands of the two youngest and got them onto the escalator. Each child gripping the side tightly. I took the hand of the last child, who seemed as afraid of me as she was of the escalator. We both stepped onto the escalator. At the last moment she let go of my hand and jumped back down. I went to the top without her. Feeling a bit guilty, I decided to go back down and get her. The second time, confidence did not escape her.
On several other occasions we have performed this service, much to our amusement.
The last time we were at Sovanna we encountered a slightly different scenario. This time there were two beautiful women (seemingly in their early to mid twenties and from the countryside). I am not sure whether they were newly arrived garment workers on their day off, or if they were from the provinces here on vacation visiting relatives. One woman was standing in front of the escalator nervously laughing. Above, her associate giggled while berating her.
My girlfriend explained to the poor thing how to use the escalator and why she ought not to fear it. She then followed my girlfriend onto the escalator. At the last second, she pulled away in fear. My girlfriend did not turn back to retrieve her. I knew that if I took her hand I risked vexing my girlfriend. I merely mimed instructions and hoped she would follow. She did not. I am not Mother Theresa over here. I left her where she was, gazing up at me unable to transcend her apprehension.
(I fear the unscrupulous will see this as an effective way to pick up women. They will lurk about Sovanna on the weekends and seek out the rural women standing aghast in front of escalators. There, they shall endeavor to assist one up, hoping to win her heart, or perhaps something else.)
There are many kinds of expats: IT workers, artists, teachers, NGO members, businessmen, sexpats, etc. Some come here to make the world a better place. Others are looking to find a cheap place to retire. A few are part of the four hour work week crowd, looking to drop out of the rat race. Others are looking for adventure or to party hard.
There are also some like myself, economic migrants: chronically fluctuating between unemployment and underemployment in our respective homelands. Being over-educated with no marketable skills is one of the perks of a humanities masters degree. Here, I can find work as a teacher and lead a comfortable life.
Whatever our individual motives happen to be, what we all have in common is that we got on the escalator. We all left our families, friends and old lives for the unknown. We all agree that being an expat is better than the alternative. Many of us have friends and family back home that reject the expat lifestyle. They are hostile to our choices and are either unable or unwilling to do as we have done. They stand like children afraid to step foot upon the escalator, no matter what may or may not be above. Most of us expats couldn’t give a fat babies ass what these people back home think.
I do not know a single expat that regrets being an expat. Sure, some wish they had more money. Others wish for a better career. We all have regrets. Most of the expats I know wake every day feeling fortunate that they are not back home.
The systemic economic maladies of our time have stymied many in my generation. Some sit in their parents’ basements out of work, or working for minimum wage. Others have financial independence, but only at a subsistence level. Those that are successful, with good jobs, are often making less money than their parents did at a comparable age.
A few examples of my “successful” friends and family members are as follows. My friend John is the son of a tool and die maker. John graduated with a BS in computer science. Currently, he works as a cellphone tower maintenance worker. Brian & Eric are brothers, sons of a dairy farmer. Brian has a BS in political science, but works in a factory assembling medical equipment. Eric has an MA in theology. He was working as a store clerk for minimum wage until he became an ESL teacher in South Korea. Dana’s father owns a small successful hvac business. Dana has a BA in biology with a specialization in genetics. She currently works in a genetics lab. My cousin Danielle’s father works in the loading docks of a hospital and her mother does data entry. Danielle has a BS in political science and is currently a paralegal. Another cousin, Jennifer, is the daughter of a computer programmer (he never got a degree, but taught himself to program in the 80’s). Jennifer got her law degree and is now barely making ends meet practicing family law.
This list is just a small sample, I could go on and on. All these people have a few things in common: they were first generation college educated and they are all doing far worse than their uneducated parents. Only one person in this (incomplete) list is married or has children, John. Only one person is a home owner, John. They all suffer from debt. They are all in their early to mid thirties, unable to afford a home, children or significantly save for retirement. We were told to get a degree, any degree, and we would always be able to find a decent job. Work hard. Get good grades. You will become successful. We all followed that advice. Yet, I do not have a single college educated friend of my generation that is more successful than their parents.
How then can I call these people successful? Well, the fates of my friends and relatives that did not attend college or dropped out have been far worse. So, despite their debt and inability to start a family and home, they are relatively successful.
Millions of people sit back home, suffering in the rat race. Why is it that they languish away? Do they think that there will soon be a global economic turnaround? Do they really believe that the job market will return to pre-recession levels any time soon? How do they tolerate their situation? The longer you stay unemployed or underemployed the worse off your career and future earning prospects are. For many, becoming an expat is not financial suicide. They are already financially ruined, with no hope in sight of attaining the middle class lifestyle of comfort and security.
I wonder how many people reading this essay are part of this unfortunate cohort.
The essential question is: “what is it that you ought to do when your economic well-being collapses due to structural causes outside of your control and with no remedy forthcoming?” Shall you sit idly in denial, or wait for rescue? Or, shall you toss aside old futile hopes and strike out for bold and novel dreams? If you have no money, a dead-end job, or are unemployed with no prospects of financial stability in the future, then why aren’t you an expat? Indeed, why shouldn’t you get onto the escalator?