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Why Cambodia

This was originally written as a Facebook status in a more loosely written form than I usually post on the blog. I’ve decided to maintain most of that language.

Last night I slept in my own bed. When I woke up this morning I made coffee on my own stove. I washed my clothes in my own washing machine and hung them to dry in on my own balcony under our sun.

I’ve slept in a lot of places in the past seven months. Nothing comes close to the sleep of sleeping in my own bed for the first time. Throwing two half inch thick industrial padlocks through the loops on my doors and knowing that anyone who comes in to wake me can be kicked out and told to fuck off. Turning the air conditioning (!) to the exact temperature I like. I feel refreshed.

Boy walks across the shore during the 2014 Cambodian Water Festival.

I’ve slept in a hammock in the Vietnamese jungle, in a train, in a bus, on a folded up piece of foam on the floor in an apartment in Cambodia. I’ve slept in nice hotels. The best was a Hilton in Phuket where the bed was so big I couldn’t touch both ends with my hands and my feet extended (we paid for it with points). The worst was a hotel in Arabica, Indonesia where the shower head flew off and hit me in the face, where the walls sagged, and where the included “breakfast” turned out to be a piece of bread with margarine and chocolate sprinkles.

If anything I regret moving around so much. It was a waste of time and money. Culture is a fractal. Each country has a culture, each city has a culture, and each block has a culture. They depend on each other and feed off of each other. I can get a general idea if I like somewhere after the first few days, but if I don’t like somewhere it doesn’t mean I need to try a different city. It might mean I just need to move a block and a half in another direction.

Watching the 2014 Cambodian Water Festival.

When I started this trip I thought I’d want to live on a beach town. It turns out that beach towns aren’t very stimulating. Swimming in the ocean gets boring after a few days. I also thought I might want to live in a big city like New York, Hong Kong, or Tokyo. Now I find those big cities immensely stressful. Even smaller cities like Kyoto that at first I found so peaceful I now find stifling.

I now have a few basic rules for places that I like. If people don’t laugh in the streets I don’t want to live there. If people are remarkably unhappy it rubs off on me quickly and I become unhappy. No matter how terrible things are, if the people are happy then I can be happy.

I think the secret to happiness is to take care of your basic needs and then have something fulfilling to be working on. Something to occupy the mind will take care of the minor concerns about not having enough of anything. Take this with a grain of salt, it’s coming from a semi-retired and comparatively wealthy white man living in a nice air conditioned apartment in a developing country while people sleep in the streets outside.

Why would I settle in Cambodia? By all objective measures Cambodia sucks. It’s poor, it’s dirty, and there are a bunch of national crises. As a friend of mine said “I just want to do two things in my free time. I want to swim and I want to walk in the woods. I can’t swim here because the water is polluted and it will make me sick and I can’t go off the trail because I’ll get blown up by a landmine.”

This photo was taken 30 feet from my apartment..

Why would I settle in Cambodia then? Because of all the countries I’ve visited it’s absolutely the strangest and most interesting. It feels the most like a different world. It’s Buddhist, so people are happy, but it’s got immense wealth disparity. You can see someone driving a $200,000 Land Rover down the street next to a shirtless one armed child begging. There are a bunch of NGOs working here to make conditions better but there are also a lot of Cambodians working themselves to make life better. I’m much more interested in tales of Cambodians doing what they want than I am in the NGOs which sometimes do good and sometimes are just a front to cleanse ourselves of white guilt.

Mostly I’m here because of all the places I’ve visited I think that Cambodia will change the most over the next 10 years. I think that the lifestyle of today in Phnom Penh and the villages outside the city will be gone within my lifetime. I want to see it while it’s still here.

For the first time in seven months I have a lease and a stable roof over my head. Having somewhere consistent to come home to every day adds a level of dependability to my life that has been missing. I like being 100% mobile. I like not owning stuff and have no intention to start filling out a wardobe. But it’s also nice to take a breather, settle in one country, and know that I can focus on some things that matter more to me than seeing new places for a while.