It’s been one of these years again.
People have come, stayed and gone. Entered our lives, became friends, shared laughs and heartaches, created our little close-knit community and then, one day, the time for them to move on came and they were gone. Just like that.
I was once part of an "Anna pack" - there were four of us. Three of the four Annas were tall, three were curly, three were working in tourism and three had a surname beginning with B. Needless to say all Annas were good friends. You can imagine that it was hard to refer to us individually so we had to invent nicknames. The Annarchy times are long gone now. The Russian is living her life in Bali, McK is now a Phnom Penh resident and Baldie will soon be a Londoner once again. The photo Anna, me, is all that is left of what was once great and powerful - see below!
Many chins have been scratched and many articles written on the topic of the transient nature of our lives in Cambodia as expats. Those of us who have resided in the Kingdom for more than couple of years tend to be wary of strangers and tend to dish out particles of our fragile selves in carefully measured doses - only to those who deserve our time. If you think that it’s cold nosed, unfriendly and downright big headed and snobbish, wait until you are countlessly asked the same questions over and over again: "Hey, what’s your name?” “Where are you from and how long have you been here?” "Wow - do you like it?” Let me think about that for a moment. And while I was thinking the person had moved on. Energy saved.
"Are you going to stay here forever?" is another good one. I wonder why “forever” becomes such an issue with people when they encounter you living in a country different to where you were born/brought up. I can hardly imagine Mr Smith walking out one morning on his street, greeting his next door neighbour: “John, in all seriousness, do you think you are going to stay here forever?” It’s a funny one. John will probably shrug and say “I dunno, mate, is everything alright?” and will have a worrying expression on his face. I say the same. I dunno. I have not mastered “forever” yet.
The fact is that we live and work in a holiday town, a small town that attracts a huge number of visitors who are gone in a few days. Siem Reap, though, is also a place where many (mostly) young people find themselves wanting to stay. The vibe must be very strong and many end up being teachers, others wind up with the many NGOs or even pick up a “proper” job in tourism. Teachers, don’t hate me - for those of you who stay beyond the one month period and manage to sustainably teach the Cambodian youth more than ABC I have a huge respect. For the rest? Read a little on “voluntourism" and why it’s not such a great idea.
And so we chat, we click and find common ground and similar sense of humour and learn about our friends’ varied backgrounds. We are a creative, unusual and adventurous crowd. We don’t (at least for now) belong to the drudgery of “nine-to-five” boring jobs back home, cold winters, tax returns, and the daily grind of “their” rat race. We mostly don’t own a car or know what the latest fashion is. Some of us have health insurance. We live a simple life and take pleasure in socialising with our friends. We really, really, really appreciate air conditioning and wonder how we are ever going to afford our drinking habits back home - IF we ever go back that is.
Well, here we go. I have been counting the days to my departure to my “homeland” which is kind of fitting. We are celebrating Khmer New Year during which many locals return to their homeland. It seems that everybody’s homeland is in my neighbourhood though and I am not entirely happy about it. That aside, my time to fly out (not forever) has come around rather quickly. It seems that the anticipation of great things to come grants more pleasure than the event itself. I feel, instead of elated sense of happiness that my day is finally here, the need to put a handbrake on and slow things down a bit. How can I be here now and in a few hours in a completely different country, time zone, weather …. It’s kind of scary. The rose tinted glasses of anticipation of great things are similar to the rose tinted glasses of memories. When reality hits it normally takes a few days to find your bearings and get your sense of “normalness” back.
Why do you do this to me, Cambodia? Why do you dish up the finest, breeziest mornings with blue skies and fluffy white clouds just before I am to depart to cooler climates? Why do I feel that I am going to miss something great here?
I am going to miss my friends and my cat. The comfort of my apartment. My freedom and independence. My work even! I will be cold. But that’s what I wanted, isn’t it? With cheese on top. Yes! Suck it up and get on that plane!
And for those who have done it with no return ticket? Have a nice life!
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.