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Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Why I left Cambodia

There are many things I like about Cambodia. I find the people generally to be a delight and in many ways the lifestyle is pleasant for me. There is good and bad everywhere. I accept that nothing is perfect. If one can find a balance then one can put up with the unpleasant aspects of life. If the negative side of life becomes too much, it is necessary to come to terms with it or move on. I don't believe in staying in a situation in which I am unhappy.

I had a rough plan to stay for three months and to reassess my situation. During those three months it never occurred to me that I would not stay. I was generally quite happy with my life in Kompong Chhnang. I had good friends, a simple but pleasant lifestyle, I was learning the language and gaining the ability to communicate with a wider group of people. But after the third month passed my attitude changed.

I have written here before about my aversion to the extreme noise that accompanies any celebration such as wedding, funeral or festival in Cambodia. This noise includes music, speeches and chanting monks broadcast from huge loudspeakers in the open. During those first three months this was fairly occasional and not too close to my home to be a problem.

About this time, I was woken one morning at 4 am by extremely loud noises. They were coming from the house right behind me. Apparently a man from this house had died. As he was relatively wealthy it was considered appropriate to hold a big funeral. It lasted on and off for seven days.

As a storyteller I learned many years ago of the power of a microphone. The first time I was given one I discovered that it saved my voice. I could whisper and still be heard. Most of those giving speeches at this funeral didn't seem to have learned this. I realized this when, in contrast, one man actually knew how to use a microphone. He spoke calmly and quietly and even though I could not understand him and it was broadcast at a loud volume it was not unpleasant. The speakers who preceded and followed him had no idea of this. It seemed that they felt the need to shout into the microphone. I found it most unpleasant.

I kept telling myself that it would end and eventually it did. But after that every time I was woken by yet another celebration at 4 am I became quite annoyed. This was the dry season. People may not choose when they die but they choose to hold weddings and other festivities at this time of the year. It was a regular occurrence.

If I got through the night without being woken I would wake up happy and I would have a pleasant day. If I went two days like this I would be content again and want to stay there as long as I could. But if I was woken the next day I would start thinking again that it was time to leave.

I know that this is my issue. I am not blaming the Cambodian people. This is what Cambodia is like. Cambodians don't find it offensive. If I want to live there, I have to learn to cope with it.

I like to think that I am in control of my own happiness, that happiness is a matter of telling myself to be happy, to put a positive view on things. But I couldn't do it. Whenever the day started with the loud music I would have a bad day. Eventually I decided that I was in control but I had to take control by moving on and that's what I've done.

I came to Bangkok about two weeks ago without knowing what I was going to do. I could be happy to live in Thailand but unlike Cambodia, there are lots of hoops to jump through to get a long-term visa. I started to look more closely at the options. I am entitled to apply for a retirement visa and if I stay here with one I would want to study Thai language just as I studied Khmer in Cambodia. I have discovered that if I enrol for a full-year Thai-language course I can apply for an education visa which is simpler. I am now working through that process. I'll let you know what develops.

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