When I initially arrived in Cambodia in the first week of January 2014, I immediately started writing down my experiences. I’ve included below an excerpt from my writing at that time which will show the culture shock I was experiencing. It will also detail a lot of observations I was making for my first time being in Asia as an American.
Written circa January 2014:
“Being in South East Asia has been dazzling so far. I’ve only been here for a week and a half and all of my 5 senses have experienced a plethora of new sensations.
Everything looks different: foggy, colorful, dark, smiley, cute, hilarious, naked, dangerous, and shocking.
Everything smells different: fishy, delicious, cheap, rancid, raw, fresh, comforting.
Everything sounds different: loud, foreign, peaceful, exciting, bouncy, over-worked, fast.
Everything feels different: silky, slimy, hot & sticky, bumpy, rough, worked over.
Everything tastes different: greasy, fishy, fresh, succulent, sour, unknown.
Now obviously all of these adjectives do not describe one thing but hopefully anyone reading this understands the point I am trying to make. Phnom Penh is an interesting city. It is so busy and crowded and full of life. We are staying in a hotel here in a part of town that isn’t particularly nice but that is ok because we get a ride to and from school every day. I am staying on the top floor of our hotel and my view out of the window is a nice big sewer. Sometimes I see children walking through it and picking trash out, and once unfortunately there was a kid washing some piece of clothing in it. It is truly amazing how different life can be just 7 floors up.
70% of the people in Cambodia live on less than $1 a day which is pretty unbelievable in my opinion. There is a large amount of poverty here but from what I can see the people are generally happy. For the most part people are smiling and friendly and they share everything with each other. It seems that most people look out for each other because most people are all in the same situation.
I mentioned previously that we get rides to and from school each day. We ride to school in tuk-tuks. A tuk-tuk is a carriage that is attached to a moped. It can comfortably fit about 5 people in it. Almost everyone in this city gets around by a moto (moped). There are thousands and thousands of mopeds crowding the streets at all times. In America we would probably put about 2 people on a moped max to go a short distance right? In Cambodia people put as many people and as much stuff as they can on their mopeds. Things I’ve seen on mopeds: entire 5 person families, two men and two gutted full grown pigs, naked babies with no helmets, boxes stacked 10 ft in the air, a few people and about 10 dead chickens, a moped carrying a 15 ft trailer with people and tools riding in it. The list goes on and on. It really is quite a sight to see.”
For me it is quite interesting to look back on what I previously wrote and see how much has changed. How many of these things have become a normal part of life now, and how I now view the world in a different way. I urge everyone to get the experience of spending time in a country that is significantly different than your home country. You will be amazed at how much your perspective on life and world will change.
More to come on Cambodia….
Thank you for reading