Cultural Experiences

Cambodian Brothers and Sisters:

I recently spent 10 days in Cambodia splitting time between Phnom Pen and Siem Reap.  It certainly wasn’t enough time to explore the country properly but I still got a god sense of the people and culture of Cambodia.  One thing I noticed (which holds true to Laos too)  Is the bond between siblings seems incredibly strong.

I was speaking to an ex-pat who now owns one of the hostels in the capital and before hat he worked as a teachers.  He told me that once a child no longer qualifies as a baby the parents often lose interest in them, or spend a lot less tim with them.  In many ways it is up to the older siblings to keep them safe, play with them and teach them the things they need to know to survive in the crazy world of Cambodian children. You know, motorcycle riding, machetes and countless other experiences.

Even with only a handful of days in the country i saw countless examples of this, and found it incredibly inspiring, because let me tell you, the kids seemed to step up.  Now I consider myself a pretty decent Big Brother but these kids some not even 5 yet seem gifted at seeing to all the needs of their little followers while also playing tons of games with them and keeping them happy and entertained.

There’s a lot of foreign aid work being done in Cambodia.  It’s endlessly more visible than it was in Laos, and certainly helps a lot of people.  Still I think the cambodian children would cause the country to crumble if it weren’t for the big brothers and sisters out there helping the little ones through.  It’s incredibly inspiring to watch and I’m sad to be gone from Cambodia.



Brother and Sister working on the outskirts of Angkor Wat Temples.

Humanity:  The Best Universal Adapters in the World

I got off the plane to Thailand, and beyond the fatigue I felt something strange.  It felt like I was returning home, returning to things I know.  I told myself I was only imagining things, I told myself it was just a modern airport,  I told myself I was just latching on to the one or two western things I saw.  As I boarded the transfer bus across Bangkok though, the feeling just kept growing.  It wasn’t sad or happy, just entirely unexpected.  Reverse culture shock.  The feeling of the familiar.  Of coming home.

2 days into this country and the feeling has yet to fade or flee.  It’s real.  I’m in Thailand experiencing reverse culture shock.  I mean sure Thailand is westernized, I knew that, but I don’t think it’s just that, after all I’m still very much in Asia.  I think the feeling is down to the human ability to adapt and fall in to their surroundings, making them work, even loving them when the conditions are not too dire.  I came to love India and Nepal, the trash, the cows on the street, the muddy ground market stalls, the men stopping for a piss whenever the fancy strikes, the madness of it all.  It became a part of regular existence.

Beyond the 7/11’s of thailand, and the huge Tesco Lotus stores viewed from the various buses, there was something else that made me aware of how deeply I’d fallen into India.  The women.  It’s a little crass, but it’s one of the first things I noticed.  Shorts and cleavage everywhere.  I didn’t even realize I’d been missing it, but in India and Nepal you didn’t see bare legs on men or women, and cleavage was only glimpsed on the rarest and newest of tourists.

It was more comical than sexual really, but just noticing it on locals and tourists alike made me wonder how I’d forgotten the feeling of looking (bad habit I know) in only two short months.  Also don’t get me wrong, there are so many beautiful girls in India and Nepal, and I don’t think they’d be any more beautiful showing their legs and breasts, they’d probably be less honestly, as it’s not a part of the culture there, and should only change if that’s the wish of that specific woman. It’s just interesting to suddenly realize how deeply you’ve fallen into the culture surrounding you in just two months.

At any rate, that’s the heart of this post, the amazing  and innate ability to adapt.  I mean I never fit in completely in India.  The colour of my skin aside I had a safe place to sleep every night and ate whatever I felt like.  I had a plane ticket out at any point I chose.  (Not so say that this is unheard of for countless Indians, I only mean I was always a visitor, never a resident)  I was on the outside looking in, but i definitely edged closer to the border and felt at home in their world by the end.

I’m glad I went to India and Nepal first.  I’m glad they were my first experience of Asia, and solo travelling outside of Europe.  The two months I spent in both cultures were wondrous and some of the best times of my life so far.  I also find it amazing to look back on the wide eyed westerner who landed aghast and overwhelmed in Kathmandhu, and who left Kolkata feeling at home alongside rats, roaches, and cows of India.  (Along side all the wonderful things too though)  My only regret though is that I now sort of feel like I won’t experience anywhere near the same level of culture shock on my trip until year 3 and Western Africa.  Of course coming back to NYC should be a fun and extreme version of reverse culture shock, and maybe I’ll find some remote Indonesian islands that inspire the feeling too.

So here’s to humans, better universal adapters than you’ll find in any electronic store out there.  At least most of us are.

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