Friday, October 23, 2015

Next Stop: Cambodia

Mad hatters at a tea party
Before moving on to discussing moving to Cambodia, I need to briefly address this blog being entirely dormant. London was great. I enjoyed it so much in fact that I rarely took the time to write about it. This may seem somewhat paradoxical, but between mad hatter themed tea cocktail parties, trips to Portugal and Thailand, ancient Roman themed dinner parties and generally enjoying some of London’s excellent restaurants, hanging out with friends and meeting up with family I just didn’t make time for it. Writing about it just didn’t seem as interesting as simply doing it I suppose.

Shortly after returning back to the US, Nepal was hit by a large earthquake. Thankfully friends I had over there all survived and it turned out that the actual damage in Kathmandu wasn’t nearly as bad as initially feared. That said, the damage in the hillside areas outside the city was devastating. I was contacted by my friend, Amelia Hillary, about a week after the first quake and was on a plane the next day to assist up in the Helambu region just north east of the capital. I got to work with some great people and feel like we did some really meaningful work as we assisted in getting medical teams out to remote areas and toward the end began distributing corrugated metal sheets that could be used as shelter in the quickly approaching monsoon. I was also there for the second earthquake, which was a bit sketchy. After 10 days in country I was back on a plane to return to the world of pipeline engineering.
The remote village of Tarkegyang in Helambu shortly after the April earthquake in Nepal

Then I was stuck back in the “real” world again. As the last post in this blog should have made evident, this is not an ideal situation for me. In fact I more often think of living here not as the “real” world any more and more as the Gilded Cages of the Gods, a phrase I’d be happy to elaborate on another time. In short it refers to something a monk in Bhutan said to me referring to how living in the rich countries of the west is much like the realm of the gods in Buddhist cosmology. How this realm was a more difficult place to reach enlightenment due to a number of factors; most keen being a lack of awareness of death, and the ease with which one can continuously satiate desire without confronting it, without understanding the other side of the coin. While the idyllic neighborhoods in the suburbs are paradise to some, they appear simply as cages to myself; bound by bars of mortgages, car payments, and working unfulfilling jobs to pay down those debts and using the excess to purchase things that we probably don’t really want or even need. Worst of all are the long hours and the early mornings combined with commutes that sap any energy that might be left to do meaningful things in the little time that is left at the end of the day. So with a combination of lack of energy, and not having time to do anything particularly interesting, I again didn’t have anything particularly interesting worth writing about.

Buddhist Wheel of life, the realm of the gods is depicted in the upper segment of the confined part of the wheel. 

Then there was the issue of living in the same place as Hermione, who was still in London. It started becoming clear that working in the UK’s civil service program was not going to be a fulfilling life endeavor for her, so this being the case we were back to looking for a country where we could both live in once her current assignment was done. We decided to focus our search to places in South East Asia, Southern Europe and possibly some parts of Central Asia. After some searching through the summer she landed an exciting job with a well established NGO in Cambodia that was doing some really interesting work. After a brief stop here in the US she arrived in Phnom Penh and has started setting up a life there.
The temples of Angkor; Cambodia's National Monument
(As seen by me back in 2010)
As I had made commitments to help lead up a pipeline project on the east coast I am for the time being stuck in Connecticut waiting for the project to wrap up so I can move over there and join up with her. Again it appears I will get out just in time to avoid another brutally cold New England winter, which is perfectly fine with me. I’m, needless to say, extremely excited to get to Cambodia- which is a country that ticks almost all of our boxes.

Excellent warm climate ü
Healthy Societal Approach to work/life balance ü
Low cost of living ü
Beautiful Beaches and natural settings ü
Buddhist Culture ü (Buddhist cultures tend to be more tolerant and easy going)
Nearby other places we’d like to travel to ü
Interesting Expat community ü
Excellent availability of fresh ingredients for cooking ü
Liquor is plentiful, diverse and exceptionally cheap ü
Exceptionally easy visas ü

Phnom Penh Street Market
Each of these comes with a caveat or two; some would argue that at times of the year the weather is too hot, that the balance is a bit too far from work and it’s hard to get anything done, the low cost of living is due to socio-economic imbalances, the beaches aren’t as nice as other countries in the region, most real Buddhism was wiped out by the Khmer rouge and the country as a whole suffers a kind of PTSD from the experience, it’s about as far from my family as I could be, the expat community is also made up of some of the worst humanity has to offer, the food isn’t as robust as Thailand, the expat community drinks far too much…and possibly the locals too, and well there is no other side to the easy visas that I can think of. The negatives are however most of the time either avoidable or worth enduring for the positive side. Most importantly it’s better than where either one of us were or in my case currently are. Honestly speaking, is there an upside to living in Connecticut?  I suppose there was a pizza place down in New Haven that was voted best pizza in the US, but outside of that I’m failing to think of much worth enumerating. When we made a list of places we would be interested in living Cambodia was at the top, so it’s exciting for us to finally be able to live in the same place, doing things we really want to do, and doing it in the place that was our top pick of places all over the world.

After nearly a year and a half living outside of Asia, it’s time to go back, and I can’t wait.

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