The Winter 2018/2019 in Shanghai was horrible.
It rained for three months non-stop, the sky was grey from pollution and the air was freezing cold.
So I decided to go somewhere with better weather and spent January and February in Cambodia. Cambodia is an amazingly beautiful place, and here’s what I learned there.
I am a damn privileged person
Let’s start with the most unpleasant truth first.
I guess, everyone heard the term Khmer Rouge before at least once, and as a tourist, it’s a must to read into Cambodia’s darkest years.
But, after reading a few books about Cambodia’s history and politics*, I realized it’s not only the years 1975 to 1979, it’s more than that. Cambodia has been fucked before, and it’s still fucked today. It happens in this second. Someone is being murdered or raped brutally, this morning students had to bribe their teachers to be able to attend class, and this afternoon a father suffering from PTSD beats up his wife.
Just right now a mother might die during childbirth because she cannot afford to bribe the hospital nurses, and still every fifth child dies in the jungle for such easily avoidable reasons as malnutrition or malaria. Maybe the person standing next to me at the Bus station couldn’t even read my ticket because she never learned how to read and write.
(*namely: first they killed my father by Loung Ung, Cambodias Curse by Joel Brinkley, Hun Sen’s Cambodia by Sebastian Strangio)
Cambodia is worn down by corruption, poverty, and violence. People outside of Phnom Penh have no access to hospitals or education unless they bribe someone, only to then get treated by untrained doctors and teachers who themselves bribed their way into their position.
The money I spent during my one-month-trip is twice the yearly earnings of an average Cambodian farmer (in a good year). In one month, I have seen more of Cambodia than most of Cambodians will ever see of their own country.
So my first lesson in Cambodia was to be more humble and grateful for everything I have in life.
it’s all just in your head
In the capital, Phnom Penh, I stayed with a Couchsurfer who had the hugest flat I have ever seen. But I wasn’t the only visitor: all through winter, he always hosted around 10-15 Couchsurfers at a time, who managed to build up a great and peaceful community, despite the great fluctuation of people every day. I felt home and welcome from the first second I came to his place, and so glad about every single person I met there.
We had loads of good conversations on his balcony, and one of my major take-away from these was, whatever you worry about, whatever you doubt or fear, it is not real. It is just there in your head. So lean back, enjoy the show and remember: there’s nothing to be afraid about 🙂
You’re not a label.
Being in a place so different from all I held on to, i never felt closer to myself. I realized I don’t need to identify with a certain scene, music or lifestyle (as I used to do for a long time).
I am a very own character who doesn’t fit in any label. I don’t need them. Simple as that, and I still didn’t can’t find words for who or how I really am. And maybe that’s even better, as words put me back into categories again.
Don’t judge others.
I was lingering in a hammock on Koh Ta Kiev, one of the islands in the South of Cambodia watching the morning unfolding around me, people drinking coffee or coming back from a morning swim, as my eyes fell on a couple across the balcony.
Maybe 35-40 years old, pretty chubby, completely devoted to their breakfast. My thoughts start spinning about how these two stuffed themselves, and about the silly shirt the guy was wearing.
Me, the same day, night has fallen over Koh Ta Kiev.
I sat at the Bar and waited for someone to take up my dinner order, as someone approaches me.
“Hi! My name is Dan.”
I looked up into a friendly smiling face and a hand reaching over to me. It was the same guy that I judged for his Shirt in the morning, and only 5 minutes later he introduced to a wonderful round of friendly people. They shared their dinner and a beautiful evening together and I went to bed thinking how happy I was about meeting them.
This lesson is not easy to share for me, because it makes me look like a horrible person, frankly. But take an honest look at how often you shame people just for what they appear to be like, before having talked a word to them.
So don’t judge, kids! It will make the world a better place.
It doesn’t take a lot to be happy
I spent a lot of time in homestays in the Jungle, where there’s no electricity, no running water and no Shops selling cheap fruit shakes.
You go to bed (which means, to your hammock) at 9 ‘cause it’s pitch dark, fall asleep to the sound of geckos, birds, cicadas and many more mysterious animals around you, and you raise well-rested at 6 in the morning.
No warm showers, but cold buckets of water, or hey, maybe jumping into the river down the road counts as a shower today. No need to bring a towel, as the sun dries your skin within a few minutes.
We hardly left a trace because everything we used for our meals – bamboo cups, banana leaves, etc. could be deposed in the nature. We spent the afternoons drinking Tea and reading books, and for the first time in a very long time I felt every single minute, every second passing, dripping from the clock’s dial.
I am very aware that this was an experience made possible by my privileges again (the tribes living in the jungle in north-eastern Cambodia most probably don’t just hang out in hammocks all day and drink Tea. And very likely they would profit from electricity, running water and access to education and a health care system).
Still, I enjoyed this placid time where, for a few days, just NOTHING happened. It was great.
true peace comes from inside
A very simple one. No matter how much self care you practice, if you’re not at ease from inside, you’re tilting at windmills.
In Cambodia, I didn’t do anything directly to feel better – no Yoga, no Meditation, nothing – but still, I never felt calmer and at peace with myself and everything around me. In opposite to being in Shanghai, where I try to practice yoga and meditation every day.
After all, the art is probably not trying to be at peace, but just to be at peace.
green tea is way better than coffee
After all of this new age spirituality let’s wrap this up with an easily digestible lesson.
In Shanghai I probably drink more coffee than is good for me – during my time at uni I needed two cups in the morning to be able to leave the house, and another in the break between my two Chinese lessons, to not fall asleep on the table.
Soon after leaving the capital Phnom Penh for the jungle, Coffee became either too expensive or was simply not available (even caffeine-craving Me couldn’t accept the sugary, lukewarm broth made from instant powder as an adequate substitute for coffee). But soon I discovered something way nicer – huge pots of green tea that were served for free in many places I stayed at.
Does the job too, and the caffeine from green tea works waaaay nicer than coffee, which punches you in the face for 10 minutes, and then all of a sudden leaves you jittery and tired again.
Plus green tea is great for people like me who generally don’t drink enough 😊