A Postcard From Cambodia

Adam finds a new home…for now.

I wrapped up my two weeks in Cebu and headed back to Manila for a brief five days to tie up some loose ends there and most importantly, to trade some possessions that a friend in Manila was keeping for me so that I would have what I needed to get various projects done once I left the Philippines, but no more than that, since I didn’t want to be dragging all my possessions all over Asia.

I knew four flights in a month, one across the world, was going to be a challenging schedule for me, and I was already getting a bit run down by the time the day my visa expired and was scheduled to fly out from Manila to Siem Reap, Cambodia, with no plan in mind after that except vaguely to explore some places on the Asian mainland during the comparatively temperate dry season.

The day I left, however, proved to be particularly stressful. I had hoped to make the exchange of my stuff earlier in the week but through various logistical hassles the tub filled with my new Mackie speakers brought over from the U.S., and various other imported gear, arrived the night before I was scheduled to leave. I spent several hours paring down what I needed to bring since 32 kg of checked baggage and 7 kg of carryon was the limit. I accomplished this and went to sleep about 1 a.m.

Upon awaking shortly after 9 a.m. my friend Laura let me know that I needed to have the stuff couriered the 14 km from Makati to Parañaque, where she lived, no later than 11 a.m. since she had a holiday party to attend and had to leave at noon. Laura promptly then fell asleep, leaving me to scramble to figure out how to order up a courier and get the stuff to her on my own. I was able to get a guy to my place at 11:11 a.m., and he proved to be an utter moron. He asked twice which tower I was in, was told, and then complained I wasn’t waiting outside, which I was. I then asked (via text) where he was. In front of Starbucks, which is at the adjacent mall and at neither tower. Would have been good to know.

After paying this guy roughly $14 USD plus an extra $4 he demanded for tolls to take the Skyway, the only freeway extant in Manila, he then proceeded to meander his way to Laura’s house, marking the shipment as delivered a full half hour until he actually got there, the whole time Laura (who had awakened) and I intensely monitoring the situation, Laura using various Tagalog curse words to describe his arrival, where he went to the wrong apartment despite her standing outside and waiting for him. He arrived more than an hour late and it had taken him exactly two hours to cover the 14km trip, which even by Manila standards, is ridiculous. The app by which I booked him has steadfastly refused to show me how to leave him a bad review, further adding to my irritation.

Then it was a brief break before heading to the airport, which is always physically taxing for me since I am wearing an extra layer of clothes laden with junk and carrying a 15 lb. backpack on my chronically jacked shoulders to make sure I get the maximum stuff on the plane. Progress was painfully slow. The line in front of the airport was the largest I’d ever seen at NAIA (Christmas holiday traffic, most likely), and though check-in, customs and security clearance were no worse than usual, the actual flight took forever. It was an hour late to depart, and then there were two more delays: one for about 15 minutes standing and frying without aircon in the causeway where they took our boarding passes but did not let any of us actually get on the plane; and then for more than a half an hour parked on the tarmac.

I was starting to feel sketchy on the flight. My ear had been bothering me again and I had a bad headache. One nice thing is that by taking an exit row seat, I had the row to myself so I laid down to rest and also to let the crud drain out to relieve pressure on my head. After about a half hour of this, in the middle of the flight, I sat up and suddenly my body started to shake uncontrollably, continuing for five minutes while I sat stock still to let it calm down. At first I thought it was a sign of something serious coming on but the fact it was only on the left side of my body down to my navel told me it was another weird manifestation of the whole ear/neck thing, albeit an alarming one that had never happened before (except once, about two weeks after I got sick).

I had no idea what this meant but I knew job one for me was to appear normal so I could get past Cambodian immigration and customs and back to my hotel room, where I could rest and if necessary, deal with any medical issues the following day. The remainder of the flight I focused on moving as little as possible and the episode passed though I was feeling pretty shitty overall. I requested a coffee just prior to landing at Siem Reap and that perked me up a bit.

Once at the airport, I hustled past all the other disembarking passengers and made it into the airport just as the immigration kiosks were opening. About seventy people were crowded at various desks furiously filling out their visa application forms preparatory to getting in line. I had an edge in that I had my own pen and I write fast, so I was able to scrambled into line at about the 15th position. It was then that I realized that the passport photo I brought with me for the visa was the wrong size. Gulp.

Fortunately, the Cambodian immigration dudes were somewhat less surly than I recalled from last time (though still surly) and they waved me through accepting the bad passport photo. I had my visa in about 10 minutes, way faster than last time. Dang! Things were looking up. I was bit worried that customs would give my huge bag, with its two brand new mixdown speakers bulging out of it, a red flag but he waved me through and I was out to meet my driver…who was initially nowhere to be found.

I finally discovered him at the very far end of the row of waiting drivers, where he could not possibly see me nor I him, and when I introduced myself he immediately gestured that I should sit down next to him and wanted to initiate a heart to heart talk.

I hadn’t completely forgotten how pushy tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodian can be, but I had forgotten how the “free pick up” at the airport was an opportunity for local drivers to try to rope you into hiring them to take you to Angkor Wat. He then solemnly started rolling off a manipulative, homespun spiel in the sweaty, balmy Cambodian evening heat about how tourist business in the high season was bad, how generous he knew Americans to be, etc. etc. I put up with this wearily for about five minutes until I finally said, “if you don’t get me to the hotel I am going to be sick,” at which point he relented and went off to get his tuk-tuk. I used this time to grab a local SIM, and then it was off to the hotel.

I got a (relatively, but not really for this town) cheap rate on Air B’n’B for this place, which was highly rated on reviews elsewhere, so I was surprised to show up and the place was dark and apparently deserted except for one employee who was asleep on a makeshift hammock in the lobby, the reception desk illuminated by the glow of one lamp. After the tuk-tuk driver roused him, I was shown to my room, with an old air conditioner that took forever to warm up and (thank God) a ceiling fan. It was, however, amply equipped with a wooden desk and a big floor to do yoga, my two main requirements. It would do for the next two weeks until I sorted out what to do.

The next day I woke up with a splitting headache – caused my more ear issues, it proved out later – and a pretty band stomach bug with accompanying diarrhea. I spent the first part of the day in bed staring at the peculiar shade of paint on the ceiling, finally feeling well enough to venture out around 4 p.m. that afternoon – eventually covering 9 km wandering around Siem Reap the remainder of the day.

I felt better still the next day, wandering around a further 14 km. By the time a week had passed (now) I had lost several pounds from walking and better diet and the color had gotten back into my cheeks. I’d been feeling somewhat rough the whole time in the Philippines – with the iffy food and the bad air quality, it’s a challenging place healthwise – but Siem Reap was definitely agreeing with me. In fact, even the first night when I was being driven by the tuk-tuk driver into town feeling like crap, it still felt like a good move.

So, this morning I applied for a visa extension. I will stay here for two months. I had a plan to wander around mainland Asia for the first part of 2019, and I still hope to do a bit of that, but not right now. My body clearly has told me I need to rest and stay put for a bit, and I also need that to get my work projects underway so I can start making a living over here. I can’t do that if I’m packing up every two weeks and spending one of those weeks figuring out the next place I am going to stay.

To that end Siem Reap is much cheaper (about 20-40%) than the Philippines and the food is better for my diet. There are some things where the Philippines are way better – medical care and the social aspect, plus I speak the language somewhat – but for now I’m OK with being a loner for a bit. I need to get the health and work stuff together, and figure out how to balance them, before I start adding too many other distractions back to my Asia existence. It’s time to start building a sustainable life, and those are the foundation blocks. The rest will follow. I need some time for that.

I always said part of the deal here is I would wander around until I found a place I wanted to stop. Well, I got here, and I want to stop. For now. I’ve got a lot of investment in the Philippines and Indonesia and I will definitely be back to both places – probably for longer stretches. There are other parts of Asia I want to check out too. But for now, Cambodia is where it’s at for me.

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