Looking forward in the rearview mirror

I looked down at the porcelain fixture on the floor, happy that, for this stop
on the way to Phnom Penh after a weekend in Koh Kong, I would not
be requiring its services.

“American Standard,” read the inscription on the squat toilet in the gas station
rest room. Irony settled in as, happily standing before it, I offloaded the quarter of water I’d drunk on
the first leg of the journey and and then headed out of the restroom to resume the trip.

How far we have come, literally, in the six months since I quit my job and we
headed out to experience the world.

“American Standard,” my foot.

And, squat toilets notwithstanding, it occurs to me that the stuff of life in the West, including the fear factors of working there, are the tractor beams that keep many glued to their seats, eagerly awaiting
the day when something cool might happen. Or, worse, resenting each day that
work once again gets in their way of doing something fulfilling, meaningful, or
simply fun.

It’s the house, the mortagage, the kids’ education funds, the quest for a
sailboat or country club membership in which we can spend off-hours, relaxing,
that conspire to keep us on the treadmill. As Gabi pointed out to me countless
times as I anguished over the right and perfect time to walk away from a job
many would sell their young to have, it’s all about the letting go.

And, having finally found the courage to do that (and thanks, in no small part,
to the support and encouragement of a wife who always looked at the situation as
an issue of clear choice for what’s best for me and two daughters who have been
equally supportive) it’s been a steady stream of reminders that I really should
have done this long ago,

Since it’s been six months nearly to the day since I quit, a quick look in the
rearview mirror reveals a landscape that is nearly as appealing as what lies in
front.

Now, this isn’t to preach, glorify or understate the fact that the stars aligned perfectly for us to make this change. We are without question blessed in many regards. And that’s precisely why I feel so compelled to scream my happiness from the rooftops: I wish the same for my family, friends and colleagues, many of whom looked at me wistfully as I explained our journey and then shrugged and went back to work.

All in due time, in due time.

The letting go of stuff has turned out to be 100% cathartic, and I’ll be the first to admit how incredibly good it has felt to be free of it all.

The swank car, which in addition to its hefty pricetag also came with a maintenance schedule and cost that I could always count on being at least $1,000.

The house that came with tons of stuff that would break and require either my attention or money (sometimes both, given my poor maintenance skills) to repair. I read somewhere online recently that given the tenuous prices of housing in the US that the nation is on the verge of becoming a renter’s nation rather than an owner’s country.

Count me in, but  for now I’ll opt for rental digs in a land where a few bucks buys you a lot.

But this is only the stuff of life, it’s not about life itself.

And that’s what’s really changed for the better as we’ve reached out to a new world that has been far more receptive to a pair of ex-pats than we ever would have imagined.

As Gabi and I say to each other all the time, we’ve never felt so alive.

Yes, the people, places, food, transportation and landscape is all new and different for us, and it’s still a bit like being on an extended vacation.

But as we’ve begun work, finally hung stuff on our apartment walls (a collection of rattan fish baskets we bought from various merchants along the way, and some cool Cambodian silk wall hangings) and settled into a new life here, it’s readily apparent how good this all feels.

And it’s more than the feeling of newness, unlike moving and starting a new job.

It’s a calm feeling of appropriateness. Peace. Tranquility, which seems odd, given the tumult of life and the motorbike, car and tuk tuk drivers who ignore driving rules and seem to angle towards a funny-looking barang on an undersized bicycle weaving through traffic on his way to work.

I count myself lucky in more ways than I can reflect on here, and I want the same for family and friends who may read this missive and wonder if such fortune will ever smile on them.

The answer is, without equivocation, yes.

How do I know this? I bump into people here nearly every day who are living it just as we are.

An Irish couple who closed up shop in Dublin and moved here after both their jobs dried up and they found themselves with no prospects in their homeland.

The British TV producer who’s lived here for seven years, and started an independent film company that is not only flourishing but also providing technical training to nearly 50 Cambodians.

Tons and tons and tons of NGO workers of all ages who simply decided to make a change, pursue a dream, or walk away from situations that simply didn’t work for them any more.

I think of where I was a year ago, and it seems impossible. Not that we’re here, but that I was there.

Yes, it’s a brave new world, and it’s a lot more friendly and accessible than I’d imagined or dreamed.

So I pinch myself everyday, laugh at the squat toilets, the tuk tuk drivers cutting across traffic, and the awkward social structure of a country clearly trying to redefine itself.

I relish in the fact that we are here, and as the sun rises over Phnom Penh on a Wednesday morning, I thank my lucky stars for our good fortune.

And I invite you to visit, with a caveat:

Coming here is like your first order of Cambodian amok. Once you taste it, you’re bound for yearn for more.

      2 comments

      • fbk

        The greatest gift of all is the gold you’ve found there … and that it is fulfilling and worthwhile. offloading the backpack of "American Standard" life cannot be anything less than life-giving. Just the act of getting rid of stuff, during your preparations for the journey, made you feel better — I could see it. And indeed, have you suffered the loss of all that "stuff"? My guess is a resounding NO. That you CHOSE to do what you’re doing, and are making the most of it, is the gift you give yourselves every day. Doesn’t matter how you got there, whether you had the scratch to do it or not — you DID it! In itself, that takes courage and presence of mind. The challenge now is not to urge us to come visit but to keep writing in this way so that a visit becomes mandatory! (You know where MY heart is!) May the small beauties (and inconveniences) of life in Cambodia keep you ever charmed, ever curious!xoxoxox fbk

      • Amanda

        Hi Skip and Gabi! Niece Sara’s friend Amanda here… I’m so glad to come across your blog! you sound fantastic and what a wonderful thing you are doing… I’m inspired. I look forward to checking in and reading up- thanks for sharing. Blessings on you both! love, amanda nims

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