I thought I would start a series of posts called the ‘Phnom Penh Files’, which will be a monthly recap of my time in—you guessed it—Phnom Penh. The following is just a stream of consciousness, so please forgive my babbling.
The halfway mark already! How time flies. The first couple of weeks of August found me stressed and sleep-deprived, as I worked manically to finish off a freelance project before whisking off to Penang to reunite with the hubby for his birthday. It’s a bit of a contradiction because I don’t thrive well under pressure, but at the same time I don’t feel as motivated as when I’m facing a tight deadline. As the hubby says, I work best within a very specific set of conditions.
It had been 10 weeks since I last saw the hubby—the longest we’ve ever been apart—and so the anticipation of being together again was high. We spent a glorious 4 days in Penang and 3 days in Langkawi, which was a perfect combination of food and culture (Penang) and relaxation and island life (Langkawi). UNESCO heritage-listed George Town had been on my must-visit list for a while due to its renowned street food and street art scenes, and it didn’t disappoint in either respect.
- Sampling the best of Penang’s food scene with Urban Adventures
- My top 10 Penang street art murals and where to find them
It was interesting because I found that I needed time to become accustomed to being part of a couple again. I suppose in being apart, you get used to being on your own and operating as a lone wolf, so it can be an adjustment having to consider someone else’s opinions again. Similarly, when I returned to Phnom Penh after a week in Penang, I found myself having to do the reverse in reverting back to my single mentality. The most difficult time for me was my first week in Phnom Penh after the hubby left, and, at the time, I thought it was because the magnitude of the 6 months ahead had suddenly hit me. However, looking back, I think it may have just been a readjustment period—negotiating the transition from coupledom to (faux) singledom. I experienced these same emotions again following Penang, but on a much lesser scale, presumably because this time around I had an established routine to fall back into.
As to movements around town, a friend and I started a film and book club, and we held the first film screening of Pulp Fiction a few weeks ago—the book club is coming up soon, where we’ll be discussing the classic novel The Lord of the Flies. I am a notorious book club starter/joiner, and usually not very successful in either respect, so we’ll see how the first meeting goes.
The other day, I got annoyed over paying a tuk tuk driver 50 cents more than the trip was actually worth. I’m fully aware how petty it sounds to be haggling over 50 cents when I’m jetting off on international trips every month and eating extravagant brunches and drinking fancy cocktails on a semi-regular basis. However, my feeling annoyed got me thinking a lot about privilege and how my privileges are evidently so engrained that I believe that tuk tuk drivers should be thankful for what they’re given. I know, I’m a terrible human being and I feel awful even writing this, but I do think that it is part of the human condition to feel indignant if we think we’re being taken advantage of. Some argue that it does become more of a legitimate issue for expats if it happens time and time again, as opposed to being a tourist visiting the city for a couple of days. However, I think it points more to the fact that we carry our privileges around with us regardless of where we go—privileges that we have acquired essentially through the luck of the draw and nothing more.
A friend asked me about Penang and how it was seeing the hubby again. After giving a general run-down of the trip, she then asked, ‘Is being here worth it?’ I can’t remember what I said exactly but it was something along the lines of how it would be better to have the hubby here and it’s not the ideal situation as I’d prefer to experience this as a couple. However, what I should have said was a definitive ‘yes’—a thousand times yes! Even if something is not your ideal situation, it’s not to say that it isn’t the right situation, and sometimes you just have to trust that you are on the right path even if you have no idea where it’s leading.
I can’t explain the importance of me having this experience, except that I know that I would be utterly disappointed in myself if I didn’t take this opportunity and make the most of it, especially when I’m in such a privileged position—and there we have it again…privilege.
It’s a tricky thing, privilege. It can make us feel guilty when we recognise the privileges that we possess, and at the same time it can open up a wide array of opportunities that perhaps at the end of the day we may not really deserve. Should we condemn our privileges or embrace them? I wish I had the answers but this still remains a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.