Expat Tales: Chapter 3 (the continuing saga of what happened after I quit my job…)
After a few days of hanging out in Phnom Penh, I had hoped to continue my cruise up the Mekong River to Siem Reap. Unfortunately, it was dry season so the river was impassable and a 4-hour bus ride was the only option. My main mission in the Siem Reap area was yet another volunteer teaching job. In order to save some money on the volunteer fees that most companies charge, I had organized a 6-week volunteer program, teaching English for a small organization at a country school located just outside Siem Reap. No fees, free room and board, and more teaching experience. Sounded great!
Volunteer Gig in a Remote Village
Volunteer travel is a great way to meet the local people, gain valuable work experience, and give something back to the country. Unfortunately, this idea has recently evolved into “voluntourism” and has created great debate over the actual value of volunteer travel.
The volunteer program I had arranged was an attempt to practice the English teaching skills learned in my TEFL certification program in an area of Cambodia with very few educational opportunities. For these kids, English language skills could possibly make the difference between a life on the streets, becoming a “massage therapist”, or a decent job working in tourism.
Good intentions, but the actual reality of that experience is best described by sharing the email rant I sent to some close friends shortly after my escape from the “remote village from hell”…and I quote:
My Actual Email Rant:
“Cambodian horror story: Last Saturday I checked out of my scummy (under renovation) hotel and caught a tuk-tuk to the orphanage for my 6 weeks of teaching. About 15K into our journey we connected with a motorcycle for the last 10K or so. I got on the back of the moto with everything I own, for a ride from hell, on a road that is totally impassable by anything but a 4-wheel drive or a motorcycle. And we kept going…and going…and going…and going.
We pulled up at my new home, in the middle of friggin’ nowhere!! Nothing around it. No village. No café. No ATM. No little snack shop. No wifi. NOTHING. And my first thought was “WHAT THE HELL have I gotten myself into?? WTF?”
Some random person showed me to my suite – a thin mattress on the floor covered by a mosquito net. The loo was a squat toilet with a bucket shower. My main contact (Mr. P***) was not around, so I just lay on my mattress and stared at the ceiling fan. It was 96 degrees in the shade. I was sweating and thinking again – WHAT THE HELL?
My original plan of 6 weeks here in hell was mentally revised to 2 weeks. I tried to wrap my mind around 5 days in this hell hole – and then a weekend break in town – and then another 5 days.
I went to bed right after dinner, and my bed was COVERED in bugs. All kinds of crawly things. I went to work trying to kill the little bastards, but more kept showing up. Like they were slipping through the tiny holes in the mosquito net and then multiplying! My bed was a bug zoo! I accepted that I would be getting no sleep that night. Crawled into my thin silk sleeping bag to keep the bugs from crawling up my shorts, and sweated, scratching the heat rash on my neck.
At some point during the night from hell (3am?) I had an epiphany – I DON’T NEED THIS S**T! I can get a job teaching English without another 6 weeks of volunteer work in the pit of hell!! I also realized that I have definitely decided to pursue a job in Korea so I might as well use my time and energy organizing the paperwork required to even apply for those jobs. SO I LEFT!! The next morning I told Mr. P*** I had to go. I was on the back of another moto by 9am…OUTTA THERE!
So…I’ve been spending the week in Siem Reap reading, relaxing, revising my resume, drinking beer, and working on the paper chase for the Korean government, and appreciating the little things in life – like a bed, a shower, air conditioning, cold beer, and no bugs!” (End quote)
Settling into Siem Reap
My friends laughed at my misery! After that unfortunate incident, I settled into Siem Reap as a temporary home base. Although the small village I remembered from 10 years earlier had grown into a busy, bustling town, I still liked it and appreciated the low cost of living, wonderful food, and great vibe.
A Social Life!
One evening I decided to head over to Pub Street, an area full of pubs (obviously), restaurants, and rows of reclining chairs for cheap foot massages. As I sprawled in my huge recliner chair, sipping on a complimentary beer while getting a $2 foot massage, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face – Creepy Dutch Guy from the Mekong River cruise, the guy I managed to avoid in Phnom Penh! I decided to stop running and agreed to meet him for dinner. We swapped travel stories, laughed at my horrible bug-hotel experience, and I realized he really wasn’t THAT creepy. Kind of sweet, actually.
The following day I connected with another old friend, Melissa, who I had met at a pub in Hoi An, Vietnam, the previous month. We were on similar paths, in Southeast Asia and in life. She had quit her job in Australia and was wandering around Asia, also trying to figure out her next chapter. We met for dinner along with Tanya, another solo woman traveler Melissa had met in Laos. The three of us spent the next few days exploring Angkor Wat and discovering amazing restaurants in Siem Reap.
I also reconnected with other travel friends during my time in Siem Reap, some former “Peace House” mates from Vietnam and friends they had met along the way. My expat social life was hopping, but unfortunately, the job hunt situation was at a standstill. I needed an FBI background check in order to apply for jobs in Korea, and I needed a copy of my fingerprints in order to request a copy of my FBI background check….hmmmm.
Next chapter – stumbling, bumbling, and fumbling through Cambodia.