Good times?

September 16, 2012

I got a phone call this afternoon from a contact I’ve been cultivating, with the news that he’d managed to secure me an interview with Japan’s biggest investor in Cambodia. This is a man, whom, as far as I can work out, has never given an interview before in his life, yet is worth billions, and is pumping quite a lot of that into this poor country. So I was quite pleased at the news.

I told my contact that I owed him a drink, and he said he was already in a bar on the riverside. I looked at my watch (1530hrs) and said I’d see him there. Because until some grown-up works it out, I’m my own boss. Leave the office mid-afternoon to go and drink? Get treated like an adult? Hell yes.

It was a hazy, cool and overcast afternoon, and as my tuk-tuk chugged up Sisowath Boulevard, I found myself gazing happily at the tendrils and curlicues of the roof of the Royal Palace, extending below the canopy of tamarind trees. A warm breeze was blowing off the Mekong, carrying the essence of garlic and roast pork from the barbecue sellers lining the river’s edge.

For a moment, I forgot where I was, lost in a blizzard of sensory happiness. “I’ve managed to arrange my life to a point where it’s this magical?” I thought to myself. “Bloody hell.” Buddhist temples, exotic smells, wildly odd food, professional autonomy – it’s a long way from prep school. And I’ve actually made it.

I’ve been accused recently of somehow insulting people who haven’t managed to live here, because of my enthusiasm for this country. Now, if I gave a single solitary what brainwashed sheeple thought, I’d probably be miserable on the Tube in London right now, living the standard unthinking.

But, in fairness to those who think I give Cambodia an easy ride, because it’s magical, I’m happy to acnowledge that it has its downsides. Last week, in a bar, the question “so what brought you to Cambodia?” of an expat teacher brought the answer “Doing Asian chicks,” to which I nodded understandingly, while backing carefully away towards the door.

Talking today to my editor about a story that hasn’t been widely reported, he mentioned that it could involve death for any reporter. “He killed his own brother to get his hands on the family money, you know,” he said, talking about a businessman of Richard Bransonian stature here. “Shot him in the head, himself.” There’s press freedom, and there’s living. It can be a choice, out here.

But for all that, I wouldn’t change a thing. This place isn’t for everyone, and I don’t judge anyone for it. But for me, jungly temples, the smell of incense, smiley people, warm breezes, super-abundant fruit and life informed by Buddhist philosophy make this like somewhere I’d like to believe I dreamed of as a child.

I wish that the way the western world is set up, with mortgages and school fees and credit card debt strangling movement and creativity, wasn’t the way things are. I think most of the people I count as my friends would prosper and make this world a better place if they could aim their energies here, rather than the moribund consumption-obsessed western world. But we work with what we’ve got.

But, for a moment today, looking at the roofs of the Royal Palace peeking through the mist and the trees by the river, laughing with my tuk-tuk driver, life was close to being as good as it gets*. And how often do you get to say that?

*Dear Fate, please don’t consider yourself tempted.


2 Responses to “Good times?”

  1. Hey Rupert. Lovely piece as always and very thought provoking. What with the transitions going on in my life I have neglected my writing in the last couple of months and hoping to return to it very soon. Today was our last day at Easton and Annie and I have been busily packing up our house and putting our life into 30foot cubed container – the sum total of our acquisitive consumer driven decadence.

    Your piece today inspired me. Annie and I are very much at a crossroads right now. New careers, new places to think about living – new lives. We have a blank canvas in front of us we can interpret any way we wish. It is both a terrifying and invigorating prospect.

    Isn’t that what life is though? Full of contradictions and absurdities. Yes life here in the West does seem bizarre when seen through the rose tinted glasses of your blissful sounding life, but as you said it is not without compromise. Would I trade you? I honestly don’t know.

    Anyway, here is an excerpt from something I have been writing this year which I think ties in quite neatly with your latest post:

    Like the risible notion of a monkey sat at a typewriter re-creating the entire works of Shakespeare, the concept of infinity is a terrifying one to try and comprehend. The universe overtly demonstrates that all things have beginnings and endings. Thus, the relationship between beginnings and endings is cyclical. So, are the notions of love and hate polar opposites? Or, where one ends does the other begin? Could love and hate be symbiotic in their nature?

    Although there are many points of origin for this story, like many of the great stories of old, this one begins with that supremely magnificent of moments and feelings: falling in love.

  2. Henry, thanks for the kind words. And the very best of luck with whatever you guys decide to do. Remember, as Carlos Castaneda said, “All paths lead nowhere; follow the path with heart.” Thinking of you both.

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