Goodbye 2012

December 31, 2012

So, it’s that time of year, when we reflect on the highs and lows of the previous 12 months, in a spurious attempt to impose some sort of retrogressive order on the siege of randomness that is our lives. Or mine, at least.

I’ve only been in Cambodia for 10 months, but I think that’s long enough, and it’s been busy enough to count as a full year. So, for what it’s worth, here are my highlights and lowlights of a year in The Kingdom of Wonder.


One of the poorest and most corrupt places in the world. Beset by general horribleness, sex slavery, endemic corruption, appalling poverty, malnutrition (yes, really): this is what is known, patronisingly, as a ’frontier economy’. But, by god, it’s brilliant. I’ve never met nicer people. Their default position is to smile, and try to help. And if I have to exist on this planet, that’s a default position I want. Life being entirely too short.

Picking her up from the airport after she’d been in the UK for two months. Priceless.

They commissioned three pieces from me. John Updike used to work for them. It’s not much, but it pleased me.

The paper I work for is kind of a half-assed affair, run on a shoestring, by people who do a brilliant job on a budget of nothing, and care deeply about what they do. I wandered in, with a slightly sexy-looking CV, and they took me seriously. After years of being micro-managed by time-serving corporate dipshits, the paper here lets me do what I want. If I want a particular headline, that’s my call. Don’t like a story? I’ll spike it, and no one calls me on it. Because I’m the boss. I love it.

I’ve sometimes thought that mangos represent one of the very, very few plausible arguments that could be made for the existence of god. Our landlord, the saintly Mr Sokha, has a smallholding in a neighbouring province, and often brings us back a bag of his own mangos after he’s been there for the weekend. Each mouthful is a minor miracle, like a spoonful of rich, sweet golden sunshine. They make you glad to be alive.

A mango

A mango

If you haven’t been, you should. This is the view from the Sailing Club, where I’m having a big party in a year or two. Book early to avoid disappointment…

The view from Kep's Sailing Club

The view from Kep’s Sailing Club

Just taking a motorcycle through the fields and villages, and getting lost, and being constantly humbled by the people we stumbled across. I remembered something important about the one life we have to live here, and how I don’t want to spend it on the Tube going to Canary Wharf. I wish more people could see this.

I went back to the UK in August, and traded upon the goodwill of my friends, who picked me up, put me up and generally made me feel very humble. Thank you to all of them. And no disrespect to people whom I didn’t stay with or see; there’s always next year…

The legacy of the French in Indochina nowadays seems to be a disturbing number of French people cluttering up the place, and some seriously good restaurants. Foie gras, cote de boeuf and a decent bottle of Pomerol, for under $100 for two? Count me in.

We live in one of the taller buildings in Phnom Penh, with seven floors, and we’re on the top. From our balcony, we can see for miles in most directions, across the low-slung city, east over the lazy sweep of the mighty Mekong river towards Vietnam, west past the airport where the occasional plane gently touches down. We watch the weather roll in from the Mekong Delta, and the brilliant stars coruscating through the night. Quite magical.

Some dramatic sky action from the balcony

Some dramatic sky action from the balcony


Exactly the kind of thing you’d wish upon your worst enemy. I’ve never been so miserable. Like being harpooned through the lower torso, having one was a major low-light in my entire existence on this planet.

An alternative to a kidney stone

An alternative to a kidney stone

The moment when I tried to stand, and my leg jutted out at an odd and unnatural angle, moments before my head hit the pavement, concussing me, wasn’t a high point in my life. Apparently I eventually made it home, dragging my foot behind me, and announced that a bit of a kip would see me right. Optimistic, me.

A particularly bad moment was when my surgeon told me that, no, I’d misunderstood him, and instead of six weeks on crutches, it was going to be 16 weeks. Depressing.

So, on the whole, a pretty good year. Bring on 2013.


3 Responses to “Goodbye 2012”

  1. Susan Winchester said

    Brilliant!!!! Cheers to Cambodia!!

  2. Freakin’ beautiful.

  3. DTHayhurst said

    So ultimately how long were you on the crutches? 16 weeks in a tropical city? I certainly hope not!

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