Mastodon Michael Perry

Bridging some gap

Lately more than ever I found myself straddling two worlds. One is the expat world in Siem Reap. Made up of a universe of characters that I watch often across the bar or restaurant. Their spirals and orbits seem to forever be tied to the familiar. Familiar faces, places, foods. Some visit only expat bars and restaurants and rarely visit Khmer places. Of course in this world some are challenged by the unique and different. Menus not in English. Places that look different. Habits and customs diverging.

Then there is my place. I walked away from the expat world some distance and found myself straddling both. One foot perhaps dragging through my remnants of the expat while the other takes slower steps to a different world.

In this new world is a mix of Khmer people and still a few western expats. Some still around because it seems fun to see them. Others are vestiges. Pieces left behind of the slow steps out of one and approaching the other.

I can never be fully in one or the other. But I can mix and match the Khmer world with its wonderful people, family and events with this other world I foot drag through. Somehow I can mix and match. Find the curious and fun and stimulating in both but not leave one or just go native” as some cultural anthropologists would do.

I think happiness comes from less of the expat world with its cast and more of the Khmer with the wonderful things it offers. But never again all of one or the other. I can’t assimilate to one or fully leave the other because I wish not to. Part of me; this stubborn part perhaps insists on being barang. Other parts want away from the expat. They sadden and frustrate me and the path never is clear to either leave completely or walk back.

Luckily Alin offers a known thing. Some of both in the amounts I need and want. She offers, in the time honored Cambodian message,

Same same but different

I can taste of both at my leisure and she has boundless good humor and knows she can show me more of a Khmer world, find family again, feel her lithe body. Still though she lets me be the little part of the expat I seek to keep.

So I get both the same and the different. And it makes me happy I know I can never go back to how a person like J is. His limits are self induced and his path limited. Nor can I drop it all and be the ethnologist and wander this world in full acceptance.

And it makes it all worth writing about if you ever travel this path and wonder. I also get to see how the path evolves and how I could have so little of one world that seems so limiting and more of the other world that embraces me and offers so much more.

Now I’ll let you wonder what path you would choose. How would you do the same and different? Would you leave your known world almost behind? Embark on a voyage of discovery where the final little parts of your old life are slowly left behind? Could you? I can’t completely leave one or go to the other. I can have both parts. Much like the photo above. Each has a place. But how much and when and where? Alin forces no decision. It is me that looks at one world askance and wonders why.

Bye for now. Give it some thought. What would your choice be?

March 10, 2023