Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Margaritaville

I encountered a hefty number of life choices recently. It took a few sleepless nights, plenty of advice from friends and family and lots of soul searching but finally everything resolved itself. In this process, my father sent me a kind and helpful e-mail that urged me not to discount the idea of  staying in Phnom Penh a bit longer than planned. My contract here runs into January and after that I plan to move on. His suggestion took me aback and I started to think about how tempting an idea that really is. I then realized that if I stayed here in Cambodia I might never leave. I could very happily remain here in a perpetual Margaritaville purgatory for a very, very long time.

At the risk of sounding snotty or like Jimmy Buffett's autobiography, I want to expound for a moment on the amazing quality of life here in Phnom Penh. Take this weekend for example. Saturday morning I had a leisurely brunch at a boutique hotel with friends, luxuriating in the tranquil, relaxing environment. My friend's personal tuk tuk driver then picked us up and took us to the main market here in town. We wandered around, poking at the goods and drinking baby coconut water strait from the fruit. My friend bought a huge bag of fresh groceries for less than $4. Later I met up with a different group of people for a Mekong river boat ride in celebration of a few birthdays. I enjoyed two hours of cruise for $3, chatting away with Peace Corps Cambodia Volunteers and the American ambassador's son who apparently does not drink anything below Johnny Walker Black Label. Later we rocked out at a karaoke venue where our group had three dedicated attendants just for us. Right now I've installed myself at a Western style coffee shop and am sipping on an expertly brewed cappuccino as the rain spatters itself against the floor to ceiling windows. Later I'll head uptown to play some pickup Ultimate Frisbee with the local expat league. Great life?  I think so.

The expat lifestyle is a tough one to turn down, especially for someone in their mid-twenties fleeing an awful job market in the US. Westerners make plush salaries and have few expenditures in developing countries. Goods and services are up to American standard and I can't think of much that is not available on the shelves here. But life is especially easy for expats in Cambodia; it's developed just enough to be familiar but not so much that there is either fierce job competition or a loss of edginess or exoticism. And though I know I live a vastly different life than the locals, a situation that comes with it's own moral dilemmas, having a life dedicated  to service somehow makes it more okay although it does feel a little wrong at times. I landed a substitute teaching position recently and if I were a little more opportunistic and a little less ambitious it would be easy to work that up to a more permanent position, get an apartment in a trendy area, extend my gym membership and stay a good long while. But as much as this plush setup is tempting for the long haul, I feel distant corners beckoning and I know I will heed the call of relentless ambition.

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