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Life in Cambodia is Good, But Not Easy. Here's Why.

Zanny behind the bar at Tipsy Turtles in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Zanny Merullo

Four challenges I encounter on the daily.

If you read through my previous blogs or take a look at my social media, my life in Siem Reap seems wholly easy. I work a few hours in a bar that isn’t often busy, in my free time I go out with friends or explore the jungle, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. This last part is true—I feel like I have found my home, and as a consequence, what I share about my life is overwhelmingly positive.

That being said, nowhere in the world is without its negative aspects, so here are some examples of challenges I face in Cambodia: 

Challenge #1: The environment

I come from a part of the world that enjoys four full seasons each year. In Cambodia, however, each season (dry summer, rainy season and winter) is just a different version of heat.

When I first arrived in the “winter,” the days were steamy and the city cooled down only when the sun had retreated. Now, with the arrival of summertime, the heat is often overwhelming. If I want to go for a walk, I need to make sure it is early in the morning or near sunset to avoid heat stroke. I guzzle water throughout the day but still feel weak, and every task requires extra effort.

Then there are the mosquitoes; I am constantly covered with miserably itchy bites.

Nowhere in the world is without its negative aspects.

Even so, if I think of myself as living in the jungle, I can accept the temperatures and mosquitoes as part of this experience, just like ladybug infestations and frigid cold winters in Massachusetts are part of that experience.

Often I forget about these troubles when I’m focused on guests, and I’ve found that dealing with the common enemy of Mother Nature fosters closer friendships.

Challenge #2: The infrastructure

Cambodian electricity is extremely unpredictable. This would be less of a problem if the heat weren’t so consuming as soon as the fans switch off.

Oftentimes the power, most of which is sourced in Thailand and Vietnam, will cut out for a few minutes or half an hour at a time. Sometimes there are even whole days of scheduled outages during which people flock to the big hotels with generators, and many shops and restaurants close. During those longer outages, I need to fill all the buckets in the hostel to manually flush the toilets.

These glitches are annoying, particularly when I’m working and can't access the computer system or serve a guest a cup of coffee. I reassure frustrated guests who cannot shower or use WiFi that the power will return soon—and it always does.

Challenge #3: The language barrier

Although I have made some progress towards learning basic Khmer, the language barrier still complicates daily life. Often when I call to book bus or tour tickets for guests, the operator speaks very limited English and requests to speak to a Cambodian. Deliveries of food or beer come during the day and I am unable to express my questions, or someone will come to collect money for rent and I cannot understand what they want. Sometimes I struggle to convey concepts to the Cambodian staff, and wish that I could speak their language. (At least my ability to communicate with hand gestures has greatly improved!)

Challenge #4: The nuances of working in a hostel

My job, although thoroughly enjoyable, is not glamorous. Since the housekeeper at Tipsy Turtles retired a few weeks ago, I have had to keep up with a lot of the cleaning. During slow times, I must go collect trash from the rooms, replenish toilet paper, clean toilets, mop floors, sweep up dust and leaves, and scrub various surfaces. I don’t mind these tasks, as it gives me something to do and a sense of accomplishment, but I am slow to complete them during the heat.

The same challenges I faced back at home in customer service are present here, too. While most of our guests are wonderful, interesting people, I occasionally come across someone who is demanding or doesn’t understand why things are the way they are. I had a customer for dinner who insisted his salad be remade twice, someone else who walked brazenly behind the bar and took a drink from the fridge, and guests who have complained about the prices of the beer or rooms. One older man even spat on the floor! Humanity is full of endless variety. . .

I see it as a challenge to remain professional and handle each situation to the best of my ability.

I'm positive about this lifestyle not because it's easy, but rather because it fulfills me. Living in a spiritual place and the conversations I have with interesting people from all over the world far outweigh the challenges of living in a developing country. I'm sure I will encounter more challenges with the corrupt government and unpredictability of the bureaucracy as I attempt to move here permanently, but that will not affect my appreciation for the life I live here.

For the first time in my life, I have found a place where I feel I can’t complain, or don’t need to. 

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Alexandra Merullo

Alexandra (known by friends as Zanny) Merullo is a 22-year-old former expat in Cambodia who now lives in the mountains of the US. She is a bartender, writer, and avid explorer looking for her next adventures.

Website: zantakestheworld.wordpress.com

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