It’s been eight months since I tearfully closed that graffitied black door on New Cabra Road, behind which a little piece of my heart was left amongst the piles of books, newspaper clippings and dust, lots of dust. Having plastered over the gaping hole in our ceiling following a disastrous game of hide-and-seek during a rollover session in celebration of County Clare’s (inconclusive) GAA semi-final – I knew I was doing the right thing.
You see, it was your ability to throw a good party that first inflamed our flirtation. The ease with which I slotted into working life there was thanks to the good humour you breed—your personable and give people a chance. The sheer joy and love of life experienced within you’re shores was down to the grounded, honest and totally crazy bastards you moulded. I was so in love – I even adopted your ‘isms’. I promoted your imperfect beauty even after I had left to discover new possibilities in the exotic realms of southeast Asia.
It’s true, after four years, I found myself muttering that ugly cliché, “It’s not you, it’s me…” It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for the opportunities offered to me, or that I blamed you for taking them away simultaneously, but it seemed I had finally outgrown the comforts of Irish life. Adventures beckoned and so I broke the bond that had rooted me in Dublin’s gruff north inner city. The irony is, I have found someone else, but he is not so unlike you.
After brief flirtations with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, I settled on Cambodia. Khmers are the friendliest among their neighbours, with the best sense of humour. Phnom Penh’s lively nightlife and easily navigable sprawl has enabled another smooth transition. The array of quality restaurants and wholesome cafes allows for a similar lifestyle, but with the added bonus of bountiful sunshine and the ‘pool day!’ option.
Your brooding moodiness amid the blasts of side-ways rain, dark sense of humour and strange logic was attractive to me. While the darkness at the heart of Cambodia is equally compelling it is much more unsettling. The growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the way in which barangs (foreigners) live a parallel existence to their adoptive brothers and sisters is ugly. Your various ‘brown envelope’ fiascos are nothing in comparison to the deep rooted corruption that is barely concealed in Cambodia.
In a new and strange way, I have become tied to this country, but it has happened gradually, organically. It was not instant as it was with you and I know it will not last forever, as I once hoped it would with you. Cambodia is still a pimply teenager, it’s development stunted by a prolonged and nightmareish depression— it is still wrestling with the strict control of its self-interested father. Its growing pains and hot-flushes are symptoms of its skyward development and sprawling concrete foundations. Its bulging skyline grows with an indifference to the Khmers living in its shadows, as a new generation looks up with fresh hopes and aspirations.
I am rooting for Cambodia, while feeling fickle and hypocritical as I indulge in its offerings. I’m not sure how long I can live with the clunky clash of two worlds, that sparks a desire to create change while simultaneously enforcing the importance of my own economic survival. However, if I have learned anything from you, Ireland, it is that the under-dog should always be backed, the pints should always be shared and those glorious cups of tea will always be offered no matter the bother. So despite being thousands of miles apart, our cord has not been entirely severed. Just as I left something of me with you, you have left me with some enduring and invaluable life lessons…