Writing about Sihanoukville Cambodia: the real story

This post was updated 14 June 2015 after a change in the title. It’s up to 80,000 words now and I’m working on the final draft.

The impetus for this blog was never profit. It’s always been to present Sihanoukville Cambodia through my eyes: the eyes of an expat who loves his adopted culture. It’s never been quite enough, though. Who am I? Why am I here? What is my personal life like? What’s the inside story about my Cambodian family? Except for the odd snippet, I rarely write about that side of life on my blog.

long way home 3dEvery week, I get together with the members of our small writing group. Writing can be lonely work and unless you get feedback, it can be hard to stay motivated. Since our group was formed, my book-in-progress, Long Way Home, has grown from about 10,000 random words to a full blown book. My original intention was to write about my wife’s amazing life and share stories about the equally amazing things I’ve witnessed here, but never blogged about. I kept stories about my life to a minimum because I didn’t want to write about myself. When I did write paragraphs about my past, the other members of our group wanted to know more.

“I don’t want to write a memoir!” I protested with a grimace. They laughed and said, “Yeah, but we want you to.” It didn’t click that writing a memoir didn’t have to be egotistical self-indulgence until another member of our group wrote a short story about her life. We all wanted more details. She has lived an amazing life, but her story is not about her. It’s about the people she’s met, the places she’s lived and the events that have shaped her worldview. I couldn’t exactly encourage her to keep writing her memoir when mine was exactly the same, so I reconsidered my anti-memoir stance.

It dawned on me, too, that I only see Cambodia as I see it because of the experiences I’ve had in the course of my life — experiences that have taken me from a middle class upbringing at a town in Southern California mentioned by the Beach Boys (“all over Manhattan and down Doheny way, everybody’s gone surfing, surfing USA”); to a yoga retreat in the Sierra Mountains; Maui at the close of the sixties; India in the early seventies; and back to the Sierras where I lived on a commune for several years. Then I moved on to San Francisco and the east coast of Australia, where I lived for 20 years until my comfortable life unravelled. After giving Bali a shot and deciding I liked visiting, but didn’t want to live there, I moved on to this part of the world and finally found myself living in and loving a place that wasn’t even on my list: Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

Some chapters in my book include:

  • Worlds Apart, the opening chapter, gives a brief summary of Sopheak’s life in Cambodia versus my early upbringing in the U.S.
  • The Fool on the Hill tells about my first months in Sihanoukville, when I was living on the Hill.
  • A Cambodian Ghost Story is a true ghost story. Why do I think it’s true? Because the things the ghost told Sopheak were true, but she had no way of knowing about them.
  • Surrealistic Pillow is the story of an exorcism I witnessed.
  • Inside Tree is about the 3 years Sopheak spent wandering in the jungle. She was with a phnong family at first, but left them and continued on alone for another 2 years. She was about 9 years old at the time.

Other chapters are about more mundane things like building our house, running out of money and starting a freelance writing career from scratch. Mundane they may have been, but through it all, I have felt the guiding hand of fate. She is a palpable reality to me. I call her Serendipity and I don’t know what I’d have done without her, because if she hadn’t interceded in my life, I’d probably be back in Australia now, living off the dole. Woo Hoo.

I’m only about six chapters short of completing a first draft of about 18 chapters, so I decided it was time to start advertising Long Way Home*. If you’re the down-to-earth practical type, you may find it amusing and are more than welcome to write me off as a nut case. If you’re comfortable with stories about ghosts, the paranormal, reincarnation, natural healing and other stuff of that nature, you might find it inspiring. Either way, I think you’ll find it entertaining unless you’re looking for salacious stories about a sexpat’s adventures in S.E. Asia, crime in Sihanoukville or corruption in Cambodia. I cover those topics in a few chapters and the stories are juicy, so maybe my book will be of interest even to you.

If you want to look at the final product, please sign up for my new newsletter. I’ll keep you up-to-date with my progress and when I finally finish the online edition, I’ll give you a discount on the price of the book.

* 14 June 2015: Now editing the first 22 chapters. Saving the final chapter until I’m happy with those.

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About Rob Schneider

Rob Schneider is a writer based in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where he has lived since 2006.

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5 Responses to Writing about Sihanoukville Cambodia: the real story

  1. Rodney Burge says:

    Is the book out? (And where can I get a copy?)

    Shookran

  2. Mike Wiggins says:

    Fascinating Rob, I really look forward to reading your book when published. We visit Sihanoukville in January 2016 for the second time. Our son has lived there for about 4 years to date. He is sort of self employed in making low budget movies usually promoting some NGO or charitable organisation like M’lop Tapang. He too has fallen in love with Cambodia. We can’t wait for our next visit. Best wishes for the book and keep up the good work, Mike.

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