Why I like living in Sihanoukville

Victory Beach, Sihanoukville Cambodia

I started this blog because I hadn’t read many positive blogs or articles about living in Sihanoukville. Most of them focused on the worse parts of the city and others made stuff up. That includes some mainstream publications. I read one article in the Sydney Morning Herald that said half-built hotels were “derelict” and wouldn’t be finished. If the writer returned to Sihanoukville, she would see they have all been completed.

I wanted to avoid making my site personal, so I’ve written little about why I like it here. It’s a blog, so I should be able to write what I want to. I have no idea why I made up that rule, so here’s . . .

Why I like living in Sihanoukville

I could focus on the negatives, but I chose to focus on the positive things about living here. Negatives include trash on the beaches. I don’t like it, but I can ignore it and focus on the warm water and beautiful views. Here’s a photo of one of my favourite swimming beaches. I still call it Victory Beach because it’s near Victory Hill, but I’m not sure it’s called that any more.

living in Sihanoukville: beautiful beachesI used to go to the other side of the pier, but now I go to this side. For one thing, they keep the beach clean on this side. Since they tore down the Airport on the other side of the pier, no one picks up the trash on the beach. This little restaurant serves coconut milk straight out of the coconut and other snacks. They also look after my stuff for me. I gave them my phone and wallet yesterday and the waitress didn’t steal any money. During the week, the only sound is the lapping of wavelets against the shore. On weekends, children play on the pier and you can hear them laughing as they jump off the pier and play on their rope swing.

When it’s not windy, I go swimming at Sokha Beach. When it’s windy, Victory Beach is sheltered from most of the wind. Yesterday, for example, there were whitecaps at Independence Beach and even more whitecaps at Sokha Beach. There were none at Victory Beach.

I love to swim. The water is always warm here and I can always find a place to swim. That’s one reason why I like living here. Another reason is that I am able to support a family on my freelance writing income here and indulge in daily cappuccinos and dinners out. If I lived in Australia, I’d only be able to support myself and would rarely if ever be able to indulge even in a cappuccino. Here I can have one or two cappuccinos every day and have my pick of restaurants. I can get a good meal and two small glasses of wine for $5.00 at one Cambodian restaurant. If I go upmarket, I can get a delicious Italian meal and a glass of wine for $7.50.

living in Sihanoukville: good restaurantsThese are my two current favourite restaurants. They’re both on the Hill, but they both serve delicious food. I usually go to Irina Franca because Raphael’s is more popular and I can’t sit outside. Irina is a wonderful Russian woman who serves home made Russian and Italian food. Both restaurants are reasonably priced. I’m not a big fan of the Hill, but the food is good and there is less traffic when I go in that direction.

Swimming and food are two reasons why I like living in Sihanoukville, but they’re not the only reasons. I was able to make freelance writing my career here because I could afford to. The first year was tough and I didn’t start making enough to indulge myself until about 2013. Now I’m making a reasonable living and freelance writing is the first job I’ve had I really enjoy. I’ve had others that were okay, but I love freelance writing. In Australia I could only do it sporadically. I made good money on articles for print publications, but never enough to make a career of it.

The reason I’ve written this article is because some people think I’d be better off in Australia. I disagree. I live comfortably here and have a Cambodian family. I get a lot of pleasure out of knowing I’m being of service to my family. In Australia I’d only be able to take care of myself. Living in Cambodia has made my life fuller than it would be in Australia. Australia was great, but times have changed. I like living in Sihanoukville for the reasons stated above and more. The city is growing fast and we’re talking about moving, but I don’t think I’ll leave Cambodia.It feels like home to me now.

My new blog and a little Sihanoukville news

Wow! This is the longest stretch between blogs since I started this Sihanoukville Journal. It’s not that I’ve lost interest — far from it. It seems like something new to write about pops up every day, but I’ve been busy with other things and just haven’t been able to find the time.

Aside from a welcome influx of paid writing work, I’ve been trying to write a chapter a week of a full-length book about life in Cambodia. Originally, it was going to be a short eBook about my wife’s amazing life, but as it progressed, I realised it wouldn’t work without including myself. The book languished for a couple of years until I joined a little writers’ group a couple of months ago. That gave me the opportunity to write a few chapters I was afraid to write before and get some feedback from others. So far, the feedback has been positive and I’ve been encouraged to continue.

My other project is a new blog to replace a couple of other blogs I’ve lost interest in. Google slapped my Writing Resources blog with a manual penalty for “unnatural outbound links” and to my surprise, I rejoiced when I saw my traffic plummet. The unnatural links were only there because I had become bored with writing about writing and let guest posters do it for me. Although they stuck with Google’s old rules, Google recently changed the rules again and the new algorithm looks for links that don’t fit into the blog topic and marks them as spam.

That was just the excuse I needed to scrap that blog and start a new one. My new Expat Journal gives me the opportunity to write about anything I feel like writing about that doesn’t quite fit here. I think the name helps identify the site as a complement to this one, too.

expat-journal-bw-02-1100wWhile I was writing my first entry this morning, I went downstairs for a cup of coffee and was taken outside to see a dog that was hit by a car this morning. The dog’s owner is one of the workers on a nearby building site. I knew they weren’t going to just leave it there, but was a little surprised to see them roasting it about an hour later. That prompted me to scrap my original entry and write a new one. When I first came here, I would have been shocked to see them do that, but I see things differently now. As I wrote in my first post:

Seven years ago, I would have been shocked, but now I’m more shocked by the distance we Westerners put between ourselves and the real world. When our dog dies, we give it a funeral. After the funeral, we eat meat that has been killed in a slaughterhouse by workers who do our dirty work for us.

dog2-smI guess I should add that I hesitated to write about the workers eating a dog because I know some of my readers will jump to the conclusion that it’s a common practice in Cambodia. No, it’s not and there are plenty of dogs who live to a ripe old age here. And before you vegans and vegetarians start feeling self-righteous, please read  Welcome to My Expat Journal.

What’s with the retro header image? It’s partly nostalgia for an era of journalism I missed out on altogether and partly a statement about my belief that the best journalism is that which is done in the field. Half the reason why journalism today is so watered down is because 99 out of a 100 journalists pick up their stories from pre-packaged content on Reuters or AP. The other half of the reason is because they work for corporate media that dictates what can or can’t be written about and what angle they’re meant to take.

In my imagination, at least, foreign correspondents in the past were willing to risk life and limb to see things first-hand and report on them as they saw them “without fear or favour.” Cambodia Daily still uses that line on their masthead, but it’s really just words. They are less biased than the rival Phnom Penh Post, but they do favour the opposition, as this article about yesterday’s rally demonstrates. Of course, I’m biased, too, but this is a personal blog, not a Sihanoukville news outlet.

Okay, duty calls. I have a stack of work to do. The weather’s been beautiful, so I hope to be able to work at the beach tomorrow. If I do, I’ll take some pics and share them with you next week.

Zen and the Art of Living in Sihanoukville

cake-prayerJanuary 10th marked my 7th consecutive year of living in Sihanoukville. The night before, Sophie threw a birthday party for me. As is the custom here, before cutting the cake, I was asked to say a silent prayer. I couldn’t think of anything to pray for, because everything was perfect. Had it been any other time, I probably could have thought of a dozen things to pray for, both selfish and unselfish, but at that moment in time, everything was perfect, so I prayed that everyone could experience such a moment.

And it’s perfect at this moment in time. And this one. And at this moment.

with neem karoli baba

I’m the guy in the back with his hand on his hip.

I’ve been big on living in the moment ever since 1971-72, when I was fortunate enough to spend a year in India hanging out around Neem Karoli Baba. At that time, his best known disciple was Ram Dass, whose book, Be Here Now, became an instant hippie classic. Being here now was easy around Maharaji because he embodied it and his presence swallowed us whole.

Time passed and responsibilities and worries tried their best to swallow me whole, but most of the time, the lessons I learned in the 60s and 70s stuck. I was never quite swallowed alive by stress and anxiety, but came close after I moved to Sihanoukville. In my previous incarnations in the United States and Australia, I was on familiar ground. In the back of my mind, I knew I could always find a job. If that failed, I could go on the dole in Australia and when I reached 65, could survive on a retirement income from the government.

I had plans when I came to Sihanoukville, but as Robert Burns wrote: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley” (the best laid plans of mice and men/often go astray). The recession of 2008 put to rest my plans to build and sell houses for a living; I couldn’t find a job teaching English; and my modest investments vanished after the recession hit. It got so bad, we had to sell our car to eat and finally even had to sell our wedding rings.

My first income came out of the blue, when a friend who had moved back to the U.S. got me an online job with an SEO company he was working for. That lasted about six months, until Google changed its algorithms and his employer’s Black Hat strategies backfired on him. That was when my freelance writing career began.

Throughout that tumultuous period, Sophie handled everything that happened much better than I.  She was accustomed to poverty and knew that if you didn’t give up, you could survive — or not. As a girl, she lived alone in the jungle for three years. Often lonely and hungry, she kept going by telling herself every morning when she woke up, “Not dead now”  and doing what it took to survive the day. She was nine years old when that became her mantra.

Things were hardest for me between late 2008 and sometime towards 2011. Rather than finding solace in the moment, I became embittered. “Easy for Westerners to preach about living in the moment,” I told myself. “They have options.” Then one day as I sipped a cappuccino at Douceur du Cambodge, just about my only indulgence at that time, the present moment hit me on the top of the head and swallowed me whole again.

It comes and goes, but instead of resisting, I embrace it now.

I was going to write about how much Sihanoukville has changed and grown in 7 years today, but a newsletter from brain pickings reminded me of a book I read decades ago, so I changed my mind. Alan Watts wrote The Wisdom of Insecurity: a Message for the Age of Anxiety back in 1951. Here’s a passage that was quoted in the newsletter:

Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements — inferences, guesses, deductions — it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more. Happiness, then, will consist, not of solid and substantial realities, but of such abstract and superficial things as promises, hopes, and assurances.

Just as air enters and exits our lungs without our having to think about it, we will always seek food, shelter and a level of security for ourselves and our families. I’m doing that now just as I did when it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to provide those basic needs to my family. The difference is that the high levels of stress and anxiety are missing and I am able to fully enjoy living here now that I’ve learned Zen and the art of living in Sihanoukville (or anywhere else).

By the way,  Cambodia made it to the list of International Living’s top retirement destinations for the first time this year. True, it was at the bottom of the list, but it was there. We still have a ways to go, but life just keeps getting better here every year. Why wait to enjoy it, though, when you can enjoy it NOW?

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