In this series we talk to Cambodia expats about what they wish they had known before they moved to Cambodia that they know now.
This week we talk to Lauren Crothers, an Irish reporter and photojournalist with the Cambodia Daily. Lauren grew up in Hong Kong and has been happily living in Phnom Penh for a little over two years.
MTC: Lauren, what do you know now that you wish you had known before you moved to Cambodia?
LC: “I wish I had not listened to certain people whose reactions to the news I would be moving to Cambodia looked like this:
…and who relished in telling me that the one day they spent backpacking through Phnom Penh filled them with despair and revulsion. “Ugh, there are rats, and rubbish, and it’s such a shithole,” one said. Dear expat-to-be — ignore these people. They are utterly useless and, in the grand scheme of things, have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.
I wish I had known I wasn’t moving to the edge of the world, fun as that may have been. In the lead up to my arrival more than two years ago, most of the information I found online gave me the impression that Phnom Penh was populated exclusively by a jaded older set who didn’t want to share their patch with newcomers and as a result, were unwilling to be helpful. I was wrong.
Cambodia is home to some fascinating characters, many of whom have some incredible stories to tell over a (very cheap) drink. Come here with an open mind and try not to let the little things get to you. You will soon realise that Cambodia will slap you around the face with an important sense of perspective. Hang on to it, even if you get sucked in to a bubble of lazy days by the pool and sunset cocktails. There is so much more to this country than that.
Once I got beyond the initial wide-eyed assimilation period, I could not wipe the smile from my face. I don’t have a false sense of security at all, but I’ve managed to avoid getting malaria, dengue and having a bag snatched. I did once mysteriously get an epic staph infection in my face, which was efficiently treated and now makes for a good story. My tummy had an adjustment period. Yours probably will too. Just accept it.
In many ways, though, it was the not knowing that has made my life here so enriching. Not knowing how hard I’d fall in love with Cambodia, with the work I do, the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met only served to heighten my experiences. I’ve gone from feeling like Cambodia would be the final frontier to realising that for me, at least, it’s the centre of the universe.”
You can view Lauren Crothers’ amazing photos of Cambodia here, or follow her on Twitter at @laurencro. Lauren also has an exhibition of her photographs from her time in Cambodia running through December 31st at the Flicks in Phnom Penh.