I’ve been living in Phnom Penh for a little more than three weeks now and while I’m settling into life surprisingly quicker than a newborn gasps for air, there was something missing.
It didn’t bother me much, it wasn’t cumbersome to carry around and didn’t play on my mind regularly but it was always there, tickling at the fringes of my consciousness, and I couldn’t seem to put my finger on exactly what it was.
To be brutally honest, bar my friends and family, there’s not much I miss back home. I don’t miss the dull, dreary days that make up British winter; all merging into one long, endless cycle of cold and dark and cold.
I don’t miss barely seeing daylight, which I’m utterly convinced is 100 per cent directly related to happiness; getting up before dawn to be in work and not returning until well after dusk.
I certainly don’t miss being cold – ok, so maybe I do every once in a while but I just switch on the aircon. I don’t miss working to live; having no money left after forking out for the hiking bills and spiralling cost of living.
I don’t miss the silence of the streets back home. Here there’s always laughter, chatter, music, rich colours, something somewhere being played out to an audience of passers-by.
I don’t miss the bland food that does little to even stir the tastebuds into feigning excitement, and I don’t miss the poisonous feeling of boredom that was starting to ooze from every pore.
So I couldn’t figure out what it was and left it at that, hoping it would ease away with time.
And then we went to Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s southern coast for a weekend away. We stayed in a basic bungalow that sat a few metres off the beach. It was a nice little getaway for a few days but there’s only so much luxury a wooden structure can offer at the best of times.
Nights were spent cowering under a mosquito net listening to the sound of a thousand insects and animals and God knows what singing simultaneously out of tune just inches from where we lay. Showers were cold, the fan was feeble and the faint air it lazily puffed wasn’t even worth the effort.
Getting changed and putting on make-up was a challenge under a light that only seemed to cast more shadows, but that didn’t matter because the constant power cuts pretty much put an end to any hope of me doing much more than slapping on a bit of lippy.
After three days of living like this, we couldn’t wait to get home and have a warm shower, go to sleep without having to share our room with… actually I’d rather not know, bask in the light, see what we’re actually doing without heads and elbows and legs all clashing.
Hang on a minute, let’s rewind. That’s right, I said we couldn’t wait to get home. Home. There, I’d hit the nail on the head. That’s what I’d been missing and until then my flat in Phnom Penh hadn’t felt like my own, I hadn’t learnt to appreciate its quirks, hadn’t felt quite comfortable there.
Here, I love our security guards who, no older than 18, stand proud in their stuffy navy blue uniforms, jackets buttoned neatly up at the front matching their pressed trousers with a smart red trim ready to welcome you in or out with an abundance of smiles.
I love the coffee shop next door where you’re greeted every day by a shower of deafening hellos and good mornings from every single smiling member of staff – this still makes me smile three weeks on – who have learnt our names off by heart after writing them down the other day.
I love the area we live in; the fact that everything I could ever possibly need is right on my doorstep, from restaurants to bars to boutiques to beauticians to masseurs (and not the dirty kind) to pharmacy to bakers to laundry – I could carry on but I won’t.
I love the Chinese restaurant down the road where a young Khmer worker will sit down with us briefly. He’ll chatter away manically to us in a language we don’t understand but he won’t let that minor detail get in the way of telling a good story. He’ll, presumably, tell us a joke and pause briefly before prompting us with a hearty laugh that that was the punchline and walking off, still chuckling to himself.
As I start to get to know the characters and slip into those habits that create a sense of security, familiarity, of home, this is definitely starting to feel like a very nice home-for-now.