CambodiaMe

The Months and Weeks Prior

I've wanted to live in Southeast Asia for more than ten years but despite toying with the idea of emigrating several times, to various countries, we ended up staying in Sydney. This was mostly because Mel was happy there and I'd found a bit of a groove, but if I'm honest, it was also because staying was a hell of a lot easier than pickup up and leaving.

See, I've always hated moving house. I don't know if it's because of how often I moved as a child, the inevitable physical and mental exhaustion of getting set up again, or some kind of existential resentment towards change, but whatever the reason, it's right up there in the list of things I'd rather never do again. But moving overseas, that will be different right?

I've already ranted about how difficult it was to get rid of our furniture but this was just one of many things that came up or went wrong or caused us concern in the weeks and months leading up to our departure. We knew this was going to be an emotionally trying time but no matter how much you plan, certain things are impossible to even anticipate, let alone prepare for.

The first thing was the waiting. As soon as we had a destination and approximate date of departure, we were waiting. There was still so much to do, and perhaps the unconscious awareness of the effort and energy involved in getting them done was responsible for the impatience, but whatever the reason, there it was. We lived in limbo land for months and months.

This was made harder by the fact that for a variety of reasons, we couldn't tell most people. This was especially hard for Mel, as the main reason for her being unable to tell anyone was her job, and there is a lot of crossover between her circle of friends outside of work and those she sees everyday at her job. We would go out to see friends and be unable to talk about that which was occupying every spare second of our lives. Usually we're very open people, so this was mentally and emotionally exhausting.

There was also unexpected interruptions, like for instance getting assaulted... As a rule we try to stay out of trouble, in fact I've only ever been assaulted once before in my entire life, so to say it was startling is an understatement. The story itself is worth telling in full so I won't go into details now, but I will say that an event like this at an already emotionally turbulent time is doubly unsettling.

All of a sudden what is and should be seen as a random act that stands outside of your everyday reality becomes an omen for things to come. It causes you to question the validity of your previously held notions regarding your personal safety, your ability to deal with unfamiliar environments, and how you might act in an emergency. You realise how physically vulnerable you are, especially when taken by surprise, and begin to wonder if living full time in a foreign country is such a good idea.

While you're busy questioning what might be the most important decision you've made in your entire life, you're still being pushed and pulled around by everyday life, and still trying to get through your list of things that need doing to get you where you want to be. A lot of these things cost money, and very often far more than you expected.

Travel insurance quotes will go up when you add the necessary extras, computers will crash and need new hardware, medical checkups will uncover the need for expensive new glasses, and the cost of vaccinations will leave you aghast.

Also, your car registration will be due. You know you need to pony up if you want to get any money for it when it comes time to sell, but of course it will need expensive repairs before passing. These are not hypothetical circumstances used to illustrate my point, they are actual expenses we have incurred in the last couple of months.

Inside the car that cost us so much. Photo © Lee Nutter.

So, moving overseas is expensive, and mentally and physically exhausting. Unexpected things come up and make it more so, and if you think you'll make the money back when you sell your belongings you're sorely mistaken. But that's cool, just put your head down, distract yourself with the process, get your work done, and you'll get there eventually, right?

If only it were so. I'm not the kind of person that can put things aside like that, so my work was suffering too. I had taken on extra work to try and save some money, was re-launching the largest website I'm currently involved with, and had my regular work too. I also had a few photoshoots that came up at the last minute, and a backlog of photos to edit before I could even think about getting to those.

So at a time when I just wanted to be left alone I'm being chased by the friends I've been neglecting, the people I'm working with, and the models I owe photos to, all the while I'm getting less done than ever before because I'm busy tending to the ten thousand things that need doing before we leave, and am less efficient when I do sit down at the computer because my brain is drowning in the mental mess that has been the last few months.

And then my grandfather dies. And the next morning a close friend finds himself in hospital having a stent put in his heart.

I know that a lot of these things have nothing to do with our moving overseas, but to me they've all ended up in the confused limbo land that has been the last few months and weeks. This post is definitely more diary than how-to, but if there's a takeaway it is that moving overseas will probably be a more intense and emotionally taxing undertaking than you could possibly have imagined.

I've written and published this in part as an apology to the friends I've neglected in the hope that they read it and understand why, but also partly to remind myself of this trying time and the enormous amount of energy and effort we had to go through to get where we want to be.

Hopefully this serves as a reminder to appreciate Cambodia if or when times are tough, but also to remind us how difficult it was to extract ourselves from the anchor that is the traditional western way of life. From here on in, I intend to travel light.


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