Thursday, 22 November 2012

Interview With An Expat: Corie in Phnom Penh

Hooray for expat interviews! I forgot how fun they are.
This week I'm chatting with my lovely friend Corie, an American who's been rocking the expat life for quite some time. She's been living and teaching English here in Phnom Penh for the past three years, and she lived in Taiwan even before that. She is one cool cat, as you'll soon see for yourself!

You've just gotten back to Phnom Penh after a two week visit home. What were the biggest reverse-culture shock moments you had while slipping back into life in the US?
I really enjoyed my home, but I feel I can safely say now that I don't plan to be living in the U.S. at any point in the near future. If I go home, it's strictly to see family and friends. That being said, there were some things that really chapped my hide this time around, it being now almost 5 years since I've been abroad. Every time it gets harder.
The first is money. America is expensive. Wow. I really forgot that, and while I think I afford a fairly nice lifestyle here in Cambodia, I thought at least I could get by on a pauperly lifestyle in the States during my visit. Not so. There's nothing more humbling than having to ask Daddy for some return trip cash. Lesson: if you want to have a nice trip back, SAVE!
The other issue I had was with people being unhappy. I can't tell you how many people I spoke to or encountered who just seemed genuinely dissatisfied with everything from their noodle soup to their WHOLE LIVES. And they weren't afraid to take their sourness out on others. What a drag. I don't know about your other readers, but we're so lucky to be surrounded by the warmth of the Cambodian people. It just makes everything in my day to day life much more pleasant.

You first arrived in Phnom Penh over three years ago. What are some of the differences between now and then?

I'm constantly amazed at the rapidity of change here. I arrived in 2009, and the city is very different from when I first arrived. Superficial changes involve a rise in the skyline and increased traffic problems.
A big change for me that seemed to be eased by the change in my wallet thickness was the loss of Beoung Kak, a.k.a. Lakeside. For many years, and definitely when I arrived, the city's backpacker tourism revolved around this area. It was backpacker heaven: $5 rooms, 50 cent beers, $2 meals, and uninhibited 'smoking' opportunities in many areas.It was actually where I started my life here and where I met many of the solid friends that I still keep. The circumstances surrounding the loss of the area are tragic for many of those in the community, and for myself, it signaled the end of an era in many ways.
I try to think that a lot of the changes are for the best, but a lot of work needs to be done to make this city what it's striving to be. For anyone who's considering a visit, it's not the wild frontier it used be, but it's still the "Kingdom of Wonder".

You're definitely known as a stylish gal around these parts - bits from your closet are heavily in demand at our clothes swaps! What can you tell us about shopping in Phnom Penh?
I have always been a clothes hound, and being the youngest of four girls, I've dealt with and embraced hand-me-downs my whole life, so I have no issues with second-hand, which is key to my style here. For more modern styling, I like to check out some local shops like the few Esquisse locations and Paper Dolls. Street 240 is great if you've got a buck to spend, but I've had amazing luck mostly at the Japanese thrift stores.
I also have had good luck with Beoung Keng Kang Market and O'Russey Market. They both have sections dedicated to 2nd hand stuff sourced from China, Korea, and Japan, which come in larger sizes. I have serious issues with shoes, but if you wear a size 8 US or smaller, BKK market is great for quality Korean 2nd hand shoes for around $3-5 a pair. They also have a massive jeans section where they take formerly bootcut jeans and turn them into skinny jeans. It's skinny jeans heaven if you have a good idea of your size. If not, you're only gambling away about $2-3 a pair. In any case, I've made a few fashion mistakes, but I almost always wear what I really LIKE, which is important for anyone who wants to feel good on a night out.

Last but not least, I'd be obliged if you could share 3 tips on living the good life in Phnom Penh!

Health: My roommate Debs consulted with me on this, and she and I both agree that a decent life in Cambodia involves balance. The environment here is incredibly conducive to partying. Cheap spirits and long opening hours and events result in long, dirty weekends. This can leave anyone feeling drained and depressed. So we recommend exercise and healthy eating during the week. There are quite a few good gyms here and anyone can work out a dvd player and exercise vid. Do it. You will feel much, much better.

Phnom Penh can be a little incubator. It's a small, small world, and I think any healthy human needs to have a healthy internet connection and contact with their friends and family at home. One should also stay on top of the news. I'm not the best at this, but I'm working on it.

If you are high-strung and cannot deal with people not living up to your expectations or meeting deadlines, not being punctual, etc., you are in the wrong place. If you're having trouble, Wat Lankga holds weekly meditation sessions. In the end, I still feel that the most easy-going of us have issues, and only time and experience will condition you to the inconsistencies that you will experience. Cheers and good luck! xxx


Thanks so much to Corie for giving us such thoughtful answers! Have some questions for this cool cat? Leave 'em below in the comments and I'll see they get to her!

xx Lady Expatriate