Bye, Bestie

I said goodbye to my best friend in Cambodia the other day. J (of the frogs, the kind listening, and the mental reframings) moved to Bangkok.

I knew it was coming. He’d talked about leaving often, and it was always more a question of “when,” not “if.” I was clearly in denial, though, because when I got a message from him on a Monday saying he’d booked a flight and was moving to Bangkok on Saturday, I just stared at my phone for about three minutes before the tears started rolling down my cheeks. I think my reply message was, “Well, goddamn it.”

And, while a best friend moving away might not sound like a huge deal, it sure feels like it to me right now. Because it’s hard enough to be away from all the love and support back home. And I know there are other people here in Phnom Penh who also have already supported me, and have already shown their love in ways that I could never have expected and am certain I don’t deserve. I think people kind of get used to the culture of people leaving here. You make quick bonds, and you know they will have to stretch over distances when at least one of the people inevitably leaves. I’m finding that’s not so easy. Especially when it’s someone with whom you really click.

I wasn’t the only thing left behind in this situation, though. There’s a good story about a nearly-missed flight and things left behind that I’ll save for a face-to-face telling (teaser: it involves a $2 bill and a hammock).

But yesterday, after I did a consult (sort of in exchange for a one-way ticket to Malaysia… I’ll write more about that later…), I reached for my phone to message J to ask him if he wanted to meet for a drink or dinner. I stopped short, then forced myself to keep walking because I didn’t want anyone to see the tears welling up in my eyes or notice that I could barely take a full breath.

With J gone, I don’t know who here will always (and I mean always) meet me out for tacos. Or even bring tacos over to my place when I’m too lazy to go out. Or meet me for pizza at 10am after a big night out. Or go see movies at Flicks and refuse to eat while watching a movie because he’ll “only do one thing at a time” out of mindfulness (but will also applaud my choice to heartily eat too much of the amok I ordered). Or argue with a tuk tuk driver in an alley with me over the price to get my lazy self home. Or make me laugh until tears roll down my cheeks and I have to remind myself to breathe. Or talk about topics that are too deep to discuss over pitchers of margaritas (yet always seem to get discussed over pitchers of margaritas). Or listen to me go on and on about the ridiculous philosophical things I’m reading. Or meet me at the wat on short notice to sit for an hour in silent meditation. Or… Or… Or…

Or just be J.

But I know I’ll be okay. (Even if I am little less full of tacos and a little more full of experience being alone.)

The only picture I have where one of us isn’t making some ridiculous face. 😀

A trip to Bangkok is most definitely in order. Soon.

Mission (almost) Accomplished

Back when I used to do a bit of distance running, I would experience a thing that is well-known and well-documented in the running world called “post-marathon depression” (or any number of other similar titles). Now, we know this isn’t the real-deal depression (it’s not. not even close.), but it smacks of the same stuff.

And right now, as I sit here on the bed where I’ve usually sat amongst piles of papers, drafted endless emails, written presentations, and reviewed endless strings of others’ slides, I’m feeling it.

On Saturday, the students in the course I’ve been coordinating/teaching took their final exam. Afterwards, I was going to go home and take a nap before Friendsgiving (a celebration of epic proportions that deserves its own post) but couldn’t stop myself from going to a coffee shop and grading them immediately. Of course, they all did splendidly, after worrying and studying and perpetually (jokingly) asking me for the answers in advance. That group of 13 is what has made this all worthwhile. Because it’s been a bitch at times, to be completely honest. Sure, the sheer number of hours to log was exhausting, but it was the emotions that went with both the direct and indirect work I had to do that was really the draining piece.

Frustration, sadness, guilt, fear, anger.

But also satisfaction, connection, acceptance, joy.

But right now, I’m really feeling the post-major-project let-down.

You know you did good work. You met the goal. You persevered through the tough times. You kept doing your absolute best even when you thought you’d collapse. You figuratively kept putting one foot in front of the other, hoping the rest of your self could keep up at the blistering pace. YOU DID IT!

And now it’s done.

Now what?

People say things like, “On to bigger and better things!” and “On to the next adventure!”  And I get how that’s supposed to be helpful, but it really just sets up the expectation that I need to move on to bigger and better and MORE ADVENTUREY things from here. But really I just wanna eat a sammich and sit on the couch for a few hours.

So while it may not be on to biggerbettermoreadventurey things, it is, nearly as excitingly, “On to meetings about a new job!” and “On to finding an apartment!” (which will both likely be posts in the near future).

Side View of Selfie
Side View of Selfie after the Final Exam

First Things First

I get antsy. This is no secret to those who know me. Novelty and change feed me.

I know there’s a ton of stuff out there on mindfulness, and on finding novelty in the things you’re already experiencing regularly, but somehow  that itch seems to come back in the end in just about every situation. I don’t deny that I need to train my brain a bit more to find novelty in the familiar (notice the little things! use fresh eyes to see everything!), but daaaaaaaaaamn, completely novel experiences are delicious!

Several years ago, I found myself straining against the confines of Duluth after living there for seven years (multiple years longer than I had lived anywhere else in my adult life). In an attempt to find novelty in the familiar, I started a blog aptly named “One New Thing Each Week: Avoiding the seven year itch in my relationship with this city.” It’s not available anymore to view, but it was a series of new micro-adventures in Duluth (new beers! new restaurants! new events!). The blog kept me accountable, and I did log 52 new things in Duluth in a year. While it was all about exploring and finding novelty, perhaps the best thing that happened was that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone at least once a week in such a strong attempt to be able to stay put. Must’ve worked, because I still permanently live there!

I think as a society lately, people complete glamorize this desire to explore (read the online dating profiles of every man ever and you’ll see some derivation of either the word “explore” or “adventure”, regardless of how they actually live their daily lives). While I have come to recognize that there is a need for change at my core, it has also demolished some of the most amazing things I’ve ever had in my life. In this setting, though, I think I have found an amazing way to both be productive and experience change on a large scale.

There are few things in life that excite me as much as a “first.” But when every aspect of your life becomes firsts, things can become a bit overwhelming. I think this is what we people who are lucky enough to put ourselves into the middle of cultures that differ greatly from our own affectionately refer to as “culture shock.”

I may have mentioned that my current digs are in one of the nicest areas of town, with a high proportion of expats and tourists present. This makes for fewer experiences of feeling like an outsider (feeling like the record scratches when you walk into a space), but there are still so many situations where I do. I wander through the markets. Outsider. I sit down in a small restaurant. Outsider. I step outside of my apartment and smile at the guys playing cards across the street. Outsider. But with a good balance of what feels comfortable and new things, I feel like pushing myself to explore. This doesn’t feel like culture shock. It just feels shockingly good.

I was talking with a guy the other day who has been here about a month and he asked how long I’d been here. When I told him a week, he said he felt like a slouch for not having done any of the types of things I’d done. Now, I haven’t done anything that feels that outrageous, but it all does come from the seeking of firsts.

Every day, something new. A new food (malai helong flowers, mixes of things wrapped in banana leaves, Khmer curries). A new restaurant (that expat one that made me uncomfortable, that Khmer one tucked in the market). A new mode of transport (admission: tuk tuks aren’t new, but they were new to me here, and no driver ever knows where he’s going, a story for another day).  A new person to meet (other people working with kids with disabilities in town, teachers just arriving in town working for an organization that’s sponsoring the course I’m coordinating, random people just about anywhere). A new experience of any sort (going to a new market, volunteering with the Khmer Sight Foundation, running in the city, meditating at a local wat).

Now, these firsts are not typically comfortable, as thoughts like, “What the hell is going on here?” and, “Where the hell am I supposed to be going?” and “Why the hell am I here?” creep into my brain. But ultimately, I know that this mild discomfort that can be inherent in new experiences is what feeds me. Feeds me the most delicious stories one could ever hope to digest.

Outside of town in a tuk tuk
Measuring blood sugar before surgery for Khmer Sight Foundation (I just recorded results)
At Wat Langka where I did an hour-long Vipassana meditation
Malai Helong flowers (and crinkle cut carrots)