Cambodians with their hard-core family values are always shocked when they hear I’m here alone, and constantly asking whether I’m lonely (“op sop?”). At first, the answer was honestly no, there was too much to do and see and cook and think about, but after I came back from a brief jaunt with my family over in the USA, I got a little sad, and sometimes a lot sad — especially when I didn’t keep busy.
I think, though, that even worse than sadness or boredom, is the self-indulgence and egocentrism of living without the norming influence of other people (especially in a place where unannounced visitors are pretty improbable). That’s why I think there are certain stigmas associated with living alone that I think are entirely justified. The appearance of Raja the cat circa month 3 doesn’t necessarily make things any better — crazy cat lady is something that still scares any misanthropic tendencies straight out of most young women.
Hermits run around naked in the deep woods and eat snakes and tubers and maybe even psychedelic mushrooms they find lying around. I refrain from the drugs, but I’ve been known to lie around without a scrap on reading a new book (or, let’s be honest here — watching 4-5 episodes of Gilmore Girls in a row) and eating my refrigerator empty on a Sunday afternoon. No wonder Mr. Sambath noticed the 9 extra kilos. And the #1 problem with this type of behavior is that it’s addictive and the further you let yourself go into the antisocial, self-centered spiral, the more difficult it is to dig yourself out. When you become irritable when company’s coming because that means you have to put your clothes back on, that’s when you know it’s gone too far.
The physical seclusion aside, emotional and mental solitude are also tough. Even when I venture out with friends here, it’s very difficult to get critical input or opinions on what I’m thinking. I have recently been reflecting on my experience here and considering what I want to do next when I come back and all the ideas floating in my head seem exciting and possible, but also maybe trite and crazy (?) and what I really need is a sounding board.