For the past five days, I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The first day we arrived, it was too late to do anything, so we ended up just eating some random banana and egg roti and fried rice and passed out in the hotel. The next day, we visited the famous Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, along with surrounding temples. The third day, we drove about 30 minutes out of Siem Reap and went on a little boat and watched the sunset from the middle of Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Cambodia. The fourth day was pretty relaxing. We had no real itinerary, so my parents and I explored the downtown area near the royal house and then lounged by the pool. The last day, we flew to Ho Chi Minh.
Yes, the temples were beautiful and worthy of their praises that I had read about online, but the one thing that captivated me about Cambodia was the people.
I have traveled to impoverished areas before, like Peru or Thailand’s countryside, and it’s a common thing I’ve felt and seen. People, despite their lack of large monetary value, are happy and sympathetic, much more so than the people who are more financially fortunate.
The phrase “money doesn’t buy happiness” never really struck a nerve with me, because I have been how much of a positive effect money can have. But seeing those who are less financially stable than say a middle class person in America smiling and really truly living life to the fullest makes me less apprehensive towards the adage.
Nowadays, we are so blind to our privilege, because so much of it we take for granted. Air conditioning, a clean bathroom– these are things most people take for granted, because we are so used to our privilege.
My first few days in Cambodia, I felt sympathy towards these people, because I understood my place of privilege and how lucky I was to have everything I wanted and needed. But I realized that these people probably looked at me with some sympathy too. I had become one of those people where money and materialistic objects gave me just as enough joy as traveling and spending time with others. I had become blind to my privilege and the real pleasures in life.
On the boat ride, we rode past a tiny village on the waterfront. Three little boys were wading in the water with a long wooden board. They were shrieking and laughing as they attempted to surf across the muddy waters on the piece of moldy wood. I didn’t dare dream of even stepping a toe in the waters because of my paranoia towards the parasites and bacteria in the water. I also didn’t want to get my clothes wet. But these kids were having fun. They don’t care about the latest clothing styles or jewelry. Their main concern to making sure they don’t lose that piece of wood to the depths of the lake.
I realize that there is more to that than meets the eye, like I’m sure they have more pressing issues to worry about. But traveling makes me realize how much I’m changing, and what kind of person I’m turning into. I am in no way a good person, but I hope in a year that I will be a different person than I am now.
The question I’m now asking myself is, “What does it take to make me happy?”