Monday, August 1, 2011
This week Stephen met with an American who has been living and working in Phnom Penh for the past 18 years, and he described phases that people go through that are along the same lines as my W-curve. The way he describes the process of cultural immersion is: The New Deal, The Raw Deal, and The Real Deal. The New Deal is when you first enter the culture and you are excited about all the newness. This corresponds with the top of the W in my professor's framework. The Raw Deal is basically you hate everything and you want to go home (the bottom of the W). And The Real Deal is when you see that there are good things, and they are really good, and you see there are bad things, that are really bad. People cycle through these phases a few times but from his own experience and having watched many others, he says that two years is a critical point. After two years people either decide they've had enough and go home or decide they want to stay on for the long term.
After one full month in this completely foreign culture, Stephen and I are still in "The New Deal" phase. So far we are still interested in and enjoying the newness. We like noticing how things are done differently here, instead of being annoyed that they aren't done the way we do things in the states. We are still adventurous; trying a different restaurant nearly every time we go out and shopping in the markets instead of just the conventional grocery stores or indoor mall. Hearing only Khmer spoken all around hasn't started to annoy or frustrate us and we enjoy practicing our few Khmer phrases with everyone we meet. This feels like a very good sign.
This is a cultural characteristic. Maybe it stems from the predominant religion Buddhism, or maybe it's just an Asian value of community. People look out for each other. It isn't just me against the world. The way they drive here also reflects a community value. Two tenets of driving are 1) people will slow down 2) and be patient. I've seen it so much in the month that we've been here that I'm starting to understand how to merge into traffic. You just get on your moto and start driving. You don't look and wait for an opening to race into. You just start going and people will make room for you.
Stephen bought our car on Friday. But we haven't driven it yet as it needed a few repairs. We also got our Cambodian driver's licenses. Really, I don't think this will change my life much. I don't intend to drive any time soon. I've just figured out how to cross the street! It's kind of the same as driving. You just start walking and traffic flows around you. You go slowly, moving out of the way of that car or those motos. They watch me and swerve either in front of me or behind me.
People look out for each other. And I like that. It makes me feel acknowledged. It makes me feel like I exist as part of a community. Despite barriers of language and culture, Cambodians have made Stephen and me feel welcome. I think we'll stay awhile. :)