Never in my near 7 years of living in Cambodia have I witnessed what we are all experiencing in this climate of covid-19. After more than a year of enjoying a relatively free lifestyle, the pandemic has finally hit home as Phnom Penh and other cities are either under curfew or under a complete lock down. In such a time it is tempting to become depressed and ponder on all the negatives. I admit that even the thought of going back home to the States has crossed my mind in these past few weeks. But perhaps this presents even a better opportunity to consider why I came here in the first place and in the end still love living in the Kingdom of Wonder. From my family to the great lifestyle I have been afforded here, it is clear to me now that this home is where I will continue to live my life.
Like so many others one of the chief reasons for why I came here was due to the low cost of living. But in my time here I have come to realize there are two ways to approach this. For some they simply choose to live the same or similar version of their life back home, but at a much lower cost. And for others they decide to live a better lifestyle, one they could not afford back home, affordably here in Cambodia. My first few years I was of the former camp but have moved squarely into the latter as the years have progressed. The truth is I did not like much my life back in the States and it was not something that I wanted to spend the rest of my life duplicating here. For certain I can write this blog highlighting the $1 meals and $0.75 draft beers, and I mean no disrespect to those who choose this path. But I wanted to improve my life, not recreate it. I have lived in the $100 studio room, but now much prefer living with my family in a spacious and modern apartment with an off duty police guard standing duty 24/7. And as I find it difficult to work at home I was able to rent a nearby condo, where I play poker and do my live Twitch streams from, at a fraction of the price of what it would cost back home. All this while being able to go to the gym, swim in a large pool and enjoy lightning fast internet speeds. My second child, and firstborn son, is about to enter this world in one month. Back in the States I could never imagine being able to afford having such a family. Here it is not only possible, but the prospect of sending all of my children to a decent school is one I will be able to do comfortably.
When I first arrived in Phnom Penh I was often found wanting in terms of quality food. As I stated previously I often did the $1 meals from street carts as that at least offered great value. But the food and restaurant scene has changed so much in these last few years that I often find myself struggling to decide where to eat. One would expect great Asian food in an Asian country but that has not always been true. As I am Korean-American, quality Korean cuisine was difficult to come by in my first few years. But currently I have a choice of nearly every type and regional type of food that my home country has to offer. There are is no shortage of great Western fare as well. From simple burgers to quality steaks, there are a plethora of restaurants vying for our dollars, constantly improving their menu and reducing their prices. Is it exactly the same as I enjoyed in the States? Of course not, but eating in such a way back home was cost prohibitive to the point that going out to certain types of restaurants was a luxury that could not be done often. Although going out with friends and enjoying a fine dining experience is a common occurrence here, one can also have that brought right to their door as well with a plethora of choices in delivery services throughout the city. And should I have a craving for local fare I can enjoy that as well whether that be the $1 variety from down the street or at the new restaurant that offers a premium and reimagined menu of traditional local food.
Much of this is of course due to poker and the fact that we are still allowed to play online here. Unlike America which offers the game only in a few States, players here are able to enjoy the fruits of their poker labor as most traditional sites and apps are available for real money play. And for those that prefer the live venue they exist as well from the Nagaworld casino here in Phnom Penh to games in other cities such as Sihanoukville and Kampot. If one cannot play poker there is very little reason for a player to come here, but fortunately the Kingdom offers a wide array of choices for those that play both professionally and recreationally. Personally I enjoy playing in the comfort of my own home on my desktop rig with games spread over two monitors. But everyone is different as a close friend takes 4 tablets over to his neighborhood 24 hour gastropub to play and drink cappuccinos all night. Others can play in the casino in games from $1/$2 to $5/$10 or take a holiday down to the beach and play in any one of their many casinos. It is ironic considering where I come from, but I had to come to a third world country to enjoy the freedoms of playing poker in all its forms.
The last reason for why I love living in Cambodia is no big secret, especially for those that follow me on social media or have hung out with me at night. The nightlife here in Phnom Penh is absolutely epic and while we can argue ad nauseum over other places that some might enjoy more, this city is just perfect for me personally. There is no shortage of bars, clubs, KTVs and the like that one can choose from when trying to decide where to spend one's night. The greatest nights I have enjoyed in my life have been those traversing the bars at night with friends, barely able to remember all the events the following morning but somehow still knowing we had an epic night. And here we can talk about the cheap drinks because alcohol here costs nothing compare to what we are used to paying back home. If beer is your poison of choice than just a few dollars will carry you a long way. Personally I like to drink whiskey and even those can be had for near $3 at some places. But why settle for a drink when bottles can be had under $100 at just about every bar and club. But more than the alcohol, the real reason we go out and keep coming back are the bevy of beautiful and young girls at the hostess bars and KTVs ready and willing to keep all their customers happy. Make no mistake when I say that I came here to be a much bigger fish in a very much smaller pond. Back home I could not get pretty girls to look at me twice let alone get the kind of attention I get here. The nightlife here is very much a stage and when we go out we are the stars of the production.
I write all this of course as Phnom Penh and neighboring areas are experiencing a full lockdown. Currently everyone has to stay home and we are not allowed to go out anywhere, let alone enjoy the nightlife. The streets are dark at night, the bars shut and all of the girls at home staring aimlessly at YouTube on their phones. But to all my fellow poker brothers I say that life is merely on pause. As difficult as things are currently, others that surround us are experiencing a much harsher time. So do not be afraid to give a little back when the opportunity presents itself because they are all around us. As the old saying goes, this too shall pass and pass it shall for all of us. Businesses will be back open, bars will be pouring drinks soon and girls will be at the ready to laugh at every unfunny word we utter that they can barely understand. Until that day comes keep your head up, keep grinding and be ready for that night when all things returns to normal.