Sad, but not tragic. A forced opportunity. Maybe even a fortunate adaptation…fuck it. Let's make taco salad.

Home. Sweet. Home. — Sihanoukville

I have been in Sihanoukville on the southern coast of Cambodia for 24 hours.  I am standing in front of a small, newly constructed space with a “for lease” sign on it.  The street we are standing on was paved the day before.  The Sihanoukville airport opened for the very first time the day before that.  The 60-room resort across the street is slated to open within two months.  The 60-room resort 5 doors down the street opened a month ago.  We are 50 meters from the beach on the busiest tourist strip in town; everyone walks by here at one time or another on any given day.

“We’d be retarded not to do this,” opines Will.  Anna shakes her head in agreement and they stare at me.

“Fuck, man, I just got here.  I don’t even know how to get to our house on my own yet!  I’m not really even sure where I am right now!”

And yet, deep down, I know this is the opportunity we have been chasing.  This is what I have been working towards for 14 months.  This is exactly what we came to Southeast Asia to do:  To open the best goddamn taco bar that mankind has ever known.

The fact that my cash outlay is 1/3 of $550 per month is also quite attractive.

The ground is literally shifting beneath our feet, this place is growing so quickly.  A crazy Russian tycoon bought an entire island just offshore and built his own personal bridge to access it.  The Chinese see this as the next great casino destination and are putting up massive resorts as fast as the raw materials can be shipped in.  The ecotourism movement is going crazy on the islands just out in the bay.  There are miles and miles of white sand beaches and more and more tourists discovering this place every day.  And, probably most significantly, oil resources were just discovered here a year ago and the Chinese, the Iranians, the Russians, and the US are fighting over who will get to exploit them.

But make no mistake:  This is the Wild Wild East.  There is one set of rules for Khmers and another set for foreigners.  If you have a white face, the traffic police pull you over just to shake you down.  Me:  “How much is the fine?”  Cop:  “Up to you.”  These motherfuckers…

Everything is possible.  It just may cost you money.  And maybe just a little bit more.

“How do we get a business license?”

“When you open, they will come find you.  Don’t worry.”

“How much do we pay?”

“Up to you…”

“How do we pay taxes?”

“They will come find you.  Don’t worry.”

“How much…never mind, I already know the answer…”

“Yes, up to you.”

 

This is the most stupid and absurd thing I have ever done (which is really saying something), but I am in love with this place and these people.  I have never seen more suffering and pain in my life, and it is so fresh, so close to the surface.  The Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge, 20 years of civil war.  This country has only existed for 13 years.  Millions are dead.  Everyone has a story.  And they have nothing but love for people who are willing to hear them.

Today, I invested myself personally, emotionally, and financially in this place.  Today, Christmas Day, I signed a multi-year lease on a business that has yet to be named or constructed.  Today, I took a huge leap of faith – in my friends Will & Anna, in my Khmer landlords, in the integrity of our interpreter, in the stability of a notoriously unstable country.  Because my heart says I should stay.  Because this is the first time I can say “home” in almost 19 months.  Because I believe in this place and these people and I feel like I have a chance to make a difference.  I know, for better or worse, they will make a difference in me.

 

Tonight, New Years Eve, I felt more home, more love, more peace than I have felt in as long as I can remember.  Tonight, I left my Western friends behind to join a Khmer family who invited me to sit down and eat with them — mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandchildren, grandfathers, granddaughters.  Tonight, I walked down to the pier and watched 100,000 people line the beach as far as the eye can see and set off fireworks for more than an hour.  Tonight I held hands with my new business partners and cried tears of joy.

 

Tonight, The Kingdom of Wonder stole my heart.

 

She will probably break it.  But I don’t care.

7 Responses to “Home. Sweet. Home. — Sihanoukville”

  1. Dayna says:

    Congrats on finding your current home Casey! Look forward to dropping by when we visit Cambodia someday. =)

  2. Ottke says:

    Rock on brother. My girlfriend here in Colorado works at a cambodian restaurant. Got to love the pho. But tacos and a beach sound better. Will be there at some point I promise, and may even tip this time around!

  3. Craig Chambers says:

    Casey, that is so fantastic! I am glad you have found a place that feels like home. I can’t wait to taste the best tacos in Cambodia!

  4. Jess (formerly from Dallas) says:

    I am so excited for you! I love that area of Cambodia, it is one of my most favorite places in the world. When you get a chance go visit Kep and make sure to pick up some black peppercorns at one of the plantations in Kampot, it is some of the best in the world! I am so jealous and can’t wait to come visit! Sounds like 2012 is going to be an amazing year!

  5. Jasper says:

    Your the man Casey. Congrats!

  6. kathy says:

    well done Casey, hope it all works out for you. Your enthusiasum comes over in your blog. A new year and a new life, just dont blow it mate xx

  7. Gareth says:

    Hey man, got any tacos?

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