I’m about to be very real here. It’s not a story of excitement and adventure, or the type of travel to be jealous of, but the story of weak moments and slight embarrassment.
My year in Korea was brilliant as it was devastating. It was my first time away from home, and it took me a few months to get past the culture shock. But, I got into the groove, did a lot of travelling, and felt myself growing into the role comfortably. This isn’t the story of when I arrived in Korea (as you would know if you read the title of this post). It is the story of when I left.
The intent was to spend a few months travelling in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, before heading back to eastern Canada for the first time in over a year and a half. I’ll admit that amidst the excitement of travel was also the anticipation that the comforts of home were not far off: family, friends, not being stared at on every street.
Things went fast when we arrived at the airport in Phnom Penh. It was late at night and the airport was quiet. We moved through customs and out to the waiting car. We’d booked a nice hotel as a treat for a long year of saving.
Our car raced through the streets and I got my first glimpse of this new world–new as it was to me. It struck me: this is a different Asia from South Korea. Grey high rises and flashing neon signs were replaced with decrepit buildings and blanket tents on the sidewalks.
Our room was small, but clean and comfortable. A table in the corner hosted a tray of fresh fruits that had attracted a steady line of ants, marching along the wall from the nearby window. A couple of tiny geckos rested on the walls and ceiling, still until we moved before them, then darted into cracks or behind light fixtures.
I’ve never been that great with change. I panicked when it was time to move out of my tiny studio apartment in Wonju, and I was about to panic about the instability of once again starting in a foreign world. Part of me felt confused—the exhaustion of a day of travel was not followed by arrival at home. After a year of living in a foreign country, a plane was bringing me somewhere more foreign, rather than back to something comfortable and familiar.
I’ll admit that I had a moment. I went into the tiny bathroom and hyperventilated, sobbed like a baby, and felt out of control. I was reminded of my first night in Korea—the exhaustion, the wondering: did I just make a huge mistake? I was afraid of everything.
After calming, I went to sit on the bed, not before checking thoroughly for invaders. I expected spiders and snakes to be lingering unexpectedly—hey, I’d never been in this type of environment before. I was vulnerable and disheartened. This adventure was already shaping up to be something that I wasn’t suited for. Maybe I should have just gone home. Tim had disappeared from the room, and I felt guilty knowing that he was probably feeling dejected by my reaction to the situation.
After a moment, he appeared in the doorway with four beer in his hands—the bar was closing. Maybe this makes it seem like alcohol has a strong hold over me, but when I saw them, my thoughts changed completely. There was this sudden realization: I’m finished working, I’m in Southeast Asia with over $15,000 to spend however I like. I’m on vacation.
Though sleep was still restless, the morning was something new. The panic was gone—which I admit, could be attributed partially to exhaustion (I am not a pleasant person to be around when sleep is overdue). It occurred to me that there was no point in dwelling on the past, on places I might never return to, on thinking of a future that would come too soon and leave me longing for this day precisely. All I could do now was savour every moment of freedom, soak up every new experience, and find some way to keep the memories with me, always.
Want more Cambodia?
Do you ever have these moments of weakness while travelling?