“When they find a frozen caveman in their backyard, two high school outcasts thaw him out and introduce him to modern day life while he in turn, gets them to actually enjoy life.”
You know you know what movie that is. Of course, it’s the 1992 Pauly Shore insta-classic, Encino Man. And I’m sure you’ve even watched it more than once. Admit it. And don’t pretend it was only on an airplane…
Every time I go back to the States, I can’t help but feel like my own hapless, lost Brendan Frasier, freshly emerged from an icy coma to find myself squarely placed in the 21st century. It was no different this time, as I visited family in Dallas and friends in Honolulu on the last leg of my round the world journey.
Locked away in technology-poor Cambodia, I truly believe the world has passed me by. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Luddite. I can youtube with the best of them. (See? I’m even using nouns as verbs. All the kewl kids are doing it, don’tcha know…) But alas I’m more digital immigrant than digital native. I’ve had the same Nokia phone for five years. When I bought it, it was the latest rage… seriously! 2 megapixel camera? Faaaan-cy! But it doesn’t slide. When you touch the screen, all it does is leave a smudge. And to type, you actually have to push the number keys. Eeeek! I know. Museum quality, right? Well, maybe I am a little behind the times. Almost all the Cambodian teachers and admin at my school have had iphones for years. So I can’t really blame it all on Cambodia.
Yes, Cambodia is still very much a cash-only society, with only the very high-end hotels and restaurants accepting credit cards (and usually with a 3% surcharge of their own). Now flash forward to me standing in the checkout aisle at my local Dallas-area grocery store, befuddled at the new-fangled charge machine. Oh wait. I shouldn’t give my card to the cashier? What do you want me to do? Swipe it? Oh neat. Which way? Sign my name with an electronic pen? Really? Press credit or debit? Sigh. Even the gas stations have ganged up against me. My mom’s set of keys come complete with a crazy set of mini-cards. Scan one for cheap gas. Another one to check out a library book.
Life is so much simpler in Cambodia. Sure, there’s no Hulu. And wifi at restaurants is a new thing (not that my hoopty of a phone even has wifi capability. For me, Bluetooth is what happens when you eat too many purple mangosteens). And it takes about 10 minutes to load a 2 minute youtube video. (My secret is to start the download, then come back after an episode of Top Chef. Set it and forget it. Oh, did I mention I’m addicted to watching late night infomercials whenever I’m stateside?) So when we went into Schlotzsky’s and saw an online survey invitation on the receipt, my sister whipped out her iphone 4s, told it where to go, completed the survey and showed the cashier her giftcode for a free cinnabon. Magic.
But at what cost this pixie dust and rainbow lifestyle? In an era where mobile phone plans and internet and cable TV bills routinely top $200 a month, I can’t say as I’m unhappy paying $5 for pay-as-you-go service in Cambodia. Sure, when I’m in the US, I can go to Costco and cater a party in 10 minutes with 20 kinds of mini-quiches, but where’s the fun in that? In Cambodia, my cook can whip up shrimp salad rolls like nobody’s business…
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love coming back to the States. But it’s always a case of reverse culture shock. Back in Cambodia, dance video games are all the rave. But they’re the type where you actually have to step on something. (The horror!) And don’t even get me started on the marvels of Wii. But in Honolulu, a group of friends took me to a NextGen Lounge where a motion sensor detected how good a dancer you were. (BTW, I rocked Mary J Blige’s Real Love, not that you’ll ever, EVER see the video…) Or folks passed the time running around in human hamster balls… Land sakes alive. (BTW, this is the picture we saw when we booked the tickets – beautifully clear balls over swimming pool blue water. The reality? Not so nice. Think sweaty, dingy plastic over brackish swamp water. Oh, and they don’t tell you about the crowd that quickly gathers to watch your public humiliation. But I digress…)
It’s just that while life in the States is fast-paced, exciting and plugged in, I can’t see myself ever voluntarily going back there to live.
Don’t get me wrong. I love visiting the States. I love that my mom literally made out an eating schedule for my sister and me with every meal one of our all-time favorites from salmon to Texas beef to smokehouse BBQ that leaves you smelling like you just came out of a house fire to homemade childhood favorites. I love that Hawaii’s Ala Moana beach with its pancake flat, clear water is a 5 minute walk away from an outdoor mall featuring Neiman’s and Prada. I love driving to the North Shore to catch the huge waves at the Pipe Masters. I love that we can groupon a $25 steak for only $12. I love that I can actually drive a car on expansive highway lanes and not have to dodge carts selling papaya salad. I love that the lady with the nice voice on the GPS can tell me exactly where to go and so patiently recalculate when I don’t want to follow her directions.
But at the end of the day, I still feel like a visitor. And when all’s said and done, I still can’t wait to get back to Southeast Asia’s smelly, chaotic, unhygienic but serendipitously wonderful simplicity.
Editor’s Note: You’ll be happy to know that I ended up buying an iphone from a friend. Of course, it’s an iphone 3gs. Yes, I realize it’s two generations back. And it doesn’t understand when I talk to it. But it’s new to me. Baby steps. Now if only I could find a shop that still sells covers for it…