Being a city girl all my life, it was so easy to get caught up in the bustling nature of technology, modern skyscrapers, and materialistic indulgences whether that be in the form of good food, good sceneries, a good night out or high-end delicacies. In a world where most of our problems were privileged, first-world issues, I found myself caught up in a rollercoaster of distinguishing what was a real problem that would affect my quality of life, and what was a problem that only existed in my mind.
It was this first world millennial clutter and clash that inspired me to pack three weeks’ worth of my life into a rucksack and book a one-way ticket to Siem Reap deep in the heart of Cambodia to illuminate what real problems were and what a real struggle meant to those lacking the bare necessities of every-day life. What I saw opened my eyes to the stark contrast in how normal every-day life was lived on the unpaved gravel roads compared to our clean neighbourhoods back home.
Here is my humbling, eye-opening lesson learnt from discovering a life across the other side of the world; a lesson that could never have been taught to me without a first-hand encounter of the true hardships and struggles the locals lived. The most grounding realisation I made was that many of these people were intrinsically happy. They smiled and laughed from their heart and their kindness radiated from their souls. I walked past modest shacks that offered their local hospitality for a few dollars in exchange for a warm and authentic home-cooked meal, sitting on minimalistic stools and tables that barely rose above the ground.
On this side of the world, they didn’t flash designer gear or talk about the latest investment strategies. They didn’t compare handbags or strike poses for social media. They were living in the present spirits of each other rather than obsessing over the latest influential trend. Here, I realised that they were driven by a foundation of joy and a minimalistic idea of happiness, and the difference was that they were not imprisoned by the greed of money. Ironically, it took being immersed in a lesser-developed country for me to realise that having less, was in many ways, the secret to having more. They had found enlightenment – an ease of being happy with all the necessities they had rather than consistently seeking everything that is lacking.
As I navigated through the beautiful nooks and crannies of Siem Reap on foot, I noticed children playing with each other in dirty, oversized and baggy clothing. I saw children taking care of younger children, who were in turn taking care of even younger children — small toddlers. I saw adults who were brewing pots of stew with noodles and a variety of meats, their hands multi-tasking to stir, cook, cut, pick, mix — working like a well-oiled machine that knew these routines all too well, all the whilst keeping a watch on their children out of the corner of their eyes. And this is where I realised how family values were cultivated amongst the Asian culture. This is where I witnessed, first-hand, what it means to be raised not just by your immediate birth parents, but by the community around you. This is where I realised the strength of family bonds: Regardless of what happened in life, there will always be family to have your back because values that are created when you have the bare minimum, only flourish and strengthen as the years pass by when they eventually build a kingdom.
As I journeyed through various roads and dangerously weaved in and out of chaotic traffic, I also came to a stark realisation that my mind felt less cluttered. Life back home felt like an enormous burden filled with problematic thoughts and issues that weren’t actually a problem at all. They were only problems under the microscope I had used to single out everything I wasn’t content with in life, but this was the perfect reminder to me that I had everything I needed in order to be happy. It pulled me into a reality that allowed me to recognise the foundations of joy and how fortunate I was to be alive, to be living and breathing, to not have to worry about shelter or food or clothes, to be living under a roof with no imminent danger or intrusion or crime. It reminded me that everything I was yearning for is everything I have conditioned my mind to think I was lacking, and thus my life was not complete without those additional bonuses. It was an endless chase.
My journey into Siem Reap helped me end that chase. It put a stop to all the trivialities of life and all the superficialities of what I thought would make me a happier person. A simple life is a happy life, because if you’re able to read this, if you have access to be able to find this, then I have no doubt that you are already living a fruitful and prosperous life, and I promise that you have many amazing things lined up for you in the future.