A plane ticket to happiness

By Liz Ledden. First published on PocketCultures, 23 March 2012

How many times have you wondered if you’d be so much happier or your life would be perfect, if only I lived ‘there’ (insert fantasy locale of choice – a Thai island or downtown Manhattan perhaps) instead of ‘here’?

The quest for the perfect place and therefore perfect life can take its toll if you heed its call. Once ensconced in a new place the comparison game begins, usually starting with a period of intense highs where all the best bits of the new place are realised and explored, and are deemed ‘so much better’ to the previous (now far more inferior) place. Eventually cracks appear in its shiny surface and the inevitable crash can be a painful one when it becomes clear that this place, too, is deeply flawed. Hence the search begins again. Perhaps the old home is repainted in a new, shinier light, or the quest for a new and better place begins all over again.

For perpetual travellers, career expats and other wandering spirits it can be easy to get caught up in the country or city comparison game. When I moved from Australia to Cambodia I definitely experienced the highs and lows of falling deeply in love with a place then feeling the sting of its bite when things fell apart. Like being seduced then betrayed, I built Cambodia up to be my utopic world of happiness and light, surrounded by smiling faces, serene monks, glittering temples and lush landscapes. Money was no longer any object and life was a party every night.

Eventually though, the gloss wore off (though happily was eventually repainted – I definitely lost a piece of my heart in Cambodia and will never forget the impact my time there has had on my life). Friends became victim to petty theft one by one, and I spent an uncomfortable night sleeping on a rudimentary hospital floor next to a friend who was viciously pulled out of a moving tuk tuk by a handbag snatching thief. I too was robbed, by someone I trusted – my very own cleaner, who skipped town with my precious laptop containing a few years’ worth of photos that were foolishly not backed up. The frustrations continued when dealing with the corrupt and inept police who thought there was no point pursuing the perpetrator when it was obvious the laptop would have already been sold. Talk about missing the point. I eventually moved on from my laptop loss and forgave my beloved Cambodia for all its frustrations.

I moved to Saigon next, where again I went through a process of the first flushes of new love and an eventual comedown once the realities of life there sunk in. I was always comparing Cambodia and Vietnam and which place was better for what reason, throwing Bangkok into the mix (another city I’ve spent a lot of time in and have quite the passion for). Moving back to Sydney a few years later was a ridiculously massive adjustment after living in Asia and it took at least six months or more to accept the fact I no longer lived there. I knew I wasn’t alone, as close friends made in Cambodia and Vietnam had also moved home to countries in the West, and were struggling with the lifestyle change. Hilariously, some of the loudest advocates for moving back home were the ones missing Asia the most. Sometimes, we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone, or in this case how amazing a place is until we leave.

A holiday back to the region was the perfect remedy for my restlessness – perhaps this was the solution I was looking for, like the best of both worlds. I could live in my comfortable Sydney home surrounded by my own furniture and things, have family nearby and clean streets and air and all those wonderful things Australia has to offer, while having an intense dose of Asia and all its sensory delights before jetting back home again. I sometimes wish there was a way to divide my time more evenly between Australia and Asia so I could split my life in two, but for now the occasional holiday will have to suffice. Staying in touch with friends from past lives and homes helps keep the memories alive, and armchair travelling in the form of escaping with books and blogs about favourite places help fan the wanderlust flames…until the next plane ticket to happiness is booked.


4 Responses

  1. Kristina March 28, 2012 / 7:58 pm

    I know what you mean. After having lived in Germany, California, Singapore, Switzerland and now Australia I tend to compare all the time. And for sure once you moved you just realized what you actually had 🙂 Good to know I am not the only one out there to feel this way….
    Have a lovely night!

  2. devoured March 28, 2012 / 8:16 pm

    Thanks Kristina! Always good to know fellow expats/ex-expats and wanderers feel the same!

    • Jocy April 3, 2012 / 2:53 pm

      Oh no, this scares me a little. I’ve been in Cambodia now for 2 years, and it’s partly the work that has impacted this decision, but I think it’s time to go. So my partner and I are leaving end of June to a city in the region. But I do wonder when I’m griping about the daily rituals here what I will miss. And already I now that I will miss the people here – the warmth of my Khmer friends, but also just the sheer number of people doing good work. I may also miss how small this city is, though right now that is an annoyance.

    • devoured April 15, 2012 / 10:22 pm

      Hi Jocy – I’m sure after 2 years in Cambodia it will forever remain a part of you, the annoyances forgiven! I know what you mean about the size – at the time I loved escaping to big cities like Bangkok but after leaving Cambodia for a larger city I missed PP’s small city atmosphere and sense of community. It’s a special place. There’s definitely a weird transition period when you leave but eventually you become all consumed with your new place and life, it can just take a while to move on for some!!

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