When Cross Cultural Living Makes You Stupid (Looking Back on a Year in Asia Part 6)


Bilbo Baggins (of Hobbit fame) once reflected, “Adventures are not all Pony-rides in May-sunshine.” Sometimes, though, unfortunately, those pony rides can lead to stupidity. Or maybe it’s the May sunshine?? Whatever the cause, for me, the end result is the same: Stupid. Here is my proof that cross cultural living can, indeed, make you Stupid.

My Knight in Shining Chacos

We purchase our drinking water (in the form of 5-gallon containers) from a man on our street. His type of in-home shop is very common here. These shops sell drinks, various packaged candies and junk food, and paper and cleaning products. We really like our water guy. He is cheerful and eager to help. He always knows what we want and has enough water on hand (which is quite a lot in hot season). He will even deliver the water to our house.

One evening in January we were playing outside. The sun was creeping lower in the sky. Suddenly we remembered that we were running low on water. I decided to walk to our water shop and buy some water, which means taking empty containers and exchanging them for new, full containers. I had been pushing Faith in her purple push toy, and Jonathan suggested I just take her with me. Hannah wanted to tag along too. I thought that would be a fun little outing for the three of us girls.

I managed to push Faith and hold a water jug with one hand, and hold onto Hannah with my other hand. Hannah also had to hold a water jug in her tiny hand. Jonathan wondered if we’d be ok. I assured him, yes, we’ll be fine. It’s our water guy, it’s our street, no problem. So I left Jonathan at our house, playing football with our sons, feeling quite confident in my errand-ing ability.

The water place is just past the dress shop. At least, it has been all year. But when I got to our water shop, our trusty water guy wasn’t there. Some guy I didn’t recognize was sitting on a chair. And he didn’t recognize me either.

Ok, Elizabeth. It’s time to put the two water jugs down. And do some thinking. I think to myself, is this the right place? I’m just past the dress shop, where we always get our water.  I’ve been here 100 times. And this shop doesn’t look the same as my regular shop. Instead of having lots of drinks and junk food, it’s nearly bare, except for a washing machine against the wall (which wasn’t there before).

Is this not the place?? I ask myself if it could possibly be past the alley with barking dogs? I shook my head. No. We never pass the alley to get to the water. I stand stupidly at the edge of that alley. There I am, with two little girls, a purple push toy, two containers in need of exchanging, and the money with which to do the exchanging. I didn’t even have to talk to my regular water guy. He knew what I wanted when I showed up with empty containers, and I just handed him the money. I might have to talk to this new guy. Except my brain is tired after a long day of homeschooling the boys, and I had neglected to put on my Khmer Thinking Cap. (In all fairness, I didn’t think I’d need it.) In my confusion I cannot get ANY intelligible Khmer out of my mouth.

The sun in the sky is in that eerie, almost-twilight stage. I can see my own house as I stand there. But where in the world am I???? I am completely lost. I am convinced I must be in a parallel universe. And I don’t even believe in parallel universes.

I am so confused, and I look it. What should I do? I know I’m not at the right place to buy water, but how can I just walk home with empty hands, er, containers? And what if I’m not in the right dimension after all? I might never make it home, even if I try.

Then, there he was. A Man in Sandals, walking towards me. Jonathan’s keen observational skills had told him that I was in need of assistance, even from 100 meters away. Oh thank goodness. I don’t have to believe in parallel universes after all.

Jonathan HAD put on his Khmer Thinking Cap that day (as he does every day), and he talked a bit with the guy who has taken over our old water shop. Apparently when we weren’t looking, that family moved away. Now we have to buy our water elsewhere.

But I’ve seriously got to watch out for those pony rides in May sunshine.

And here is my message to you:  In whatever myriad ways you may have embarrassed yourself today, take heart in this one simple truth — at least you didn’t get lost on your own street.

photo source here

2 thoughts on “When Cross Cultural Living Makes You Stupid (Looking Back on a Year in Asia Part 6)

  1. hah! i totally know that feeling. different situations, obviously, but similar things happen in China too, where you walk back and forth looking for the place you were sure was here last week, or get totally stuck because you hadn’t planned on having a certain conversation and hadn’t prepared those particular phrases, or a simple task suddenly seems insurmountable because the person/place/process changed.

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