How Buddhism Taught Me to Love My Neighbors Better {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today. . . .


This month I didn’t like my neighbors very much. We have new neighbors, and they play their music loud, blasting it out of their apartment with the door open. Sometimes for hours at a time.

This causes problems for me. I teach my children at home, and we need an environment conducive to learning. But sometimes this month the music was so loud it prevented their little brains (and mine!) from functioning.

Now, we are no strangers to noise during the school day. There’s loud traffic. Always. And we’ve endured months on end of the pounding of homemade pile drivers while new buildings are being constructed. Once it was next door, and the other time it was across the street.

The metal shop two houses down from us sometimes starts screeching by 6 am. And then there’s the demolition of old tile and brick in the walls, floors, and bathrooms that accompanies new neighbors. They want to (understandably) clear out the old (possibly moldy) tile and personalize their new homes.

Once the drilling got loud enough that we had to leave the house and go to a coffee shop to study – a decision which was rather cumbersome with four children and their books. But my kids were sitting right next to me, and I was shouting at them, and they still could not hear what I was trying to teach them.

Music or karaoke, however, is different from these things. It’s not about people settling in to a new house or building a new house or even, as in the case of the metal shop, providing employment and incomes for people. It’s just some guy listening to his music way too loud.

You can finish reading the post here.

Exchange Theory

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins leaves his handkerchief at home and insists upon retrieving it before continuing on. The wise wizard, Gandalf, informs him, “You will have to do without pocket handkerchiefs and a great many other things before we reach our journey’s end.”  Indeed, there are things we must do without in Cambodia. But we also have Exchanges and Equivalencies for many aspects of our life in America.

(Unfortunately, this theory applies to unpleasantness as well as pleasantness. For example, I had mice in America. Here, I have rats. I had ants in America, and I have ants here. I had flooding issues in America; I have flooding issues here. My American laundry room housed giant jumping crickets, while my Asian laundry room houses giant flying cockroaches. In America, our neighbor had crying goats and squawking chickens. Here, one neighbor paints our pots, and another has screaming chickens.)

Now, on to the more pleasant Exchanges and Equivalencies. In no particular order, some of ours are:

– For van maintenance, we go to a guy named Noel instead of a guy named Ari.

–  We can drive up Bokor Mountain on the coast of Kampot, instead of Cadillac Mountain on the coast of Maine.

–  For our yearly family retreat we head south from Phnom Penh to Kep, instead of heading south from KC to Arkansas’s Camp Takodah.

– While traveling, we listen to the BBC instead of NPR. (We’ve decided we prefer British-accented news.)

– Instead of picking up last-minute groceries at our neighborhood Sunfresh, we pick up extra food at 1&1 Market.

– Instead of playing in our yard, we play on our roof and on the street.

– When we get tired of playing at our own house, we go to the park at Northbridge International School instead of Red Bridge Elementary School.

– Instead of buying fast (fried) food at the drive-through, we use what I like to call the Cambodian Drive-Through. This just means we can stop on the side of the road and buy practically anything. Sometimes we don’t even have to get out. We buy fast fruit, fast fresh bread, and fast Cokes along the road. (Betcha thought we were real healthy till that last one, huh? By the way, Jonathan says the Cokes taste better here. Must have something to do with the lack of high fructose corn syrup and addition of real sugar.)

– We even avail ourselves of the drive-through shoe department from time to time. (No joke. It’s quite convenient.)

– And when we are feeling especially unhealthy, we get donuts from USA Donut instead of Lamar’s.


– Gotta love those Cambodian skies. The clouds and sunsets here are the Best in the world, in my opinion.

– And also, Cambodian bathrooms. Love them.

These experiences do not in any way replace the people we have left behind. They simply make daily life easier and more comfortable. They are the myriad Exchanges and Equivalencies of our life. And in them, we find joy.



Kep at sunset