This post has almost nothing to do with Cambodia, but everything to do with my identity as a young person. At the ripe old age of 22, I haven't jumped into the bar scene. I don't like being drunk (especially when I don't speak the local language!), I don't like how people act (or are expected to act) when they are drunk, and I find the whole situation very uncomfortable.
Why is is that when I say I'm not drinking alcohol, I'm suddenly strange, prudent or antisocial?
Why is it that something must be wrong with me if I decide that I want my antibiotics to work properly (I'd rather not pee out the meds that are preventing major illness)?
Why is it that some people think that just because I'm a tall blonde, I need to “work the room” from the moment I enter?
Frankly, I'm not en pointe in a sweaty, smoky bar full of tipsy ex-pats. I don't like to exploit my looks in return for drinks and phone numbers. It's not a fair trade, and I'm just not that interested. It became frighteningly clear to me last night that I value people who can think of something else to talk about besides drunken misadventures, and people who have taken the reigns of their own lives (not just taken three months off to drink and be ignorant).
I did meet some fine people last night, over a plate of Cambodian nachos (don't ask). People who endure the same struggles to find compatible conversation partners; people who keep their heads on and care about the work they do. In acknowledging the incredible challenge they too face in social life in Phnom Penh, they gave me hope of sanity.
In my culture, alcohol is a powerful social medium. It signifies adulthood—perhaps even social status depending on the type of booze. Overt drunkenness is frowned upon, but getting drunk is also part of the social scene. I don't condemn alcohol or people who drink, because I enjoy the occasional glass of wine. My criticism is to the normalization of the bar scene as the paramount means of socializing for young people.
Have I gone astray?
What ever happened to late night coffee-housing or game night? Scrabble, Apples to Apples?