I'm definitely a bit behind on posting, and I'm not sure that I'll catch up, but I'll at least try to tell you a bit about my travels at the end of my trip.
Before I left Cambodia, I made a quick side trip to Malaysia (to visit my girlfriend, who came from Shenzhen).
From the airplane, the dark olive-green oil palm fields looked a bit like an old computer monitor (where the pixels were still visible). It was an odd mixture of artificiality and nature. I didn't really know what to think, but it was definitely beautiful. I then arrived at the very modern airport, and met Julia. When we headed into town in a taxi, we rode over clean, well-paved highways and watched as more and more glassy, tall buildings came into view. For me, it was a big shock -- after unconsciously accepting Cambodia's level of development as the norm, seeing such well built infrastructure and buildings made me realize how underdeveloped Cambodia is.
The mall was particularly shocking. We went in search of late night food (since nothing else was open after we arrived), and ended up heading to the mall food court. Going inside that building and feeling the cold AC, seeing the seemingly endless glass and excessively pure white lights, and realizing that most of the colorful products being sold served "wants" instead of "needs" sent me down a spiral of negative thinking. Is this what it's all for? Is this why we're all trying? Using the cost of building as a measure of relative importance, it's easy to see that the mall is an important part of people's lives in developed countries. But it doesn't fulfill lives, it just satisfies a want while simultaneously nurturing it so it arises again. Why was it all necessary when the Cambodian people were so happy? Will it really help the people of Cambodia to develop their country into a consumption-centered America-clone? When does development stop being necessary and start becoming frivolous?
The rest of the night was filled with that sort of internal thinking. But I noticed that as I spent time there, the thoughts quickly faded and turned to optimizing my enjoyment of the situation. It's so easy to let those thoughts slide.
Malaysia was a beautiful country with wonderful people, but it left me with a lot of questions...