Fifty Shades of Expat: The Adventurer

Who is the Adventurer?

She might have ended up here at the end of a long travel — randomly, yet easily, like most things go in her life. Since then she’s gotten comfortable,
perhaps even a bit too comfortable. That’s when she knows it’s time to shake things up.


She has climbed mountains. She has drunk snake blood. She went to your party last weekend, but left to go bridge jumping at sunrise.


Where other expats would complain, the Adventurer merely smiles. Whether it’s party pigs on a leash or drinking all the flavours of Sting in one sitting, she’s game for anything this country can throw at her.


I got a tattoo in Cambodia. It was six years ago, and I was in Phnom Penh for the first time — which was a very different place to what it is now. I wanted a tattoo and asked the tuk tuk driver I was friendly with. He told me he knew a place, that he’d take me there.


The next day he took me on my own for a two-hour drive into the countryside, to a village submerged in floodwater. I had to get on a homemade raft dragged along by a small naked boy and the tuk tuk driver, and they brought me to a house where a man had everything piled on top of his roof because the rest of the house was in floods. They put a duvet on the roof and told me to go to sleep!


They took out the tattoo gun on an extension cord running through the flood from downstairs, and did a tattoo that supposedly says ‘smile’ in Khmer, but no-one has ever been able to read it.


After it was done they brought me back to the raft and the naked child and tuk tuk driver pulled me through the whole village so all the locals could come out and look at me sailing past. Passing under a bridge, I saw an old man in a wheelchair holding onto a scarf that was tied to a motorbike driving over it, pure fear in his eyes. My first taste of Cambodia.



I broke up a street fight. It was past midnight, and I was heading cross-town to the next stop. I got pulled over at a traffic stop, complete with a bike-seizing truck. Employing my usual deflection I got away with a small fine, but I was a bit rattled.


I took it slow from then on. Driving down a small shortcut road, I saw a crashed motorbike in the middle of the road, and a taxi pulled over at a hasty angle. Pulling over I saw three people, two of them grappling with each other.


The girl had a bloodied chin and was holding her arm. One of the men had blood on his hands, as he grabbed the other’s hair and neck, trying to pull him into his punches.


I ran up to them and tried to break it up. I felt some fear as I saw them going for each other’s eyes. I put hands on both of their shoulders, saying lam on over and over. Other people gathered to watch, but no-one helped.


After a while of this, exhausted, they let go. They started yelling, then the cab driver swerved away. And then I recognised them — the couple who’d been next to me at the traffic stop. They spoke English well. I asked if I could do anything — take them to hospital, buy them a drink. They thanked me and said no. They’d been two minutes from home, and just wanted, finally, to get there.


I danced with a baby pig. It was a Vietnamese fashion show, and I guess they just wanted to take it up to 11. So they let a baby pig out on the dance floor. People were holding onto its red lead as it scruffled about, pissing all over. I was wearing flip flops, so I didn’t mind so much, and we danced with the pig all night long. I haven’t seen much like that since.


Sorry, I can't marry your daughter. After moving into an apartment with my boyfriend Sean, it became apparent to us that our landlord was scheming to set us up with one of her daughters. We thought this was pretty hilarious given how obvious it was that we slept in the same bed and always answered questions with “we this, we that”.


However, one afternoon after the landlord called, claiming she had to “stop by to check the hot water was okay”, she arrived with said daughter in tow. The daughter, educated overseas and embarrassed at being hauled over to the apartment to meet her gay future husband, caught on pretty quickly.


“So, how do I explain to your mother that Sean and I are a couple?” I asked her after the landlord pretended to busy herself in the other room with our water heater.


“I will explain it to her — she’ll be fine,” she whispered. “She will be disappointed though.”


From then on, we never had any problems with our hot water.



I was born in Saigon but left when I was only two years old. A helicopter landed in my uncle’s garden and airlifted most of my family out of the city. We were lucky.


I finally came back to Vietnam as an adult, but circumstances were different. In my teens I became a surfer, taking to the waves in California. Now I did the same in Vietnam, heading to Mui Ne and waiting for the surf. I quickly became a fixture there.


But as much as I love surfing, the sea and the beach life, I needed something else to do with my time.


Life has been good to me. If my family had have stayed in Vietnam, our future would have been fraught with uncertainty. It’s the price you pay for being on the losing side. But by being brought up in America, I was given opportunities, the type of opportunities my contemporaries in Vietnam never received.


So, I decided to volunteer for an NGO. I now spend much of my time in Phan Rang in Central Vietnam. The province is largely untouched, the people poor, and in need of our help. Because I speak Vietnamese, have an innate understanding of the culture here. And yet I am Western. This puts me in a unique position — my efforts have made a difference.

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