The first difference I noticed between Sihanouk Ville and Phnom Penh is that the flip flops aren’t the footwear of choice in Phnom Penh. People are wearing legitimate closed-toed shoes that are conducive to their outfits.
I have a friend who runs a few businesses in Cambodia and always wears perfectly fitted clothing and hair that never moves from it’s neatly disheveled arrangement. However, he pairs his tailored duds with flip flops while in Sihanouk Ville. I give him proper amounts of grief in Phnom Penh because he’s wearing the exact same thing, but with black leather square-toed loafers that click when he walks. Once, I tried to wear real shoes in Sihanouk Ville, and every single person I saw noticed. “Oooo Tavie, you’re wearing lady shoes tonight.” I ended up with blisters and vowed to never do it again.
Last night, we went to a bi-weekly event in Phnom Penh called Nerd Night at a sports bar called Score. I looked around and saw no one was wearing flip flops except for me and Leah. In fact, they were all wearing…wait for it…socks. SOCKS?! In this country?!!
This might be indicative of the very clear professional and cultural differences between the two cities (among expats). Sihanouk Ville is one of the few places where you can go to a business meeting wearing flip flops and a t-shirt. Even at a place like Nerd Night, where we all share in light-hearted banter on subjects that are only interesting to a handful of people, everyone is on their game. Everyone wants to get ahead — find a better job, find funding for their NGO, find a husband — and they make sure to look the part.
There’s a Nerd Night in Siem Reap, as well – another place in Cambodia where you don’t have to be a prostitute to sport 4 inch pumps. I wondered why there isn’t one in Sihanouk Ville. After giving it 2 seconds thought, I realized it’s because the kind of individual ambition it takes to pull off not just one, but two Nerd Nights a month is something that doesn’t really exist in Sihanouk Ville. If one of us were to stand in front of the other expats with a presentation on 3D printing, we’d be like, “Dude? Really? Sit down and order a beer.”
That was my moment of clarity of how great it is to live in Sihanouk Ville. Yes, we all work hard. Most everyone in town is a business owner. If you’re not, then you’re thinking about opening a business. If you’re not, you’re a transient. But, we also play hard. We really don’t have time to impress anyone with matching socks and polished kicks.