The Questions I Never Thought to Ask


#sol19- March 29, 2019

When I moved to Malaysia in the summer of 2014 I looked at maybe ten apartments before choosing one. It was not until I moved in that I discovered the answer to the question I never thought to ask: “Is there hot water in the kitchen?”

Turns out it is “normal” to not have hot water access in the kitchen in many parts of the world, including Malaysia. I was grateful I was living alone, so at least I would just be sharing germs with myself if I did not manage to properly clean my dishes.

I moved to Cambodia last summer and only recently found out the question I should have been sure to ask while apartment shopping. This time the question was: “Is there a generator for the building?”

A few weeks ago in Phnom Penh, we started to have much more frequent black outs. The dry season is upon us and apparently, levels of water are so low that the turbines for the hydroelectric power can not function. Of course, water itself has been affected and outside of the city my TA has not had access to water during the day for about two months. At school, the power goes off and the students shriek or groan, but quickly the generator flips on and regular routines resume, although the wifi has been iffy.

I hear from people about missed Skype interviews, sweltering while waiting for the power to come back, the uncertainty of whether you will be missing water or electricity, and I know I am lucky. Without even asking the question I should have asked I am in an apartment that has a good generator, so although I lose power for a few seconds at a time it quickly comes back to life. Many others are not so lucky, so I try not to get impatient when the wifi fades out.

Nestled in the back of the parking area I never really noticed these, but boy, am I glad they are here!

Walking down the road while the power is out is really a tale of two cities- many shops are dark- they are losing so much business. Some construction sites fall silent, while others call in the reserves. I heard this truck roaring outside a work area, powering it all.


The blackouts are predictable by now, which helps a bit. The local papers publish when each substation will be cut. Today when I called to make an appointment for a massage she told me I would have to wait just over two hours, “We have no electricity, but we will at six.” When I arrived just before six, she told me the power had just been restored.

Things seem like they are going to get worse before they get better. A friend posted on Facebook that tomorrow there is supposed to be a 12-hour blackout- she was offering her air-conditioned apartment and refrigerator space for anyone who does not have a generator. The “real feel” was 40C today (104F).

As I begin apartment shopping to move neighborhoods this summer I now know one of the first questions to ask (followed by “Does this street flood?” as the rainy season approaches).

6 thoughts on “The Questions I Never Thought to Ask

  1. I live in Asia too and all this is so familiar. Washing dishes in cold water is just par for the course! It’s great that your school has a generator. At least here it’s not hot so we don’t swelter when the power goes off. Today it was off nearly six hours all up, some scheduled, some not. We are desperately hoping for some rain soon! Hope you find a good apartment with what you need!

  2. I’m fascinated by the experiences of this living in other countries. Thank you for the insight and good luck on your searching!

  3. So interesting to think about the questions I would never think to ask. Thanks for sharing this window into what life is like in other places. Your writing is lovely, too–it drew me in and was so fun to read.

  4. Questions I didn’t know to ask- is a great format to make great travel writing. Your accounts are funny and educational. You sound like a seasoned traveler- rolling with it. Good outlook to share with us. I hope you will keep collecting these questions, and save them for a longer piece. Maybe for a travel magazine 🙂

  5. Your writing offers a glimpse into living in another country. It sounds like people try to take care of one another in these inconvenient times. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s