Cambodia Is To Buffalo As Vietnam Is To Detroit: The World According to Angelo

Buffalo, cultural hotbed

Unexpected thing #1356 travel has afforded me: a kid I met on a dirt road in bumfuck Italy a year and a half ago has become one of my closest friends, and one of the people I keep in touch with the most.

Things I love about Angelo:

1. He’s New York as shit.

2. He keeps me in the loop. As per the previous post, I’m culturally out on a fucking island here in Cambodia, so I can listen to him prattle on about contemporary art and underground shows and for an hour I can pretend I’m not literally on the other side of the planet from all that.

3. Listening to all his first-year-out-of-college stresses and struggles puts my own shit in perspective.

4. I get him. I met Angelo as he was breathlessly bicycling away from what he called wildlife, what anyone else would call a herd of grazing sheep. Which I totally understood—being an uber-urban kid from a big-ass city, an expert in riding public transit, finding hole-in-the-hall restaurants and living insanely cheaply in insanely expensive places. But knowing fuck all about the rest of the world. That’s what I was, before I started traveling.

5. He never fucking sleeps. That the little green dot on Facebook is always lit, so I can call whenever.

As such, Angelo’s right up there with my parents and my sponsor when it comes to Skype-age. Take last Saturday afternoon: get a message from him to call anytime before 2am Eastern, cause that’s when he’s going out for the night.

Who goes out at 2am? my old-ass asks.

Twenty-two year old New Yorkers, that’s who.

So I call and he of course picks up, just as bright and chipper as always: “Yo yo yo! I’m maaaaad hungry; we’re about to go on a walk, get some dollar pizza.”

So Angelo takes me with him, the horns and hustle of Manhattan coming through my laptop, echoing around the dingy walls of my apartment, making it feel smaller, shabbier, more barren.

“How’s the weather out there?” I ask.

“Aw man, it’s been fucking beautiful,” he says. “I mean, I feel bad even telling you.”

I laugh. I start telling Angelo about what’s been going on with me since we last talked, which basically amounts to a recounting of my last post, but in a whinier tone.

“Man, I really just, you know,” he pauses. “I feel bad for you, yo. Like, I know you’re out there doing your thing, that you went for a reason and all that. And I’m all proud of you—I tell people about you all the time—but I just picture you out there, and, well, I feel bad.” I laugh again. “I mean, shit, I couldn’t do it.”

“Aw, sure you could,” I tell him. “That’s the first thing you learn—how much more adaptable you are than you think.”

“Yeah, well,” I can hear him dragging a cigarette, “maybe it’s just that I wouldn’t wanna do it.”

I sigh. “Yeah, well, that’s fair.”

I hear the clatter of a the pizza place; Angelo orders and it’s loud and then it’s quieter again. “Where are we?” I ask. “On your steps in front St Mark’s Market?”

“Nah, someone was in my spot, yo! I’m having to stand.”

I go on, start telling Angelo about my back-up plan, my ace-up-the-sleeve: going to Hanoi for a few months to bang out some high-paid English teaching. “Yo, yo, do that man,” he says between a mouthful of pizza crust.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Vietnam is like, cool. You’d get mad hipster points.”

I laugh. “I don’t get hipster points for Cambodia?”

“Nah. Obscurity points, but…” Pause, thoughtful chewing. “You know what it’s like? It’s like Vietnam is Detroit. And Cambodia is Buffalo.”

I almost spit out my coffee. “Wait, what?”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” he answers and his voice gets more excited as he breaks it down. “It’s like, people in New York talk about Detroit. There’s shit going on there—art shit and music festivals. People go there. It’s mad hip right now. And people know about Vietnam. We talk about it; we eat pho and read Tao Lin and shit.”

A belly laugh shakes my body.

“But say someone moves to Buffalo. That’s like ‘what the fuck?’ That’s just like, ‘Why? Why would do that to yourself?'” I’m damn near hysterical with that. He laughs too. “It’s just like, you feel kinda bad for em.”

“And Cambodia is Buffalo?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

“But, what if Cambodia starts getting cool?” I extend the analogy: “Like, what if people in New York start talking about Cambodia and eating prahok—”

“What’s that?”

“‘Fish cheese.’ This gross-ass fermented fish paste shit; it’s foul. But what if it becomes hella hip and trendy and I get to say I was into Cambodia before it was cool.”

We both laugh long and hard. “It’s a gamble, though, yo,” he finally says.

He’s right.

“Come on, let’s go back to your place,” I tell him. And he walks me back the four blocks to his apartment, New York City howling through my computer—just like I was there.

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1 Response to “Cambodia Is To Buffalo As Vietnam Is To Detroit: The World According to Angelo”


  1. 1 Becky Nguyen June 18, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    haha this IS so true! And hilarious at the same time. People in New York talk about Vietnam like that, and they eat Pho, and that makes me smile. Thanks for this post (ps I think I’m going through all of your posts)


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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