T-minus Two Days: America Story

16 Jul

Chiang Mai: cooking class=eating for 6 hours with a Thai foodie babysitter/biking like nobodies business.

Bangkok: took an awesome tour with this Buddhist lady who had dirty nicknames for all of the temple statues and met a fellow traveler to wonder with.

Korea: spent a month bumming on a couch and going to art museums/freaking out about leaving Korea and eating everything/ visiting the brotherling twice and checking out Dajeon, Gwangju, and Busan. Plus plus: ALL OF THE HUGGING OF MY RIDICULOUSLY LOVING AND WONDERFUL FRIENDS!! Oh, and some dubu kimchi and a lot of makgeolli.

Japan: re-visiting my favorite sites and checking out some new ones. Flew down to Fukuoka to see some old men and young children run around in suma wrestler thongs and carry giant shrines. Like giant. Like I was afraid for these men and their lives. Slipping around half naked under these beasts of pride. Slept in a Japanese style hotel next to a park on an island outside of the city. Gorgeous. Now I’m running around town eating all of the fish. Tomorrow I will try and check out the only museum about parasites in the world. BOOM.

On Thursday I’ll being flying to California. Later that night (in the weird flux of time travel) I’ll be flying to South Florida. Super nervous. Super sad. Super stoked. A little mixed feeling cocktail for everyone!

Hopefully, I’ll see YOU soon.

Boobs, Pai, Chiang Rai, More Boobs and the Military

25 May

Before I left for Pai, a women who must have been in her late 80’s massaged my boobs.

Yup.  So yeah, that happened.  It went something like…

Uhhhhh ummmm I don’t know…can we just skip that, you know I’m not totally comfortable with….well, okay then…

Thank you, frisky elderly Thai lady who speaks no English.  She just smiled and bobbed her head and did her thing.

 

So then I took a bus to Pai, which was incredible.  Pai, despite being in and of itself totally lack luster, is located in rich, tropical heart of Northern Thailand.  Our little mini van wrapped around the mountains like ribbons around a pole on Mayday.  The town is buried deep, which would make it ideal for trekking if I could have found a group of people to go freaking trekking with.  Despite being absolutely stocked with foreigners like more foreigners than actual Thai people, I had some serious trouble signing up for a hike.  Eventually I got on board with a day hike-that was pretty sweet.  The tour guide took us deep into the jungle, fed us sticky rice and bananas, made us tea in bamboo cups and explained to us the politics of Thailand and all of the reasons he wasn’t going to be talking about it in front of anyone outside of the middle of the jungle.  Several days later, martial law was declared.  Guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised.

Apart from the trek, I mainly lounged around in my awesome cheap get up by the stream in Pai.  The crowd in Pai was primarily dreary hippies trying to sell me palm readings and magic crystals-but I had a couple of solid conversations with the locals.  My guesthouse owner was super chill and whilst looking for a yoga class I got a super fantastic rant from a *I’m gonna go with crazy-Christian* who didn’t believe in evolution.  The fantastic part, was that his point was legit-“all these fucking gurus here are nuts-that’s the truth of it-you wanna do some exercise, some yoga go to the damn park-these teachers are all bent crooked loose and they’re making all these poor travelers confused and shit.”  Might seem kind of tangenty, but after a healthy dose of people telling me about all the ways in which I am suffering (I’m not thank you very much-I think that belittles people that are actually suffering-like not so far away-like you know, in Burma, riiiight over there) and how they could help free me.  So, I don’t know-I appreciated his rant.

I also went on a day site seeing tour in Pai.  A man on a motorcycle took me around from one resort to another resort to show me all the weird ass houses they be building for rich foreigners to play in.  Some of them were made out elaborate trees-another out of fake strawberries.  Suffice to say we drank a lot of coffee and looked over a lot of forest.  We also went to the local hot springs.  They smelled like ass and people were cooking eggs in them, but it was pretty relaxing even in the heat.  I miss me some jinjibangs yo!  We also went to the Pai canyon, which was neat.  We walked along a really thin strip of land with some sharp declines on both sides and sighed heavily in the greatness of it.  We also threw these little seeds with wings on them off the side of the canyons.  On the way back from the Canyon though-I caught a glimpse of some tourist elephants all chained up.  Their bodies chained to their legs while they we’re dragging some locals on their backs.  Gah.  Then things got a little awkward more awkward when my guide realized we were the same age-boyfriend?  Boyfriend-boyfriend?  Damn-things we’re going so well.  I tried to write a piece about the ways in which we (the whole lot of us) need to re-address how we speak to and about women, but who knew expressing something that I care so deeply about would be so much harder to express then the wobbly bull I write about traveling.

After being full fed up with touristy Pai I got a ride over to Chiang Rai.  I loved Chaiang Rai.  Not so many tourists, lots of good street markets and more deliciously, delicious Thai food.  I spent some time with a Burmese man named John who worked at my guesthouse and learned a lot about the surrounded hill tribes.  I went on a few tours and walked with one of John’s friends up in the jungle there for about an hour.  Absolutely beautiful.  His friend made me a flute out of bamboo.  I can’t figure out how to play  the damn thing and I watched the local dogs almost eat each other alive.  This guest house in particular had a lot of friendly guests.  The owners made a mean moonshine.  Just a giant jug of anonymous clear liquid with some mysterious herb in it.  They even caught a scorpion once and threw it in there.  The name of the game was: you cry, you pay; you don’t cry, you get all the free moonshine a girl could dream of.  The crowd was a little less -trying to find myself- and a little more -places are cool- so I went actually “went out”with a group of people there.  This Finish guy who had actually been living in Bangkok for three years said that one of his friends had told him about a great bar called Sugar Beats.  So we all lump into a taxi and go.  Of course I’m walking and talking and not noticing shit until I look up and realize half the women are in their underwear.  And I’m all…um…Ten minutes later this tiny tadpole of a girl comes up to me and starts telling me that I’m beautiful…um…jeebures.  “This yo’-together-you an’-” she pointed to the guy standing next to me (who happens to be one of the guest house owners).  He said something really quietly in Thai and she just kind of shimmied off.  Weird.  And by that I mean-well, shit.

I’ve got a lot more to say about my last week in Thailand.  About more Chiang Mai goodness and Bangkok, but I think that might have to wait.

I love Thailand.

12 May

I flew into Bangkok on the seventh and didn’t bat an eye before I booked a sleeper train to Chiang Mai.  I had heard from other travelers and more importantly, from friends, that Chiang Mai was where it’s at.  It being, traveler gold, a perfect balance of friendly people, industrialization, and yet a lack of industrialization, plus plus: delicious eats.  Speaking of delicious eats: THE FOOD IS SO GOOD.  Pad thai, green and red curries, thai ice tea, and fruit for days.  I’m not even sure what’s actually Thai food and what’s been super imposed by the West-but it’s all so.good.  The sleeper train itself was pretty wonderful.  Full beds-none of that curled up leg nonsense.  Plus I’m never in opposition to any situation in which I’m woken up by the delightful question: coffee?

Chiang Mai means the New City.  The city center is surrounded by a large, square moat and the place is just littered with shiny temples sporting fierce dragons and elephants.  Elephants are a thing here for sure.  I’ve spent the last two days on a trekk in the outlying mountains.  They offer a lot of different types of hikes: most of them include a little walking, a visit to a tribal village, and an elephant ride.  Some of them take you to see the long necked women.  The only problem is after a little research I learned….elephants spines weren’t exactly designed for a full grown human to be sitting atop them (who woulda thunk eh?).  On top of which, most of the elephants are separated from their mother’s at really young ages and then beaten with a bull hook to become compliant for those rides.  Mind you, there are a couple of elephant sanctuaries right outside of the city I might check out.  As for the long necked women, apparently most of them are refugees that have been forced to stay in specific locations in Thailand because they draw so much tourism.  So I decided to going on a walking only trekk.  No elephants, no imprisoned Burma border refugees.  Walking only trekk–heck yeah!  Which turned into a picking all of the lychee trekk.  Also, all of the yes.  Mmmmmmm.  It was quite glorious.  Apparently this week is the one week during the whole year the lychee are both ripe and not already picked.  SO. GOOD.  My legs are a little bit sore, but all and all it was a aces.  We walked through a relatively quiet jungle (apparently they started allowing hunters to come to this jungle rather recently and our tour guide, Chai, informed us that as a result, many of the hunted animals just relocated themselves) through Godfather trees forever wide and bamboo sticking out at every angle.  We swam in cool waterfalls and washed up in the river.  At night Chai (whose name apparently means gentleman in Thai) and another groups tour guide made a fire and cooked us some noms and then went out and caught scorpions for us to cower at.   The tourists stuck to catching fire flies.  It was an insect love free for all.  In the morning we hiked a bit more, found another waterfall, passed by a Methodist church that the local villagers were singing in and accidentally picked up a wild dog that nearly followed us out of the jungle.  More lychee.  More lychee.  More lychee.  Today I plan to go back to a massage parlor down the street I had visited earlier in the week.  In Thai culture massage isn’t something that is luxurious, it’s part of maintaining health.  They have shops up EVERYWHERE.  And the last massage I had was spectacular-almost like assisted yoga.  The street my hostels on, also has a lot of cooking class shops.  So today or tomorrow I might take a Thai cooking class.  Because FOOD and….why not.  After that I might take a bus out to a town called Pai.  It’s been recommended to me time and time again and I know they have a lot of hikes out around there too.  MORE TREKKING.   I have 19 more days of SE Asian play time and I plan to make the most of them!

Malaysia and Singapore

8 May

MALAYSIA

Kuala Lumpar was a shock.  Malaysia is still a developing country, but having been in Laos and Cambodia for a couple months the capital of Malaysia felt all sorts of shiny and steal.  I can’t say I loved KL, but I did have some good days.  I met quite a few people that gave me the creeps in this city, but I also spent some time with a couple of really chill individuals as well.   I saw the Malaysian twin towers, an elaborate water fountain in the middle of a public park, an Islamic Art Museum, and the National Mosque.  The National Mosque was beautiful.  I dressed up in proper head to toe attire and observed the devotion of others.  Then I went across the street to what I thought was another mosque only to find out it was actually a business office-haha.  During my time there I ate a lot of delicious things as well: frog porridge, egg crab, beef penang just to name a few.  The frog tasted surprisingly like chicken (I know-how cliche-but it’s true!)

Oh!  I almost forgot Batsu Cave.  I went to a beautiful cave right outside the city.  It was filled with Hindu temples and because KL has an active Hindu population, the temples were actually in use.  Beautiful ceremonies littered the site.  Next to the main cave, was an additional cave sporting an ecological dark cave tour.  We went into the tour loaded with spiffy helmets the looked like they were fitted backwards (the bill was in the back) and hand held flashlights, but about half way through the guide asked us to all turn off our flashlights.  Only then did it hit us that we were actually in a cave.  Not just darkness, but a complete absence of light.  I couldn’t even see my fingers when they were touching my eye lashes.  The cave also sported some pretty dope bats and a bunch of long legged insects.

After KL I went to Melaka.  Melaka was glorious.  Melaka was a long date with me, myself, and I.  I took a socializing break and mostly kept to myself in this historical gem of a town.  My guesthouse was on the river.  You could walk along a boardwalk there into town and the backside of every building had a glorious mural on it.  Some of plants, some of Malaysian people, and some of pure design.  Because Malaysia is a very diverse country, the town was comprised of an Indian section, a China town, and a tourist center (for us history buffs).  Every morning I got up there I walked down the boardwalk to this Indian restaurant and got rotti masala and hot chai.  Then I explored on foot.  I climbed a short hill (mountain?) called Bukit Cina to get a view of the area-lovely.  Saw lizards the size of baby crocodiles and a beautiful ancient Chinese graveyard.  I went on a night boat along the river and road a tower ride that rotated everyone in a giant circle at the top.  I had so many nationals on holiday ask to take a photo with me (just like in Korea haha), and saw many a museum about the wealth of the Nonya Baba (the children of rich Chinese who made families with local Malaysian women).  I had Malaysian coffee that was made with margarine and a bucket of sugar.  I had Nonya Baba soup noodly and curry-y and red pasty-and shrimp pasty-and fish cakey-y yum.  During the course of my meal I saw two wonderful Malaysian singer perform pop songs.  One of them was your typical Malaysian beauty with a soft voice to boot and the other was a little bit older, a little bit skin-bones sharp and rough and strong and a voice like Janis Joplin.  The whole performance I was just short of crying.  Melaka was therapeutic.

SINGAPORE

I just left Singapore yesterday.  I went to Singapore to meet up with Kris and a friend we made in Cambodia (Dylan).  Dylan’s Mom lives in Singapore and she had asked him to house sit while she was on vacation in Australia.  We ended up spending a lot of time just chilling in the house.  I was so excited to have access to a kitchen again-I made chocolate chip banana pancakes everyday!  We also went down and saw a light show at the Harbor.  It was a little strange-floating heads singing and abstract children running, but in terms of technical wonder-the light and color and water  splashing part was awesome.  We also went to the Singaporean National Museum and an Art Museum.  I enjoyed both a lot.  The Singaporean National Museum had an endless audio player that took us through the history of Singapore’s formation, British and Japanese occupation, opium-prostitute usage, women’s struggles, and modern development.  Impressively thorough!  The feel of Singapore is a little strange.  People are friendly enough, it has similar cultural diversity to Malaysia-Chinese immigrants, Malay nationals, and Indian immigrants.  We went shopping in Indian town and I got a new bra and a new pair of shoes.  HOLY MOTHE There R DO I FEEL SUPPORTED.  There are certain pains you ignore while traveling as a back packer and funny enough some of them you don’t even notice until you have extra comfort.  My first night in KL I stayed in an overly luxurious hotel.  Honestly, I felt uncomfortable.  The place seemed really unnecessary and I felt like spoiled jerk sending money on something I didn’t need.  But fancy shoes.  Not at all.  I’ve been boppin’ around on cloud nine.  Woooooo–  Hm, what else?  Apparently, darts is pretty competitive in Singapore.  The first night we were there we couldn’t even get into the dart bar, but our last night there we went to a different place and Dylan and Kris taught me how to actually play darts (like the game with rules as opposed to me just trying to hit the bulls eye :P).  It was pretty fun-the place had a karaoke mic and so someone was screaching in Chinese the entire time to boot.  I also learned Mancala (http://boardgames.about.com/cs/mancala/ht/play_mancala.htm).  I enjoyed counting marble math time and ate Ben and Jerry’s-mmmmmmmmm-developed country goodness!

(Coming Soon: Thailand, less developed-most delicious?)

FYI: Korea in T-minus June 1st.

 

Patches of my tangent quilt

21 Apr

The bed bugs in my current location have turned me into a puckered carcass (be a dear and swallow that hyperbole please). When I first checked into my room I barely noticed. I looked for spaces mosquitoes could shimmy through, but as night fell the room began to crawl. Usually bed bugs are so small you can barely notice them until the rows of rash plot against you in the morning, but this room had been so neglected that all of the bed bugs were fully grown. I tucked my pants into my socks and slept with a scarf on underneath the fan, but the back of my neck and side of my hands were still lumpy sore in the am. Plus, the whole sleeping thing didn’t go down as I had expected. So now I’m on my third cup cup of coffee looking up rooms in another location before heading off on a day trip to Ream National Park. I’m hoping the trip will clear my mind. I’ve been talking myself into dizziness lately. World vertigo.

———————————-

I wrote this on the 21st of April.  It is now May 4th and even though it has only been 13 days, so many things have happened.  Ream National Park was lovely.  I enjoyed the clear waters, trekked through jungle and village and had a quiet meal of fruits and chicken rice on the coast.  Bed bugs ain’t got nothin’ on me.  The place I stayed that night was clean and comfortable.   I watched the Matrix on the tele and than a show about Korean pop fashion.  Worlds colliding together in other worlds.  The show starred a foreigner and a national gushing out enthusiasm and rice cakes.  The following day I made my way towards Phnom Penh.  I had a plan.  To take a plane from Cambodia to Kaula Lumpar, Malaysia.  I’m currently in Singapore, but I’ll have to get to that in my next post.  I booked a flight, met up with Kris again and wallowed at the thought of departing from my beloved Cambodia.  The next morning I left for the airport and as I sat in the small waiting room outside my terminal I wrote the following ranty bit about my overall experience there:

Cambodian Freedom

I’m currently in Phom Penh International airport. Samsung’s presence is surprising, as is the luminescent coiled wire ball lamps dangling from the ceiling. I’ve spent a total of 33 days in Cambodia (3 days over my visa). And it’s been absolutely wonderful. I could see myself living here. It’s just enough gritty and just enough gorgeous and the people are just enough nice, but not so much that they seem full of shit. Today, I got my hair cut by a man with a chair on the side of the street. He had a mirror nailed up against a wall in front of a temple, and used a buzz cutter and a comb to do the bulk of it. I drank sugar cane juice, which entailed searching for a motorbike with a metal contraption built to squeeze the juice out of the sugar cane bark. A metal wheel against a metal plate. Topped with lime and ice cut from giant blocks on the side walk. I’ve walked through sand that squeaked, melted under skies that looked like someone poured neon glow sticks into the clouds (*props to Kris), watched boys bury each other in the dirt and pour wine over their bodies in fits of giggles, I’ve had boys walk up and hug me in the street, children beg me (a complete stranger) to throw them up in the air, I’ve been lied to and scammed, and in the end it seems now that I’ve loved every minute of it. But as nice as it is for me to come to Cambodia, as I’ve mentioned before, it comes from a history of sadness. It lives in the shadow of its history.   I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I left my sneakers at my very first hostel in Laos. I had to buy a pair in Pakse, but a day after I bought them they started falling apart. I kept them barely together with super glue for about two weeks until I made it to Siam Reap. My tuk tuk driver that day-he did two really important things for me. He brought me to this women who re-glued and then actually sewed through the rubber bottoms of my shoe into the fabric to keep them together and then he had lunch with me seeing more Wats. While this woman put my shoes back together she told me about her business. Her husband. Her children. Their life. She was optimistic and honest.   She talked about the Khmer New Year. There is something wonderful about Khmer culture and the language in particular. It’s harsh. It’s loud and it’s harsh. But the women, jeebures-they talk just as loud and as harsh as the men. They have just as much spirit. So she was telling me about the Khmer New Year and the time they would take off and how they would enjoy it. And then she said, the problem is, when we don’t work…we don’t make money. For all the bonkers bat shit crap that goes on in the states, that is not a sentence I can honestly put out in the world when speaking about my own country. There are so many cuddle crap programs (that we all pay into for better or for worse)-that make it so if there is a holiday, if I’m sick, if I’m hurt, even-if I can’t find a job-I don’t have to worry about-I won’t ever have to worry about it the way that this women does. After that, my tuk tuk driver took me back to Angkor land. I did my thing and then as I said before we got some lunch together. He talked to me about freedom. You are free. Every bone in my body wanted to say, nah, not anymore.  But I couldn’t say that. Relatively speaking. I’m free. As a white-American-I am free (at least in one way) that this tuk tuk driver could never be.

Love, Hate Update

11 Apr

The big blur.  A blur of days, and faces, and scenic villages, and temples.  I gave Siam Reap another few days.  I fell in love with it every evening and grew to hate it every morning.  So many times over and over. I can’t even remember everything that has happened to be honest.

I watched quite a few people treat my (understandably) grumpy guesthouse owner like crap.  One of them even told him that the Cambodian people deserved the rain of Pol Pot and than threatened to beat him up at a later date!  The other, moaned and pissed because the owner wouldn’t accept a ripped twenty bill (it’s standard practice in Cambodia because of the fraud)-an expat business owner eventually pulled him aside and told him that the owner’s reason was legitimate.  Only then did he pull out a stack of ones, which  devolved into an f-u argument.  BLACH.  Other highlights included learning about the wonderful work that is being done for children’s health in Cambodia.  They have a couple of children’s hospitals that are entirely free based on donations.  Pretty incredible when you consider the history and hardship.  I also spent quite a bit of time giving free English lessons behind the temples.  Got a bundle of bananas out of it 🙂

Then I took another sleeper bus from Siam Reap to Phnom Penh.  Felt sick as a dog:
+awkward seats that weren’t big enough for even the tiniest of legs

+thunderstorm/cars overturned in mud holes/picking up other buses’ stranded passengers

+deciding that I don’t mind squatting bathrooms, just squatting bathrooms in the dark (spiders, snakes, oh my!)

I did meet a lovely volunteer teacher on the bus over.  She was working in the South of Cambodia and gave me a solid earful of recommendations and youthful aspirations.   She even showed me the guesthouse she had been staying at.  I got a room in the dorms and met some interesting folks.  They had a rooftop bar that had a great atmosphere, unfortunately I had the joy of encountering bed bugs for the first time at this location as well.  You win some, you lose some.  I had some super magical moments in PhomPenh.  I met some sweet dancing nerds and we took a traditional dance class.  It was wonderful.  Everything was in body isolations.  I’ve been stretching out my fingers and toes everyday since.   Hands-hands-hands!!  Afterwards, we made our way across town to check out a dance and shadow puppet performance.  The way they used space and light in this performance was absolutely brilliant!  There were no boundaries-men turned into monkeys-and paper turned into ship sails-the night into deep water-flashlights into dance and shadows into gods.  They moved behind the stage and in front of the stage behind and in between the audience with control and grace and raw emotion.  And the music!  Drums that sounded like thunder and a trumpet player who stared into everyone’s eyes with a confidence that felt like lightning.

On the other hand, the begging in PhomPenh was just as bad, if not worse than Siam Reap.  I met up with my friend Kris again and we took turns turning down tuk tuk driver’s and small children as politely as we could.  At one point, at nine o’clock at night, when I was by myself I snapped on some school boys that were fluent in English and looking for donations for children’s education.  “It’s night time!  Can’t you give me a break!  I’m sitting by the river, trying to have a moment of peace!  All day people have been asking me for money-I am not an ATM.  I do not have endless amounts of money to donate–“–“Sorry ma’am, sorry.”  It wasn’t a fair thing to do, these kids just wanted to help their country.  That said, since I’ve left PhomPenh I’ve only had two people ask me for money.  I’ll get to that later though.

The worst of the begging is outside of the killing fields.  Kids from the local villages hang outside of the mass graves all day.  They grab onto the back of your tuk tuk as you drive away to be extra dramatic.  A bunch of people warned me about this, but lucky for me the kid that was begging me broke out into laughter about five minutes in his act because his friends ran over and started teasing him.  He left and came back with tears as I was driving away, but at that point his friends were turning their sad faces on and off and giggling a wreck.  The tuk tuk driver was pretty confused.

For those of you who don’t know about the genocide that occurred in Cambodia, I would recommend looking into it.  It’s incredibly tragic and in the end, there was no justice.  The United Nations gave a seat to the same corrupt government that turned their own country into a giant concentration camp.  The man that led this government at the time, got to die a peaceful death in his own home at a ripe old age and once again the States didn’t clean up the HUGE mess of mines they dropped.  As a result, a sizable portion of the population has had to have something amputated and can’t work in a country where work is hard to come by.

There is so much history I was never taught in school and I don’t know what to do with it all.

Now, I’m in Kampot.  Kampot is just lovely.  People are warm and friendly.  The town is small and divided by the intracoastal.  Despite everything, there is something just absolutely seductive about Cambodia.  I can see why so many expats just stay here.  The last guesthouse I stayed at was outside of town, kind of in the middle of nowhere.  It was run by a French couple.  One night, I stayed up late looking at the blossoming stars and listening to Kris talk to one of the owners about the impending third world war, when they deviated into the subject of how to live your life knowing how full of corruption the world is.  The guesthouse owner made the point that you gotta just take the leap and live your dream.  He went on to say that the beautiful thing about Cambodia is, in Cambodia your dream will only cost you $20,000.  At home, your dream will only ever be a dream.  He took it a step further by saying, you know I may be paying into a corrupt government here too, but at least it’s not MY corrupt government.  I’m getting a little bit rambly, but it was a point (a couple of points even) that will probably stick with me.

Yesterday, Kris and I left the middle of nowhere and found a really nice spot to chill in town.  The shower here actually has pressure, the food is pretty good, and we have patio.  Like I said before, there isn’t as much begging here.  There are a lot of SEEING EYE MESSAGE shops, but people here all seem to try and work for their money.  An idea, that I am beginning to recognize as a uniquely capitalistic one.  If you work hard for your money than you deserve it.  Despite whatever privilege got you to a place where you were able to have said opportunities.  I don’t know if there is less begging here because outside of the city there is less competition or if people just take care of one another better because it’s a small community.  But I’m happy to report I’ve finally been able to relax some.  Let all of the intake settle where it may in my gelatin pot brain.

What Culture Shock Looks Like

28 Mar

Sorry for the language, but f*** Siam Reap. That censorship is for you: Mom, Dad. Really though.

I have never so strongly disliked such a lovely place in my life. By that I mean, the feel of the city-the structures, the buildings, the temples Angkor Wat, the river, the foliage are all utterly eyeball worthy- BUT some of the people in this city leave me in moral crisis.

Maybe I should fill you in on BanLuang first. I love BanLuang. It might be my favorite place so far. Lots of dirt roads, a nearly nothing city in the middle of the jungle. My guest house is called Tree Top for a reason. It’s entirely made out of wood and overlooks the jungle. Had cashew apples and jackfruit on every side of me. I roomed with a friendly German boy who I had met on the minivan over. He had an internship in Taiwan and was traveling until his next internship in Beijing (pretty badass). We got dinner together, talked about our likes and dislikes, political views, lives and like I said, shared a room, for a full day before we realized we completely forgot to introduce ourselves (you know the traditional way with names and stuff). Haha-traveling. Met some Belgium doctors who were working/living there too and got loads of tips on how not to die with some good company to boot! I think because BanLuang isn’t as touristy as Siam Reap there were a lot more single travelers there, which was awesome in terms of company. Next to Tree Top was this ahhhhh so good cafe called Cafe Allee. It is run by an expat and his wife. The food is excellent and the owners are just super people people. Couldn’t recommend this place enough-might even have to find some hole in the wall online to rant and rave about it.

Anyhoot-on to things I actually did there. Well BanLuang has this scenic volcanic lake. It’s filled with tiny shrimp and lots of locals. I met a Cambodian guy there, Khiemer, who offered to show me around. I was a little skeptical, but I figured better scammed by a villager than a tour guide. So the next day he took me by motorbike to a couple of waterfalls and then to his cousin’s house for a meal of morning glory (delicious and even more surprisingly didn’t give me any indigestion). He showed me the village’s cemetery and explained some of the cultural traditions. Pretty cool stuff: the graves are little houses and loved ones leave things that they think the dead might need (televisions, money, food, etc). After that we went back to the lake for a swim and some awesome hammock napping. Khiemer’s friend was from a minority group in Cambodia and so he asked me to come with them for dinner. I made a donation to the village and agreed to meet up later. Unfortunately, this turned into a Jill-and-strange-Cambodian-men-sandwich on the motorbike and my
new friend getting a little too touchy. All and all the day had it’s ups and downs. A lot of the conversation we had were about his village (awesome), but he seemed way more interested in my looks than he was in my opinions/knowledge of other countries. He criticized me for my short hair, called me dirty and kept making fun of my laugh. Sounds a lot worse than it was-he was being playful and having lived in Korea the conversations about my size and color didn’t really surprise me, but the dirty thing caught me off guard. We had been biking all day-of course I need to shower! I read in my guide book that hygiene is a big thing in Cambodia. You might be thinking-isn’t it everywhere? By that I mean, that everyone makes a strong effort to be clean despite a lack of running water. In this heat and with roads made of red dirt it can be a real challenge. I ended up running off from dinner early, but overall consider the whole mishap a worthwhile experience. If just for the answers it provided me to my burning questions about Cambodia!

For example, the day before that I went to a Cambodian nightclub with a group of foreigners from the guesthouse. It was tons of fun, lots of dancing, but oddly there were almost no women. Khiemer later said it was because the girls who work at bars don’t get off until eleven and everyone else is married. Towards the end of that evening one of my buddies flipped because he couldn’t handle being constantly moved by security and ignored by locals. He said he just wanted to have a conversation and really I can’t blame him. I also can’t blame the locals. I have trouble trusting people in Cambodia-worried I’m always getting scammed-why would they trust us (we’re the outsiders)?

Which brings me to Siam Reap. F***. Really. I keep trying, so hard, not to be a total jackass while traveling-to make eye contact with people, to hear them out. You wouldn’t believe how tourists treat staff here (maybe you would but it’s disheartening). I keep reading about global efforts in terms of humanitarian aid and the sad side effects of group disassociation so I’ve made a strong effort to leave a snail trail of donations where ever I go, but shit, Siam Reap, I’m getting railroaded.

When I first got here (Siam Reap) I traveled with locals by minivan-and once we reached the city I was forced off the minivan, exclusively and prematurely. They said if I went in the city with the rest of the van they would be searched by the police, but the tuk tuk would be free. Was any of this true-I don’t know-but what could I do? Refuse to get off?-maybe-wasn’t worth it. So this tuk tuk driver is maybe the friendliest guy ever, but I’ve got my walls up to the nines because I’m not happy that I’ve been forced off this van. We get in and he’s trying to take me from one guesthouse to another (now maybe he does know this city better than I, but then again maybe the guesthouse pays him to take people there I don’t know)-then he’s trying to meet me in the morning to take me to Angkor Wat-which you know-I know that I’ll need someone to take me but I’m still not happy that I was forced off of the bus. Oh my entitlement! He asks fora tip and I give him one.

So here I am, feeling terrible about how suspicious I am, when the next day I actually go to Angkor Wat and cannot move more than five meters without being swarmed by children begging: one dolla one dolla lady one dolla! How many post cards can I buy kids?!? One more lady-one more-you don’t have this one lady one more!! The answer is twenty. I can buy twenty postcards.

I spent 10 hours looking at temples. One hour I spent sleeping in the window crevice of a Thom (you might think me an idiot but napping in public places without getting robbed is a gift of mine) and at least two hours staring into the souls of small children. I did so much weird shit interacting with these kids. I only had one piece of candy. For a while I carried around a can of milk and offered it to them (they just laughed at me-it worked in Laos though-the kids there were super stoked about sticky rice). At one point I bent down, took a packet of post cards and waved them in a group of children’s faces saying one dolla one dolla!-the boy I had taken them from gave me a wry grin and ran off so I think he really got my point. Most of them followed suit, but one girl was stubborn and pissed. She said one more postcard one more one dolla. I looked at her eyes for a long time and said have, have. I pointed at my mouth and my ear-you hear? Have. I tugged on her ear. She said, but one more and pouted. It killed me. At one point when I was a little dehydrated (mid-day) I even gave a child the stink face in a moment of frustration.

Afterwards I felt deeply ashamed. Most people didn’t even bother. They didn’t make eye contact. The children look at the tourists like they are ATMs and the tourists ignore them like they are dogs begging for scraps. The best part of that day was when one of the kids I had mime-lectured who had ran away came up to me and asked to play a game. His sister came over and started to play with the camera on my phone. She took a picture of each individual post card she was trying to sell.  Takes some serious devotion.

All and all by the end of the day I was at my wits end.

Today I decided to relax and give Siam Reap another chance. I went to the local hospital and found a typhoid vaccine. They were out of typhoid vaccines for a whopping four months in Korea before I came here so I figured I’d risk it.  It was that or cancel my trip and I wasn’t about to do that, but after meeting the doctors in BanLuang and hearing about typhoid cases they’ve recently had there I decided it would be better to look for a vaccine.  So after much pharmacy floundering I found a vaccine that was sealed, produced in France and had directions in English-so I figured it was probably alright. I rummaged around to make sure the refrigerator was actually cold and then gave the doctor (?) clerk the thumbs up.   Thing was, once she got my blessing, the sleeves of my shirt were not exactly cooperating. Should I just take my shirt off (we were all women yeah)-uhm??. So I walk in the back of the clinic to find some privacy, but it turns out that it’s just this women’s house.  The clinic’s owner?? looks around awkwardly and proceeds to hands me a scarf to cover my midsection.

Now I’m sitting in this women’s kitchen wearing her head scarf as a tube top to get my typhoid injection, thinking about how many people this year will die from typhoid complications because they don’t have the 20 dollars to get this shot. Jeezures. I thank them profusely for their patience orgOOn! OrgOOn!  Directly afterwards though, I go get some water when this woman with a baby walks up to me and asks me to buy her formula. I agreed to it-milk isn’t that expensive right?!?-she picks up a can-$26 dollars!!!-uh seems kinda expensive… but how can I rationalize my greed-I just spent $20 dollars on a vaccine for myself it’s not like I don’t have the money…so I buy it-then she asks me for a dollar for water (water doesn’t cost a dollar but I give it to her anyways). Feeling iffy I turn around trying to feel like I’ve done the right thing when someone comes up from behind and says “you know she’s got a different baby everyday, she just sells that powder back to the shop.” And I’m already laughing.  I tell him it’s too late for me, I’ve been had!  He says well if you come to my restaurant later, down the road you can have a drink on the house since your heart is in the right place.  A kind gesture.  I’ve read some articles about how beggars will drug babies to make them sleep and not scream and this baby was out cold. So now I’m worried I’ve contributed to something truly horrible. What do I do with this experience? I don’t even know. I know people have to make money somehow, but shit Siam Reap. I don’t want to be a cynic on anything other than American politics and equal rights. I don’t want to be a cynic of individual people. I’d rather be a fool.

Still.

Maybe I should be a teacher here instead. Stalk this poor woman and her borrowed babies.

Crap like this makes me feel so young. And full of curse words. A bloody cesspool of curse words.