Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Goodbye, Miss Saigon

Hey from Vietnam! It's actually my last few hours here in Saigon but I just wanted to check in. Tonight I am taking the night bus to Phnom Penh and then tomorrow I'm (literally) leaving on the midnight plane to Georgia. How fast it's all gone! Time in Vietnam has been amazing with so many adventures and I'm excited to recount and reflect on everything very soon. I know processing this whole transition is something that will surely take a while; it will be perhaps both rewarding and stressful but I really do look forward to it. So much to say but until then sweaty love from the Cu Chi Tunnels!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Zen and the Art of Motorbike Madness

So much has happened since I left Harpswell less than ten days ago. So much to report on. I saw the sunrise over Angkor Wat, sailed on the Southeast Asian seas, lost my heart to a Norwegian boy and discovered the beauty of phosphorescent waters- just to name a few things. One thing that I just have to tell you about, however, was my adventure on the motorbike.

I had never ridden a motorbike before. Over the summer I was quite surprised to have survived biking through Beijing. The hostel didn't provide helmets and all I could think of for half the ride was how pissed my parents would be flying across the world to scrape my cranium off the Chinese sidewalk despite being helmet Nazis my entire life. But I figured I could either A. go or B. not go. I've always been a 'why not?' person and took my chances. Miraculously, I made it.

Historically I haven't been the best driver. At 18 I failed my driver's test with flying colors. I got a ticket for a nearly running over a police officer once. I have a hard time driving my mother after that time she politely notified me I was about to commit mass homicide by plowing down a titanic heard of businessmen in a downtown crosswalk. The divers seat pecking order in my family goes like this: Sister, Dad, Mom, Deceased Family Dog, Me. And after being lucky enough to have such a wonderful man in my life as Somnanag, my tuk tuk driver, being out of practice behind the wheel is something of an understatement.

But on a moto the driving stakes were higher. I had to learn and perfect an honest-to-God, no-protection, wind-in-your-hair motorbike. It was the only way to really explore Kampot, the sweet little riverside town that my friend and I were in, so I sent a little prayer to my battered helmet and trepidly saddled up onto my red and white puttering steed. After a few starts and stops away we went, over back country roads and between sunburned rice paddies. And Lord, did all God's creatures decide to pour out onto the road just at that moment. Motos ladened with grown men screamed by us while massive SUV's kicked up dirt and sand as they sped down the lanes. Even a horse cart carrying an entire family halted past, the wizened matriarch smiled at us with her jack-o-lantern grin. It was a struggle at first, I just couldn't find that illusive spot between glacier-melting and bat-out-of-hell. If my speedometer had worked I'm sure it would have looked liked a conductor waving his baton after downing a hefty speedball. But soon my dire urge to strap on an adult diaper faded and I found myself in the zen of motorbiking. The wind rushed by me and I even mastered a one-handed wave as we zipped by small children hollering at us from their play in the rice fields. My thoughts freed themselves to churn around peacefully in my mind and the muscles in my throttle hand memorized the motions. I even started to love the freedom of it. Everything was hunky dory- until we reached the village. We pulled into a small pagoda village guessing it was the one that touted a centuries-old temple tucked away in some caves. But we weren't the only ones there. A massive welcoming committee of village youngsters were poised to greet incoming foreigners. One tiny girl with a massive bicycle decided that it would be a great idea to bike next to me and drill me with questions. She peddled closer and closer to my moto and kept trying to ply me with inquiries. Not knowing where I was going, unsteady on the bike and horrified that I'd somehow end up with child pate on my wheels, I panicked. Somehow the ground came up at me so fast and the gravel inserts itself into my skin so quickly that I'm convinced that there was nothing between vertical and horizontal. The next thing I knew was the spinning of the moto's back wheel and the stinging dust in my eyes. The little girl was nowhere to been seen (I'm assuming she hightailed it) but I attracted the attention of a fair number of her cohort munchkins and curious monks. A kind traveler reached out of her tuk tuk to give me a wet wipe so I could tend to my scraped palms and knees. Something about the body shock or the breaths that I missed made the caves a less than spectacular sight. I dreaded getting back onto the bike, espeically with pained and bloody hands. But with grit I clinched my teeth and remounted for the trip back to our hostel. I tensed my entire body willing my dirty fingers to close themselves around the throttle; the engine revved again. And somehow, balancing between the tropical flowers and rice paddies, I managed to survive another bike ride.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hold the Phone!

I officially have a new life plan. All previous goals and dreams have vanished at the feet of being...A BABY SLOTH BATHER! How does one get that job exactly? For real I'm going to figure this out. Watch this video and tell me you won't be my competition for this job. Seriously.

In other news, big love from Siem Reap! I'm done with work in Phnom Penh and am now traveling a bit before jetting off to the USofA on February 1st. Sunrise at Angor was amazing! More updates later.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rules for Living

Having seen a good chunk of the world (though by no means all of it) I've noticed a few things. And over time I have developed a set of rules to live by, things to remember. Not really pep talk-y stuff but just things I believe, deep down, to be true. Only recently did I realize this and I wanted to share some of them. They are:
  1. Laughter sounds the same in every language.
  2. All God's children got problems.
  3. Others treat you based on how you demand to be treated.
  4. People are infinitely more complicated than we realize.
  5. There will always be someone bigger, badder or better.
  6. Really, everyone just wants to be loved.
  7. Give back.
  8. Being unabashedly friendly is the best way to go about life.
  9. Pictures of baby pandas is the real great equalizer.
Do you have life rules? Anything you believe to be true and always true? I'd love to hear other peoples thoughts and ideas so please share!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Moving Markets

I spend a lot of time in Phnom Penh en route. The dorm isn't particularly close to much of interest so I end up spending some quality time in the tuk tuk every day. I don't mind; it's actually fun. I hang my hair off the back of the seat to fly in the sun, relax and listen to Coffee Beak French when I'm feeling productive. But mostly I just look around. Traveling in the open air enables you to really get into the street scenes and be a part of the world around you. I've been in a car twice since getting here and it felt so stifling. It was like a dulling of the senses, being insulated from the smells and sounds of the streets. One of the most interesting things about the street life in Phnom Penh is that little market stalls are everywhere. Not just situated plumply on the sidewalk, but actually in the traffic itself. Vendors have come up with some remarkable ways to ply their wears while still in motion. The perpetual motion of vendors gets a little frustrating because you never know when anything is available and a craving for noodles could become quite a mission. But it really appeals to my love of markets and motion, espeically now at such a dynamic point. There's something in transit that appeals to me, the moving of people, things and money and the mobile market stalls of Phnom Penh take this to a new level. So I tried to take a few photos of the merchants and their contraptions of commerce. It was quite a challenge, as all the photographing had to be done from a moving vehicle. For every picture here there are 100 more amazing and absurd wheeled stalls and stores but these are the ones I managed to snag. I hope these are interesting!


Thursday, January 5, 2012


This is my first post in a long time. Sorry about that. I suppose sometimes these pauses linger for some reason or another- speechlessness, uncertainty, schedule. Then I become saddened by my lack of enthusiasm and embarrassed at having let you down, not being the faithful writer that I want to be and I feel you might want me to be, too. But I'm breaking the silence.

So much has happened since I last wrote. I've reached a turning point and have decided to move back to America. I hope I'm not too easily put off of development work; I only submitted one application to further a potential NGO career in impoverished countries. But I'm tired. I'm 24; I shouldn't be tired. But I am. There's a long list of reasons why I feel the deep and urgent need to return home, home to the sticky summers that birthed me. It wouldn't be best to laundry list them here; needing to go is enough. However, I do hope that by running back into the arms of loyal and constant friends and family, I am not running away from unknown others who need help. Somehow, despite misgivings, this feels right. I don't think I could do another term of service in a foreign land right now. Perhaps later.

I know it will be difficult to become stationary, though now I lust after it. A work that has always resonated with me in my travels is Alfred Lord Tennyson's 'Ulysses,' a poetic riff on hoary Homer's tale. It has buoyed me through journeys far and wide and speaks eloquently to the experience of the wanderer. I've taken the liberty of extracting a few bits that really strike me now. I would recommend reading the whole thing; it is beautiful. But here let Tennyson speak to what I loathe to leave:
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea...
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers.
In the Odyssey, Odyssus returns again to his home in Ithaca, joining his abandoned wife and son. Though he has seen much and been tempest-tossed to the ends of the earth, the protagonist returns home. I'm not so grand as to assume myself a hero of yore; I harbor no such delusions of greatness. But something about the story Odysseus, and the universal commonality of journeys, beckons me to yield to my instincts. Like the pulling of the tides, the sojourner must end up where he started. 

Though I grow anxious dwelling on what I will find (or might not find) in America, my friends tell me it will be a new adventure. And I want so badly to believe them. So with that I will leave you with Tennyson's closing lines:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though  
We are not now that strength which in old days  
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will  
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I hope it will be so. 

PS I will certainly continue posting; there is still so much to say and I'm not leaving yet. I just wanted to give you an update. Stay tuned for pictures from Christmas/New Years in Paris and more Cambodia stuff!