A Travellerspoint blog

Ancient ruins, Godzilla, and a circus

semi-overcast 88 °F

Oh dear, so I have a lot to catch up on from the last several days. There hasn't been a lot of down time to sit down and write, or even think.

Also, randomly, my blog posts are getting like 250 views??? Pretty sure I gave the link to about 20 people, so it's fascinating the number of strangers who must be finding the link through travellerspoint.

So we got up bright and early and were in the lobby by 7 AM for our tuk tuk to Angkor Wat (we were trying to beat the heat). And by we, I mean I was in the lobby waiting for the rest of my crew for about 15 minutes (see previous post re: going to bed early). We saw monkeys at the entrance to the park, which was exciting and terrifying, given this sign:
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We also saw one elephant on our way in, that was available for rides. He looked miserable... riding elephants is a big no-no for tourists (sadly), since these elephants aren't treated very well. I'm still planning to go to the sanctuary in Thailand that is well known for being ethical, but you don't ride them there either. Anyway, since this was the first day of exploring the area, we decided to do the "big" circuit, which meant we saw 5 smaller temples and got home reasonably early to avoid the heat of the day. I actually feel pretty bad that I don't really know the history of the different places we went. If you know me then you know this lack of preparedness is uncommon - there just wasn't time to learn everything i needed to know. It did kind of change the way we wandered through, marveling at the architecture and design, speculating on what it all meant rather than having someone give us all the answers on a tour. We felt kind of like explorers having discovered the ruins for the first time. There were amazing carvings and structures and each place had a slightly different feel to it, whether it was different stone used for building, different symbols and designs, or a different style of architecture and use of water, which as very interesting. We got blessed by a super old little monk inside one of the temples, and of course then left an unspoken donation of a dollar. This little guy was making BANK.
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At one point a random security guard/park person pointed out a special area to us that we would have missed otherwise, telling us a few sentences about it. I thought he was just being nice and enjoying his job, but then he literally begged for money for the "tour." WTF. There are also a lot of rules for the temples, mostly about what you can wear (shoulders and knees should be covered for women), but also obvious rules like don't go around screaming and don't touch everything. Of course we immediately saw one French guy climbing all over the ruins taking silly photos and touching everything. As if I needed more reasons to hate the French. (J/k!). At each temple our tuk tuk driver, whose name was Ban, would give us instructions on where to meet him next. And at each temple we would somehow go the wrong way and have to do a walk of shame to find him down the road. It was a million degrees and I spent the entire morning covered in a sheen of sweat. I wore sort of touristy clothes, including a big hat for the sun and hiking shoes so my feet would be OK. The other girls I was with were all dressed in beautiful things and wearing cute little sandals, and I was a little jealous of the photos they would get out of it all. After seeing their blisters at the end of the day I changed my mind about all of this, content with my happy feet and zero sunburn.

Taking photos with people you've just met is such an interesting experience. It was all fairly odd at first, but as we got more comfortable with each other we started experimenting with timed photos and silly shots, and started to have more fun. I'm really glad I didn't spend these days alone. I was also glad to not be alone in between temples, when little kids selling magnets or postcards SWARM you and follow you all the way up to the next boundary where they're not allowed to be. One of the rules of the temples is to not buy from these children, which is so hard to do. I wish they were all in school...

After our day at the temples we returned to town and got lunch at Sister Srey Cafe, another business in town that gives back to the community in its own ways, hiring local workers, using sustainable methods, providing quality food, and feeding money back into education and the children of Siem Reap. I got a mango chicken burger and a pineapple and coconut juice drink, and was the happiest girl in the world for the rest of the day. It was all so good! There is a cute little boutique upstairs that sells some locally made clothes, and I found the most beautiful white dress...but a white dress does not mesh with travel, and I have very very little room in my bag for souvenirs, so I left it behind. We all returned to the hostel and crashed for the rest of the afternoon in the air conditioned room. Thank goodness for A/C...seriously.

I spent the evening reading a book down in the common area of our hostel, listening to a rain storm. Every time there was any lightning the lights flickered, but we never actually lost power. I finished reading the Alchemist, so I left it at the book exchange. I wrote down a bunch of quotes that I wanted to remember, but right now this one seemed most fitting:

"The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."

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The next morning we were going to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, so we had to be up and ready to go at 5 AM. We took the tuk tuk out to the temples, along with half the other tourists in town. The sunrise was pretty neat, and it was surprising to see how many people showed up for it, even in the low season. I can't imagine what it's like during the peak time of year.
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After sunrise we had breakfast at a plastic table near the entrance, getting a mediocre pancake, and the worst coffee I've ever had. Chickens wandered around beside us. It was an interesting contrast to seeing the sun rise at one of the wonders of the world. After breakfast we found a random procession of women in white, being led and followed by monks in orange. We had no idea what was going on, but it was beautiful.
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In Angkor Wat, we found another monk doing blessings, so we went for it again (some extra luck can't hurt the solo traveler, right?). For some reason the monk gave me two bracelets instead of one, which caused an unnecessary amount of jealousy in the group for about 6 minutes, and then it was forgotten. We saw Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm (from Tomb Raider), and Angkor Thom this day, otherwise known as the big 3. Again, it was a day full of beautiful things to see, lots of heat and sweating, and also the cutest floppy eared dog.

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After a day of wandering ancient ruins, we headed back to Siem Reap and opted to go to lunch at Joe to Go Cafe, which was my second time being there. At this point everyone basically trusted me to find our food destinations, because I always had ideas about ethical places to eat delicious food. Thank goodness for that one random blog post I found....

After we got back to the hostel everyone laid down and I went to the cinema room and watched the original Godzilla movie. I was the only one in there and it was amazing. That night we went to the Night Market, which as significantly less pushy and crazy than the Old Market, and I finally bought some of the pants that every tourist under the sun buys when in Cambodia. I love them but feel silly wearing them here. I imagine they will be amazing when I'm in Central America or even New Zealand. For now I wear them as my PJs. After that we went to the circus, which was AMAZING! They take young people who are at risk and struggling on the streets, and train them in acrobatics and performance, as well as providing an education for them in a number of fields, so that they can make a productive life of their chosing when they are older. The circus performances help offset the cost of this program, and it was an amazing show. The performance that night was about a young man who had a disability. He wanted to join a group of his peers, but they shunned him for being different. He came back to them as a female avatar and taught them a lesson. In the end everyone was friends and it all worked out (of course), but it was a nice story of inclusivity, but also interestingly of the spectrum of gender and sexuality, which surprised me in a pretty conservative country. It was worth every single penny and we all loved it.
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The next morning we all said goodbye, and I set off to take the bus back to Phnom Penh for a night or two while I figured out my next step. I should have worked on responsible things on the bus ride, but I just wanted to stare out the window, watch the world around me, and listen to some music, so that's what I did. I booked a hotel right next door to the bus station (literally), and was so happy to not have to deal with tuk tuk drivers when we got off the bus, but just walk a few steps to my own room. The hotel wasn't quite as fancy as I expected, but there was a big bed, a bath tub, and air conditioning, so I got some food and immediately fell asleep for a million hours.
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Also, there was a COMB in the free toiletries! Now all I'm missing is some proper shampoo and conditioner. In the meantime I just rock my greasy hair, but at least it's no longer full of tangles. I took a glorious bath and then combed my hair and all was right with the world. I was finally truly clean for the first time in two weeks.

I received a message from one of the girls I had met in Siem Reap, inviting me out for drinks with her and some new friends at a place down the road, just far enough that I would need to get a tuk tuk. I declined, but was torn about it. I had spent the entire day alone doing my laundry, taking a bath, watching Netflix, and just generally recouperating, and felt like I *should* go out and about, especially since I knew someone. I just didn't feel comfortable getting a tuk tuk by myself at night in Phnom Penh, so I declined. I can't tell you how uncomfortable this city is for a solo female.

This morning I invited her to come to my hotel for breakfast instead, since it's right next to the bus station where she would be leaving from. We had a gorgeous breakfast and she told me about her night last night, and I have to say I'm so glad I decided to stay in. Her hostel arranged a tuk tuk driver for her, who then took her in the other direction, down an empty alley, and another man asked for her bag. She said no, and then the tuk tuk driver said he needed to see her phone to figure out where he was going. Again, she said no. Eventually she said I'm either screaming and running away from you or you're taking me to where you said we'd go, and finally he said OK and took her to her final destination. So... basically he tried to rob her and she just said no. She got SO LUCKY that they took no for an answer. I am horrified that this happened to her, and I cannot even imagine what I would do if I was in the same situation. It reminded me that another of the girls we met in Siem Reap told a story about when she was in the Philippines, and a guy she had been hanging out with (a local) offered to give her a ride home, and instead took her to some random place in the middle of the jungle and tried to kiss her and grope her, and she had to just scream at him to take her home, because she had no other way to get home. Horrifying. So, I don't care if I miss out on an experience here and there, I'm going to be extra cautious and have no regrets if this means that I dont' have stories to tell like these. Ugh.

After breakfast we still had a few hours before either of us had to leave or I had to check out of my hotel room, so we went up to my room, sat in the air conditioning, and watched Finding Nemo on TV like little kids. It was the perfect opportunity to be in a safe and happy space, and neither of us had any regrets about staying inside instead of adventuring through the city before we left. I have to come back here for my flight to Thailand, but I plan to spend as little time in the city as possible. I just can't love you, Phnom Penh. I just can't.

In a few hours I'm boarding a bus to Kampot, a lazy town a little ways from the beach. I've heard it's really quiet and peaceful, and I've booked a room in a nice hostel, where hopefully I will find some new friends. The reviews say that they are very welcoming and can help arrange tours, and they have a rooftop where you can hang out and watch the sunsets. I'm hoping it feels more like Siem Reap than Phnom Penh. I'll stay there for a few days and then decide whether to continue down to the island beach area, or whether to stick around, or whether to do something else entirely. I've heard some bad stories about the islands if you're solo, so I probably won't go there unless I find some folks to travel with. Either way, here's to the next few days being nice and slow and calm, just the way I like to travel.

Also, I finally managed to upload some photos to my Flickr account, but I absolutely cannot figure out how to rearrange them, so they're all jumbled and that's just how it's going to have to be for now. But if you want to see more photos, head over there :)

Posted by NinjaLlama 04:45 Archived in Cambodia Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

A million little things

A post that isn't depressing

sunny 90 °F

Okay, lots to talk about!

First, I forgot to tell you that I most definitely saw a neon green butterfly. I chased it around for a few minutes like a crazy person, but it flitted away without me catching a photo. Interestingly, this was the only 3 minutes that day that no one offered me a tuk tuk ride. Acting insane seems to help...

I needed to do laundry, but I could not for the life of me figure out this washing machine. I was playing around with it and a tiny little lizard ran out from under the lid, so I went ahead and just washed my clothes by hand.
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The time came for me to move on from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, where you can see Angkor Wat and other temples in the area. I said goodbye to the lovely hostess at my airbnb, with a promise that we would hang out again when I returned to the city. She was practicing Khmer when I came downstairs, in addition to the other 4 languages she already knows. I'm always so impressed by people who speak so many languages. Meanwhile, I struggle to understand anyone with a British accent, so... samesies?
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[morning view in Phnom Penh]

The hostess helped hail a tuk tuk for me from the gate, and it was the same guy who took me into town the other day to visit the National Museum. The ride to the bus station was nice enough, it certainly is cooler in a tuk tuk than walking down the street in the sunshine. We arrived at the bus station and I handed him money, said thank you, and walked away (a technique I read one girl used that seemed to work well for her). It did not work well for me. About 15 steps later, he rolls up and says I owe him another dollar. We haggled for what felt like 100 years. To break this down, a local would have paid $1 for this ride. A savvy expat would have paid $2. I gave him $3, and he was asking for $4. He wasn't even offering good reasons for asking for more, just kept repeating $4. If I thought it had been reasonable I might have given in, but I was so tired of this damn city staring at me and trying to take advantage of me that I finally stared him straight in the eye and said "NO," and then said nothing else. He looked away finally and said "ooookay" and drove away. It's the small victories.
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Then I spent some time waiting in the small bus depot for my bus to Siem Reap. Everyone there seemed happy and friendly, and when we finally loaded up onto the bus there were only about 14 of us, so everyone had plenty of their own space. They passed out pastries and water and we were on our way. [Side note: nothing is a better surprise than thinking you have a croissant for breakfast, only to discover you have a croissant filled with chocolate for breakfast]. I was a total tourist from the safety of an air conditioned bus. Finally I could stare at everything and not have to keep my wits about me, snapping pictures of everything and taking all sorts of notes in my little notebook. Just outside of town I was blown away by the palatial buildings in various stages of construction. We passed enormous hotels with silly names like "Millionaire Town Hotel," and "Marvelous Town Hotel." As we got further into the countryside the homes started to be built on top of stilts, I assume due to flooding during monsoon season. There was such a mix of run down homes and fancy ones, all mixed together. I giggled at cows wandering all over the road, and then promptly remembered having to stop on a major highway back home so someone could get their cattle across. Same same but different.
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At a certain point we got closer to what I assumed was Siem Reap, and I realized it was fully an hour before we were scheduled to arrive. This was great, except I wasn't sure if my hostel knew that this was happening, as they were supposedly sending a tuk tuk to come pick me up. As expected, no one was there. The tuk tuk drivers who hang around the bus station were more than friendly, and kept telling me that no one was coming and that they could give me a ride and then they would also arrange my visit to Angkor Wat. I realllllllly didn't want to deal with being pressured into a tour, so I stubbornly sat there waiting, assuming that perhaps the tuk tuk driver would show up around the time the bus had been scheduled to come. In the meantime, I kept trying to figure out how to make a phone call with my Fi phone. I kept trying different things, and getting the same voice telling me to try again. I removed the 0. I removed the 1. I added a random number. Eventually I accidentally clicked a link that had a freaking plus sign at the beginning, and it magically rang through to the hostel. They told me the driver was "already on his way" (mmmhmm), and he showed up about 10 minutes later. I hopped in the tuk tuk and we were on our way.

I could immediately tell that Siem Reap is very different from Phnom Penh. The air was a bit cooler, people were giving me friendly smiles as we passed by. There was no odor of trash or sewage. There were sidewalks. I got to the hostel and checked into a 6 room female dorm, and immediately met two other women who are traveling solo also. I went to dinner with one girl from Manchester, and we had a fabulous time. We went to a French Creole fusion restaurant down the road, and it was wonderful. We split a bottle of wine and talked and laughed. The chef came over to say hello, and we learned he is originally from Madagascar, and his daughter now lives in Australia and his son now lives in Japan. I'm fascinated by these people who live all over the world and that's just normal to randomly decide you want to live somewhere else for awhile. After dinner I came back to the hostel and fell into a nice deep coma for the rest of the night.

This morning we got up and went to the Old Market, just a short walk away. It was so much bigger than I expected, just rows upon rows of stalls selling clothes and scarves and bags and hats and trying VERY hard to get you to visit their stall and no other. Which makes sense I guess, given that they are all selling the exact same items. It was super hot, and every 3 steps someone was saying "hello lady, you want something?" It was like the inside version of tuk tuks. I knew I wanted to buy a hat to keep the sun off my neck and face for tomorrow, so I finally found one I liked, and haggled the worst deal ever. The important thing is that I did not pay the price she originally said, so I'm calling it good. Have I mentioned I hate haggling? After we wandered our way out of there we stopped at a little cafe and I got some passion fruit sorbet in an attempt to cool back down (it was lovely!).
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The girl I was exploring with really wanted to go get a massage, and it was just down the street from a shop I wanted to visit, so we walked over together and then parted ways. I went to a shop (Genevieve's Fair Trade Village) that I had read about -- essentially artisans with some sort of disability are given the opportunity to sell their art for fair prices, supporting their independence and handiwork. I bought a hand painted card (flat souvenirs for the win!), with a really lovely scene on the front of a person on an elephant in the jungle. I didn't take a picture and I packed the card away into my bag like an hour ago...so sorry, but you don't get to see it right now. Anyway, a woman with no arms gave me a receipt with her feet, and then I placed my money in between her toes. Amazing. They have information on the different artists displayed alongside their work, and many of them have lost limbs due to land mines, which is just awful. The things they created were all so fun and unique and wonderful, and I'm really glad I stopped in.
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After that I just started wandering back towards the hostel, as it was getting close to lunch time, aka the part of the day here where everyone hides inside until the heat calms down a bit. I happened to walk past another spot I had read about, Joe to Go Cafe. All of their profits go to help support the Global Child, a school for former street working children. The cafe is adorable, and there is art work up on the walls that was created by children at the school. There was air conditioning, nice music, super friendly staff, and I had the place all to myself for hours. It seemed like a good opportunity to finally try some Cambodian food, so I got Amok (a coconut curry) and a Khmer coffee (brew plus sweetened condensed milk). Both were amazing! I spent some time chatting with one of the girls who works there, as she wanted to practice her English. She was really nice and had a lot of interesting things to share. After spending several hours at the cafe I walked back to the hostel to rest for the afternoon.
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Things I saw on the way home:
A sleeping security guard
A Hard Rock Cafe (but why??)
A guy peeing on the side of the road
The meat section of the Old Market -- meat strung up everywhere. There were two baskets filled with fish (and flies...), and I almost threw up when I walked past all of this so NO, you don't get a picture.
A guy who said he liked my hat (he was wearing the exact same one)
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This evening we've had several new girls arrive to the dorm. Three of us went to dinner at Haven, a restaurant that trains and supports disadvantaged young people to work in the culinary industry. Everything was amazing and we had some good conversation. We have decided to book a tour of Angkor Wat together for tomorrow, so I will be waking up at 6 AM to take a tuk tuk with them. I've decided to come up to the room and write about all of it and go to bed early, and they've decided to go have a few drinks, so we'll see who is happier in the morning. :)

All 5 other girls in my dorm are solo travelers, which is blowing my mind. We're all swapping stories and advice about the places we've been. Here's what I know so far (I'll omit names because...that's weird):
Person A: a badass woman in her 40s (?) who hikes and adventures everywhere, very no nonsense. She's all about diving into the culture and wanted to get street food last night instead of going to dinner with us. She now has food poisoning.
Person B: a very sweet young woman who wears crop tops and lots of eye makeup. She has the attention span of a flea, and has just found out her boyfriend has been cheating on her
Person C: a gal from the states who has just gotten into medical school. I haven't talked with her much yet, but she seems great
Person D: a young woman from the UK who loves everything, never stops talking, and keeps mentioning that she was a "fat, awkward red head" as a child.
Person E: I have no idea. She just arrived half an hour ago, and proceeded to unpack three giant bags worth of things and distribute them throughout the entire room, for reasons that remain unclear to me. Originally from Denver, now lives in Chicago.

Okay, time for me to go to bed so I can get plenty of rest before the morning. Hopefully fun pictures to follow!

I still have not found a comb. I also haven't looked that hard, to be fair.

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Posted by NinjaLlama 14:35 Archived in Cambodia Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

Same same but different

semi-overcast 86 °F

Well, it's 4 AM again and I'm awake. Just me and the dogs in the neighborhood that I can't seem to find for cuddles but are now howling. I guess this is just when I write blogs now.

Today I got up and walked to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It's only a 10 minute walk or so, and I learned that if you walk quickly and with a sense of purpose less people bother you about needing a ride. I went out today in pants and a tshirt, but opted for sandles and immediately got a bug bite on the top of my foot. I never notice these bites happening, and they all happen in the middle of the day and then itch like crazy for days. I even had bug spray on. Guess this is why people go out fully dressed in 90 degree weather.

Admission to the museum/memorial was 3 dollars, and another 3 dollars for one of those little headset audio tours, which I paid for. Tuol Sleng, also called S-21, was the secret center of a network of nearly 200 prisons where people were tortured by the Khmer Rouge. Between 12,000 and 20,000 people were imprisoned here, and there are only twelve confirmed survivors. Twelve.

The area is essentially 4 buildings forming three sides of a rectangle, and one building in the middle. It used to be a high school, and at first glance you can see how lovely it might have been originally.
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The old fence around the school was topped with a layer of barbed wire, to keep prisoners from escaping.
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The tour starts by telling you about the 14 people who almost survived here, but were slaughtered by prison guards as the Vietnamese soldiers descended on the area so that they couldn't tell their stories. There are white headstones to honor them, and you proceed through a building where you can see the cells in which they were held, shackled to beds. A desk sits in the corner of one room, used by those interrogating prisoners, having originally been used by a child learning about the world in a more innocent time. Grainy copies of photographs on the wall show you the way these prisoners were found, bloodied and emaciated. Yes, you start the tour with photos of people who have died brutal deaths. They don't hold back here, but the raw, in your face documentation is so important for you to understand what really took place. For obvious reasons photographs are not allowed in many places, so I was very careful to only take pictures that were allowed.

You move through the tour, first seeing photographs of the guards, and then seeing photographs of victims of the prison. Building C holds the tiny cells in which prisoners were held.
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Barbed wire encloses the balconies, to prevent prisoners not from escaping but from committing suicide by leaping from the balcony. The tour tells you about one man who managed to successfully commit suicide; the pen he was using to write a forced confession was left in his possession just a little too long, and he stabbed himself in the neck with it.
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You think you've seen it all, only to be met with three rooms full of photographs of dead prisoners, beaten or starved to death, tortured for months. I had to step outside at this point, and listened to the rest of the stories in the courtyard. I wasn't the only one out there. At the end of these rooms there's a memorial board where you can leave messages, and every inch of it is covered. I suspect they have to replace it often.
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You are shown an area with school ground equipment that was used for students to play games, and then later adapted by the prison guards as torture equipment. There is story after story after story about the horrible things that happened here. Keep in mind this was only one of hundreds of similar prisons.

I was blown away to learn about the role that Sweden played in downplaying what was really happening here. Though it was innocent enough, it delayed the world finding out about the true atrocities and doing anything to stop it. Years of this went unchecked by the global community because no one believed it was happening. Many thought Pol Pot was doing a great job. The tour audio shames us by reminding us that similar genocides are taking place right now, and urges us to think beyond politics and money to remember that we are all humans. I'm hot and sweaty and tired and traumatized by what I've just seen, and a plumeria blossom falls onto my lap.
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I spent a long time sitting at the memorial at the end of the tour. I'm not the only one doing so.
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The audio tour says something that really sticks with me. After your visit here, you will be a keeper of these memories. I never thought of it that way. Paper can be destroyed, electronic records can easily be rendered useless....the best way to keep this knowledge locked away tight is to keep it in our collective memories, and each individual has a responsibility and a role in this. I find myself angry that I never learned about this part of history in school, and make a mental note that if I ever make a human they will know these things, and not get slapped in the face with them on a Saturday in May at the ripe old age of 32.

My English teacher would have yelled at me for changing tense part way through this, but she's not here right now and it happened naturally and felt important and I always thought grammar rules were for suckers anyway.

After leaving Tuol Sleng, I walked over to the movie theater Flicks 1 to escape the heat. In the blocks right around that area, there are huge beautiful villas with fancy cars parked inside and security guards at the gate. Barbed wire lines the top of the fences, and I can't help but wonder if they see the painful irony.

After getting only a tiny bit lost, I finally found the movie theater. For 9.50 I got a soda, a full meal, and as many movies for the afternoon as I wanted to watch. I only stayed for one, A Dog's Purpose. It was just me in the room, munching on my food and sitting in the AC.
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The movie was amazing, of course, and I definitely cried through the entire thing. For lots of reasons. Spoiler alert if you don't want to know how it ends.... a dog's purpose? To Be Here Now.

Fine universe, I get it.

After the movie I walked back home and trudged up the million flights of stairs. I can't help but wonder now who used to live here, before the Khmer Rouge. What were they like? Did they survive?
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I don't know how to end this blog, so I'll just leave you with this song, which I think is one of the loveliest things ever.

Posted by NinjaLlama 13:52 Archived in Cambodia Tagged deep_thoughts Comments (1)

Groceries and monsoons

rain 85 °F

After my adventure two days ago, I decided to give myself the day off yesterday. I told myself I would go to the market a few blocks away for some groceries (gotta save that $$), and maybe do a movie. I was a little nervous about going to the store, because I decided to walk there,and I wasn't sure how weird that is to do here. People keep telling me to go walk around, but I'm staying in a non-touristy area and people realllllly don't just go walk around. It's 90+ degrees. You don't go for a casual stroll. So you either have a destination in mind that has AC, or you have someone drive you there ina tuktuk,do your thing, and then come home for a cold shower and a nap. One of the other fellows gave me the advice to just try to do one thing a day, not to push too hard, and at least for now I'm really listening to that. I need time to adjust to all of this. To the heat, the time change, the distance from people I adore, a new lifestyle, all of it.

I went downstairs to head out to the store, which took like a hundred years. Let me provide some context... I am staying in a room on the top floor of a house in a residential area. That's 4 stories up. So, in order to leave, I leave my room, go through a door to the terrace and lock it behind me, cross the terrace, go through another door and lock that one, go down 4 flights of steep stairs, go out the front and lock that door, and then go out the gate and lock the padlock behind me. It means I'm pretty safe, but it's exhausting and somewhat confusing because all the keys look exactly the same.

Anyway, on the way out I ran into someone else who is living here, and we chatted for awhile. He has family here but is from the San Francisco area, and is working on opening a bar/tattoo shop that will also have burlesque shows, so kinda like an orphanage or a school, just a really wholesome establishment all around. He used to live here awhile back, but left for awhile after he was riding down the street and two people came up on either side of him, smashed his head with a brick, robbed him, and rode away. Luckily it "didn't puncture his brain," so he just needed lots of surgery and recovery. His mother made him come home after that. He assured me however that everyone who lives here for awhile always comes back if they leave. Call me crazy, but if someone smashed me in the head with a brick, pretty sure I'd leave forever. To be fair, I got smashed in the head with a horseshoe, and I stayed...but I was also like 6 years old so I mean where could I have gone? Anyway, he offered some interesting insights into the people that live here. He said that a lot of the expats who are here teaching or working have huge drug problems, or they're all running away from something. This may also just be the folks who go to a bar/tattoo shop with burlesque shows, but that remains unconfirmed.

He was actually very nice though (shush Trey), just his own person.

On that note, I ventured out into the street and started my walk to the grocery store. I had memorized the route so I wouldn't be pulling out a map or my phone, as snatch and grab theft is the most common issue regarding safety here. That's also the reason I have zero pictures of this adventure for you. The walk itself wasn't too bad, but the locals here did not understand why I was walking. I was offered a ride approximately 152 times, but I got good at just smiling and shaking my head no, and no one really pesters you after that. The tuktuk drivers outside the door seemed disappointed that they couldn't charge me extra for a short ride again today (I shake my fist at you!). The streets here don't really have sidewalks, though sometimes they do. Mostly you just walk on the edge of the road and keep your attention focused. I got pretty good pretty quickly at scanning my surroundings and moving appropriately. Everyone just drives wherever they want here, but they also all just flow around each other, so no one came remotely close to hitting me or anything. Maybe I'll get up the nerve to ride a bicycle one of these days, although then I can't keep my hand on my bag and it could make it more likely to get snatched. I had my bag with me just so I had my phone and my paper map if I needed them, but my card and money were in the zippy pockets of my pants, so if someone grabbed it I'd still be fine.

There is a lot of construction in this area, but it seems to mostly be people fixing up places rather than building new ones or anything. You can tell that the buildings around here used to be lovely, but after everything that happened they have fallen into disrepair and are on the mend now. Across the street there is a beautiful building with nice architectural details, but then you can see inside and it's filled with trash. It's sad, but it's also understandable...this country is healing.

I finally made my way to the grocery store, so don't worry. Some people definitely stared, but I'm sure my skin and hair are quite a sight, especially considering I forgot to bring a comb with me. 4 months of packing and I forgot a comb. Anyway, walking into the grocery store was lovely, as it's air conditioned. I took loooots of time wandering up and down the aisles. I guess this spot is a big one for expats looking for foods from home, as they have lots of products I recognized. It was pretty nice, but there also was one packet of cheese I looked at that was fully moldy, so I kind of did my own quality control. There weren't any pictures allowed in the store for some reason, so I can't show you that either. I got some bread and cheese, some granola bars because having those as a backup when you don't want to leave your room is pretty handy, and I also grabbed some oranges and mangos, because they are peelable fruit. So, i followed the rules this time, travel nurse lady. Oh, I also got some Greek yogurt for the protein so Trey won't yell the word protein at me. I noticed there were eggs at home on the communal shelf so I didn't get any of those. The eggs here just...sit... out in the warm weather? Is this a normal thing? I know people think it's weird that we refrigerate them, but it's also 90+ degrees here and I'm having a hard time believing that they don't go bad really fast...?

Also, much to my disappointment, the store did NOT have a comb. The search continues.

Anyway, after the grocery store success I went to the ATM that was right outside. There is a security guard watching the outside of the store so I figured he would watch the ATM as well. It's kind of like it was in Peru, where you go inside a little booth and there's a camera right there watching you. And neither of my cards worked. Shoooooooooooot. So then I went back out, trying to figure out this problem, and realized there is a DIFFERENT ATM right next to that one for a different bank...so I tried that one and it worked! So don't worry, I'm not stranded here.

The trip back home was easier, as I clearly had a grocery bag and people seemed to understand that meant I knew where I was going. When I got back I met one of the other people living here, who just got into a PhD program in public health in Hawaii. She's originally from Alabama and we chatted for awhile about grad school, public health work, etc. So now I know 3 humans that I might be able to hang out with in some capacity. We did spend some time talking about folks who come here to work for NGOs and other organizations, and how so few of them are doing it for the right reasons or with a respectful approach, and how that can be really discouraging. I don't regret my decision to pursue global health in my own way, staying local and thinking global, challenging how we define things anyway. Also this morning I read an article about Browning, Montana, and how there's a 70% unemployment rate and over half the kids experience some form of hunger. You don't have to leave your country to find people who would appreciate assistance.

After our chat I went upstairs and ate some cheese, bread, and an orange, and PROMPTLY fell into a glorious food coma. I slept through most of the night this time, except that I kept getting woken up by the monsoon rains that have finally arrived. Oh. My. God. Never in my life have I experienced something like this. They come out of NOWHERE, pour down more water than you can imagine, have huge booming thunder and lightning, and then just...vanish. The rain hit the house so hard and in such volume that I thought it was going to go floating down the street. I'm hoping to go observe it today from the terrace, and try to catch it on video. Absolutely insane. I was pretty freaked out the first time it happened, because in my dream sleep it was actually those scary monsters from that one rainbow brite movie, chasing Twink up the mountain. Do you remember that? Literally scarier than any Stephen King book, that small snippet of children's television.

Today has been mostly a chill day, and I plan to do the following:
-More chill
-More planning
-Catch a monsoon rain on video
-Read

Tomorrow my plan is to get up nice and early and walk to the genocide museum, Tuol Sleng, because I like to start my day off with depression. Once I'm thoroughly sad, I'm going to walk to the movie theater that's also close by because they're showing A Dog's Purpose. Also they have pizza. I'm not rushing it on the local food, because having a sad belly right now would only make me want to come home even more. A movie at the theater costs 3.50. Three. Fifty. Just gonna let that sink in for you for a little while. Last time I paid that much to see a movie it was one of the land before time films I think. That's not a good time marker though, since they have like 42 of those now. I was a child. There.

Posted by NinjaLlama 20:01 Archived in Cambodia Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

Travel lessons I've already learned

Also some random stuff I did today.

sunny 96 °F

So it's been a hot second since I left, but I've already learned some valuable travel things. I will share them now, because yet again I'm awake super early because I slept through the evening. I'm apparently adjusting to the time change by one hour a day. So I'll be all adjusted just in time to leave.

Random things I'm glad I brought with me:
-A tiny notebook. I've already used this to write down the address of my airbnb, notes on things to do, some new Netflix shows coming out, and a tiny journal page about a piece of art I saw because photos weren't allowed. Yes mom, you have been right about this for decades.
IMG_20170504_043432.jpg
-Some hankies. You all laughed, but I've used them SO MANY TIMES already! Need to cry and blubber? Check. Then wash the hanky. Scrape your leg accidentally and discover you are bleeding everywhere? Throw some water on that hanky and mop it up...then later wash the hanky. Spilled some food on yourself and no napkin? Just mop it up with that handy hanky. I might be sold for life, and you can bleach them if you feel soap is insufficient. If I was just relying on tissues I would already be up a creek and using one of my shirts I'm sure. Paper products aren't exactly abundant here.
-A google Fi phone, and a backup phone. Yep, google fi works so far! To conserve battery, I use my other phone to listen to music and podcasts. The most likely time my phone will get stolen is when I'm doing that, so then I still have my Fi phone. If someone steals the Fi phone, I can just snag a SIM card for my other phone. If someone steals both I'll just come home because fuck it.

Other things I've learned:
-The value of waiting for cloud shade. It's like 95 degrees here on a good day right now, so you walk around with a good sweat layer at all times. I went to the National Museum today, and it's pretty much all open air, with a big central courtyard. You're not supposed to take pics anywhere but the courtyard (more on this in a sec), and everyone wants to take pictures there. I'm sure other people are probably on a bit more of a schedule than I am, so they rush through the art and wander around the courtyard in the full blazing sun to take their pics. I was feeling the heat and got a cool drink (more on this in a sec), and sat down for a few minutes. Most of the tourists trickled out, and a few minutes later a huge cloud blocked out the sun, and the temperature dropped 40 degrees. I popped up and took all my courtyard pics, having time to plan them and wander and look from different angles without my skin melting off my body or risking heat stroke. Then I sat back down with my drink until I was ready to move on.
-Everyone takes pics anyway, and everyone is too hot to care enough to tell them not to. Even monks, walking around snapping pics of sacred art with their iPhones. *sigh*
-Sprite really is everywhere.
-I hate. Hate. HATE. Haggling. I will never understand why this is the way of the world in so many places. Just tell me what is a reasonable price that fairly compensates you for what you're offering. You be honest, I'll be honest, it'll all be fair. Yeah yeah Jen, that's just not the way the world works. I don't care. I didn't pay the huge prices my tuktuk drivers tried to charge, but I didn't pay the local rate by any means. I just don't care about an extra dollar here and there, and it makes me nauseous to fight with someone living in a resource-poor country over that dollar. I bought a book from a guy without a foot at the National Museum. I know I paid twice what it was worth here (what it would have been worth at home), but I seriously don't care about that extra couple of dollars. The man didn't have a foot. And he was nice (shush Trey). And he high-fived me. And he let me sit with him for a minute in the shade. And I really do want to read this book.
-I learned this awhile back, and it's still pretty true. You really don't have to buy a bunch of souvenirs. Buy a postcard with a picture you like. Buy a small pair of earrings. Keep a ticket stub. I don't need a giant sculpture of Vishnu at home. It makes my logistics a lot easier, and after packing up all my belongings and shoving them in storage, I don't even WANT more stuff.
-Air conditioning. You must always have air conditioning. I enjoy being warm, and my room is probably warmer than others here, but ac is essential. This fact also humbles me, because I know how many people do not have it here.

Other things that happened today:
-I prayed to Shiva, and it was lovely
-I ate a salad, the number one thing I was told not to eat.
-The hostess at my airbnb invited me to go with her to collect water samples in two weeks for testing (she works in water and sanitation as an engineer)

My goals for tomorrow:
-Go to the little bakery I saw around the corner and get some bread
-Find fruits or vegetables somewhere???????
-Go to the movie theater a few blocks down (air conditioning, kids)
-Read, write, and plan.

Posted by NinjaLlama 14:35 Archived in Cambodia Tagged adventure_time Comments (0)

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