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Archive for September, 2009

Paths to take? Paths to make?

I’ve been sitting around for a week or two trying to figure out what to do with this blog. Do I start new again? The Jennifer Job Saga? Do I go back to the old blog? Do I really need people reading about my 16 year old self in those archives? Hmm. People. Let me know what to do.

flying

Coming up: A Taiwan Summation. Top ten lists, photos, etc.

Also: Flickr: new photos from NY and other various locations. I have some mega updating to do there. What has been happening to my time?

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Zzzz

It might just be that I stared at the computer for 8 hours today looking for a job and finding almost nothing. But this van is pretty awesome. Maybe I could go live in it down by the river and not have to worry about jobs any more.

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Along the way

Had a fantastic time in NY. It was a good transition. Saw alot of friends, caught up. Ate so much delicious food, and generally had a lovely time.

However there was just a little twinge of wanting to just be “home”. Done with dragging baggage around or constantly be deciphering transportation. Back to simplicity.

Got home, dumped the bags. Slept fitfully (the super soft bed is a bit of a change from the rock hard asian mattress) ate Cracklin Oat Bran while watching What Not to Wear, ahhh junk television which I revile and yet cannot look away from. I have a year of time-wasting to catch up on.

Kathryn and Logan liked their souvenirs. Logan was thrilled by this silly punch box game I got him as an afterthought. Its just a box with holes that you punch out that have tiny cheap toys inside. My students used to do them for holidays. I guess one can’t put a price on the element of surprise. “A tiny plastic head! YEaaaaah!…oh ohh and this one is a tiny plastic pink and green turtle…cool!”

The space allotted for my stuff at home is somehow smaller than the space of my room in Taiwan…or its more that half this storage space is allotted for Andrew as well, who lives in Murphreesboro. Boo. Hence my belonging are still in haphazard piles waiting to be placed into nonexistence closet space. I’ll settle the problem tomorrow….or maybe the day after that, or that, or that.

Anyways, decided to make a visit to Mawmaw and Pawpaw, anticipating corn bread and coffee. Got in my new (new to me) car and sat for a second…hopefully its just like riding and bike. And it was. Except for the fact that my old car had the gear shift on the column, so I kept reaching up to put it in drive and instead running the windshield washer (I did this 3 times that day). The drive to Springfield was lovely. I felt like I was going so fast, only to look down and see I was only doing 40…maybe I’ve turned into an old lady, or maybe I’m just used to inching along in a taxi. Driving down the country roads, I saw roadside stands selling tomatoes and peaches. At a redlight in Greenbriar I was behind a car that had a pro-life bumper sticker…ahh to be back in the south again.

But really, the past few days of driving along winding roads filled with wild flowers and horses with the windows down has done a whole world of good that I had forgotten behind facemasks and shimmering pavement in Taipei. Its getting cool. The leaves are falling and there are seasons here! I wandered the backyard looking for two perfect trees to hang my hammock I bought in Cambodia. Finally i just settled on two branches in one tree…which then took some rope rigging and bam, I was awkwardly squashed into my hammock at a weird angle…but I was doing it…and my cats were trying to attack my swinging butt at the same time.Success? I’m not sure. Maybe hammock hanging attempt number two later this week minus cat attacks.

My cats. I had become the slightly neurotic person who chases peoples pets in Taipei because I missed my own. Unfortunately my cats were no longer teenager cats, with time doing its usual thing. So, I get home and…I can’t tell them apart. What a terrible pet owner…but but, we have four gray cats! C’mon! I’m slowly beginning to do it. Bea is sitting right now next to me trying to get me to pet her instead of type. Eventually I will trick them into loving me again. Then again, they’re cats and cats never really like anyone but themselves.

Last night I had a second hang out with friends from home. Sitting around drinking a Pat-made gin and tonic and talking about all sorts of things, I realized that this was what had originally pulled me homeward. I had started to doubt my leaving Taiwan. It had been harder than I thought. I had gotten more attached than I should have to friends and talking to them now, made the distance seem shorter and much much farther. Can you plot a return visit only after being here a week?

Anyways, last night was just what I needed. Hard hard laughs, ridiculous jokes, and an ease and familliarity that I could never quite settle into in Taipei. I’m not sure home was a place to unpack luggage but more of a place to relax and laugh really really hard.

A bit of a higgledy piggledy post, still doing the settling in.

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August 18 thru 21

Bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, 6 hours. This wasn’t so much a tourist bus as just a straight up commuter bus, a mix of 80% locals 20% backpacking foreigners. Since Siem Reap attracts more wealthy tourists and the state of the roads is abysmal, most fly out of the airport in town and usually never see Phnom Pehn at all (it’s a city known more for its history as the sight of the death of hundreds of thousands and less for its lovely buildings). Anyways back to the bus. We were gifted with 2 hours of Cambodian karaoke on the tvs. While culturally interesting to watch for the first 15 minutes I soon wanted to tear my ears from my head. Thankfully I had earplugs in my bag and I did not care if anyone saw me put them in. After Cambodian ktv the driver put in a 1980s Chinese horror film. It was a traditional style one complete with kung fu magic, jumping zombies, vampires, evil spirit babies, and alternate portals with glowing green lights. This was dubbed in Khmer as well, but way more entertaining than the karaoke. I almost think I’d seen it in Taipei before but I couldn’t be sure because all of those films are almost the same.

Finally arrived in Phnom Pehn. Argued with the tuktuk drivers over the price to go to the hotel I had booked (I didn’t really want to wander the city looking for an available room) on the internet the day before. So I finally go…and I just want to say…Lonely Planet…you’d been pretty handy all trip, but here, you let me down big time. I had had really good luck just randomly picking hotels and getting nice clean rooms with ac, cable tv, hot showers, all for 10 or 15 dollars. Here…I knew it was not a good sign when no one spoke English, they dug through a giant bin of keys all scribbled on with markers and finally handed me one. Broken tv, no toilet paper, weak ac, no handle on the faucet, and questionable blankets. Lovely. But it was too late to change my mind. Spent the night, checked out at 7am and the guy asked me “Why so early…you stay 3 days?”…I reply… “Not here, I don’t.” Took a tuk tuk to the waterfront. Found a nice hotel, 15$…no window, but practically the Ritz compared to the other one.

While Phnom Pehn is not on most tourist to-do lists, it still seemed a pretty decent city (I even saw a Starbucks *gasp*). There were scenic things and markets and restaurants…has the same…throw your trash in the street philosophy as Vietnam but not too stinky. Checked out the National Museum, the Royal Palace, and the Silver Pagoda.

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The National History Museum
DSC06927French colonial architecture leftover.

DSC06934Royal Palace

DSC06936Buddha ironwork on a door

DSC06941Outdoor hallways with pieces of mural

DSC06945Funeral stupa outside the Silver Pagoda

DSC06950Silver pagoda in the background

DSC06952Processional banners for the king, sitting in a neglected corner of the grounds

Tired and sweaty I walked to a café in a side street. I sat outside to take advantage of the breeze. Big mistake. “Miiiiiiisss….missss”. Here we go. “Miss you want paper? You want book? Sunglasses? Fan? Hammock?”  I was panhandled by 5 separate kids in 45 minutes and 2 adults. Then I made the mistake of actually acknowledging one kid, “What books do you have?”. “This one very good, about Cambodian history” “How much?” “10$”…”No thank you, I’ll pay 3.” Kid is instantly annoyed…”I no make profit, I paid 2$ for this book. You pay 9$ Very good copy”. I then point out that I have a book, a real book, and I paid 6$ for it. Why should I pay 10$ for a photocopy that has smeared words…point to the inside. I don’t even really need a book, I was just being nice and might read it later 3$ is my only offer. Boy gets sullen. He stands there for 5 minutes silently. Finally he says, “Ok 5$”. “No. Please leave now”. Then, I get to hear some great things. A 7 year old cussing me out in really good English…so now his English is good apparently. This is definitely not the way to get someone to buy things. He leaves.

Another 30 minutes, another little boy comes up, this one is smaller maybe 5 or 6…I still do want a book. “Miss, you buy this book..3$”…He must have heard me earlier. Why not, he’s polite. He’s not quoting ridiculous prices. He doesn’t complain when I want to check the copy to see if all the pages are there. So I pay him and get the book. I settle in to read when I hear…Smack! I look up and the kid with the bad mouth has punched the other little kid in the face. Whoa whoa…I am not here to incite children to punch each other. He cries and cries while clutching his box of books. The other kid laughs and runs off. I try to buy the kid some ice cream but he sniffles and says he has to get back to work. These kids are smart, funny, hard workers, its only too bad their focus is not centered on something else. That said, I never saw a kid who looked truly hungry, maybe a bit dirty but while this instance really really got to me, for the most part you had to take the kids with a bit of a cold heart…because they were going to sucker some tourist somewhere, it just usually wasn’t gonna be me.

Met some interesting people, ate some fondue, had some unbelievable sweet lemon pie at a bar that reminded me of Nashville. Bought some dragon fruit, wandered some markets arguing with men about 2$ statues of Buddha. “I give you very good price…8$”….uh no. I go next door…”I give you price…2$”..ok thats more like it.

On my second day in Phnom Pehn or third. I’m not really sure anymore. I decided to do the “sad day”. Why a “sad day”? Because its really not fair to travel to foreign countries and see only the picturesque. You need the full picture, and in that case alot of the picture in Cambodia is taken up by the genocide of the Khmer Rouge.

Background note. The Khmer Rouge was a communist political party in Cambodia that led from 1975-1979. During these few years they uprooted almost the entire country in the name of “agricultural reform” it quickly failed leaving a government paranoid and trigger happy. Killing all intellectuals, government member, middle class, even their own. 1-3 MILLION people died in this time period. What really horrifies me is that this is a modern era, only 20-30 years ago. A time of world wide information and communication. In a nation next door to Vietnam, this exists and was largely ignored by larger world powers.

Anyways, I started my morning with a long long motorbike ride out to  Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields). Driven to a largely agricultural part of town behind a dump there was a dirt road with green grass that led to a meadowy tree area. In the middle was a towering stupa…funeral monument. Inside the stupa organized by age were 5000 skulls. In addition to this you could wander around the area where you’d occasionally find signs saying nonchalantly “This was the tree the Khmer Rouge beat babies to death against” or “This is a tree they hung speakers from that played music so that surrounding locals wouldn’t hear the moans of the people buried alive”. Walking along, amidst the bees and trees you’d think it was just another field but then looking down at the dirt worn away on the path you notice bits of white rock sticking out, curved pieces and knobbly pieces…and then you realize. It’s not rock. Its bones. Much of the area was not dug up because it was simply too large of a task. Better to let them be. 15,000 unknowns. And we walk around on them all. The most eerie part is being at a location with several dozen other people and not hearing a single word spoken the entire time out of respect.

After this, I continued on with my sad day and had my driver take me back to town to the Tuol Sleng museum. It was originally a highschool. Except now the outsides are wrapped in rusty bobwire since it was converted to the S-21 Prison in 1975. Tiny cells made in the classrooms, rooms with red stains, and hundreds and hundred of pictures of inmates. Women, children, men, teenagers. Not just Cambodians but westerners were imprisoned and killed as well. At the end of the war when Vietnam invaded only 12 people survived of the 17,000 that were once there. Having seen enough I headed back to my hotel for a shower and a nap.

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And thus, worn thin from weeks of haggling with children, carrying my shoe festooned backpack from hotel to hotel and endless undecipherable tourguides…I was ready to go home.

Home to Taipei that is.

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The next day I was up bright and early hoping to catch the sunrise at Angkor…but apparently even 6am is not early enough. Meeting my groggy motorbike driver from the previous day, he handed me off to his “brother” and then went back home to sleep probably. 6am is most definitely the best time to see anything in Siem Reap. Silent, before the crowds hit, cool before the heat hits, a magic lays upon all the temples. I headed to Bayon first. It is covered in dozens of giant face sculptures and is only about half repaired. This was quite possibly the highlight of the entire trip. I shuffled silently through the grounds, staring for whole minutes at the quietly smiling faces. Climbing stairs to upper tiers of carving and windows. I wandered through the silent, inner recesses of the temple. It was beautiful and lonely and timeless and I am utterly without words to describe the whole thing.

After Bayon, people were starting to trickle in to the area. I managed to accidentally scare a Japanese mother and daughter also walking in Bayon. So I climbed down to my driver, who was napping in a hammock in a drink stand and we headed down the road. Through the massive stone entrance of Angkor Thom, past the standing stone elephants in the fields, past workers cutting grass by hand, past rice fields and banana trees.

We stopped at Preah Khan. I walked down the dusty path and through the stone entry gate. Another temple in shambles but this one was huge. Room after room, I climbed over entries and stones, and yet there was always more. Finally nearing the center of this maze of rooms I came upon the back of a Buddha statue wreathed in gold silk. All of a sudden a little wizened face popped up. Holy bejesus! A little old lady was living in this temple, worshiping the statue. She definitely knocked about 10 years off my life. I nodded hello, after the loud gasp I had given, and wandered to the left eventually reaching a dead end and having to step past her kneeling form again, to gain access to the exit. While wandering I came upon the worlds largest millipede….eww. And of course more children. This group had devised the ruse of challenging you to a game of tic tac toe and if you lost you had to buy their postcards. Lets add this to the leaf crown singing children…the “you want drink cold water miss” children…the “buy and eat some spiders miss only 10 million dollars, you have? you have?” children…and the “you need book/newspaper miss, very good copy, number one seller” children. Who greet you any time you step from a tuk tuk or motorbike.

After Preah Khan, I just stopped wherever I felt. Eastern Mebon: where I had to climb stairs that were so steep and narrow it was practically a vertical stone ladder (the view was worth it), Pre Rup: with giant stone elephants in the corners. Ta Som: where little children were hiding behind all the stone gates to sell you t-shirts but the giant trees near the entrance were fascinating. I ate some unbelievably spicy beef with lemon grass at a small roadside stand and sucked down a banana juice in record time due to my fiery mouth. I had an iced coffee and played with the shack’s family dog. I listened to a man try to sell these delicate Urdu instruments to traveling businessmen, who almost bought one. (Why would you buy an instrument that you have no idea how to play and sounds like a squawking chicken?). Only noon, I was exhausted and the afternoon heat was starting to set in. Back to the hotel! Long shower, fruit from a market vendor, and by 4pm I was ready to head back out of town to see the sunset.

The driver dropped me at the base of the hill of Phnom Bakheng, and I along with dozens of other people began to hike. After about 15 minutes, we reached the top, sweating like pigs. I sat on some piles of rock and fanned myself to no avail. I watched the face of this little kid sitting in her dad’s backpack carrier. Who brings a 1 year old to Angkor Wat? She looked like the most annoyed/unhappy/sweaty baby in the world. The dad didn’t look much better. Finally deciding that I was cooled enough and ready to instantly become sweaty again, I stood up and wandered over to the stairs on the face of the temple. Now, stairs is a term that should be used lightly. This particular set was so steep, and so skinny, and so tall that every single person would walk up…pause…step back…stare upwards shading their eyes with their hand…and then just heave this giant sigh, and begin to tentatively claw themselves up the face of this “stairway”. I sat on the rock and watched about 20 people do this routine, young, old, all nationalities. Going down also looked just as harrowing. So I too did my, pause/stare/sigh combo and then set to climbing. Halfway up I noticed on a ledge to my left a group of monks sitting talking on cellphones…visual anachronisms. At the top, the views were beautiful…shimmering rice fields, and the spires of Angkor Wat in the distance. Also shimmering was the sun reflecting off the stones making the top of the temple a giant griddle. Tourists wandered around dazed. Every inch of shade provided by the stone temples was covered by huddled people, waving fans, and wiping their glistening faces. After wandering back and forth, admiring the views for as long as that monstrous climb was owed them to me. Then, I too found an inch of shade and a seat on a ledge. Scooting over to share with an elderly Japanese women, she offered me some hard candies and I complimented her Mr. Donut fan. I waited for the sun to set…I watched the people, back and forth, back and forth. Staring into the sun, checking the guidebook. Realizing this was it…there was no “magical” moment, merely a slowly moving sun and hundreds of sweating tourists, I slowly climbed my way down to the echos of “xiao xing!” (be careful) from a motherly Chinese woman.

Sliding down the mountain, I caught the sky changing in front of Angkor Wat. I watched the children and water vendors pack up their bicycles and head home. I started to chat with an orange robed monk sitting on the edge of the lotus ponds just like me. Noticing he was listening to an MP3 player I had to ask… “What are you listening to? Monk things?” “Here listen” he replied laughing. It was Cambodian rock music. I learned, he taught English to children, he was the same age as me, and his friend had just become a monk. He gave me his email address and promised to email me the picture he took. My driver handed me my helmet, I climbed on the back of his motorbike one last time and bid farewell to Angkor Wat. Paid the driver 10$…he asked for 15 saying, “I want to have beer with friends”…I joked with 15$ he could buy beers for the whole city and maybe he should just stick to 8$ worth of beers if he wants to drive his motorbike home. (The day before I had sat in a café for two or three hours reading and drank 3 beers when I asked for the tab, she told me 4000 riel (1$). Man, I almost thought I had misheard.)

DSC06824This is Bayon. See all the faces? It was deep inside one of these entrances that the little lady scared me to death.

DSC06825One of the many silk robed Budhha statues. I always thought the headless ones were the most sad.

SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-16 07-36-51On one of the top tiers of Bayon.

SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-16 07-37-09DSC06826Spying on locals

DSC06829The giant gates into Angkor Thom are guarded by bridges of men wrestling a long dragon. Too bad most of their heads are gone.

DSC06841On the otherside of this gate are some little girls wanting to play tictactoe with you and swindle you into buying postcards. 10 for a $1!

SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-15 12-46-04I think this is the back of Preah Khan. Look at the tree growing out of the roof. Man.

SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-16 07-33-22DSC06834You’d see little rooms stacked with stones in all the various temples. We used to do this outside the art studio at Vanderbilt as well. It was always nice to discover a random stone stacking room. Known as cairns in England and America…I’m not sure what you’d call them here.

DSC06838Giant millipede who decided to hang out with me while I was chilling by myself in the west entrance to Preah Khan listening to the monkeys. Note my gross big toe that met some trauma with an uneven paving stone earlier in the day.

DSC06853Stopped here because I was intrigued by the giant stone elephants at the corners of the mountains. Again…stairs that you pretty much climb like a ladder.

DSC06855Someone’s tuktuk driver waiting and taking a nap nearby.

DSC06860At the top of those bagillion stairs you saw in the previous picture.

DSC06871At the end of the day I climbed to the top of Phnom Bakheng. Which was already at the top of a large hill. The view was gorgeous. (It was also sweltering)

DSC06879Trying to look at the sunset.

DSC06918The end of sunset back at Angkor Wat

DSC06907DSC06915DSC06920My monk buddies.

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August 15 thru 18
Cambodia from the second we crossed the border was a very, very different country from that of Vietnam. There were few elements of modernity here. No booming construction, no cars even, and very few paved roads. People lived as they have for hundreds of years in bamboo stilt houses. They have oxen tied in the yard and small gardens growing in the soggy ground. Instead of being met with young men shouting “cyclo? Motorbike miss?” at rest stops we were met instead with children offering fruit and giant bowls of spiders and crickets to eat….yes giant fried tarantulas. And yes, they were for eating. And no, I did not eat any.

While Cambodia was drastically poorer than Vietnam, in whole, I found the people a lot more welcoming and friendly. In Vietnam they’ve become very used to the presence of foreigners and I feel like they see us merely as money, big dollar signs. While Cambodia, still recovering from the horrors of the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s has only in recent years been stable enough to actually welcome larger numbers of foreigners. While Cambodia has its own currency: the riel, the dollar is mostly used. Everything is quoted in dollars, ATM’s give dollars and change is generally given in riel…25 cents being 1000 riel…but there are 100 riel notes which are…3 cents?

My hotel in Siem Reap was friendly and lovely. The Mandalay Guesthouse…check it out if you’re ever in town its around the corner from the old market. The next morning I had a strong coffee then braced myself for the daily bartering for transportation. 6$ for a guy to motorbike me around for the whole day, but I insisted on a helmet as well (apparently an unusual request)…helmet adds a $1 apparently haha whatever, I am not going to the hospital for brain injuries in a 3rd world country. I pointed to the places on the map, and we were off zooming down quiet tree lined roads for miles and miles headed straight for Angkor Wat.

While I had experienced numerous ruins, temples, palaces and Asian treasures…it was still breathtaking. A mist hovering above the lotus ponds, little naked children laughing and splashing about, orange robed monks walking with briefcases along the side of the road, men sleeping in hammocks strung in shady spots along the roadside, and little monkeys throwing rotten mangoes. My mind took a thousand pictures that will never compare.

While Angkor Wat is the supposed “jewel” in the crown of Siem Reap and it is certainly the largest and in the best condition, I found a lot of the smaller, more derelict temples more moving and beautiful. I did Angkor Wat till noon the first day, dying in the powerful sun. Every single inch of the massive, massive temple is covered in beautiful carvings, there are little nooks with Buddha statues, a pervading smell of incense, and towering stone sculptures.

Afterwards, I headed back to my driver to continue down the road to another temple that was a bit shadier. This temple was the site for the Tomb Raider film and is falling apart as the jungle grows within the walls. Ta Prohm is a tangle of tree roots, moss, and “danger, no entry signs” That said, it’s a bit busy for my taste, with people crawling all over the tumbled down stones. Not accessible by road you enter by walking down a dirt path flanked by landmine victims playing music and beggar children who have fashioned themselves crowns of palm leaves as they sing in unison for you while shouting, “Money! Money!” between choruses. Exhausted by the discovery that I had exited the wrong jungle path and had to retrace almost my entire trek through the temple, I told the driver, “take me some place you like” however while headed towards town we were doused by rain. Soaked to the skin (the only time it ever rained in 3 weeks) I headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap.

An evening of pizza, gin and tonics, and later beer with local ex-pats. I experienced more of a typical Siem Reap evening. Khmer food, Angkor beer, and joking about all sorts of things with Italians, British, Spanish, and Australian people who were kind enough to let me tag along with their local group.

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Angkor Wat, beyond the first gate. There was a local family picnicing

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There was a sad horse tied to the tree for photo-ops or rides. Poor horsey.

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Looking back from the temple steps at the entry gate…I’d like to call this the walk of sweat and boiling brains.

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Note the guy talking on his cellphone. There were alot of guys like this who would suddenly start giving you a guided tour of the temple…the thing is you have to stop them before they DO actually give you a tour and then ask for money. I did alot of:  I DON’T WANT A TOUR! I want to ignorantly walk about and admire….IN SILENCE. THANK YOU.

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Local girls in traditional dress. They were beautiful…like gorgeous butterflies.

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I was always amazed that every inch of all of these massive temples was covered in exquisite carvings like these.

SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-15 11-15-38SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-15 12-32-04

Ta Prohm, is in the jungle and a bit more derelict than that of Angkor Wat. Still beautiful though.

SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-15 12-27-24SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-15 12-32-47

This is the tree in Tomb Raider where Angelina Jolie falls through the earth or something. I dunno. I never saw the movie but there were a ridiculous amount of people here taking pictures with some roots that looked just like 100 other roots in the temple.

SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-15 12-38-51SONY            - DSLR-A100 - 2009-08-15 12-35-40 copy

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Baaack

Sitting in yet another airport. But finally finishing my travels for the moment. Delta pretty much made up for all my other overweight baggage luck by slapping me with TWO 90$ overweight fees. Jesus. I’m at the point where I just want to get all my belongings home, and I don’t care.

So, rewind, rewind, rewind.

Back to Cambodia.

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