Hello world!! I apologize again for the great expanse of time that has passed between my last blog post and now, but better late than never? I’m writing this while sitting aboard a plane flying from Cambodia to China. But wait, you say, what were you doing in Cambodia instead of Thailand?? Why aren’t you flying to Ecuador?? And for God’s sakes, HOW MANY PAIRS OF THAI PANTS DID YOU BUY??? To which I respond, patience is a virtue. All will be explained. And eleven.
First, let me take you back to the final four days we spent in our village in Thailand. They were, expectedly, bittersweet, lit with moments of laughter and clouded by those of sorrow. Even though my host family speaks no English, I feel extremely comfortable here, and the day we left felt remarkably similar to the day I set off almost five months ago. Like I was leaving behind a family, a community. A home. Sam and I spent the last day learning how to cook sticky rice in bamboo with our mae for the feast that evening, of course sampling a bit along the way. The best part was probably watching our pa carve the delicate edges of the bamboo away with an enormous machete, seeming surprisingly at ease. That evening, all of the elders in the village each tied a cotton string around our wrists, reciting a blessing to carry with us in our journey. The blessings were whatever came to the mind of that person at that time, so they varied from good health to good wealth to a beautiful spouse. In the end, each of us had 16 strings fastened around our wrists, a simultaneously beautiful and sentimental display. We then proceeded to stuff ourselves silly, watch a ridiculous slideshow of our time in Thailand, and sing/dance terribly to karaoke (the evening concluded with an unbelievably loud rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” much to the amusement of our families). It was, indubitably, one of my favorite nights of the trip thus far.
After concluding our time in the village, we all headed back to Chiang Mai for our IST weekend, which I spent at the Eco Resort doing exactly NOTHING. I slept until at least 11 every day, watched at least 6 movies, and lounged by the pool more than I’d care to admit. I also accompanied two of my favorite people, Bex and Jules, to get TATTOOS (those crazy bitches), and while I wasn’t feeling gutsy enough to get anything permanently inked onto my body, I did pay a man a lot of money to put two new holes in my ears, so that was fun. I have to say, one of my favorite things about staying at Eco wasn’t the resort itself, but a small restaurant about a three minute walk down the street. It wasn’t even a true restaurant, but a stove and a collection of tables, with only one real item on the menu: pad thai. The woman who ran the stand made the pad thai right in front of you in a huge pan, tossing in noodles and peanuts and spices and eggs and chicken and general deliciousness. She and her daughters spoke no English, but would happily comply when I held up my finger for one order and stood watching her cook, handing over the required 35 baht in exchange for a bag of pad thai wrapped in banana leaves. It was cheap, easy, and absolutely the most delicious pad thai I have ever eaten. I had pad thai for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a midnight snack. I visited her stand at least once every day for all six days that we stayed in Chiang Mai, and even now my stomach is rumbling as I think about it.
But Chiang Mai wasn’t all movies and sleeping and pad thai. I did end up spending a lot of time working on my media project, which, for the first time, I was tackling alone. To say that I was nervous would be a gross understatement. I was terrified. It was a subject that I had been struggling with for a long time, something that was extremely personal and required me to be exceptionally vulnerable. But in the end, I was happy with my work. I was proud of the project that I put out: I think it may be my favorite personal project yet. I delivered it in speech form, like a TED talk, which is why I’m hesitant to put the script up here, but if I can’t find a video to put up with my next post, I promise I will actually put that up instead (I mean it this time!!).
So anyway, after settling all our affairs in Thailand (including an epic adventure to send a box home: it’s shocking how little red truck drivers seem to know about the city they are paid to drive around), we packed our bags and headed off to Cambodia for our enrichment week. We first spent a few days in Phnom Penh, where we toured the Killing Fields and Building 21. This topic was especially important to me, because of an independent research paper I wrote not even a year ago on the subject of the Cambodian Genocide. For anyone who knows little to nothing about the Cambodian Genocide, I can first tell you that this is probably because the United States generally glosses over this damning piece of its history. Not only did the US drop thousands of bombs on Cambodian civilians as an accidental spillover from the war in Vietnam, but the United States (along with a large part of the rest of the world) turned a blind eye to the horrific acts recalled by refugees streaming out of the country, instead choosing to believe the brainwashed reports of Western journalists were only shown what the government wanted them to see. Some almost half of the country’s population was massacred in the genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge, resulting in massive “Killing Fields” where thousands of individuals were taken every day to be murdered and dumped into mass graves. The means of torture and execution are horrific beyond comprehension. Building 21 details these abuses, and displays the beds to which prisoners were kept, only barely alive as they were slowly tortured. And those were the lucky ones, as the rest were kept in cages too small to even stretch your arms. In walking through the field and torture center, listening to my audio tour, I was struck by a sense of disconnected wonder. How? How could such cruelties occur, amongst any group of human beings? How could the world turn away? How could we ever be so callous, so heartless, so inhumane? I don’t know. I still don’t know. But as hard as it was to see the graves, to count the cells, to hear the stories, it is far worse to pretend as if they do not exist. In doing so, we commit the greatest crime of all. We claim innocence by ignorance, and forget that the only way to avoid repeating history is to remember it.
Around several of the mass grave sites in the field we visited, the posts were decorated with hundreds of bracelets, of every size and color, remembering those who were taken by the genocide. I pulled several of my blessing bracelets off my wrists and tied them to the posts, because I know that they need the love and protection more than I do.
I could go on for hours about the beauty of Angkor Wat and the Jungle Temple and the Cambodian circus in Siem Reap, but for the sake of time I’ll just say that they were works of art. One of my favorite memories was watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat, reveling in the silence and stillness of the moments just before the sun appears. It is my favorite time of day, when the darkness is just beginning to lift and the earth is holding its breath and you have the entire world to yourself. I think, to me, that’s what happiness is.
The last thing I’ll talk about in this ridiculously long post is our guide for Cambodia, a man named Bun (pronounced Boon). He introduced himself as Agent 007, James Bun, and spent our first bus ride from the airport to the hotel somehow wandering from telling us about the history of Cambodia to instructing us about the virtues of loving and living simply. That night, he took us to the temple where he had trained as a monk for two years and told us his life story. At eighteen years old, he had run away from the army to beg a monastery to take him in and train him as a monk. They finally accepted, and Bun stayed there for two years learning the Buddhist ways of life. However, he realized after two years that he needed to give back to the people of the world, and that he could best do that by leaving the monastery and working to serve others in different ways. He went home and opened a hostel, and started using the money he got as a tour guide to provide for his parents, his four siblings, and their children. As he took us around Cambodia, he never missed an opportunity to launch into his Buddhist teachings and impart some of his wisdom on us. He was not only hilarious but insightful, generous, and kind. On our last night in Cambodia, he invited us to dinner at his home, where played volleyball, cuddled puppies, and painted the TBBeast insignia onto his wall of travelers. The home was overflowing with laughter and love, and the food was beyond compare. The only thing I wasn’t a fan of? The spider wine he gave us to drink after dinner, which was in fact brewed by drowning tarantulas in the liquid. It was about as good as it sounds.
And now, finally, why am I flying to China instead of Quito, Ecuador? Well, this is actually only the first leg on what will be approximately two and a half days of travel. This is only our warm up flight; after this, we fly to New York, then Georgia, and then finally to Quito. Will provide updates on how that goes in my next post.
Wow, ok that was a long post…lots I wanted to share with you guys!! Even if you guys is no one but Beth and Bill Sherman (shoutout to the parentals, love and miss you guys!). Miss you lots, excited/nervous for Ecuador and wondering what the hell I’m going to do when this trip is over. Love you all!!!
In order to save the world, we must first discover it.