Catching my breath post-Machu Picchu

And here we are in Nazca. We arrived last night after a long, hot bus ride from Arequipa. Machu Picchu, impressive as it is/was, is already fading into an amazing memory. The days have been busy and intense and wonderful with all sorts of stuff and this poor travel journal of mine remains neglected. We have a bit of down time in Nazca so I will make some attempt to get back into the swing of writing/posting.

First the random stuff.

Beginnings

While I was busy elsewhere, the two-year anniversary of my departure date came and went!

Insane but true; it’s over two years now since I said goodbye to Roman (for about three weeks, until he would meet me in Delhi) and the apartment that had become my home with him (most likely forever), and boarded a plane for India, kicking off this amazing adventure we’ve been on!

Last year this time, we were camped out in a lovely little studio apartment in Hong Kong and I managed to put together some video montages in celebration. I’m not nearly that organized or productive this time round, so for now I’ll just repost the videos at the bottom of this entry for anyone who might have missed them the first time, and I’ll say that I do intend to pay proper audio-visual tribute to the countries we’ve visited since then at some point. 🙂

Endings

Equally insane, we have just a bit over two weeks left in South America. We’ll be visiting Lima briefly, then hopping over to Galapagos (!!!!!) for the grand-South-American-trip-finale!!!

Which is exciting but which also means that the final chapter of our big trip is staring us in the face. Which is wonderful and weird. Post South America, we’ll be doing a road trip in the US. Route and timing yet to be figured out.

I imagine we’ll stretch our time in the US out a good amount – there are friends for me to visit and family to hang out with at home (I’ll be there in time for my Grandma & nephew’s birthday parties at the end of the month!) and lord knows there’s tons of amazing places in the States that we’d like to visit. We’ll see how long our time there ends up being.

The end of the road trip in the US will be the end of the BIG TRIP though, which means time to figure out just how exactly to rebuild a stable life in one single location. It’s going to be another adventure no doubt. I’m excited and curious to see how we manage – what the transition from nomadic life will be like, what sort of a home we manage to find/create, what I and/or Roman will do for work… Will leave the musings for now – still plenty to enjoy in South America and loads that I’m excited about for the States. 🙂

Random

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It’s also coming up on six months since we left the States to start part two of the big trip, which means that I’ve gone just about a half a year without a hair cut. I haven’t done anything spectacular with my hair during the trip – just always kept it long enough to tie back. But this must be the longest my hair’s been in ages. I think I like it. 🙂 I won’t post a picture but Roman’s last hair cut was nearly as long ago as my last hair cut and there are days when he’s starting to look like one of the Beatles circa 1964. 😉 I think I like it too! 😉

Machu Picchu

There’s so much to write about Machu Picchu. I’ll save it for another post, another day. Suffice to say: it impressed.

We spent a half day wandering around soaking it in, another day hiking Montaña Machu Picchu (Stairs. So many stairs! Every single step worth it though – the hike will be one of the highlights of the trip for me, no doubt!) and exploring the ruins some more. Here are a few panoramic shots I took of the views from the trail and summit of Montaña Machu Picchu as well as from the ruins. WordPress won’t allow me to embed the images, so you’ll have to click through the links to go to Photosynth’s site to view.

The view about half way up the mountain
You can see Machu Picchu down below in the distance in the right half of the picture

The view from just-about-the-summit
You can see the last bit of steep steps off to the left. Felt on top of the world to be there! Just amazing! 😀

A view from within the ruins

Last year’s videos:

Intro

India

Myanmar (Burma)

Thailand

Laos

Cambodia

Vietnam

Holy cow what an amazing year that was!! 😀

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One last (rambling and random) post on China

I’ve been meaning to wrap up China with one final post for a while now. At the moment I’m sitting on a plane that is taking us to our final destination in Chile. The Andes are blinding in the midday sun outside my window. I’m excited for Atacama, but I’m going to take this opportunity of little distraction to finally get this post written, and will post when we arrive at San Pedro. 🙂

All about expectations

When we started our trip, China was high on Roman’s list, but not on mine. For some reason I didn’t have much emotional connection to the country. All I could picture were mammoth, concrete cities full of faceless, pushy people. I expected it would be intellectually interesting but nothing more.

We loved our time in southeast Asia, and the Buddhism-infused countries we visited and people we met were quick to melt my heart.

Everything changed when we got to Vietnam, a country that (we had read) was heavily influenced by its big neighbor to the north, China. A different religion, a different culture, different values and very different experiences for us after gentle Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. We couldn’t connect to the people or the place, and we left with a bad taste in our mouths, and with apprehension about our next destination – China. If Vietnam, influenced by Chinese culture, was like this, would China be similar? We braced ourselves prior to getting there – for people to be pushy or insensitive, for a higher crime rate than we’d experienced before Vietnam, for being unable to communicate, for massive, characterless cities.

Something I’ve been slowly realizing in my life, and definitely learning more and more during this big trip of ours, is that expectations are pretty ridiculous things. At least for me. Basically, nothing I have ever anticipated has come to pass the way I had pictured it.

When I worry about bad things possibly happening (which is more often I care to admit and definitely more often than is helpful), they consistently never happen.

(On the plus side, I can now comfort myself when my over active imagination comes up with awful scenarios – my projections are always wrong so this terrible thing I am involuntarily worrying about definitely won’t occur. Sometimes this application of logic actually kind of works. I’m viewing this as progress. ;-))

When I have a specific vision of something that I view as positive – birthday parties, life plans, a particular destination in our travels – I’m always wrong about that as well, and my specific expectations get in the way and ruin what could other wise be a lovely experience by me spending all my energy comparing reality to the wish list in my head.

I am getting better at simply banishing – or at least somewhat ignoring – the expectations I build up for myself. But back when we were leaving Vietnam for China, I was too caught up in the fear. Luckily for China, this was a case of negative expectations, and the country could only end up being better than my worst-case-scenario vision. Which is totally what happened.

I am still surprised and delighted by how much I loved China. The two big cities we visited – Beijing and Shanghai – didn’t excite me as much, but they were hardly the soulless, depressing, aggressive megapolises (megapolisi?? what’s the plural???) I had envisioned.

I was amazed at the friendliness and openness of the Chinese people we encountered. Language was not nearly as big of an issue as I expected. The country isn’t as set up for English-language tourists as southeast Asia, but it is certainly manageable to get around – at least to the places we visited. And even when people didn’t speak a word of English, they still were willing to find a way to communicate and help.

Challenges and awe

There were two things I hadn’t anticipated at all that stand out for me when I think back to our time in China.

The first is China’s astoundingly gorgeous nature. Time spent in some of those amazing landscapes was like balm to my soul. The rice terraces of Dazhai, the karst landscape of Yangshuo, the astounding Tiger Leaping Gorge, and don’t even get me started about Xinjiang (province of like a hundred million posts on this blog. :-P).

The second is the incredible variety of the “Chinese” people. The richness and diversity of its “minority” peoples is in my opinion one of the country’s greatest treasures. (I’ve mentioned before I’m not too keen on that word but it’s what is commonly used in China, in the guidebooks, basically everywhere and I’m not sure what a better term would be…)

Unfortunately, it’s a treasure that is being exploited and potentially destroyed. It’s a complex topic that I have no authority to expound on. People rightly have strong feelings about what’s happening to Tibetan, Uyghur and other cultures in China. I can’t speak to the politics and economics, as I don’t know enough. I want to careful not to paint the picture in black and white, casting China as the big, awful bad guy when I don’t know the full situation, and I can say from experience that so many of the Chinese people we met were SO lovely. Like America, there is a distinct difference between the normal people living there and the country’s official policies.

But I do know that it feels wrong and like something amazing is being lost. Whether it’s the old city area of Kashgar in Xinjiang that is literally being torn down, or the “Disneyfication” of places like Lijiang.

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Plenty of useless crap to buy in the touristy part of Yangshuo

Mass tourism for locals was something new for us in Asia. There are wealthy Indian tourists in India. But for the most part, the average Indian doesn’t have the opportunity to travel the country like we did. In southeast Asia, the vast majority of tourists are western. China is a whole different thing though.

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Have an “authentic” Tibetan experience and make sure you have the photo to prove it!

There is a middle class that is eager to go out and discover its country, and there is a huge industry that is ready to cater to and make money off of these people. Places that are of cultural and historic interest have been or are being transformed into ready-made, pre-packaged experiences that people can achieve a minimum amount of time. Tour buses, packed to the gills, shuttle from point of interest to point of interest, where the standard photos are snapped, cheap trinkets are purchased from people in traditional garb, a local specialty is consumed, and another item on the tourist to-do-list can be checked off before it’s back on the bus for the next stop.

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Sun glasses for sale along side prayer beads and sacred thangkas at the ancient Tibetan monastery outside Zhongdian

I can’t hate on people who are eager to explore their own country in a way that makes sense for them. But the plastic-feeling tourist spots we encountered do feel like simultaneous erosion and exploitation of culture and people. And I can’t help but find it tremendously tacky.

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No visit to Xi’an is complete without a photo along side authentic looking terra cotta warriors! (I actually got told off for taking this photo 🙂 )

My advice if you are traveling to China is to do your best to get beyond these places. In some cases, it’s as easy as simply walking a few blocks beyond the tourist areas, like in Yangshuo or Zhongdian. Glimpses of local, every-day life were among the most enjoyable and interesting things about our travels through China. Try to avoid places during peak tourist season. Take mass tourism with a grain of salt (at the same time as I disliked it I also marveled at it as an interesting phenomenon of current Chinese culture). And take comfort that some places seem at least to get the balance right. Pingyao, for example, is certainly about tourism but still managed to feel very genuine to me. And try to be an informed and aware visitor when possible.

So, that’s my mini-rant on mass tourism. 🙂

Random nerd stuff

I was still being ambitious and trying to read up about places’ histories when we went to China. I got through some of John Kay’s China: A History and found it accessible but I admit I had a tough time having enough context or willpower to keep track of place and people names. Ultimately, the book was simply too massive for me, at least to read while also traveling. After all, China’s history is massive.

If you are looking for an intro to Chinese history in more bite-sized packages, I can recommend Laszlo Montgomery’s “The China History Podcast”. It does exactly what it says on the box. Montgomery’s tone is delightfully sardonic (not about Chinese history; I suspect he has that attitude about life in general :-)), he seems to really know what he’s talking about and the podcasts are interesting and not overwhelming. And they’re a great way to pass time during long bus/train/plane rides.

Although I have already forgotten most of the Chinese I learned (but look! I can prove that I did learn something!!), especially that I am trying to learn Spanish at the moment, I am really glad we took classes. It wasn’t the most practical thing but it was fun to have at least a few words and some more insight into the language and culture. I would totally recommend taking a crash course, and can also strongly recommend Omeida, where we studied. The podcast “Chinese survival phrases” wasn’t bad for double checking pronunciation on those key sentences like asking for the bill, and I found this website useful when studying at Omeida as well to look up words and check pronunciation.

Musings from underside of the world

The flight from Los Angeles to Sydney felt pretty personally monumental. Aside from being the first step in the second portion of “the big trip”, it was also our first time ever traveling to the Southern Hemisphere.

When you’ve been someplace for a couple of days, or when you’re traveling at a snail’s pace, as we did, country by (relatively) small country across a place like Southeast Asia or province by province through China, it’s easy to forget about the geography of travel, about how far away your starting point is or where you are relative to other spots on the planet.

I know I’ve posted this photo before, but I still get excited about it – seriously one of the coolest flight paths I’ve ever seen. 🙂

But jumping all the way from North America to Australia, being on the “underside” of the globe for the first time, felt really special for the travel nerd in me. The first few weeks in Oz I kept having all sorts of silly thoughts about how far “below” we were from home, how the people in the Northern Hemisphere where pointing in a different direction from me when they stood up, or where we would end up of we dug a hole straight through the earth from where we were standing.

Or, standing at the water’s edge in Melbourne, if I started swimming South, would I make it all the way to Antarctica (!!! Seriously – I’d never been that close to Antarctica before, how cool is that?)? (Theoretically anyhow. From Melbourne I would probably hit Tasmania before I made it to the South Pole not to mention I’d be amazed if I was fit enough to swim to the end of the pier I was facing not to also mention that I am a total wimp about swimming in cold, coldish or even tepid water.)

We saw this wild penguin at the beach in Melbourne. I wonder if he was contemplating swimming to the South Pole too?

It was exciting to discover the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky: to find out that the moon waxes and wanes in the opposite direction, to see the constellation the Southern Cross for the first time, to observe that the one familiar face in the heavens, Orion, leaves his hunt when he heads south and instead starts turning careless somersaults towards the horizon.

And although the weather was warm when we arrived, there was definitely a hint of fall on the March air. Which was just bizarre and wonderful. (More wonderful than this cold and gloomy May that Buenos Aires continues to serve up.)

Fall foliage in April

When you’ve lived your whole life in the Northern Hemisphere, you take it for granted that Christmas will be cold, if not snowy, that the fourth of July or 1st August (US and Swiss holidays) will involve barbeques, fire works and other warm weather activities. You don’t give much thought to what’s going on at those times in the Southern half of the world. I wonder if those Southern Hemisphere folk are as blasé about us and our weather up in the North? Are Christmas-time barbeques equally par for the course or do they sometimes wish for a bit of snow and pine trees instead of palm trees, the way I am dreaming of warmer weather as I drink cup after cup of tea to warm up while I write this. 😉

Travel is ruining me

Being on the road again after the three-month break in the States with my family has got me thinking.

If you don’t count the visit with my family as being home (which it is and it isn’t, since home for me for nearly six years prior to that had been Switzerland, and living with your parents temporarily isn’t the same as having your own home, even if you DO feel wonderfully at home with them and in your childhood house as I luckily do.), I’ve been homeless and traveling for a year and 8 ½ months; Roman’s been away from Switzerland three weeks shy of that. Kinda crazy.

It’s feeling totally normal and wonderful and great to be traveling again. Australia, I have to say, is a fantastic country to get back in the saddle with after the comforts of my parents’ house. No language barriers like in Asia and thus far the people are tremendously friendly and it’s been drop dead gorgeous. But I digress.

I’ve been catching some of the thoughts that float from time to time through my mind since we’ve been on the move again and I’m wondering if travel – this sort of travel anyhow – isn’t making me into a slightly worse person. You always hear that travel broadens your perspective of the world but I am wondering about the areas where things might be getting more narrow.

This first came to my attention in Sydney, where we met up with some friends of ours.

The couple we met worked at the same company I did in Switzerland. They quit around the same time Roman and I did to do an extended trip around the world, just like us. We traveled to different places, but some themes were the same. One was how it’s often difficult to talk about the trip with “the folks back home”. We loved being able to “talk shop” with fellow travelers, we oohed and ahhed as we compared itineraries and travel experiences in a way that we would never inflict on most people.

Another friend was an awesome guy we had met and hung out with in India over a few days in Varanasi and one super dinner in Delhi. We met for drinks and dinner and although we caught up about life in general, we also spent a lot of time collectively missing and loving India. Between the good memories, wonderful conversation and delicious wine, I felt like I was floating on clouds by the end of the evening, basking in the goodness of what was and what had been.

These get-togethers were fantastic, but they made me ponder about shared experiences and if my/our chances of sharing about some of the places we’ve been and things we have done have grown narrower as we’ve spread ourselves more widely across this big planet.

And then I realized that maybe even having thoughts like this make me into a wanker. Like, who has these kind of problems/musings??

Let me demonstrate. Here are some of the ways that this kind of travel is ruining me.

  • We’ve been in Australia for 3 ½ weeks. We just booked our flights out of the country, which means that we are currently half way through our time in Australia. Considering that we spent over three MONTHS in India, which is about half the size of Australia, 6 weeks in a country this size now seems like only a short visit. While most people in America only get 2 weeks off per year. I may be a jerk.
  • We’ve been to some absolutely amazing places. We are becoming increasingly hard to impress. (Although on the flip side there is a lot of stuff we love and are interested in so we aren’t at all jaded about any of the stuff we’ve done.) For example, while on the Ocean Road here in Australia we went for a tree top walk through a gorgeous rain forest in Otway. The woods were lovely, the trees stunning. The dinosaur exhibit was hilarious. We enjoyed it totally but there was not much “wow factor” compared to the views of the ocean we’d been treated to earlier and indeed we were a bit disappointed by the lack of fauna, since that morning we’d literally woken up under trees inhabited by super-cute-adorable-cuddly-looking koalas. Which was just as awesome as it sounds. I may be a snob.
  • If you’ve been following this blog at all you may have noticed that I. Love. Food. Well, let me be more specific. I love good food; I really love REALLY GOOD FOOD. We’ve had all sorts of REALLY GOOD FOOD all over the place. Which is awesome. And awful. Cause now I’ll find myself craving home cooked Indian food from my friends’ house in Delhi. Or that bangin’ ginger salad that the totally rad skinny little chef made on the cargo boat on the Irrawaddy River. Or mango sticky rice from my favorite place in Thailand. Or a Beerlao. Or that incredible fish dish from Cambodia. Or the best espresso I have ever had in Siem Reap of all places. Or fried up lotus root that we had at our Chinese school in Yangshuo. You get the point. And the point is, when the heck am I going to get to eat those delicious things again?? The point is also that when you get to eat such awesome stuff, your tolerance for sub-par food goes down. There is no “may” about this one, I AM a food snob.

So, is travel opening my eyes, heart and stomach to big, wonderful, exciting world? Yes! Is it turning me into a snob and possibly a jerk and/or wanker? Yes to the first and quite possibly to the second. Am I ok with this? If being ok with it means we get to keep traveling, I think I am. 😉

Beyond the temples at Angkor

We’re in Hanoi now at a hotel that has in-room wifi, we’ve already been in Vietnam for over three weeks, and I am determined to finish catching up on Cambodia while we’re in this city! 🙂

Siem Reap – not just Angkor

Roman was bedridden for a few days with a bad cold when we first arrived, the temples of Angkor were so captivating that we ended up tacking on an extra day because of them, and the great Angkor Pearl was a super and comfortable base for working on travel logistics. All this conspired to make for a relatively long stay in Siem Reap.

One benefit of this is that we managed to get beyond Angkor and Pub Street to do and see a bit more while we were there. I already wrote about my yummy cooking class while we were still there. We also visited a couple of non-temple-related tourist sites.

The Cambodia Landmine Museum was a simple but thought-provoking display. Roman had already learned a lot about the awful effects Laos has and continues to face due to the huge number of bombs and mines left over from a war that occurred over thirty years ago – indeed it is the most heavily bombed country in the world.

Cambodia may not be in first place like Laos, but it has more than its fair share of unexploded bombs littering the countryside and the resulting casualties. Visiting the museum is humbling because of the man who has founded it – Aki Ra.

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Recruited as a child soldier by the same forces that allegedly killed his parents, the Khmer Rouge, he grew up with constant war and violence being the only reality he ever knew. That he survived is a miracle in itself. That he went on to dedicate his life to ridding Cambodia of the very mines he himself helped to plant when a soldier is to me simply amazing and inspirational.

Reading the information and the statistics in the museum is frustrating at best. Around 18,000 people killed by mines in Cambodia between 1979 and 2002; around 40,000 injured. The number of countries who have yet to sign the Land Mine Treaty; of course the US is on the list. Urgh…. So, sobering and also aggravating as it makes you want to shake people for being so bloody stupid and senseless, but definitely worth seeing and informing yourself about.

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Just some of the bombs/mines that Aki Ra has cleared across Cambodia

We did something much more lighthearted after that, which was visit Angkor Butterfly Centre (also known as Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre). It’s small and simple but a beautiful sanctuary – a gorgeous, quiet garden under massive netting and filled with floating, fluttering butterflies. We had a sweet, enthusiastic guide who showed us around, pointing out the different species and giving us a close up view of the amazing pupae and wriggly caterpillars and answering all our questions. I’ll post pictures in a separate entry for any bug enthusiasts. 🙂

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Heavy heart, full heart

So far on this trip I think Cambodia is the country that’s made me cry the most since we’ve been on this trip. Maybe this sounds weird but I’m actually grateful for this. Sometimes I’ve had a tough time getting out of my head and opening my heart to a place. I think I must have cried in other countries too, probably because of what ever internal conflict I’d have had going on with myself at the time.

Cambodia brought me to tears just because of Cambodia. Obvious times like while at Tuol Sleng or thinking about Naid, or understandable times like when the disabled musicians at Bakong played so beautifully. Less obvious times like when tears just started streaming down my face while at the ruin Preah Neak Pean. My reaction to Beat Richner’s presentation was very strong and also unexpected.

I’d read about the controversial but significant work Dr. Beat Richner does for Cambodia in Cambodia’s Curse. Roman had heard of him because he is a well-known figure in his homeland, Switzerland. So we were both eager to attend the concert of this doctor who has opened and successfully runs four children’s hospitals in Cambodia (almost entirely through private donations which he works very hard to motivate!) and saved SO many lives.

Dr. Richner is also a cellist, and performs in Siem Reap every weekend to a crowd of tourists at his hospital. The place is amazing – massive, modern, with simple and stylish architecture, arriving at the concert we felt like we’d been transported back to Switzerland.

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The doctor’s performance consists of information, anecdotes and statistics he shares in a sharp, witty, direct way, interspersed with short pieces he plays and followed by a film documenting the history of his project. It’s incredible to see film footage of him as a young man, with crazy curly hair, when he was working as a doctor in Phnom Penh as the Khmer Rouge were beginning their assault on the country.

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Tough for me though was all the footage of present day mothers and their sick and injured children. The filming is not overtly focused on the graphic, but it is an honest depiction of the cases that come through the hospital each and every day. It made me feel physically ill to see it; the suffering of the children was more than I could wrap my head around, but I could empathize with the helplessness and fear of the mothers, thinking of my beloved sister and nephew and her total devotion to him and having my heart break again with each new sick-bed scene portrayed in the hospital.

Already then I was so glad to be learning about the hospitals and their projects, and of course we were happy to donate, but I was just overwhelmed when we left and couldn’t help sobbing as we walked through the night back to our hotel. Tough, but I was also grateful to be emotionally connecting to Cambodia in this way.

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We passed by the hospital every day that we drove into Angkor. Each and every morning, there were massive lines of families waiting to be admitted. One photo from my walk – patients and their mothers entering and leaving the hospital.

Confused heart, full heart

I had one other experience in Siem Reap that left my heart in a bit of a quandary. One morning I went for a walk on my own. I got out of the central tourist area and really enjoyed walking through a normal neighborhood. I had my camera with me and was taking photos along the way. On the same, quiet, tree-shaded road as me was a trash-picker. Our paths crossed a couple of times as I’d catch up with her or she with me.

She was pushing a bike which carried not only big bags for transporting any of the trash she could find to repurpose, but also her two young children. We smiled at each other and eventually I asked with sign language if I could photograph them. She was so gracious and her young daughter and son so sweet. I came over to show them the photo, to shake the little ones’ hands.

Just up the street was a small shop. I picked up some water for myself, plus a bottle for them and a large bunch of bananas. We could’t communicate verbally and I was just going on instinct; she seemed happy to receive the fruit and we kept waving and smiling at each other each time we met as we both made our way down the rest of the street.

But as soon as I’d walked away from the store, my mind started worrying. Was that the right thing to do? Could I have done more? Who am I to think she needs bananas? What if she and her kids don’t even like bananas?? Probably she could have used something else more. Why didn’t I buy her a bunch more stuff? Is there something else I could have done besides buy her fruit? Or did the whole thing make her uncomfortable? And so on and on and on.

I still wonder occasionally about what I did, what I could have done that might have been better or more correct or more helpful. Roman and I try to be really aware about the questions and issues surrounding the poverty and disadvantage in the countries we are visiting. It’s really hard to find the line between lending a helping hand and dominating and directing a place’s culture, values or pride, between doing what we can to not condone unhealthy or unsustainable situations like child labor or begging while still finding a way to be human and to act on compassion in the moment.

I still haven’t figured out any answers or guidelines as to what is right or wrong. I do know that as confused as I felt after my interaction with the young mother and her children, what I felt more than anything was gratitude for the real, if brief, connection, for their kind and open smiles, for the chance to wonder what their lives might be like. I am sure she doesn’t wonder about me like  I still do about her, but if she does ever remember our meeting, I hope for her, on the balance, the interaction was a positive one.

After all that, here is the photo. It should be clickable so you can take a closer look.

An intro to Angkor

So of course I’d heard of Angkor Wat, but it took coming to Cambodia and doing a bit of reading for me to realize it’s not just that one particularly large and famous temple or the setting for the Tomb Raider movie (yes, I realize I am ignorant – that’s why we’re traveling 😉 ). For anyone else who might be as uninformed as I was, here some background (courtesy of Wikipedia, UNESCO and Lonely Planet).

A bit of history

Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park covers about 400 square kilometers (UNESCO) and contains hundreds upon hundreds of ancient temples, “ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat, said to be the world’s largest single religious monument.” (Wikipedia)

A photo of an ariel map of Angkor, just to give you a feeling of the size. It’s clickable if you want to zoom for a closer look.

In its heyday between the 9th and 15th centuries, Angkor was the buzzing center of the Khmer Empire, a city which archeologists speculate supported up to one million people.

The stone and brick buildings which remain today are nearly exclusively religious monuments: “…the right to dwell in structures of brick or stone was reserved for the gods,” while the palaces, houses and public buildings used by the city’s residents were built of wood which has long since disintegrated. (Lonely Planet)

Angkor encompasses multiple religions, from indigenous to Shaivism (a form of Hinduism focusing on the god Shiva the destroyer), Vaishnavism (a form of Hinduism focusing on the god Vishnu the sustainer), both Mahayana and Theravada forms of Buddhism and even the “cult of personality” in which kings represented themselves as deities. (Wikipedia) Some of the temples started out their lives as Hindu houses of worship and were later repurposed for Buddhist use.

Angkor today

While many of the ruins have been partially excavated, they remain set in an incredibly beautiful, atmospheric natural environment, surrounded by idyllic forests of trees so old and huge and wise that it seems they must have been seeds when the buildings were still freshly constructed.
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Massive trees growing around some wooden steps behind Baphoun

Bird, frogs and insect song adds to the magical atmosphere. While Western access to the park is strictly controlled, many Cambodians live in small villages on the grounds and we’d often see verdant rice fields stretching along the road between sites. The nature is just amazing and as much a part of the incredible atmosphere and experience as the temples themselves.

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Beautiful rice fields outside Banteay Srei

Many of the temple ruins were overtaken by the encroaching jungle over the centuries after Angkor’s fall. The French Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient was heavily involved in the restoration of many of the temples during the 20th century; in 1907 the ruins saw their first arrival of Western tourists (200 of them!). (Lonely Planet) Today, the site receives around 2 million tourists per year.

As incredible as they are, the ruins have not been fully explored or excavated and many are lacking proper infrastructure to ensure they aren’t damaged by all those trampling tourists (us included :-/ ). While the situation isn’t black and white, indications are that Cambodia’s notoriously crooked government is more interested in increasing tourist traffic (and the related cash flow) than preservation.

Entrance to the park is 20 dollars per day, 40 for a three-day pass, 60 for a week’s entrance. We spent nearly four full days and had a really satisfying mix of sites and experiences. I could imagine having gone for the full week pass, only with Roman knocked out with a bad cold at the start of our time, we’d already been kicking around town for a while before we got to see any of Angkor and our visa was running out even as we were feeling like we’d gotten our fill of Cambodia.

I’d heard that most tourists only spend on average three days in all of Cambodia, which means spending even less than three days at Angkor. I can’t even begin to understand how or why someone would do this, although we did see plenty of turbo-tourists zipping in to a temple and leaving again before we’d even finished enjoying the amazing and intricate carvings of a single room. I suppose a little culture is better than no culture at all though. 😉

Siem Reap

The jumping off point for all the temple exploration is the town of Siem Reap. This place has apparently exploded in recent years with the increase of tourism. Roman has a friend who stayed there ten years ago; the street our hotel was on now in 2011 didn’t even exist when he was there apparently.

The bus we took from Battambang pulled into town along a broad road that was bordered by massive, pristine, posh-looking block hotels. The center of town feels more like being at Epcot center or a Caribbean island than Cambodia: a commercialized mish-mash of international and Khmer restaurants, bars, tschotschke shops and boutiques, throbbing with loud music and tipsy tourist crowds at night.

There’s benefits for tourists – high quality food and competitive pricing on hotels (well, some hotels. Lonely Planet lists one whose rates start at USD 750 per night!!) – which we were happy to take advantage of. It’s not all bad, it just didn’t feel like we were in Cambodia any more… It did make me all the more grateful for the time we had in Kratie, Kampong Chhnang and Battambang. And to be fair, the vibe feels more normal and there are some nice places around as soon as you get away from the microcosm of “Pub Street”.

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Pub street starts to light up for the night (Thanks for the picture Roman! 🙂 )

Speaking of hotels, we stayed at the Angkor Pearl. At USD 16 per night, this place was excellent value for the money. High quality, spotless rooms, simple but really tasteful and comfortable. Nice, firm mattress – among some of the best beds we’ve experienced this whole trip Breakfast wasn’t included but was cheap at USD 2.50 per person. It was a short walk from the action at Pub Street. Definitely recommendable!

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What you wish for

Some times things get lost during travel. I’m not talking big stuff. I mean material, insignificant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things stuff. The loss of the thing itself is usually not that big of a deal at all. The whole mental and emotional process around that loss however can turn into something much larger.

Prelude

Of course it is naïve to think that a trip of the nature and scale we have undertaken will all be smooth sailing and happy moments. Spending all day every day with a single individual, differences are bound to come up. Roman and I knew this going into our big adventure. Days on the road and in the environment that is my restless mind vary. Lots of days are great, but some days I may tend to focus on and worry about the differences that come up.

Like today. Roman is two years younger than I am. It’s not such a big difference, really, but one of my reoccurring worries is that I am analog while he is digital. Except of course, being “analog”, I don’t even really know what that means. 🙂

He is Mr. Tech. I am… not anti-tech, but being tech-savy or tech-focused is not really how I’m wired, no pun intended. When we met, I didn’t own a cell phone or even have internet in my apartment.

Now, six years later, I’ve been able to download entertainment of my choosing for long plane rides, update my facebook status from a moving train in India, find my way around a new city with an electronic map in the palm of my hand, all thanks to him and the amazing technology he’s introduced into my life.

I am grateful, constantly grateful. But there are days where doubts creep in. In the travel of my imagination, in the (probably highly romanticized) travel of my pre-tech past, things were more immediate and adventurous and vibrant, less organized and informed and intellectual. When I get sucked into the dangerous choreography of expectations, I get worried that I’m not traveling the way one is supposed to, that somehow (and in part because of all that technology) I am missing out on some element or experience of what I hoped/expected traveling the world would be like.

These doubts were sneaking around my mind today when we went to go explore Cholon, Saigon’s crowded, chaotic China town. We’d arrived at the warren-like Bihn Tay market and spent a bit of time poking around the narrow paths between the overflowing stalls and avoiding one of the day’s many rain showers.

Somehow we were both a bit on edge when we left. We had an idea of the pagodas in the neighborhood that we wanted to visit after the market.

Here is a good place to point out another difference between us (one which at least doesn’t make me sound so old! 😉 ). I tend to be less patient (eager and enthusiastic is how I like to paint it on my good days); Roman tends to have the patience of a saint.

We left the market and I had a vague feeling of what direction the pagodas were in. Roman kept stopping to check both the electric Lonely Planet and Google Maps app on his iPhone. He commented on how much he loved traveling with all that information in the palm of his hand.

Logically I could see the advantage and had to agree; inside though my heart was rebelling and all I could think was, I don’t want my eyes glued on a miniscule screen when this wonderful world is all around me. I want to be wandering around and getting lost and making unexpected discoveries until I’m full up! The last thing I want right now is to be fiddling around with an iPhone!

The difficulty here is the following. I DO see how many times the phone and technology has come in extremely useful! It’s great that we have a whole library in the phone and don’t have to tote around heavy paper books. It’s wonderful that if we get lost or suddenly get a craving for sushi, we can hop online, locate ourselves on the map, and find our way back to the hotel or to the closest Japanese restaurant with the highest rating on Trip Advisor.

I could list twenty more examples of why the technology is great. If this were a battle, it would be clear that my stubborn, old-school, analog-style heart and spirit are on the losing side (a fact that makes me feel childish, which I suppose should help with any issues I have about being older than Roman but actually mostly just makes me feel worse).

All this to come to the following point. As we were trying to make our way to visit the pagodas in Cholon, I was wondering what exploring a city might be like without an iPhone.

Sequence of events

External Internal
We are walking away from the market in the direction, I feel confident, of the pagodas I am frustrated. I am wondering what exploring a city might be like without an iPhone.
For the third or fourth time, Roman stops on the sidewalk to double-check the map. I am frustrated. I am wondering what exploring a city might be like without an iPhone.
Roman asks me to check the name of the pagoda we want to go to on my iPhone. I am frustrated as I take the iPhone out of my bag and check my e-notes.
Peripheral vision notices a moped driving up to us on the sidewalk. This city is full of mopeds driving extremely close to us all the time, even on sidewalks. Moped is noted but I feel confident it won’t drive into us. Attention returns to frustrated note checking.
iPhone is suddenly taken from my hands. Mental process: Is this something a) weird, b) funny, c) coincidental and/or magical, d) non-threatening, e) threatening f) etc./other? Assessment: E – what ever is happening, this is not ok.
I yell “Hey!” and look up at the two young guys on the moped, one with my phone in his hand. Yup, these guys are robbing me.
They start to pull away. “Hey!!!!” I yell, this time louder and angrier. I wonder if there’s any chance I can get my phone back? If they see how upset I am maybe they will change their mind? Maybe I can somehow magically appeal to their humanity?
Their retreat is slower than expected. I start to run after them “HEEEEEEYYY!!!” $%@, can’t let them leave with my phone, phone being stolen = bad!
They start to speed up. I stop chasing them. I can probably grab the guy on the back. But what if they have a knife? What if they try to take my camera too? What if I get him, and he tries to hurt me? It’s not worth it. It’s just a phone.
Without a word, Roman hands me his things and takes off running after them down the street. Manly, heroic, sexy Roman. In shock and awe that he would do something like this for me. My hero.
Roman disappears, the crowd of Vietnamese people stare at me, I drop half my stuff. Huh? What just happened? How am I supposed to feel? These people are staring at me.
I spend a minute gathering dropped things, standing around, getting stared at. Ok, Roman my hero still hasn’t come back, could he have possibly caught up with the guys? What is going on???
I walk to the end of the street. A man who has seen what happened points down the road where Roman has apparently run. I see nothing but a crowd of Vietnamese people. Crap. What’s the right thing to do? Should I be upset? I have no idea where Roman is. What if he caught up with the guys? God I hope he’s ok.
I stand stupidly on the street corner for minutes that pass by way too slowly. What if he chased them down some dark, dank alleyway? What if they are fighting him? What if he is hurt? I have no way of finding him if he needs me! If he’s in trouble there is nothing I can do to help him! Oh my God I hope he’s ok! Ok, you are probably freaking out and he’s probably fine. Yeah, but what if he’s not????
After an eternity, another guy hanging out on the street waves at me and points down the road to where I got robbed. Roman is there, walking up the street. Oh thank God, oh thank God, oh thank God. Oh thank God.
I run to Roman and nearly start crying right there on the street. I want to grab Roman and hug him but we are in Asia and that is not kosher. I feel like a baby and a fool. I feel angry and relieved, like a big, awkward tourist, confused, shaken, numb and perfectly fine all at the same time.

Epilogue

Most of the rest of the day is spent hashing, rehashing, analyzing, reacting, working on getting over.

First the good stuff. These things I am able to realize almost right away and do not lose sight of.

It’s just an iPhone. Of all the expensive stuff we are carrying with us, if something had to get stolen, this is probably the “best” thing to lose. Better that than my camera and photos. Better that than my laptop with my photos, music, movies. Better than my wallet which would mean the hassle of canceling credit cards – and how to get new ones on the road? Better my phone than Roman’s (he is, after all, Mr. Tech). Really, this is quite manageable.

Of all the less-pleasant things that can happen during travel, this is also quite innocuous. No violence, no one hurt, nothing that can’t be replaced… Again, it’s just an iPhone.

The less fun stuff is all the “what ifs” and “what might this mean”, which of course I realize do not and cannot make the situation any better but you can’t help but go there anyway.

I was wearing that silly, flowy, boho top I got in Cambodia – does it make me look like a dumb tourist and an easy target? (The last thing I want to be is a dumb tourist!) In that split second my reptile brain made the call that safe is better than sorry but I bet I could have grabbed that guy’s shirt or knocked him off the bike and maybe if I had I would still have my phone. Am I a wimp? Am I a girly girl? Am I a timid dumb tourist? (The very last thing I want to be is a girly dumb tourist!) I want to be more adventurous and I worry that Roman is too logical and technical for me but when push comes to shove, I am the wimp that stayed put and he is the hero that ran after the guys – what does THAT say about me?

I am grateful I am not so gormless that I couldn’t figure out what was happening at the time, that I was able to react somehow and react with anger. At earlier points in my life, I probably would have been so wrapped up with not wanting to offend people that my first instinct would have been to convince myself that what ever was happening, they (the thiefs) were in the right and I was in the wrong and better not make a fuss. Still, while this is progress, it is not good enough and I am angry and (as usual) impatient with myself.

And so on and so forth; all of this going on inside of me as we stop for a drink to calm down, Roman tries to track down my phone with all his marvelous technology, we both slowly start to come out of the adrenaline of what just happened and start talking it over, we decide to continue with our pagoda tour as planned.

I light a big coil of incense at the first pagoda we visit, scribbling a quick prayer of forgiveness to the thiefs and of release for my phone on the pink paper before the whole get up is hoisted up to the ceiling by an efficient member of the temple staff. I hope it will do something for someone, if not for me, for the young men who have decided, for what ever reason or circumstance, to make a living stealing people’s phones off the street.

With each passing hour, my outlook gets better. Roman assures me I am not a dumb tourist or a wimpy girly girl. I can sort of agree. I decide that despite the incident, I still really like this city.

A little girl waves and smiles at me from her mother’s arms. I smile and wave back. We hide out from a massive downpour in another pagoda. It’s gaudy with fake crystal chandeliers, piped in music, statues and decorations in deep primary colours. The incense is so thick it starts to give me a headache after a while. I mostly love the place. We go out for pizza dinner. Vietnamese beer is tasty and it helps. I talk to my mother over a bad phone connection. The sound of her voice warms me despite the occasional static and delays. I am comforted.

At some point I remember the things I was thinking and feeling right before the phone was removed from my hand. I have to wonder. Maybe I was only getting what I asked for?

I don’t know how I’ll feel when I wake up tomorrow. I know for sure there will be moments I wish I still had my iPhone (already when we got back to the hotel, I was wishing I could go hide myself in the great eBook I’d been reading). But maybe there will be other moments, real-life moments when I might otherwise have been stuck with my face in my phone, that I’ll be happy to experience. I can only hope so anyhow. 🙂

And if not, hey, it’s just an iPhone. I can always buy another one.

Heartbreak and hope in Battambang

Apologies in advance – this is not a very neat or resolved post!

Cambodia was at times challenging for me. Laos was such a gentle welcome back to travel and life on the road in Asia after my trip home; the peaceful energy and kind people we encountered put me so at ease.

The atmosphere of Cambodia was intense by comparison. Roman and I both found it took more energy to process the experiences we had there and I definitely needed a while to find my emotional footing with the country. Once I did though, I found myself feeling more open and moved than I have yet on the trip (being really, truly present and emotionally connected has been one of the big challenges of this big trip), and for this, I’m grateful.

Battambang was the place my heart started to open to Cambodia. It had started to crack back in Kratie, opening to the dozens of smiles, waves and other greetings I received on my village walk, to the laughter and energy of the kids I met along the road. I’m not sure what let me be more present and open in Battambang, but the day we spent doing the bike tour my heart just felt so light, so present, so open.

It was easy to relax with Sum and Dollar – energetic, enthusiastic and genuine, they were easy to talk to and good company. Maybe the beauty of the places we visited just helped to take down my intellectual defences. Maybe the work I’ve been doing on myself, with Roman and on my own, to be kinder to myself, to worry less, to savor the “now” more is starting to pay off. Whatever the grace that allowed it, the day touring around Battambang was just magic and delight.

The biggest highlight for me was meeting a young girl at Wat Ek Phnom, a quiet, beautiful, ancient temple that Sum and Dollar took us to. They stayed at the entrance while Roman and I went to go explore.

Naid (not sure how her name is really spelled) started shadowing us, and eventually enticed me into the ruins where she enthusiastically pointed out fat geckos crouching suspiciously in cracks. She must have been about ten or so, skinny as a rail and full of life. She flitted around the massive stones of the falling-apart temple, chirping in musical, broken English like a sparrow, pointing out Gods and histories carved into the ancient rocks.

Roman and I have had a many discussion about the children we’ve encountered on our travels. The stance we’ve adopted is to never give begging kids money – we don’t want to support, encourage or condone the situations where adults (parents or otherwise) will choose to put kids on the street to sell cheap souvenirs or simply beg (something we saw frequently especially at Angkor). Holding to this position has meant keeping closed in many instances – looking away or dismissing the little hands and faces that have implored us to buy a bracelet or simply hand over a dollar.

(Tough sometimes yes but not always when you see the kids going from “crying” to laughing and horsing around the second they know they’re not going to get any money from you. Tougher is seeing the kids who aren’t begging, like the scrappy, barefooted children I saw digging through garbage for scraps outside the night market in Battambang.)

We weren’t sure if our lovely tour was coming free of charge, but I couldn’t help myself. I just fell in love with this precocious, precious little girl. When we were ready to leave, she did ask for money. We brought her back to the front with us to explain the situation to Dollar and ask his opinion. He agreed with us completely about not giving money to kids at the tourist spots and on the streets. He questioned Naid and for him it was clear that her story was true.

With Dollar’s translation, we were able to ask her questions about her life. The oldest of three siblings, her parents couldn’t afford to look after her and had sent her to stay with a relative and attend school in Battambang. She studied during the day but came to the temple every afternoon to show guests around and try to earn a bit of money for school and food (it’s a given that students have to bribe teachers on a regular basis in order to attend school in Cambodia). At the end we gave her double the very modest sum she had asked for and we left to our next destination.

She’s stayed with me though. That day I wanted to cry every time I thought of her, brave, bright and beautiful little soul. What will become of her? Who will look out for her if even her parents don’t have the resources to do so? I said prayer after prayer for her: “Please let her path through this life be safe. Please don’t let any of those awful things one reads about happen to her – rape, violence, prostitution. Please let her be protected. Please let her fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.”

I shared some of my thoughts with Roman and he pointed out that I was looking at things from a very Western point of view – who was I to make any assumptions or value judgements about her life (something akin to the parable about the man trying to help the butterfly by cutting it out of its cocoon).

On an intellectual level I am sure he is right. On an emotional level though all I know is that something in me recognized and loves this little girl who I will probably never meet ever again, and for me that’s real and precious and part of the experience I have been seeking on this trip. I can’t make any more sense of it than that, but I’m so glad that I met her, and I’ll keep carrying those hopes and wishes for her around in my heart.

Photos from Wat Ek Phnom and our time with Naid

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The wat before the ruins

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Afternoon sun on the outer wall

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Naid invites me to come explore

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Temple carvings

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Lovely Naid

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Pointing out some Sanskrit carvings

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Buddhist flags at the doorway

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Moon rise

Unfinished thoughts on India

While we were in Phnom Penh, we ate a meal that brought tears to my eyes.

I admit I am a bit of a foodie and really good eats can honestly make my day, but this was something different. This was the taste of a whole country – and my myriad of experiences there – in my mouth: India.

We’d eaten “Indian” food other places since we left India at the beginning of the year, but the meals we’d had were sad shadows of the glorious food we enjoyed so much as we traveled through that country. The flavors we experienced there were a significant and visceral part of our travel experience in the country that began this whole big adventure we are on.

So suddenly tasting the “real thing” again brought me right back. It was a reaction that I was not expecting and I was frankly shocked at its strength. The meal was a delight but I mostly ate in a stunned silence, flashing back to many scenes and vivid emotions with each bite of tikka or spoonful of raita.

The first destination of our world trip and the place we’ve stayed the longest and seen the most (so far), India is a bit like an impressionable teenager’s first love. For better or worse, the next few locations inevitably get held up against India for comparison. Is it as intense as India? As dynamic/ demanding/ dramatic/ dirty?

While it’s natural that our first stop in Asia was bound to make a deep impression, and our tendency to hold everything the standard of India is lessening as we take in more and more sights, sounds, tastes and experiences in other countries, the fact remains that the country has got a special place in my heart (and my stomach apparently feels the same way!), and I suspect that on our travels we will encounter no place quite like India.

The why and how of these strong feelings are hard for me to articulate. I know that as much as I tried not to, I had huge expectations at the outset of our big trip – for the trip in general and specifically for India. My assumptions and expectations have given way to actual experiences and the (ongoing) process of letting go of what is in my head to simply being more present where I am has often been uncomfortable. A lot of my lessons on this topic were in India, where I thought I would be floating through the country like a perfect, serene yogini, filled up with the beauty of the place but in reality was often bogged down by self-criticism and doubt, frustrated by emotions I didn’t want to look at and challenged by things like societal restrictions on women and how to feel about the massive class divides that dictate so much of people’s lives there.

The amazing opportunity we had to spend so much time in my friend Ritu’s home in New Delhi was a big part of this. I am incredibly grateful to her and to the women in her household who welcomed me and Roman like family. Our time with them still gives me a lot to think about.

On women in India

We were with Ritu and her family while they were going through some significant difficulties. That whole situation is not my story to tell – suffice to say there were legal issues and family dynamics particular to the Indian culture and judicial system at play.

My friend Ritu is smart, independent, and extremely well-educated. She is better off than most Indian women. Seeing what she and the women in her family had to go through in their situation – all the dead ends they ran into and the near-brushes with violence they thankfully managed to avoid as they had to play within a system of appearance versus reality (the external ‘noble’ tradition supporting behind-closed-doors abuse of power, the spheres of women’s movement and influence being limited to the men they can trust to act for them) sometimes made me despair for the state of the majority of Indians who are poor, unconnected, uneducated.

At the same time, I was in constant awe of the strength, grace and burning nobility of women we saw in India – from Ritu’s infinitely elegant mother to the gorgeous spunky, outspoken girls I danced with at the Pakistani border to the rural women doing backbreaking farm work in gorgeous, bright saris.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but I am struck by the instinct towards fierce but graceful survival in some of the women I have witnessed here.

Circumstances that would have left me defeated ten times over are approached with an attitude that combines strength, patience, faith, integrity and above all, dignity. No matter what the burden, their backs remain straight, their shoulders poised, heads held high. Seriously, I believe the women in India, with time, could achieve anything. 🙂

On service in India

One thing that was really tough for me upon arriving at Ritu’s was the fact that her household had servants. This is totally normal in India; cheap household help is the norm in all of Asia in fact. But this was my first time encountering it in my life and I had no idea how to act or how to feel about it.

The fact is that in the beginning it made me incredibly uncomfortable and it felt wrong to have a young woman who was probably 30 pounds lighter than me lugging my massive pack about or waiting for me and Roman to go to bed so she could go to sleep on the floor of the living room where we were hanging out.

Because of this I am even more grateful for all the time we had at Ritu’s. The relationship between employer and employee in India is far more complex than I could imagine, and I’m glad I had the chance to see some of the nuances for myself.

Ritu’s mom employed three women. Two live-in and one part-time. As I got over my discomfort and got to know them better, I was able to see the shades of grey in the situation and understand the deep interdependency. For me the initial instinct was that “rich” people with servants = bad bourgeois (it took me a year to get over my internal angst and finally hire a cleaner back in Switzerland which made my life SO much better (even now though I feel the need to explain that I was working crazy hours which is why I couldn’t keep up with the cleaning myself!) 🙂 ) and I should feel bad for the women she hired.

But I was able to discover the deep love the women had for each other. When Ritu’s mom got into a dispute with a neighbor, all three girls were at her side in an instant, shouting insults and defending their mistress with all the fire in their big hearts. When the family situation got really tough, the girls were in the kitchen, crying in sympathy, or rubbing Ritu’s mom’s shoulders in support.

On the flip side, Ritu’s mother was more than just an employer. She taught the women to manage and save their money. If they were ill, she managed and paid for their medical care. Most of all though, her employment helped to get them out of desperate situations. Sheela left her abusive husband and was raising her children as a single mother. Pushpa escaped an arranged marriage to a man with psychological problems who had tried to kill her. Reeshma came from an impoverished rural family; with no education her job allowed her to send necessary money back home. How could I still pity these amazing women for working as servants in a household knowing what the job meant for them?

It makes me rethink the confusing feelings I had about other Indians working in service as we traveled. The countless hotel employees we saw sleeping at night in the lobbies or restaurants we sat in during the day. The rickshaw drivers’ whose homes were their vehicles. It seems like such a tough existence to me, but what was their alternative, what were they coming from?

We met one tuk tuk driver who said something that stuck with me. “The customer is God.” This is in contrast to what you hear a lot in the west where “The customer is king.” In India, it’s the customer who determine’s the fate of the guide, the driver, the porter. Our decision to employ them determines if they will earn any money that day, if they will have enough to eat that day or can care for their family. The employer is God.

But the employee can choose how they feel about and treat their “God”. I loved how many of the transactions in India were on the terms of the people in “service” – the number of tuk tuk drivers who refused to take us or the waiters whose attention we failed to get. That tuk tuk driver might have viewed customers as gods, but gods can be ignored, railed against, called on only when needed… It’s certainly not a simple, one-way relationship.

Unfinished thoughts

So, it’s a bit late now, but I don’t really know what the point of this somewhat rambling post is, other than to make it clear that India is still on my mind. I am loving our experiences in Southeast Asia, and there is lots that we have seen here that has made an equally deep impression in my heart, but I also love that India lingers and keeps me company as we move forward in our travels. I love the thrill my heart feels when I hear the pulse of the tabla or the breathy strum of a sitar. I love the jumble of emotions that well up if I look back at my photos from our time there. I love the associations that dance through my head when I’m some really good palak paneer or parantha. And I love the hope that I can go back to that country again some day.

PS – The restaurant in PhnomPenh that started all this was Mount Everest. I’m happy to report that we’ve found another Indian place that’s nearly as good in Siem Reap called Curry Walla. Also, I’ll post some photos of the lovely women working at Ritu’s home in my next entry.

Overheard

Aside

Overheard today in a coffee shop in Battambang:

“In a country where the population is 95% Buddha – Buddhism – it’s just important to get the word of Jesus Christ out there.”
 – Young missionary woman talking about her plans for upcoming work here in Cambodia

If you don’t know enough about another religion to be able to refer to it properly in a sentence, how can you know your religion is the better choice?