Thursday, April 14, 2011

So Long, Southeast Asia

I write this post from the lobby of the Phnom Penh airport, preparing to get on a plane and go home after the experience of a lifetime. I’m not sure if this is a post that I will publish, or if this is just something to get my thoughts in order. Regardless, writing my thoughts is and has always been therapeutic, so I’ll just go with it.
The past two and a half months have been nothing short of awe inspiring. In it I have grown, changed, evolved, challenged myself, lost friendships, gained friendships, loved, and most of all, found a part of myself that I never knew existed until I travelled like this. This experience has been vastly different from my experience in Georgia, and I feel much of that difference in my difficulty leaving and my fear of returning home. My departure from Georgia was easy—I was all too ready to leave the country and return home. It’s not that I had a bad time—it was amazing—but by the end I was ready. This experience, however, has totally turned everything around. I haven’t dragged my feet into the ground this much since I graduated from high school. I haven’t stopped crying in the past twenty four hours. I made Olly feel terribly uncomfortable from my emotional whims, as he tried to pat my back and pass me off to Dewi. It’s not that I don’t want to go home. It’s just that I don’t want to leave Southeast Asia. Georgie cried with me, but she left two days ago. It's been emotional, to say the least. This part of the world holds such rich beauty, such room for adventures and growth and good old fashioned fun….I just don’t feel like I’m ready to leave this. I know that all good things must come to an end. The gang split up—Scuba Steve left first, and then there were four—then we were joined by Georgie’s cousin Eve, and then Eve and Georgie left ten days after that (two days ago). Olly and Dewi are headed out to Singapore and then Australia on the 16th. So no matter how much I wish I could keep going, I know that my experience would change because the people have changed. It was as amazing as it was because of the people I was able to share it with. While I could certainly hop over to Bali on my own—it would be a different kind of experience, a different trip, and what I am craving is a continuance of this experience, the one where I laugh every day with four Brits, get made fun of for my American idiosyncrasies, and feel as though I have lost all conception of day and time in the sweet lull of casual and comfortable banter, constant eye openings, and feelings of love and friendship. Any other experience—though it would surely be great—just wouldn’t be the same. I have to keep telling myself that as I sit at this airport, crying and looking foolish as the stoic Cambodians walk by.
In the past two and a half months I have eaten frog. I have ridden elephants bareback. I have meditated in Angkor Wat. I have ridden a motorbike. I’ve gone white water rafting, bamboo rafting, boating through an ancient cave and have gone drunk tubing down a river in Laos. I’ve realized that I’m not devoid of the capacity to love, a fear I'd grappled with before I left. I’ve also realized that time heals all wounds, no matter how gaping and incomprehensible they may seem. I’ve killed cockroaches and sang to others, been blessed by a monk and found a growing love of nomadic life. I’ve communicated with local hill tribes through a common human desire for interpersonal connection, took a slowboat down the Mekong, and have tried every kind of fruit known to Southeast Asia. I’ve learned how to say thank you in four languages and how best to compliment a person from this part of the world. I’ve laughed harder, cried more, and felt more intensely than ever before.

I've also realized that the title for this blog has been quite appropriate, as the more time I spend travelling, the more I realize that there is never any plan. I left thinking I would spend three months here, working/volunteering for three week stints on various farms and schools throughout S.E.Asia. I was distraught when the first placement fell through and felt like I had no purpose. The longer I stayed (and this really hit me when I met my travel group), the more I started to embrace my planlessness, to love it. I loved waking up every morning, eating breakfast and thinking about what we would do that day, where we wanted to go. There was never any planning or foresight--just like I couldn't have planned to have met these amazing people and to have had the experience I had with them. Nothing on this trip worked out the way I thought it would--and it was so much better because of it. I've realized that having a plan is--(gasp)--unnecessary...that life is spontaneous and that itcan be most enjoyed when we live extemporaneously, making decisions as we go. As much as I am worried about what will happen when I get home--where or if I'll get a job, where I'll live, what I'll do in the fall--I am trusting more that things will work out as they should, just like this experience has. Everything will fall into place. I love this new way of thinking.
I will never, for as long as I live, forget this experience. It has become a part of me, a part of my blood, its own Mekong running through my veins. To Georgie,Sophie, Scuby, Dewi, Olly, and Eve—sinkaman, au kon, kap jai la lai, kap cum kah. For everything. You have made this trip exponentially more amazing than I ever thought it could be.
I’m going to take a brief hiatus from my blog writing (though I have been doing that already in my negligence in updating this thing!) as my travels are coming to a halt until I go to Israel in June. But rest assured I will update them from the holy land, as I’m sure to have more stories to share, more love to give and receive, more growth to experience. Here’s to the journey.
Until next time,

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cambodia, Cambodia

Greetings from Phnom Penh, everyone!

I am writing this post from beside the pool at our georgeous guesthouse, which is costing us an unbelievable five dollars a night. i could really learn to live like this, i think. we got here yesterday morning, after spending four days in saigon (technically called ho chi minh, but no one there calls it that). saigon was incredible--i absolutely loved it. we were very cultural, and spent more of our time in museums, visiting galleries, and walking about, exploring the cities. soem of the highlight from saigon:
-the cu chi tunnels, which were built by the viet cong during the vietnam war as places to take refuge from the American and southern Vietnamese army. These caves are TINY....and they pop up in places near fellow rabbit holes (basically just a hole in the ground that a tiny Vietnamese person would sit in for hours at a time). We saw some of the methods of torture that teh Viet Cong had in place--trap doors that opened up to razor sharp spears of varying length and bodily aim. We went IN the tunnel, but not the tourist tunnel that they had enlarged--no no, we went in the LOCAL tunnel. the tunnel for teeny tiny Viet Cong. It was the scariest 25 meters of my life. I literally had visions of being trapped in there...claustrophobia majorly kicked in and i got out before the rest of the group did. still, though, i was quite impressed with myself!
-war museum--interesting and horrifically saddening. yes, there was a lot of anti-american propaganda in the galleries. but the most horrifying exhibit was that about agent orange. the realization of the effect that the toxic chemicals (sprayed by the US as basically experiments) had on the people there and the children of the people there was a dark one indeed. Physical deformations about, and there has been nothing done, barely much recognition by the US government of the deleterious effects of agent orange. Deformed fetuses, pictures of horrifically enlarged body parts, of people born without arms and legs due to exposure to these chemicaly--it was a rough exhibit.
-the first subway in vietnam, where i ate not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. my friends have named my alter ego Josie--they say that inside me is an obsese girl that needs to be fed all the time (which is pretty much true). With subway subs right aruond the corner, I got a little nostalgic for Western food chains and indulged in some tuna on honey oat. It tasted pretty delicious after two months of rice and noodles.
We stayed at a lovely hostel where the owners were this older couple, totally dedicated to providing us with the best service. They all hugged us goodbye, gave Georgie (who was sick as a dog) medicated tea, and walked us to our bus to wave us off. Just lovely. You meet the sweetest people traveling.

We arrived in Phnom Pehn yeserday afternoon and spend the day relaxing. This morning we went to the royal palace which was stunning, and then the famed silver pagoda that had a life-size gold statue of the buddha with 2,086 diamonds. I drooled a little bit. Then it was on to the history museum, where we saw hundreds of years of statues of the Hindu and then Buddhist gods. It was beautiful.

Tomorrow we are off to see the Killing Fields, where thousands of innocent people were brutally murdered by the Khmer Rouge. A modern day Auschwitz, the Killing Fields are a potent reminder to us of the devastated past of Cambodia--of a massive genocide that happened only thirty or forty years ago, that wiped out an entire generation of people. From the Killing fields, its on to s-21, the prison in which cambodians were brutally tortured for Khmer enjoyment. It's going to be a rough, but very necessary, day.

My time here is slowly coming to an end. I leave to go back to the states on april 14th, which is way too soon. I have had the most unbelievable time here--have had so many transformative and memorable experiences. I can't believe that two and a half months will have elapsed since I left home. I feel like I'll be returning a new person, enlightened and alive after seeing a part of the world nothing like my own. But I still have almost two weeks left--with good friends, good food, and good sights, it doesn't get much better than this.