Friday, January 28, 2011

It's a little too good.

I've been thinking all day about how I'm going to write this post. I've been aching to write something more about Phnom Penh but I'm hesitant because I don't want it to be too showy. I don't want it to be too happy. I know not everyone is as lucky (and ridiculous) as I am, and many people don't have the luxury of this much time to travel. But I can't let that take away from the fact I am on, without a doubt, the most amazing adventure of my lifetime.

I've been so lazy here in Phnom Penh. Today I woke up at 12pm. In all fairness I don't have any time telling devices since I lost my iPod and left the lads. The room was pitch black, I had no chance! So, I didn't do the killing fields today. I think it's really important I do see them before I go to the orphanage. I think it'll give me even more perspective and understanding of the Khmer regime.

I must say this without sounding up myself or arrogant. I would describe myself as of average attractiveness in New Zealand. I do okay, and that's fine by me. But here in Asia, most specifically Cambodia, I am a novelty. When I walk down a street, almost every single guy who notices me will follow me with his eyes as long as he can. Most of them will call out something to get my attention, I just smile and say hello and keep on my merry way. It's very flattering, and it makes me blush. I end up just walking around with a constant smile on my face and acknowledge every single person my path crosses. It makes my tummy nervous in a good way.

Today I went on a little adventure. I finally checked out the Russian markets and bought two pairs of Ray Bans - one red, one black. I spent a few hours wandering around the surrounding side streets, trying to find stores that weren't in English. After making my way to the mall I grabbed a pottle of clear nail polish and a frozen yoghurt. The heat was exhausting and I decided to head home. I walked past an electronics store that was blasting dance music loudly. I saw a bunch of kids dancing so I asked their parents if I could film in some awkward sign language fashion. I showed the kids and the parents the footage and they all burst out into jolly giggles. It was really sweet. I think it was at this point of the day my mouth started to hurt from smiling too much.

On the way home I saw a bunch of young boys playing soccer on a tiny piece of grass nestled in the middle of a busy intersection. I decided to set up base there for a while, and just sat down on the edge of the field watching them. Their ball rushed towards me. Before it went off the edge onto the busy road, I picked it up and threw it back to the kid who was bouncing with the most enthusiasm. From that moment on I was one of the boys. I decided to take some photos of them playing soccer, just casually, sitting down on the ground. I decided specifically not to move, I didn't want to impose on their game. I only had my 85mm with me. Initially I regretted it, and cursed myself for not buying a 24-70. There is something very special about the 85mm lens, and it captured things more beautifully than I could have hoped for.

One of the little boys noticed me taking photos and came over. He started to casually perform for me. I'm not sure he wanted me to know that it was his intention, but it was a little obvious. I think he was showing off. He just spent a solid 10 minutes doing hand stands in front of me. I took lots of photos, and he kept looking over to make sure I was. I ushered him over to look at the photos, he cracked up laughing, then I turned my camera on him and caught the most beautiful laugh/smile I've ever seen.

While I was sitting on the grass on the edge of the road a little walked past with her baby. The little girl was absolutely adorable, I just instinctively reached for my camera, pointed up and hoped for the best. There was no changing settings, no consideration and I absolutely adore the result:

I saw there was a photo processing store across the road, so decided to try to get some of the photos printed for the kids. Unfortunately I had shot all the photos only in RAW format and the store only had old photoshop so there was no way I could edit them on the spot. A bit of a shame. I decided to continue my journey home, making a quick stop in my local stationary store to buy more ridiculously cheap goodies.

I walked a little further and was drawn to this little girl and her dad. They'd just gotten out of a Tuk Tuk and the dad was encouraging the girl to wave at her driver. I am not sure why I stopped and questioned with only hand movements whether I could take a photo. I'm happy I did though, I feel like I really caught a moment between a doting dad and a lovely lass. After I'd taken the photo I showed him and he asked for my email address to get a copy. He was actually amazed with the photo and it was such a great feeling.

I dumped all my baggage at my hotel and then decided to grab some dinner to eat. I've found a local street food restaurant that does amazing fried rice for around $1. It's the second time I've been there. I like it mostly because the menu doesn't have a word of English. The chef doesn't speak English. Thankfully he's got a younger member of staff who speaks better English than I do. This restaurant serves complimentary green tea. When you sit down you get a cup filled almost entirely with ice. There are jugs of warm green tea on the table, you pour it in and the ice melts almost instantly, resulting in a really nice temperature iced tea! It's delicious. Both times I've been I've had two cups and only stopped there because I didn't want to be too greedy. I tipped them, again, as much as the meal cost. I can't begin to describe the genuine appreciation the waitstaff showed for a dollar tip. It really puts things into perspective.

I came home and sat up all cozy in the common area pretending to read some Vietnamese magazine. The sound of drums was pouring in through the open balcony, from what I assume was another wedding celebration. There's been one every night or the same one every night. Sometimes it's hard to believe this is my life. I don't think I'm used to being this happy, this content. My life is really simple: no obligations, no drama, no restrictions. I'm trying to figure out how to capture exactly how I feel; I want to lock it in a little jar, so that the next time I'm restricted or stuck in a rut, I can unscrew the lid and breathe this magic in.

I'm madly and deeply in love with my life. There's so many things I miss, so many places I miss; but I think you're lucky when you miss things. It means you've had something really special that's worth remembering : )

India. I've always wanted to go, but I've always considered it something too dangerous to do by myself. There's this saying I adopted when I couldn't decide whether I should go to Thailand. Whether I had permission from the fun police to go. It was the only thing that gave me any clarity; "Why not?" closely followed by "What better time then now?"

We'll see. I've decided I might postpone the orphanage one more day! I wanna make the most of Phnom Penh. I'm not sure why specifically but I am very smitten with this dirty, busy city and it's beautifu,l smiley people. Very smitten indeed.

Forgive me for this mushy, sickly post, but it had to be said.

Much love xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

ps. This song is rocking my pants off at the moment

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The place I didn't expect to like

I never really considered coming to Cambodia. I thought I'd end my journey in Vietnam and be home by now. But then I realised I've not got anything really to go home to (except wonderful friends and family - but they'll be there a while) so why not really explore Asia. Cambodia as a country never drew me in. I'd barely heard about it, aside from that it was really poor. There's Ankor Wat, and the Killing fields, both worth a visit, but aside from that? I couldn't think of anything.

This trip was always about me learning, about me enjoying as much as I could from the countries I've visited. Before I set out I'd decided I wanted to volunteer. It certainly makes sense to volunteer in the country I was perhaps the least interested in, but was also by far the poorest. I'm going to be volunteering at I'm really excited about this as I put off teacher's college this year to continue my trip. I figured if I stay on and volunteer, I might learn more about whether I have the skills and patience to be a teacher. Travel has made me appreciate what a privileged position we are in coming from a first world country. I want to give back what I can, to a country that's already taught me so much in two days.

I traveled by land to Cambodia, leaving from Saigon city. It was supposed to be a five hour bus journey, but with everything in Asia it took a few hours longer than expected. I was scammed on the border; the bus company arranged to do our visas for us, and charged us $5 more than we actually had to pay. I shrugged it off, it wasn't worth causing a fuss over.

Arriving into Phnom Penh, two hours behind schedule and without accommodation booked, I wasn't really in the mood to hunt around for a good deal with my heavy bags. I took a Tuk Tuk to the closest Lonely Planet suggested hostel and made myself cozy. It was after dark and I didn't fancy spending too long wandering around, so I just grabbed some street food to take away ($1). I sat on my bed munching away on rice while watching bad Asian tv. Bliss.

Today was all about running errands, I bought a few things I needed and a couple of things I didn't (purple manicure and hair dye? okay!). I've been quite busy the past few months and haven't had really any time to blob out alone so I guess I'm making the most of it. I spent a great deal of time familiarising myself with the crazy numerical road system that does not make sense. I came home to see I had a reply from a friend about dinner, to meet in ten mins. I raced and got ready as fast as I could and jumped on the back of a motorbike. We were to meet outside the Palace. I'd not been there before, so I asked my motodriver to take me to the main entrance. It was 7:10 and neither of the girls were there. We did another loop, still not there. I decided that Phnom Penh isn't a city I want to be alone after dark lost and confuse so I asked my driver to take me to the nicest restaurant he knew of that wasn't too expensive. This is where I had a dinner I'll not forget.

I don't really like eating alone, not in nice restaurants anyway. My driver ushered me towards Khmer Saravan, I checked out the menu, it looked reasonably priced and there was enough to choose from, easily. I sat down and flicked through the menu, pretty tired and lost. It's hard changing countries: the currency is different, the people are different, the language is different, the food is different and sometimes it is overwhelming. I asked the two Swedish guys next to me what they had, and whether it was good or not. One of them insisted I must have the Ankor Curry and so I did and it was absolutely amazing.

While I was sitting at dinner, I noticed a man sitting alone. A little boy walked in trying to sell toys. He must have been about 7-8 and was wearing very scruffy clothes. The man called a waiter to his table, and asked him to tell the boy to pick something from the menu for dinner. The boy requested his meal, asked for it to be take away and the man paid. As the little boy was leaving, it was hard not to smile. It was such a sweet, and generous moment. The reality is that meal probably cost more than that little boy made in a day.

I had ordered an entire pot of Cambodian green tea to myself, for the tidy sum of $.50. It was amazing, it had a slight vanilla taste to it. I was in love. I asked the waiter where could I buy this tea from. He seemed confused and went back to consult another member of staff. After I'd requested and paid the bill, a waiter brought me out enough of that tea to make four teapots, free of charge.

I decided I wasn't in the mood to try to walk home and mulled for a while until I found a suitable motorcycle taxi. I negotiated the price down from $2 to $1. While we darted around the maze of Phnom Penh he asked me where I was from. He was very happy to hear I was from New Zealand, as a man from there sponsored his High School education. Apparently you can open up a restaurant here for around $4,000 USD. He's going to study Tourism at University. He insists that I open up a restaurant here, and he can bring his tourists there for lunch. I wont have to pay him in return, but he'll require unlimited free meals. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. I paid him $2 anyway for the ride. I think I like to bargain them down so I can tip them what they asked for anyway.

I took a deep breath and walked up the stairs to my room. I dislike and like traveling alone for so many reasons. You notice a lot more when you're alone. You are able to take a lot more in and when you are traveling I think that's really important.

I've put myself on a pretty harsh budget. If I can stick to it I'm treating myself to mainland China or India - if I'm still enthusiastic by then! I finally feel like I'm on the right path for my life. I'm itching to get to NFO and to help out with the kids. I really want to inspire change, even if it's only in one person.

I think I love photos of people most. In that moment when you capture a photo of someone, and they're maintaining eye contact, you can see so much of them. You can see their soul, you can see how you make them feel, and you can see how they see you. I hope now that I'm alone I can take many more photos like that. I'm also wanting to explore black and white photography... We'll see where that goes :)

I can't believe Jan is almost over, what an amazing start to the year I've had!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Saigon and beyond

I was distracted from the hustle and bustle of Saigon briefly today to think about my blog. I've neglected it something terrible. I have pretty much disregarded it completely for all of Vietnam. I need to document it. It's been such an amazing country to explore.

I've been to: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat, Mui Ne, Saigon and the Cu Chi tunnels. Hoi An was such a gem, it's a little town I fell very badly for. I miss it deeply, but I know I'll be back one day.

Rich, Mark and I said goodbye to each other, and to the city in style tonight. We went to a little restaurant called the Temple club and spent more on one meal between us than we did a group of 10! Dessert seemed average there, so we found a little bakery, indulging in desserts while navigating the crazy streets of Saigon. We headed up to the top of the Sheraton Hotel and tried to ignore the cocktail prices while enjoying the amazing view. I like Saigon as a city much more than I expected.

Tomorrow is the first time I am alone since the beginning of my trip - since Phuket. I am going to be very lost without the lads, but I know being alone is going to give me more of an opportunity to have the experience I came here for. I want to learn a little of the language, I want to help, I want to stay with locals and I want to have a budget more in line with what the locals would spend (no more roof top bars for me!). I'm probably going to have to start looking at maps now too.

I can feel something inside me shifting. It's hard to describe, but I'd say it's similar to having two paper hearts. At the moment they're lining up to be on top of each other, to be one... they're not quite there, so there is a lot of overlap, but I can feel everything falling into place. I can feel the person I want to be aligning with the person I am. It's a really bizarre feeling, but it's beautiful.

I've decided that this year is all about doing what I want to do. Screw making sense. Screw being sensible. I'm just going to live and feed my soul.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Year Resolutions

I'm perhaps the worst travel blogger in the entire world. But that's okay, we'll move past that. Today I need to rant about life. About dreams. About religion... Anyone else get the picture that I read "Eat Pray Love" recently?

This trip for me was all about exploring somewhere new. I'd hoped to find some kind of clarity. Maybe I'd get to know myself a little better. I'd hoped to find whatever was missing from my life. I wanted to be really happy.

I've learned a lot. Happiness isn't something that happens by chance: it has nothing to do with luck. It's not something that you stumble across. Happiness is pure, and it's raw and it's made with your own two hands. I've learned that there are really two types of events in the world:

1) Those you can't control
2) Those that you can control

It's easy in life to be frustrated by both of those type of events when they don't go how you planned: how you dreamed they might. There's no point being upset about things you can't control, that's a given. But I've learned there's no point being upset about those things that you can control, because you could invest that energy into positive change. Happiness is made with our own two hands, but it also starts in our minds. You can craft your thoughts to be positive, genuine, hopeful and inspiring. I've learned that being letting yourself be unhappy (it is a choice) is very taxing on your soul, and the souls of those who are close to you. Not only are you doing yourself a huge disservice by being unhappy, but you are negatively impacting the world too.

I'm choosing to be the kind of girl who impacts the world in a positive way. I want to be the girl who can make the person she's speaking with feel like they are the most important person in the world. That's one of my new year's resolutions.

When I was at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai I felt overwhelmed to pray. I'm not sure why, I'm not a hugely religious person. I don't really have a God I was praying to. I think maybe I was just sending out a little message to the universe. I lit an incense stick and stuck it in the offering to Buddha and I kneeled before it. I cleared my head of all thoughts, and asked myself what I wanted most to learn... "I want to find happiness in silly places" - I didn't mean happiness in the usual sense. I want to be able to laugh at my own misfortunes, I want to stop and smell the roses, I want to study the stars from as many places on earth as I can and feel so overwhelmed by it all. I want to take deep breaths and really breathe in life. I want to find beauty in the places you sometimes forget to look.

I think I am doing all of that now and it feels amazing :)

I've also decided that the relationships that don't work out, are there to take you closer to where you need to be in life. My most recent relationship made a passion for photography resonate within me. I've learned so much from him and I can't wait to take it further. I don't believe everything happens for a reason, but I think maybe there is a path that I'm supposed to be on. At the moment I feel like I'm exactly where I should be.

Two weeks until I have to be out of Vietnam!

I have a few more resolutions, but I'll post them as they come to heart. xx

Thursday, January 6, 2011

three days of transit

We had to leave Chiang Mai, though if we could I'm sure we would have stayed longer. Our next destination was Luang Prabang, a quant little french town in Laos. We took a 5 hour bus to Chiang Kong, stopping off in Chiang Rai to see the most beautiful temple I've ever seen. It was all white, and some of the decorations were creepy.

Chiang Kong was not much of a looker, the most redeeming feature was a 7-11. We crossed over the Laos border which involved taking a little old school boat across the river. Laos immigration was slow, in line with most asian operations and it took around 4 hours for us to be able to board the slow boat. I wasn't very excited about the prospect of being on a slow boat for eight hours a day, for two days in a row, but looking back it was a really amazing experience. The Mekong river is absolutely stunning and along the journey you get a peak at daily Lao life. We had the four of us, plus Rich (*2), Chris and Laura along for the journey which made it a little more interesting.

Luang Prabang was a really lovely little town. The main street was lined with french style bakeries selling baguettes, donuts, cakes, croissants and donuts. We just chilled out here. One day we hired bikes and went for a little picnic mission, it was very sweet. We did a little day trip to Tad Sae waterfall, which took about an hour to get there by tuk tuk - unfortunately my camera was left at the hostel, but the boys got some sweet pictures.

On my last full day in Laung Prabang I volunteered at Big Brother Mouse. Essentially I went along and just chilled out with some local Laos teenagers, helping them practice their English and learning a little more about their daily life. It's hard meeting local people, because obviously travel is of such an interest to me, and usually for them too. But often it's an unrealistic dream for them. It's humbling and a good reminder of how lucky I am to be on this adventure.

Monday, January 3, 2011

two thousand and eleven

I had every intention of keeping this blog well maintained. I wanted it to be a record of all that I did and saw while away. I've learned that my happiness is inversely proportionate to how much time I spend on facebook (and blogging) and as such I am not sad that I've been so infrequent in my updates. It's because I've been living my travels instead of documenting them. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm almost thankful I've been slack. Almost.

Bangkok was a gem. I didn't expect to like it. There was so much going on and every corner had something worth exploring. After Nicole left, I met up with Rich, Mark and Jade. We decided to travel to Chiang Mai together. The Thai are very fond of Chiang Mai. Frequently I was asked when I was going there, and for how long. It was a fairly long sleeper bus from Bangkok (10 hours?) and before we'd properly left Bangkok Jade had to get off the bus because he wasn't feeling very well, Mark escorted him to the hospital. Rich and I continued to Chiang Mai, feeling pretty disorientated especially being down two. We recharged in Chiang Mai. I got three massages, two pedicures, two manicures and two facials. It probably cost less than one of any of those back home. A little spoiled.

My favourite part of my time in Chiang Mai was either the Thai cooking course we did (I learned to cook a curry- from scratch! Pad Thai, Tom Yum, Basil Chicken and Mango sticky rice) or the Trek. Our Trek was a three day affair. The first day was a light trek to Jumbo elephant camp. We rode the elephants - which I am still undecided on whether I actually enjoyed it or not; the elephants had to carry us up pretty steep hills, which I can't imagine was too fun for them. And the seats on their back were very uncomfortable. There was a little pond and hammocks which we chilled out by, it was very relaxing. After some drinking, Black Pancake and some camp fire songs, Rich and I went and fed the elephants at midnight. I'm not sure whether we were actually allowed to, but it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Elephants are big. I was literally cuddling one of them, Samantha, around the trunk. She could have done some serious damage to me if she wanted, but I think she was quite happy with the midnight snacks. After exhausting their food supply we sat under the stars (which was so different to in NZ) and counted shooting stars. It was all kinds of amazing.

The second day we had a substantial trek to the top of a hill. A big hill. A massive hill. My red bull concentrate didn't carry me as well as I'd hoped. It was exhausting, but once we'd finally made it we were all pretty proud of ourselves. We were "staying with a hill top tribe" but really it meant we were staying in tourist accommodation on top of a hill near a tribe. Unfortunately we weren't introduced to the tribe and it made things a little awkward. I originally went out with my camera and a group of 6 boys, but found that it was too intimidating to really capture anything worth while. I split from the group and played with the kids. I met this little girl who started jumping when she saw me; so I jumped too. Then whenever we saw each other, we'd both start jumping and giggling. It made no sense, but it was absolutely lovely. It a little heart breaking to see little children playing with fire, in clothes that were painted with dirt. I just wanted to steal them and take them back to NZ.

The third day of the trek was a bit more adventurous. We went on a big walk to a water fall. I excelled in the white water rafting - not so much so in the floating in the river - or the bamboo rafting. It was a bunch of fun but by the end of it we were ready to go back to the hostel and recharge.