Adventures Abroad: China-Arrival

Adventures Abroad: China-Arrival

Saturday was my last night in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and it was one of the best days of the whole trip. I helped a couple teachers who are in limbo move their stuff to a hostel. And by “helped” I mean I tagged along so I could go to the little coffee shop just down the street from the hostel and get a strawberry chiller. I did carry one suitcase up four flights of stairs, so I earned that chiller, dammit. But we had lunch at great street food place and visited Wat Phnom, one of the oldest temples in Cambodia.

We’d been to Wat Phnom before, it was the first stop on the City Tour we did the first Sunday we arrived. It’s within walking distance which was great because I was so sick that first tour I didn’t recall seeing a lot of the stuff that was there. And it was really nice to walk through with just the four of us instead of a group of twenty. It felt less intrusive to the people who were there praying and making offerings. I thought I’d pick up some things from the little tourist stand but none of it was really Wat Phnom or Phnom Penh. There were a lot of things with Angkor Wat on them, elephants, lions, and a few statues of Brahma.

At five o’clock we added the teacher with the most nicknames: Aquaman/BoBear/Little Bear/Dread Pirate Robert to our number and set off for a boxing match. Entry to these things is free, you just have to pay for the ride there. It was a broadcasted match and we got front row seats.

The kickboxing was great, make no mistake, I’d love to go to another one, but the star of the show was the zebra print clad bookie taking bets. This woman was shameless and managed to get Jay to wager five bucks on a match which he promptly lost.

There were four matches each match lasted five rounds or, in one case, until a KO in the second round. Dude got his bell rung by a beautifully executed roundhouse. It was incredible, had I not been watching his feet I wouldn’t have seen him move it. It was like a snake strike there and back in less than a blink. And he was one of the slow fighters. There was a fighter in the last round whose kicks were absurdly fast and that fight ended in a draw because the other guy still dodged them. A couple more years of experience and that kid will be undefeated. I mean his footwork was incredible. Still needs work on his punches, but had those kicks connected they would’ve dropped the other guy.

I would say far too soon the fight ended and we went our separate ways for the last time. Three went back to the hostel whilst Aquaman and I returned to the Marady Hotel so we could leave the next morning.

oOo

Yesterday, Feb 21st, Aquaman and I got up at the ass-crack of dawn and headed to the airport. It was kind of nice being on the streets of Phnom Penh at 530am. Not a lot of traffic and the air was cool and cleaner. It was a nice send off from the city that in ten years will be a bustling destination place. And it was nice to take a Tuk Tuk instead of the taxi I was thinking about. As we’d been talking at lunch the day before, Phnom Penh is leaving the age of Tuk Tuks behind. As the middle class continues to expand and more and more people get cars there’s a very good chance Tuk Tuks will be pushed off the roads for the sake of efficiency. They might keep some for tours of the city for foreigners, but they won’t be the staple of transportation.

Which makes me sad for future visitors. I don’t know how you can actually experience Phnom Penh unless you’ve gone the wrong way down a narrow one way bumping over potholes at fifteen miles an hour dodging stray animals and pedestrians only to come screeching out into the street with only a cursory glance at oncoming traffic. I mean, that’s what makes Phnom Penh fun.

Anyway, I digress.

I still hate flying. Only had two three hour flights and it was still miserable. Aquaman and I had the same initial flight so we got to Guangzhou and picked up our luggage, but what should have been a two and a half hour layover for me and a two hour layover for him, turned into less than an hour for him. So he had to book it. I had just at an hour to get through customs and security which was nerve wracking but we lucked out because the security line was the longest and it only took me about ten or fifteen minutes to get through.

Then there was the hike.

So I got through security and there’s this little thing like a golf cart with eight seats sitting there with a sign that says “To B Departure”. And on my ticket it says I need to be at B. So I climb aboard and before I have my backpack settled on my lap we’re off.

I never wondered what it would be like to ride on an indoor Tuk Tuk, but now I have the answer to that unasked question. It could be a ride at Cedar Point. Pedestrians? They better move. I doubt we were going that fast, but this dude had it floored the entire way. It blew my hair back.

It was great and I was glad for it since I found my gate was, of course, the farthest from arrivals as physically possible. They might as well have just put it on the other side of the city.

By the time I got to my gate I had fifteen minutes before boarding.

And I still hate flying.

But the flight was fine, hardly any turbulence and a smooth landing. The real challenge was grabbing my luggage and trying to find who was picking me up. By a stroke of luck, one of the ladies who was here to get me saw me first. Since our ride hadn’t yet arrived we sat at Starbucks and she asked me about the US and I asked her about China. She was really cool and I wish she was coming with me to Yan’an, but oh well.

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These are apartments. This is the fourth block we passed on the way to Xi’an proper from the airport.

I had thought I’d be staying in a hotel or hostel, Jay, the godsend that he is gave me the name of a hostel I could book if I was left to find my own lodgings. Luckily? The son of the lady who owns the school I’ll be teaching at owns a “hostel.” It’s nice, but I’m guessing this is just a place they use for teachers who are doing their training in Xi’an. I think I’d rather stay at the place Jay told me about but how do you kindly ask, “Hey, I know this is free, but I’d like to pay to stay somewhere that looks cooler.”

Anyway, I thought I’d just spend the rest of my night just chilling after all day of traveling, but alas, ‘twas not to be. We went to the house of the guy I’ve been emailing who, while writes English fairly well, can’t speak a word of it. So for an awkward hour and a half I drank delicious green tea and listened to the Chinese conversation going on around me.

Then we went out to eat, this is like 8pm, I’ve been up since 430, because my brain hates me, and I am almost asleep on my feet. You have no idea how exhausting Chinese society is until you’re in it. Every single one of us was performing in one way or another. Always, always, always keep your best face up.

So after a month of somewhat plain Khmer cuisine, I assaulted my body with a variety of spices it didn’t get even in the US. I know I had some kind of fish soup, roasted pig’s feet which were pretty good, some kind of mushroom, potatoes, eggs, and some kind of really rich soup that I really enjoyed.

My stomach is not happy with me.

Then they ordered me some kind of noodle bowl and, seriously guys, I haven’t been eating a lot, like once or twice a day for the last month, this was three times that in one meal and I’d already eaten on the flight. And there was also some kind of mozzarella stick looking thing they told me was rice covered in brown sugar sauce.

I tried a little of each but at that point I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep. Traveling itself is exhausting. Traveling and then preforming for four hours about damn killed me.

Fiiinaaaaalllllyyyy it was time to head to the hostel where I am sharing a room with two of my Chinese teachers. I, according to them, am the only foreign teacher at the school. So it looks like I will have an apartment to myself. Dank Sei Gott.

They’re both really nice, but even with them I feel like I have a face and expectations I have to put on that’s just not there with other Westerners. I may well have to find the ex-pat corner of Yan’an and head down there once a week or so just to relax.

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This is the entrance to the Tang Paradise amusement park. It’s an amusement park based on the Tang dynasty.
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Writing Updates!

Writing Updates!

Like the title says, this has nothing to do with my traveling, so if you’re following for adventures you’ll have to wait a little longer. But, if you’re following because of my various stories I have scattered about cyberspace, you’re in luck!

I realized last night when I opened the newest document for Master’s Apprentice that it’s been like three months since I updated that and I don’t want you all thinking I’ve abandoned it. It’s alive; I just haven’t had the time or energy to tackle it.

I have Master’s Apprentice storyboarded pretty much to the last chapter. At this point it’s just a matter of having the time and headspace to sit down and crank it out. I really like this one, it’s really evolved from where I had the idea initially and I’m pretty happy with how the characters are evolving as I write.

MA is priority #1. Any writing I do will be focused on that one so it will be updated as soon as I get it written.

oOo

Next! Monster I have about three more chapters storyboarded. I still have no idea how long this one will be but the settings in the upcoming chapters are heavily influenced by my time in Cambodia so I’m really excited to get them out there because I’m pretty sure you guys are going to love it. I also really like this incarnation of Jazz. His character evolution is really challenging which makes him a lot of fun to write.

I’m also adding in other characters that I haven’t written before and don’t see much of so that’s taking time too. I don’t want to Dr. Frankenstein these characters together and wind up with a mech or femme that’s not somewhat true to their G1 origins.

Annnd, since writing Ratchet in this storyverse I’m about 99% certain he’s going to have his own story because he’s just too damn awesome to not have an extensive background. But that’s way in the future, I haven’t even come up with a plot. I just know it will be him in Ahnkmor.

Oh, and someone asked if Monster is the same storyverse as Where the Lonely Ones Roam, it is Not. These stories are their own entities.

oOo

Other updates! I have tentatively started storyboarding the first chapter for the sequel to Sparkling. No idea what it will be called but so far it’s less cute and fluffy than Sparkling. OCs are getting better characterization and I’m really working hard on making the antagonist a three dimensional character and not just a convenient bad guy.

I’m guessing I’ll start getting this written after Monster and Master’s Apprentice are wrapped up. I don’t know if it will directly after those two are finished because who knows what wild plot bunny will bite me. I didn’t know I was going to write Monster until I had the first page written and decided I really liked the character.

oOo

Second: I have a couple of scenes written for the sequel to Where the Lonely Ones Roam. This one will be several months in the works. I’m really delving more into Cybertronian culture and working out the mythology for both Prowl’s and Ratchet’s respective cultures.

Really, I just want you to know that I am working on a sequel, but honestly, I can’t see any of it being posted until closer to the end of the year.

I also have a spin-off, for lack of a better word, for the WtLOR storyverse. That might be up before the sequel. It’s about the Twins and how Prowl found them and I really like it.

oOo

Miscellaneous: I have a couple chapters written for a “How Prowl and Jazz met” story that I’ve been picking away at for a couple months. That one might go up after Master’s Apprentice is finished.

I also have a TFP storyverse for which I have five chapters written. It’s centered on Breakdown, Knockout, and a human OC. I think the reason I haven’t put it up is because there are so many human OCs I just can’t bring myself to add to the numbers.

That and I keep changing how I want Knockout and Breakdown’s relationship. Are they BreakOut or are they companions-not-quite-friends? I don’t know and it really screws with how I write certain scenes if I can’t pin these things down. That one might be awhile coming.

And lastly, I have a few starts for Soundwave centered stories, one of them is hella depressing so it’s probably the one I’ll work on the most because I live for character angst. I also have an idea for a post-war Starscream story that I’m certain will make you hate me. Honestly, I could probably have it written already, I doubt it’ll be more than two chapters but really, I don’t know if I can be that terrible to Starscream.

I have also started a hesitant foray into Star Wars VII stories. They only peripherally involve the main characters; primarily they’re focused on the Stormtrooper ranks. And by hesitantly, I mean I have one page written and I haven’t touched it since December. So that may never see the light of day but we shall see. The characters haven’t faded, I think they just need a different plot.

oOo

Annnnnd for those of you who have been and want to read my original content…

I haven’t done a damn thing.

Not. One. Thing.

I haven’t even opened the files. Maybe once I’m settled in China and have a kitchen where I can make tea and popcorn I might hazard opening something but that won’t be for a month or so. I’ve been thinking about it though. I’ve been thinking long and hard about settings, characters, and really fleshing out the cities and people who live in them.

If there’s one story I’ll get into immediately it’ll be my little assassin that I started to write back in July. Or I might start one about an ESL teacher who’s actually a cryptobiologist. I haven’t thought that one all the way through. Who knows.

I want to write a story based in Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville but right now the experiences haven’t had time to really settle and shape. I keep trying to force characters out and they always come off as stilted and two dimensional. I know when I get to China I’ll have the same feeling. Hopefully after a couple months I’ll be able to at least craft a setting and find a character that fits.

The Killing Fields

Disclaimer: This is my post about the Killing Fields and it is not a happy one.

 

I went to the Phnom Penh Killing Fields a week ago Sunday and I’ve probably started this post a dozen different ways. I thought about doing a step-by-step of the experience, what it was like driving up and seeing it for the first time, listening to survivor stories. But that seems really clinical and detached. There is nothing cut and dry about the Killing Fields and what it takes for humans to do that to each other. It’s a messy experience full of chaotic emotions.

But I’m not going to write about the Killing Fields. There are some horrors in the world that are too great for words. There simply are not words that can convey the spirit crushing horror of The Killing Tree and the Magic Tree. There’s nothing I can say or write that will make you understand what it’s like to listen to a recording of what was most likely the last thing people—children, men, and women—heard before they were hacked to death with hoes, scythes, bayonets, and axes.

You can still see clothes coming up from the ground as erosion continues to bring more victims to the surface. Scraps of t-shirts and jackets and blouses tangled in roots.

One of my classmates found a skull.

I found a femur. Part of a femur at least.

There are teeth and bone fragments everywhere.

So no, I could flip through a dictionary for days and still not find the words to explain to you the terrible horror of the Killing Fields so I won’t try.

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According to the audio tour, the children were killed in front of their mothers before the women were raped and killed.
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Most likely, the victims found here were in the Khmer Rouge army and killed as an example to keep others afraid. They were buried in their uniforms.
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When this killing field was discovered there were still bits of brain and bone clinging to the bark. The bracelets hung on the tree are spirit offerings.
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The caretakers collect the clothing and bits of bone that come up once a month and preserve them. The purple shorts on the left side belonged to a small child.
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All the skulls that have been found. So far, 5,000 victims reside in here.
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Forensic Anthropologists did a study on the bones to determine the sex, age, and manner of execution. None were killed with bullets because bullets are expensive.
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Five Thousand skulls. And there are more still in undisturbed pits under a lake.
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The people killed were doctors, teachers, lawyers. People with education and their families.

 

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Someone’s t-shirt coming up from the pit. The mass graves were dusted with powdered DDT to kill anyone who might have survived the initial execution

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Tutoring

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Tutoring

So I got super lucky on the one-to-one tutoring in that the guy who has lived here for six months did in fact manage to find not just one, but five other people at a hostel who want a free lesson. So Saturday morning myself and four others hopped in a Tuk Tuk and went absolutely nowhere fast.

Holy hells, Chinese New Year.

Year of the Monkey, FYI

Also, year of the goddamn traffic.

Jay said it would take about twenty to twenty-five minutes to get to the hostel. We were scheduled to meet at 10am. We left our hotel a little after 930. At 1045 we finally made it to the hostel.

Yeah.

But we got there and we split off with our pupils to do the assessment so we could come up with a lesson.

Now on the surface, this seems like a great idea. I get to practice tutoring and they get a lesson in English. And if that’s as far as you think about it, yeah, everyone wins. But as I and the other three ladies discussed if you actually think about this it is horribly exploitive and a terrible assignment. We’re supposed to go out into this city and find someone who wants or needs English bad enough they are willing to take a free lesson from someone on the street.

This is a poor city in a poor country and any sort of English skill can be the one thing that will allow someone to get a good job that will provide not only for their family but also secure an education for their children that will give them a better life.

So we do this joke of an assessment, for real, it’s a list of questions that takes about twenty minutes to fill out, and we’re supposed to come up with a useful lesson plan from that. The guy I tutored works in the kitchen at the hostel, which was a hella stroke of luck. I’ve worked in restaurant kitchens pretty much since I started working. And, thankfully, my student wanted better kitchen English so that he could move up the ranks.

After we finished our assessments, we walked down the road to a small coffee shop to begin our lesson planning. The strawberry smoothie I got was utterly divine and if it wasn’t so far I’d be there every day getting one.

But I digress.

My student finished his shift at 2, so at 230 we walked back down to the hostel and I did my lesson. I’d like to think I helped him at least a little. But while he had a pretty good understanding of English already, one lesson is not enough to bolster knowledge. It’s just not. The only useful thing I think I taught him was “I don’t understand, let me get someone who can help.”

That’s it.

So I hated this assignment. If I was staying in Cambodia, I’d be at that hostel once a week doing lessons for everyone. The owner even promised us one free meal per lesson if we’d stay and help.

This could be a really great thing. If every batch of teachers coming through went to this hostel and gave everyone one free hour then yes, I can see something coming from that. And we all who went to the hostel passed around the names of our students and the address for the hostel so anyone who didn’t have someone to tutor could go there. As it stands now though, this lesson was just a waste of everyone’s time.

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia Classes

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia Classes

Thursday’s class wasn’t great. My observer yesterday told me I needed to do more dialogue exercises in class. My kids are like four years old so any dialogue exercise I do with them has to be really, really simple. But I shrugged and did what he asked because this is the shit we get evaluated on.

I walked in today and thought, for our first exercise, the “Warmer” we’d do the Telephone game, or Whispers, whichever you prefer. You know the one, you line up single file and someone whispers “Apple” or whatever in the first person’s ear and it goes down the line and you see what comes out at the end.

I don’t know if I’m not explaining these things the right way or if I’m making it too complicated but it just didn’t work. The first boy refused to continue the whisper because he said it would break the telephone.

Fine, let’s do something else.

So we did a vocab review with spelling and then I tried to introduce some dialogue. “I fell and hurt my elbow.” So I drew some stick figures on the board and walked them through a scenario of running around the playground and tripping.

But, I got them to say the whole thing, I don’t think they knew what they were saying, but they said it. It was a really long grueling lesson. I was bored and I know they were bored. The only saving grace is that the lady that was supposed to be observing me today didn’t show up. The downside is, I have to do dialogue tomorrow so that it says in my teaching practice workbook that I used the technique.

We also found out today that before Thursday, we have to find a local and give them a one hour free tutoring lesson in English. So you know, little introverted me is super excited about that bullshit. But it’s only one hour and one of the guys who’s lived here for six months is already tutoring a girl and he said she probably knew a couple other people that would like a free lesson.

And if that doesn’t work two other girls and I have decided we’ll just go to the mall and put a sign up that says “Free English Lesson” and see what happens.

But after some looong lessons on grammar, I went out to eat with three other people to a little Korean BBQ place just down the street. It was great. We spent about two hours talking about classes and kids and the assignment and ribbing each other about our countries (one of the girls is from England). It was great food and great conversation. The meal itself came with some cabbage, onions, mango, some kind of melon, mixed greens, and carrots. Then we ordered seasoned beef, BBQ pork, bacon, rice, salted mango, mushrooms, and spring onions. And there was a little grill in the middle of the table so everything was made right there fresh.

Final bill: $7.50.

So, lousy day in class and an assignment I’m not looking forward to, but a great meal to end the day. I suppose, we’ll just try again tomorrow.

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Teaching Practice

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Teaching Practice

Monday morning.

So Friday, we were told that those of us teaching at the school True Vision would have our room assignment by the end of the day. I was okay with that. That meant we’d have the weekend to brainstorm ideas for our very first class.

Friday night still no room assignment.

Saturday night, no room assignment.

Sunday one of my classmates sent an email asking if our room assignment had come in.

No.

snape

Monday morning, seven of us loaded up two Tuk Tuks and started the trek to True Vision without any idea of what age group we were teaching. True Vision has students that range from preschool to sixth grade.

We get to the office and we all started to relax a little. The kids playing in the courtyard are older, about seven and eight, and that was what we had planned for. Excellent.

Then the True Vision staff split us up.

On the other side of the office is another campus and that’s where myself and two others were led.

There in the courtyard, small children. Tiny children. Children significantly younger than the seven and eight year olds we had just left.

I have a class of four year olds. Preschool.

Tiny, tiny children.

snape1

Nothing, absolutely nothing, I had on my lesson plan and none of the stuff we had discussed in our teaching course was meant for children this young. I asked them to write their names on a sheet of paper and draw a picture from their favorite story. The TA had to help three of the six spell their names. I had thought it wouldn’t be that bad, six students, I can wing this. I’ll think of something.

8:20, eight more students come through the door. I have fourteen four year olds and nothing on my lesson plan will work.

I tried to modify one of the games I had. “Jungle Survival” What items do you take into the jungle? It didn’t work. Okay. What animals live in the jungle? Elephants, fish, dogs, and cats. Okay, maybe not.

They demanded we sing a song. I don’t know any. I don’t like to sing and I sure as fuck can’t make up some bullshit diddly at the drop of a hat. So I asked them what songs they knew while staring at the clock waiting for it to hit 8:50 when I could release them to the courtyard.

So Monday was a clusterfuck of a different color. The only saving grace being that I was not observed and critiqued when everything fell apart and anarchy ruled no one but the TA had to see it.

oOo

Sickness has taken hold of my classmates. Two of them were too sick to teach, three of them probably should have stayed at the hotel, and four more were also green around the gills. I’m still feeling fine. And this time I have a goddamn plan.

snape2

This time we’re going to have rules and the students will tell me their names when they walk in.

This time we’re going to write the alphabet on the board in a board race.

This time we’re going to learn new words like “Elbow,” “Ankle,” “Wrist,” “Thigh,” and “Neck.”

This time we’re going to play a game at the end with our new vocabulary.

This time, four students came in at 8am when class starts and when I asked them to write their names on the board they couldn’t make the letters or spell them.

This time, the alphabet board race fell apart before it began. The concept of “teams” and “racing” still too complex in a non-native language so they just wrote letters on the board.

This time, we learned the word “Elbow”. Sort of.

This time, there was an observer watching me watch the clock waiting for it to hit 8:50.

But it wasn’t all bad. The observer said I need to be louder and use the students’ names. She said I need more examples of the words I’m using and I need to do more repetition. I need to put the words in a sentence, something they can use context clues to really figure out the word.

oOo

This time I am ready to rock and fucking roll. I have nametags, I have stickers, I have a goddamn plan.

This time I track down an attendance sheet and ask the kids to spell and point to their names while I write down their nametags.

This time we’re reviewing “Elbow” and learning “Ankle”, with pictures. I have examples and I have questions to drill them on understanding.

This time I have a game where they have to point to their elbows and ankles to get the point.

This time they’re going to spell the words.

This time my observer told me I did an excellent job on drilling and class flow and class management. This time the plan fucking worked.

snape3

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Beng Melea

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Beng Melea

We went down to Pub Street for dinner Saturday night. Not many highlights from that, save the banana/pineapple shake I got before dinner and the dragonfruit shake I got for dinner. Those were a little piece of heaven. I thought I would miss shakes while I was overseas again, but Cambodia does fruit shakes and smoothies like no one else. I tried someone’s avocado shake and also a mango shake. These things are delicious.

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I also got fried ice cream for the first time. It was…pretty good. I got oreo and if I do it again I’ll get a fruit flavored ice cream because I think it will make the cream more flavorful.

I did get two scarves to wear since I can’t wear my usual bandanas or hats in class. Originally, I was going to get a new hat here and begin filling it with buttons like my other two, but this place, this culture, doesn’t really fit a hat. So I’ve decided I’m going to get scarves. They’re beautiful and I didn’t realize until I already bought the two scarves, they’re both silk.

The next morning we had to be up kind of early again, not 4am, but 8am so we could leave at 9. We had one more temple to stop in before starting the long trek back to Phnom Penh. As we were leaving several people said they wished we were doing out classes in Siem Reap instead of Phnom Penh. I have to disagree. Siem Reap is a really nice city. The streets are swept clean, there are sidewalks, the traffic has a much more familiar Western flow to it. And that I think is why they liked Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a tourist town and drowning in Western influences. People rarely ride into oncoming traffic, there were more cars that scooters. This city has molded itself to make happy the Westerners that come to visit Angkor Wat. Phnom Penh is a Cambodian city. This city is Cambodia. People drive on the roads without any real discernible pattern, there aren’t really sidewalks, store fronts are right on the street, cars are a rarity and scooters rule the road. Siem Reap was a very nice vacation destination, but if I’m going to live in a country for a month, I want to live in that country, not some offbrand Westernized version.

 

oOo

Two hours in to our drive we reached the last temple, Beng Melea. This temple isn’t as well known as the ones in the immediate vicinity of Siem Reap and it’s really out of the way from the main road. I loved it. You walk down this really long causeway that somewhere beneath the shifting sands has a stone walkway just like the others. This temple is in more disrepair than even the jungle temple. I didn’t get to explore the entire temple because we only had a forty-five minutes to run around.

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The stones are tumbled pretty much how they’ve fallen over the years. It’s clear in places they were moved out of the walkway and piled up but for the most part it’s in the same condition it was found in after a thousand years of being lost.

I’m pretty sure I got into a section I shouldn’t have been in. It was really a dangerous place to be, but I wanted to get into the inner courtyard. So I jumped and climbed all around these crumbling stones and found a place where the wall was tumbled and I could see it. It was amazing, all these stones from walls and roof that have collapsed in to the courtyard. I did hesitate before ducking in through a doorway to explore further. Really sure I wasn’t supposed to actually be in the temple, since, you know, it’s falling apart at the seams, but I figured it’s stood this long it’ll make it another five minutes. So I went in as far as I dared walking across these broken, fallen, pieces of the ceiling looking out windows and trying to find a way to get into the courtyard proper. That’s when I ran out of time and had to head back.

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Should I have been climbing on these? Probably most definitely not.

As I was clambering over the roof one of the Khmer in a security outfit followed a pair of Japanese tourists close to where I’d been poking around and kept them from climbing on the rocks I had just been on. Anyway. I was late again, only ten minutes, but really, I think we should have had at least an hour and a half.

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Although, to be fair, if I’d been given an hour and a half there’s a good chance I would have made it to the top of this.

We stopped for lunch at another tourist trap and this time it was the only place to go so several people opted to skip lunch and hang out in the hammocks outside. I thought about it, but hunger won out so I got some fried spring rolls. It was really expensive, and by expensive I mean I paid $5.15 for the spring rolls and $1.00 for water. For context: In Phnom Penh I could have eaten six meals for the price I paid for that one.

The ride back was much quieter than the ride there, most everyone slept or listened to music with headphones. The bus had a TV/DVD player and Dara, the guy in charge of us for the weekend, put on Premium Rush. We made it back to Phnom Penh by six-thirty. Pretty well everyone got dinner at the hotel and then we scattered to our rooms to either sleep or lesson plan.

All and all, I wish the trip to Angkor would have been another day longer, but I’m so, so glad I got to see the temples and learn about not only the ancient history of Cambodia but the more recent history as well.

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Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Bayon & Banety Kdei

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Bayon & Banety Kdei

After we got breakfast and collected the rest of the group we went to another temple to start the day. Our tour guide, Hour (Ohh-ray), was awesome. The first temple we went to was Bayon in Angkor Thom, which, 1100 years ago would have been the dead center of the capital city. The temple is exactly 1.5 kilometers from each of the four entrances that would have led to the city.

Hour told us on the way in; we had to cross a long causeway, that the statues on either side of us were divided as gods and demons. They were holding the long body of the Naga and looked like they were playing tug-o-war.

Except almost all of them were missing their heads.

During the Khmer Rouge and toward the end of the Rouge’s reign, higher ups would go to these ancient temples and lop the heads off the statues. The statues themselves were too old, too heavy to be moved, so they just took their heads and sold them to the highest Western bidder. Hour told us a lot of stories of the Khmer Rouge. He was probably around ten or twelve when they came in to power and he can clearly remember them executing his 8 month old brother. They tossed the baby up in the air and caught him on bayonets. Hour’s grandfather was killed by having his throat slit with a palm spike. It took him seven hours to bleed out and die. He told us that for the really small babies they would swing them against trees and crush their skulls. He said it was rare anyone was executed with a bullet since bullets cost money. The Khmer Rouge killed people with water. They’d let water drip on their foreheads until the water wore through their skulls and drilled a hole through their brains. Any skulls you find on the killing fields that have a hole in the forehead are people who were killed with water.

He told us that before we visited this temple.

Originally Bayon had 37 towers, each tour has four faces that point in the cardinal directions. They stand for Compassion, Peace, Serenity, and Mercy. Now, only about half the towers remain standing, a lot of them fell from a thousand years of wear and tear and others were struck by lightning. The irony of this temple with its faces of love being looted by people who spent years soaked in blood and violence is painful.

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Again, lots of restoration has been done but you can still climb all over it. The relief sculptures on the first floor of the temple are incredible. Hour told us they depict a great sea battle between the Khmer and Cham who were Vietnamese. There are also depictions of just everyday life and dangers such as the man being mauled by a tiger and his buddy running like hell. There’re pictures of people going to market loaded with goods or with meat from hunting. I could’ve stared at them for hours, but it was hot as hell, crowded as fuck, and only about two people were really paying attention to what he was saying so we breezed through there pretty quick. We went up to the second level and Hour cut us loose to explore on our own.

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It was amazing, the small rooms where statues of Buddha had once stood were all over the place and there were tiny rooms that I’m certain belonged to monks also tucked away. It was so amazing to stand in those windows and look out at the jungle knowing that a thousand years ago monks would have looked out on a bustling city, crowded and dusty, loud with people selling their wares, loud with the sound of carts and livestock. I loved it. I love that you can clamber over these stones the way people a thousand years ago did. If something like this was in the US every part of it would be roped off, you wouldn’t be able to touch anything. But here? You wanna go up to the top tower and look out over the jungle? Just watch your step the stairs are steep.

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We didn’t spend enough time there. This temple easily could have taken half a day just wandering around it, around the grounds. Hell, there was even and elephant riding thing you could do. I wouldn’t. You can’t ride elephants. Their spines are made to carry heavy weight on their underside, not on top. You can cause them a lot of pain riding them. That’s why you so often see people riding elephants up on their necks and not on their humps.

Anyway. I really loved this temple.

 

oOo

The next temple we went to is called Banety Kdei and don’t ask me to pronounce it because I for the life of me cannot remember how. This is better known as the Jungle Temple. This is the temple the set of Tomb Raider was based on. We walked through the jungle to get to it passing trees that could give Redwoods a run for their money. We saw monkeys and heard some strange bird calls. If not for the occasional passing cyclist and motorbike it was easy to believe we were explorers about to stumble on an incredible archeological find.

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While we were walking, Hour told us that landmines were often left around temples particularly by the entrance to not only kill anyone coming in but to also damage these ancient wonders.

People really, really, fucking suck.

But we got to the temple and Ohhhhh Myyyyy Goddds! I loved it. I could spend an entire day at this temple. It wasn’t that crowded, not like Bayon, it seems it’s a kind of out of the way temple so we really had a free run of the place. This temple has only limited restoration, just enough to keep it standing. And it’s being left like that so that others, like us, can see what All of these temples looked like when they were rediscovered. Places like Bayon and Angkor, they’ve been painstakingly cleared of the jungle and you don’t really think about four hundred year old trees growing out of the roof. But here you can see the tree roots wrapped around stone slowly pulling them apart. It’s a really magical place. And since there was hardly anyone else there it was easy to flit off down one corridor and not see anyone for ten minutes.

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The weathering of the stone is remarkable, but what’s amazing is that you can still see the details. These stones have been covered in trees, rained on, been whipped by wind and dust, for 900 years and still you can see individual leaves on vines, you can see the faces of Buddhas.

I was late getting back to the bus from this one. I spent so much time roaming the grounds the forty-five minutes just wasn’t enough. I could spend from sun up to sun down at this temple, it was amazing.

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oOo

We stopped for lunch at a really expensive tourist trap. So, since we didn’t want to pay five dollars for a plate of fries, several of us got up and started to walk back to the small market we passed. We found a little family run place not far down the road and settled in to eat noodle soup for a dollar. I got a coconut. I know coconut milk is a huge thing in the States, but here, they give you a whole coconut that they lop the top off of and stick a straw in. So the coconut milk here is super fresh. I’ve gotta say, though. I didn’t really like the coconut milk. It looks like water but it’s a lot thicker than water. It’s weird.

But after our lunch we finally got to return to Angkor Wat for the rest of the day, which was like two hours.

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I pity the people who didn’t come to the Sunrise Tour and get to spend an extra hour and a half at this temple. There’s no way they saw even half of the temple. I didn’t see that much. I went in and walked down that long causeway again thinking of the kings and monks that had trod there and off to the right spotted a horse. Because nothing gets my attention like an animal, I skipped down the steps and went over to see what this was about.

The horse was a lovely buckskin named Bon May, his mane was cut short but his tail was long and black that faded to grey and white at the tips. He had a really decorative red halter that he didn’t seem to enjoy but he was a sweetie. The man standing with him asked if I wanted a picture, one dollar, but nah, I don’t need a picture with a horse. So I thanked him for letting me pet Bon May and before I could walk away the guy asked if I wanted to go around the small temple once.

Dude, I was on that horse so fast I almost fell off the other side. English saddle. That was an experience in and of itself. I don’t ride horses often, hardly ever, and when I do I have a sturdy western saddle with a horn to hold. Not this time! So as I’m taking a stroll around the temple—the guy leading Bon May, thank the gods—I got a crash course on how to ride an English saddle and I freaking got to ride a horse around one of the small temples.

That was the best five dollars I’ve spent in a very long time.

So I went back to exploring and decided I would start on the left side and work my way to the right. I had no idea how far back the temple went. It goes on for a couple acres. I got into the inner temple and started running around darting in and out of corridors, dodging tourists and snapping pictures of pretty much everything.

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Then, I found this small courtyard in the back. It had a small temple in the middle of it that rose probably two stories off the ground. One of my fellow teachers had already climbed to the top of the shady side and was sitting watching the birds and tourists. There seemed to be an invisible line separating this temple from the rest of Angkor Wat. No one wanted to pass the threshold and go out.

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I did.

I clambered up those stairs, a little nerve wracking since they weren’t the tourist friendly wooden stairs that were built in other parts of the temple, but the original four inch ledges that are crumbling and loose and broken down to nothing but a tiny lip in some places.

I made it to the top and just sat there for a couple minutes. It was so nice. No other tourists came out to follow me and the heavy stone walls of the rest of the temple blocked most of the noise. There were thousands of people there but I couldn’t hear any of them. All I could hear were birds and wind. It was wonderful and it was probably the truest experience of any of the temple. Just the quiet and the peace. I slept for about ten minutes, just a quick little nap in the sun. It felt amazing and I probably would have stayed a little groggy for the rest of the time had I not had to climb down those eighty degree stairs again. Seriously, these things were built at a near ninety degree angle I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one person broke their necks back in Angkor’s heyday.

I made it all the way inside to the inner temple and found the Stairs to Eternity. They’re stairs that lead to the highest point of the temple and I really wanted to climb them. There was kind of a line so I figured I’d do a lap around the top and see what else was up there before jumping in and climbing up. I only had like fifteen minutes before I was supposed to meet the group so I wouldn’t be able to linger once I reached the top.

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I circled around to the backside of the tower and was on my way to the stairs when another tour guide says to his group, “Line is very long, we can’t do this today.” And he pointed at these clumps of people sitting and standing around and I realized I was at the end of the line for the Stairs to Eternity.

Much like the Eiffel Tower, I’m a little put out I didn’t get to go to the top and see what there is too see, but I had to get back. I was already past the time I was supposed to meet them and I didn’t really have a clear idea of how I was supposed to get to our meeting spot since I had been in and out of courtyards and temples for two hours.

I made it out of the temple proper and started my way back to the causeway. Along the way I stopped to love on a little temple kitten that was wobbling its way across the stones. Adorable little Tuxedo kitty with little white paws. Really considered putting him in my bag but since he’d have to stay in quarantine in China for six months that’s not really a fair thing to put the little guy through.

So I was half an hour late getting to the bus and didn’t care one little bit. I really wish the trip could have been two full days instead of one. I would have loved to spend a full day at Angkor and a half day at Bayon and Kdei each. I think, after my contract in China, I might come back to Cambodia for a few days and explore the temples on my own time. They have three day passes that give you access to all the temples—there’s like a dozen—and that would very much be worth the trip back.

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Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Angkor Wat

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Angkor Wat

This last weekend we took our first trip out of Phnom Penh. We went to Siam Reap which was a really eventful seven hour bus ride. I stayed awake for the entire trip. It was amazing seeing the countryside. Cambodia doesn’t have the long stretches of landscape like the US. It has places where the landscape stretches out flat with long golden grasses and a smattering of palm trees but I doubt we went more than twenty minutes without driving past a home.

I thought it was really neat to drive past and see these quick glimpses into life. A couple times we got to linger and look because there were cows in the road. Cambodian houses have very similar architectural style. I would say they all look alike but there were a couple houses with slight differences. Generally, and I would say at least 90%, of homes were on stilts. The open ground floor looked to be like the kitchen/work room. That’s where I saw the most people cooking, doing laundry, and where the cows were tied up at night. The second level, what I consider the main level, has a staircase leading up to it, either simple or ornate, and that’s where I saw beds and TVs.

I know the drive was long and hot for a lot of people but like I said, I really loved looking out the window and thinking, wow this is Cambodia. We stopped about two hours into the trip in a place called Spider Village. It’s famous because the local delicacy is roasted tarantula and scorpion. I didn’t eat anything, but I think everyone else tried at least the scorpion. I might have tried something but they were really pushy about getting money. It was definitely a tourist trap and as far as Cambodia goes, kind of expensive.

So we get back on the bus and one of the girls gets on with a spider.

A live spider.

She bought a living, breathing, tarantula.

And brought it on the bus.

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What.

Oh no. Oh no, no. No, no, no.

Thankfully, the thing was pretty much dead from the manhandling it’d had at the village so it wasn’t scurrying about or unmanageable. She and several others took turns keeping it on their shoulders like the most terrifying brooch ever made. I don’t remember much about the next two hours except that every couple of minutes someone would shout, “Where the fuck’s that fucking spider?” and whoever had it would point to it.

At our next stop, we stopped at a rest stop and the spider was “set free” and by that we left it on a rock next to a tree to be eaten or survive.

And then she didn’t tell anyone, but she went back and picked the spider up again. So, unbeknownst to the rest of us, there was a spider on the dark bus to Siem Reap there and on the way back. She flushed the damn thing yesterday, apparently, because she had her room cleaned and didn’t want to scare the maids.

We were allowed to drink on the bus so after the rest stop it was about six o’ clock and the people that had rum and vodka and whiskey broke their seals and started passing the drinks around. I didn’t have anything, I was still preoccupied with watching the landscape and the rest of the trip passed with a lot of noise. Someone had a Beats Pill and they started playing Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys and other stuff but I had my headphones so I put those in and watched the countryside get ready for bed.

It gets dark in Cambodia. People have electricity out in the country, but they don’t light up their houses like the US. Most houses were lit with cooking fires down below or with a single light up in the living space. So when you hit those stretches of open landscape there’s not weird orangish glow on the horizon from light pollution. It’s just…dark. It really feels wild at night. I don’t know if there are still tigers in Cambodia, I doubt it, but when the sun goes down it’s not hard to imagine they’re still out there stalking prey.

oOo

We got to Siem Reap and our hotel, Freedom Hotel, about eight-thirty. It was a pretty nice hotel. I’d say it was on par with a Holiday Inn. There was a nice pool, and the room doors were carved with goddess relief sculptures. We had roommates and I roomed with another girl who, after a long rowdy trip, wanted to sit in bed and read. Since we were both doing Sunrise at Angkor and had to be up at 4:15am, that’s exactly what we did. We were both out cold by nine-thirty.

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For whatever reason, I think this makes this hotel pretty classy.

Four in the morning comes quick. But we both got up and headed downstairs. Only about half of the group made it down in time to get on the bus and head to Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise over the temple. And, aside from myself and my roommate, everyone was coming down off a late night of drinking.

Until we got to Angkor I thought the sunrise tour would be a really quiet moment in an otherwise busy day, but the entrance was packed with other buses, cars, and Tuk Tuks full of other people there to see the sunrise.

I think the amount of people there made the sunrise feel anticlimactic, but it was still a really wonderful morning. There was no bright disc coming up over the spires, it was just a gradual lightening of the sky from black to periwinkle. I thought it was pretty but I know a lot of people were disappointed by it just from the snatches of conversation I heard. I would have enjoyed the sunrise tour more had I had a hot cup of tea or coffee and a comfy chair and silence. It’s really not something that can be enjoyed in a packed group of several hundred with people pushing and yelling and laughing. It really is more suited for quiet reflection on the fact that you’re watching the sun rise over a temple that was built 1100 years ago.

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No dramatic flare from the sun, still stunning

We got about an hour and a half after the sun was up to explore the temple before we had to get back on the bus and head back to pick up the rest of the group. I wish I could’ve stayed at Angkor. We roamed over the temple touching sandstone worn shiny and smooth by a million other small touches both from recent tourists and from monks a thousand years dead. That’s an incredible feeling.

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I never go anywhere without my sister.

When you walk down those shallow steps and think of the kings and monks that walked down those same steps you have to wonder what they were thinking as they walked through those halls. What were they worried about? What was their To Do list for that particular day? Going back even further to the two million people it took to build that temple over the span of thirty-seven years, was it love or obligation that made them put those stones in place? When they made their relief sculptures of the great battles fought did they do so with pride? Were they poor or master craftsmen in the employ of the king? What stories did they think of when they carved their gods?

We had to head back to the hotel far too soon. I really could have cried walking down the causeway that leads to the entry gate. There has been a great deal of restoration done to the temple but those stones are the same stones kings walked down for weddings, for funerals, for coronations, for holidays. They’re the same stones monks walked down on their way out to market on their way out to visit other temples, on their way in to begin their studies. 1100 years of history, some of it happy and some of it bloody, but it’s all there in those stones.

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Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Food Fun

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Food Fun

So, loooots of catching up to do. I am feeling better. The cough is hanging around but I can breathe and really the cough only starts to act up when I’m outside in the dust and gas fumes.

We went to a restaurant last week called Top Banana down on Riverside which is where the nightlife is in Phnom Penh. There’re lots of bars, lots of shopping, and very touristy. Well-manicured medians and lots of statues. Top Banana is a really nice restaurant and it’s an actual restaurant. For the most part, for the last week and a half I’ve been eating at little places tucked in among the shops and bustle of Phnom Penh collectively referred to as “Street Food”. So walking up to the second floor balcony with fifteen other people and finding a long table set up for us was a nice change of pace. I also seemed to have forgotten how restaurants work. It was so weird having a menu and someone asking what I wanted to drink. Street food, you pay a dollar and point at whatever they have on display that looks good and when you sit there’s tea on the table and they bring you a glass of ice. Really good and really cheap and pretty fast.

Top Banana had some weird things on the menu. First up, beef with ant eggs. Second, fried squid or grilled squid. Then quail and goat. Frog legs and liver. What kind of liver we never found out. The beef and ant eggs was really good. So the dish comes out in a bowl and there are a few strips of beef sitting on a bed of mixed greens and tossed with the greens are ants and their eggs. They’re so tiny you can’t taste them. The greens have some kind of sweet dressing and the beef is really savory and tender. It’s really good, I would get it as an entrée if we go back.

I got roasted goat. It was okay. I think I would like it better if it was prepared differently. There were parts of it that were really tender and good and then other parts that tasted more like gristle, rubbery and chewy. I tried a piece of fried squid and didn’t like it. It’s really rubbery and I couldn’t get past the texture. I like crunchy things and the squid is slippery and chewy so I didn’t bother trying the grilled version. Other people really enjoyed it so I’m guessing it was a good dish, just not to my liking.

I didn’t eat the frog legs and that turned out to be a good choice. Everyone said they were really bony and tough. They quail was super good, though. It was a tiny bird but it wasn’t dry and whatever they marinated it in made it really flavorful. It was really tender, like, fall apart in your mouth tender. I highly recommend it. The liver we collectively decided was nasty. It looks like sundried dog shit and it doesn’t taste much better.

But, fifteen people went out to dinner and when the final bill came everything evened out to be $6.50 a person. Try doing that in the US without going to McDonald’s.

It was a great dinner and the first time a large group of us went out and we had a lot of fun passing dishes around and getting to know each other. There was a small cat that I’m guessing lives at the restaurant that kept running back and forth under the table. She ate really well that night because we kept passing her little morsels. She was adorable and had only a little half tail. The half tails on cats I and a couple others had noticed.

So on the Tuk Tuk ride back to the hotel we were trying to figure out why the hell none of the cats we saw had full tails. They have little tiny tails like Manx cats or quarter tails or half tails. One of the guys, Jay, he’s been in Cambodia for about six months and knows a lot about the history of the region told us it’s a genetic bottle neck.

While the Khmer Rouge were in power in Cambodia people were starving and they ate anything they could catch which included stray cats and dogs. The cats that were hardest to catch? Really tiny cats without tails. All the cats I’ve seen here have been about the size of kittens and their kittens can fit in your hand. And they’re fast as hell.

The dogs are the same way. The stray dogs all look like small shepherd mixes. Shepherds are fast, strong, and really smart. So these are the dogs that could avoid traps, that were fast enough to get away, or intimidating enough to keep starving humans from getting too close.

Cambodia is slowly rebuilding itself after twenty years of pain and violence but it will be a long, long time before even the smallest parts of the city shed the scars.