Travel Time: Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Travel Time: Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Ahh, let’s skip on over to some of my favorite memories of Cambodia: Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville is a small coastal city that I imagine has been built up quite a bit more in the last two years. At the time, Sihanoukville estimated over a million tourists hitting its beaches every summer and that number was growing exponentially every year. I posted a short blog about Sihanoukville back in 2016.

Sihanoukville was our last hurrah together as once the weekend was over our Thailand teachers would be departing for their teaching country and we who were going to China and Vietnam would be heading back to Phnom Penh for another week before we’d be on our way, too.

We stopped a couple of times for food breaks and at a small roadside stand we all got to experience squatty potties for the first time. We got some interesting snacks and listened to some caged birds sing before piling back in and heading down to Sihanoukville. The roads were paved so we didn’t get as wild of a ride, but it was still fun.

I don’t really remember the hostel we stayed at in Sihanoukville, I know we were only a two-minute walk from the beach and it was across the street from a tattoo parlor. But that is really all I remember.

The first full day we were there we went island hopping. Sihanoukville is a great launch point for the many tiny islands off the coast of Cambodia, each one more beautiful than the next. I always get seasick the first fifteen minutes I’m on a boat; so I zoned out staring at the ceiling for a bit waiting for my stomach to settle. But the sun was warm and the water mostly placid and it was a delight.

We had lunch on the beach, staring out at the water, watching the waves come in. After that I wandered away from the group and found a private stretch of beach and breathed alllllllll the stress away.

The next morning, I got up early, just about sunrise, and headed back down to the beach. I walked down the dock and found a nice view of the sun coming up over the trees and the fishing boats moored in deeper water. I did some writing and enjoyed the breeze before heading back into the heart of town to grab some breakfast. I ran into one of the other women and we sat at a small café open to the breeze and got our coffees and some crepes and talked a bit about the future before we caught up with more of the group heading down to the beach.

Our last day was a half day and we spent it lounging in the sun and enjoying the warm water.

It was a nice send off for everyone who was heading to Thailand. My next stop after a little paradise break: China.

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Travel Time: Killing Fields

Travel Time: Killing Fields

So this post is about the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. I’m not posting any pictures because, honestly, I can’t stand to go through them again, but the one I did one back in 2016 has nothing but photos because at the time I couldn’t fathom trying to put into words everything I saw and felt there. This place still haunts me—as I think it does anyone who’s ever been—and I still maintain that there is no way to ever describe what the Killing Fields are. But, two years removed I know that Western-centered education leaves vast swaths of blankness about the rest of the world and there’s probably people who saw that first post and were horrified but didn’t delve any further into the Khmer Rouge or the Killing Fields.

The Khmer Rouge was the name given to the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia. They were in power for only four years; 1975-1979. I don’t think I ever mentioned how recent the Khmer Rouge was in any of my previous posts. This is something that happened well within living memory, to the point that if your parents had watched the BBC they might’ve seen something about it on the news. It’s that recent. The leader of the Khmer Rouge was a man named Pol Pot. Now, I knew about Pol Pot before I went to Cambodia, because at one point I read a lot about serial killers and crimes against humanity. But even the book I read only briefly mentioned Pol Pot. He didn’t kill as many people as Stalin or Hitler so he was more like a footnote.

Which is pretty messed up. How many millions of people does someone have to kill before they’re worthy of the same level of psychological dissection and obsession as Stalin and Hitler?

After the Khmer Rouge came into power in ’75, they forcibly evacuated all major cities in Cambodia. Why? Pol Pot wanted to create an agrarian socialist society. An agrarian socialist society is, essentially, a farm-based economy. There was no need for technological or educational revolutions or research because everyone was going to live life simply and happily on farms, living off the land, sharing what they grew. People were forced into Collective Farms, which is exactly what it sounds like. Communal farms where people were used as slave labor in fields.

Anyone who disagreed with this idea was promptly labeled an “elitist” and killed. Most of the people labeled as “enemies” of the Khmer Rouge were educated people. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, anyone with a college degree. Pol Pot himself was college educated and had spent time abroad in France which is where he’d been introduced to the idea of Marxist and Lenin communism. He was also paranoid, delusional, and narcissistic.

Between the mass killing of his “enemies” malnutrition and horrid living conditions on the Collective Farms, 1.5-3 million people died out of a population of 8 million. 25% of Cambodia’s population at the time. The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh are the most famous, but there are more all over the country and the set up is very similar to that of German concentration camps. People were rounded up and driven to the camps, bound and gagged. Once they arrived they were stripped of all personal belongings and clothes. Mass pits were dug, people—not always soldiers—killed the victims with things like scythes and saws, they used bayonets and axes and dumped the bodies into the pits before covering them with DDT so if anyone managed to survive being hacked at with an axe, the DDT would suffocate them. Infants and small children were swung against trees until their skulls cracked. Women and girls were raped repeatedly before being killed.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge finally fell out of power and had to flee when Pol Pot attacked neighboring Vietnam and started slaughtering people there as well. The Vietnamese army quickly overwhelmed the Khmer Rouge forces and they fled to the border of Thailand. Vietnam established a new government in Cambodia in opposition to Pol Pot. But Pol Pot and the remainder of the Khmer Rouge stayed at their base until the 90s, still internationally recognized as Cambodia’s rightful government. Which is an insult I cannot begin to fathom. Pol Pot died under house arrest in 1998. No trial. Nothing but a slap on the wrist and a stern talking to for murdering 3 million people.

So that’s the history I couldn’t write about two years ago after visiting the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. Writing about it even now brings back all those complicated feelings I didn’t know what to do with back then; horror, disgust, and the sharp edge of anger. Always anger. Because how many of us knew about Pol Pot? We spend weeks on WWII and Hitler but we never talk about how the Nuremburg Laws were modeled after American race laws. We overlook the fact that Hitler praised American genocide of Native Americans.

Pol Pot was an extreme xenophobe and nativist. He set out, much like Hitler, to “cleanse” Cambodia of minorities and religions he found undesirable or subversive. He tried to eliminate religion in its entirety like Mao Zedong in China. Mao is another one nobody every fucking talks about. But we’ll get to that in the China posts. Or, you can look him up now and fill in some of those blind spots our Western-centric education leaves us with.

Travel Time: Siem Reap

Travel Time: Siem Reap

Okay, let’s talk Siem Reap! I still cannot get over the bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, in 2016 it took about seven hours and maybe 10% of the way was paved. Now, according to my friend still living in Phnom Penh, the roads are all paved and it takes about four hours.

That bus was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. We hit bumps in the road that got us all airborne, we had to wait for cows, we barreled through construction zones, zipped by school kids walking home. The driver always laid on the horn any time we approached a small town, like a train announcing its arrival, and only used the brakes sporadically. Like, if there was a cow in the road. I did post about our weekend trip to Siem Reap back in 2016, here and here and here. Those posts give a more thorough play-by-play of our trip, this one is more for pictures.

Now that I’m a little more travel experienced, I can’t believe I thought the Sunrise Tour would be a quiet affair. I go back and read those posts sometimes and laugh at the expectations I had for things. I’ve learned to travel without expectations, or as close as I can get to none, so I don’t get boxed in with what I think should happen versus enjoying all the detours and side trips that make travel so much fun. I still enjoy things off the beaten path, but the tourist traps have their place as well. Not the over priced food, but the things they offer that can make your experience all the more interesting.

I will admit I’d like to shake past me for being above getting a picture with Bon May, he was such a sweet horse and that was the coolest thing ever. If you have a chance to get to Angkor Wat and ride a horse around a temple, pay the man and get a cool goddamn picture of yourself on a horse in front of said 1100 year old temple.

Anyway.

Gods, I had so much fun scurrying through these temples. The art and the sheer age of these places is still awe-inspiring. That little temple in the center courtyard of Angkor Wat where I took a nap I can now say reminds me a lot of the serenity the Shinto shrines instilled in me while I was in Japan. Something about that little place was special. Couldn’t put into words exactly what it was, but it was like that one courtyard was in a bubble, set apart from the tour groups and pictures and everything else happening in Angkor Wat.

And Bayon Wat, what a gorgeous place. I don’t think I mentioned the bats that lived in the entry way. I don’t know how they got any sleep with all the people passing under them. The stone work at Bayon, I think, was more ornate than even Angkor Wat. In hindsight, Bayon is my favorite of the temples. That was a place where it was easy to imagine busy streets and vendors and people going about their lives while the jungle rose up in the distance. Even crowded with people it didn’t feel rushed like Angkor Wat. We were only there for an hour or two, but it felt like we had all the time in the world to look around.

The walk to the jungle temple, Banety Kdei, is where I learned a fascinating bit of trivia. Do you know why Westerners shake hands? To show you’re not holding a weapon. Most people are right handed, that’s why we shake with the right. In most Asian countries, greetings are with a bow or clasped hands to show honor and respect. I don’t remember why Hour (pronounced Ohh-ray, he was our tour guide) told us that, but I still think about it a lot. Banety Kdei, aesthetically, was the most pleasing of the four we went to, but I really liked how the trees were growing through the stone. I did like that it wasn’t as crowded, but it didn’t seem to carry that same sort of peace as Bayon. Banety Kdei felt more…impatient. Like it was mad it could rip up its foundations and go see how the world has changed since they laid its stones. I did feel like Lara Croft ducking through the passages and skipping over roots and I’m pretty sure at some point I was humming the Indiana Jones song. The jungle temple is probably my second favorite, just for that weird adventurous spirit it seems to carry.

The second and last day of our adventure to Siem Reap we went to Beng Melea, a temple set half an hour to forty minutes off the main track and buried in the jungle. It’s in the most disrepair of all the temples we saw, even Banety Kdei had more standing walls, and that’s the one they let the trees grow in. Albeit, more tourists visit Banety Kdei, so it could be a safety thing. Beng Melea felt…maybe not haunted but, disquiet. There was something almost feral about this temple, I don’t know if its just not socialized enough with tourists or if it would rather the jungle take it, but there was an air of caution around this ancient place. I still ran all over, but took more care than I might’ve if it had been Banety Kdei. Ducking through doorways, hopping over stones, venturing too far off the groomed path, it all felt riskier and I can’t explain why. They place was for sure falling apart, but again, I climbed walls in Banety Kdei that had only saplings holding them up and thought nothing of it. Beng Melea was…it was something. I wish we’d had more time there, maybe I could’ve sorted out the why.

Travel Time: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Travel Time: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

So, I’ve been saying since I started traveling that I’d get photos up for you all to see and I’ve not been great at keeping up with that. But I’m going to get that sorted this year. So going allllllll the way back to 2016, we’re going to start with Phnom Penh, Cambodia!

 

When I arrived in Phnom Penh, I was flabbergasted by how big this city is. My current hometown has a population of 50,000-ish people. Phnom Penh has 1.5 million. As we were coming in for a landing, seeing this city stretch for miles was breathtaking and really set in what kind of adventure I was in for. This was the first time I’d undertaken an adventure of this caliber. Sometimes I feel like I’ve always been traveling. Then I look back at these pictures and I remember I really only started traveling three years ago this month. I’ve had so much fun and I’ve grown so much, but this picture reminds me of that first stomach fluttering descent into the unknown.

 

Cambodia has some pretty currency, I took some pictures of it because I’d never seen money so colorful. And maybe you haven’t either, so here you go!

 

 

The view from my window was spectacular. The hotel we stayed in was right by the main artery of Phnom Penh so I got a front row seat to watching the chaotic traffic. Even sitting in a room watching the tuktuks and motorbikes and cars and pedestrians weave around each other was thrilling. US folks, you may think no one in your state can drive, but I promise you we are down right regimented drivers when it comes to the free-for-all that is Khmer roads. The chaos is amazing. There are no crosswalks, you just look both ways and step off the curb cars or not. It is…well, it’s something.

 

Monday morning we got a tour of the city! I woke up sick as a dog and completely jetlagged Sunday and spent the whole day guzzling water and sleeping hoping I’d recover enough to be up and ready on Monday. It…mostly worked. I bullied myself through that day because I didn’t want to miss a minute! The end result is that I don’t have a lot of clear memories of this day. I remember we rode in tuktuks and I know we went to a temple and through the area where the Night Market is set up before finishing at the Royal Palace. But I don’t remember most of what was said. I do remember walking around the Palace grounds in awe of the architecture and also hoping I didn’t puke on the immaculate lawn.

 

The temple we went to was Wat Phnom and it was beautiful. I was still feeling a little spry when we got there so I roamed the temple grounds looking at the lovely architecture and the murals. It was humid but cool under the trees and it kept me from wilting.

So that was the first couple of days in Phnom Penh. If you’ve been waiting for the pictures, they’re finally here! Check back on Mondays for more stories and pictures not only from Cambodia, but all the other places I’ve been over the years and places I’m heading to next.

Alaska Adventures: It’s Cold

Alaska Adventures: It’s Cold

Whooooo! It’s been, what, a month since the last update? I don’t keep track of the days anymore. Alaska is still fun, it’s been pretty cold the last week so I’ve been huddled under blankets or in front of my fire when I’m not at work. The dogs are still a joy, a muddy joy, but a joy nonetheless. I won’t lie, I miss city supplied electricity. I’m off tomorrow and don’t have any tours planned so if it’s warm enough in the kitchen I should be able to knock out a couple of book reviews and some more chapters on my fanfictions.

Writing has been at a snail’s pace. I don’t mind writing long hand, but usually I only do it if I get stuck on something or if I’m temporarily away from my computer.

Regular showers are another thing I miss. Like, at this point I can’t definitively say when my last shower was. Maybe this week? Well, I know I’ll get a shower today since I’m at the main house, but after that? WHO KNOWS

We had some new puppies born yesterday morning. There are only three and their all black. I helped the musher this morning count them and make sure they were all right because the mama dog is pretty young and we want to make sure she doesn’t accidentally lay on one. They’re soooo cute, they’re about the size of hamsters right now. Mama is doing very well with them. So we have our set of ten week old puppies and a set of four week old puppies and now our two day old puppies.

This is such a great job.

While missing the feeling in my fingers, I’m still enjoying myself. This week has been r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s with the cold and wet. Even the mushers who live up here said it has been too cold this week. I think it’s been in the low forties and raining every day. I’m really hoping for that mid-sixties summer I read about online.

I went whale watching last week and got a cool video of a humpback female named Flame doing a dive. We also saw sea lions and bald eagles and it was a gorgeous day for being on a boat, too. There was no wind and the water was glassy smooth. It was a wonderful three hours. The captain turned off the engine for about half an hour since we were the only ship on the water and it was so peaceful I could understand why some people love boating and sailing so much.

We also went past Kodiak Island, the island with the largest concentration of brown bears in Alaska.

I hiked up to Mt. Gastineau, the lower portion of Mt. Roberts and got some great views of the channel and Juneau. Once you get up high enough the eagles glide maybe twenty feet above your head as they coast down to the channel looking for lunch. There was still some snow up top and there were a perilous few minutes where I had to cross a snow/ice patch along the trail with a steep drop on one side. But it was a good day and our company has tram passes so we can go up for free whenever we want. I want to take a notebook up there and hangout for an afternoon and see what my mind spins out. That rocky trail had my high fantasy mind in overdrive the whole time.

So, until next time I get to shower, have fun out there!

Alaskan Adventures/Writing Updates

Alaskan Adventures/Writing Updates

Well, here we are, Day 6 of Alaska Adventures. I’m down in the main house sitting in the delightful heated kitchen with wifi and electricity and indoor plumbing only a room away. It’s been…a character building experience so far. The cabin I’m in is waaaaay more rustic than I originally thought. I’m actually in a dry cabin the generator powered electricity and water are in the common kitchen and bathroom. That’s fine and all, but the water pump is currently frozen so the camp does not have any running water. Good news, a quarter mile from the cabins are the outhouses guests use when tours start up.

Lemme tell you, walking a quarter mile through cold drizzle and old growth forest at 2am to pee is an experience. I have never in my life believed more in Bigfoot than I did during that long cold walk through the pitch black darkness with nothing but a headlamp.

The cabin is unfinished. There’s no insulation whatsoever and that tiny woodstove doesn’t do much. So lots of character building has happened the last 6 days.

But the dogs are cute. All 180 of them. I know about 30 of their names right now and routinely forget my 6 coworkers’ names. So I’m still on brand. We did some test runs yesterday with the teams and those dogs can haul. It was so much fun. Tours start Monday and Sunday is dedicated to more test runs and I’m really looking forward to that.

But, right now in the kitchen one of the dock managers and drivers are regaling us with some incredible tales of ship shenanigans. I’m loving being here. Also, these two are amazing cooks. They made scratch three cheese macaroni with ham a couple nights ago and tonight they’re doing a company dinner that is either going to be prime rib or roast.

So I’m having fun. Nights are a little rough still. I’ve bought three more blankets since I got here and the stove doesn’t hold enough wood to get through the night so unless you wake at 1am and toss three more logs on you’re going to wake up cold.

There’s also a pack of wolves somewhere on this island and there’s a bear that creeps around the main house down here. I’m looking forward to the tours starting because we get comp’d or do a straight switch with some companies. Most of my writing is going to be longhand because I’m not sure the generator will be able to efficiently charge my computer, but we’re going to see how it goes. I know at least once a week I’ll be able to get down here to the main house and do laundry and shower and get online.

Updates will be sporadic, but I’ll start getting pictures up on the next post.

oOo

As for writing! I haven’t done any of that in six days. But I have a plan sketched out for Constellations and plenty of jelly beans. If I get this chapter knocked out today then I should be able to get it posted next week after I get it proofed. By firelight no less. I’m really getting into method writing for this story. Here’s hoping I can avoid supernatural night monsters and life threatening dehydration.

Also!! Yes, this does call for double exclamation points, I have an idea for a Soundwave/Shockwave story. I’ll be writing that by firelight as well. But I’m sticking to my two WIP limit so until either Spark or Constellations is finished you won’t be seeing that one. But now you know it’s there.

I still want to post my Shiro angst but that can wait. I’m still trying to find my footing here so writing has been nonexistent. But hopefully once tours start and I have a better idea of routine and schedule it’ll be easier to get the words out. I need to make a writing nook in my cabin, preferably near the fire.

Things I’ve made headway on since the last update: Decepticon Ratchet story hesitantly titled One Sun in the Sky, a Prowl/Red Alert story with the working title of Midnight, a William Lennox story—gasp!—with the working title of Will because I’m practical like that, and a Blaster/Ratchet—fight me—story with the working title Blaster, because again, practical.

As far as writing goes, things are moving slow, but they’re still happening. So if I don’t get eaten by a bear or run over by a dog team, updates will be forthcoming in the next two weeks!

March Updates for Writing and Life

March Updates for Writing and Life

Holy hells, March already? I have no idea where February went and now we’re halfway through March.

But since we’re halfway through March, it’s time for an update! Life updates first, then writing.

I’m leaving for Alaska in…36 days as of writing this. Well, I’m going to Seattle for a couple days first to see some friends (Huzzah!) and scope out the city to see if it’s somewhere I want to move.

I’m starting to get excited for Alaska. April still seems a long way off, but in two weeks I’ll be double checking my packing list. I’m taking my nice camera with me and looking forward to getting some photos of wildlife and the city itself because really, how often does anyone picture what Juneau looks like?

I’ll post some pictures here, but I’m also expanding my etsy shop—Photogenic Flowers—to include pictures from my travels. I’m sifting through my SE Asia photos right now and will have a dozen or so posted around Easter. I add a couple new photos every month, so check back frequently! Also, I have a coupon going right now, use the code FLOWERSHOP on purchases of $10 or more and get $5 off.

oOo

Writing Updates!

March has not been kind to my writing. As of now, I haven’t written any words for the month. I’ve opened blank documents and stared at them for an hour but I haven’t gotten any words out. I haven’t gotten anything with long hand writing either. I stare at the notebook page and there’s just…nothing. I don’t know what’s up. I’m torn between backing off and letting inspiration come or chasing it down with a club.

I’m holding out hope that I can break the dam and get an update for Constellations up before I leave for Alaska since I still don’t know the exact internet situation. If it’s really sketchy I don’t want to go five months with that little cliffhanger. That’s a little mean, even for me.

Last month I decided to permanently shelve my first queried manuscript Tiger, Tiger. If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you’ll recognize that as Adventures with Aria. I realized as I read through it that it uses a lot of cultural appropriation from Inuit culture. I don’t really know a lot about Inuit culture, I just cherry picked the things I wanted to learn to round out the culture/mythos of the Tiger, Tiger universe. So, for the foreseeable future there will be no more adventures with Aria. At least, not as she is now. I still like the core concept of the story and maybe I’ll find somewhere else to put her, but for now, I’ve killed my darling.

Up until my words dried up, I was working on making a serial book for the blog, like the old penny magazines. I haven’t decided on any clever titles for it but keep an eye out for that this year. The earliest you’ll see it will be May. I want to see how the internet is in Juneau before I start posting it. It will be original content; fanfiction will stay on my fanfiction account.

But, I think that’s a wrap for everything that’s happening. Next update will be coming from Alaska!

New Year, New Updates

New Year, New Updates

Well, it’s been a hot minute since we chatted, hasn’t it.

This post is an info-dump of updates on everything going on right now.

First off: I am back in the States. I don’t remember if I ever posted that. I’ve been back since April. But I got back and my blogging immediately fell off again so, sorry! But now that I’m back, I’m leaving again! I’m not going as far this time. I’m staying in the States but I’m heading to Alaska to work at a dog musher camp.

I’m excited and a little nervous. I’ll be giving presentations about the history of dogsledding to groups of tourists while I’m there and public speaking has never been my strong point. But people are on vacation and doing something new and exciting so that should make things a bit more relaxed. I’ll be heading up there mid-April and my blogging is likely going to fall off again because I don’t think I’ll have wifi where I’ll be staying. I’ll be close to Juneau, so I can take a bus to a Starbucks. That will have to be on my days off and, to be honest, I’d rather hike around glaciers than sit in a coffee shop. Nothing personal, I love you all.

From the initial interview it also sounds like the only two places I’ll have power in the cabin I’m staying at are in the kitchen and the bathroom. But that’s okay, I’ve got a stack of To Be Read books that are shoulder high. I don’t think I’ll have 24 hour sunlight, but I’m pretty sure it’ll still be something like 15-18 hours of light, so as long as I have a window I can read. This is also going to do wonders for my insomnia.

So that’s coming up pretty fast. We’ve only got a week left in January and February always flies by and March we’ll have spring coming through and April I’ll be running around like a maniac making sure I have all my stuff.

 

Other things: I opened my first Etsy shop, Photogenic Flowers, (www.etsy.com/shop/PhotogenicFlowers) and I have a dozen photos up right now. I’ll be adding more in February, so if you want to drop by and take a peek or tell a friend, that’d be awesome. I’m really working this year toward becoming self-employed and having enough money and time to write.

I haven’t been writing as much as I did while I was in China. I was averaging about 40,000 words a month while I was in China. A lot of it won’t see the light of day, but I finished two or three fanfics and started Constellations which is at seven chapters and close to 100,000 words. I was writing a lot. And a lot of that was because for the first time since high school I was financially secure. My monthly salary was enough to pay for all my utilities and apartment and I was making enough I could save up and go on some cool trips.

And then I got back to the States and immediately fell back into the loop of crunching numbers to get my bank account on stable footing again.

Anyway, so I came up with some New Year Resolutions to help me break that cycle and push me in the direction I want to go. I’m working on becoming a better literary citizen by not just reading, but also reviewing what I read. Hence the two book review updates you got if you’re following this blog. I set my minimum at three books a month with reviews. I need to get the reviews written and posted, but I’ve finished reading five volumes of Transformers: More than Meets the Eye. So I’m doing all right on that one.

I’ve also put a minimum of 20,000 words to write for each month. I’m about 10,000 behind right now, but the whole job thing was a little shaky the first couple weeks of January. But I’ve got one now and hopefully when the first paycheck hits I’ll be a little less anxious and February will be an easier writing month.

I think those are all the major updates. I’ll be back in February with writing updates both for original work and fanfiction. But right now, I’ve got comic reviews to write and 10K words to crank out. So happy new year, let’s kick some ass.

Adventures Abroad: Devil’s Choir

Adventures Abroad: Devil’s Choir

transformers_g1_prowl_by_tsaisin

You’ve been running for so long still breathing

Hoping soon to find a song worth singing

Every chapter of this note they’re reading

But you’re slowly losing hope on bleeding

I’ll carry you

My darkest desire

When life sings to you through devil’s choirs

Fear won’t steal what burns in you

I’ll carry you a

Away from the fire

My desire, devil’s choirs

My desire, devil’s choirs

Raise another broken glass to failure

A simple promise of a crimson savior

Take a look into the life you’re leaving

I promise you this isn’t pain you’re feeling

I’ll carry you

My darkest desire

When life sings to you through devil’s choirs

Fear won’t steal what burns in you

I’ll carry you

Away from the fire

My desire, devil’s choirs

My desire, devil’s choirs

My desire, devil’s choirs

Black Veil Brides, Devil’s Choir

Well holy hells boys and girls. Today is my last day in Yan’An. Tomorrow I’m setting off for Xi’an to get a quick look at the Terracotta Warrior Army and then I’m heading back to Japan for about a month.

It’s snowing right now, actually, it’s been snowing since early this morning. I spent the morning packing my big bag, cursing myself for bringing dress clothes. Seriously, I wore them in Cambodia and I wore them a few times last semester but the school was fine with jeans and their t-shirt. If I wasn’t looking to start a job in the States that requires some formality in the clothes there’s a very good chance some of those things would’ve been ‘donated’ to the next teacher.

China wasn’t what I thought it would be, which is neither good nor bad, it’s just different. I’ve visited a few neat local places like Ho Kau Pu Bu, the waterfall, and WanHua the peony mountain. I’ve had a ton of fun trying different foods I’d never have considered in the States; chicken feet, stinky tofu, mystery meat on a stick. I’ve picked up some Chinese, though my listening comprehension is much higher than my speaking, I want to keep up with it. I’ve always wanted to be a polyglot and I’ve got the basics of Chinese already. So I’ll either find a class or pick up a Rosetta Stone program when I get back to the States.

But I got everything crammed in my bag and my backpack is filled to bursting with souvenirs for family and friends. It’s so strange to think tomorrow is the last time I’ll be on a train leaving Yan’An. This year has gone by so fast. There were a few days there in July where I thought this year would never end, but here we are.

This time last year I had just arrived in Xi’an. I was nervous about teaching, a little overwhelmed with culture shock, jetlagged, and missing my friends from Cambodia. Now? The sun is starting to peek out and I think I’m going to go down to one of my favorite street vendors and pick up some noodles one last time. I’m excited to see the Warriors and get a better look at the Big Goose Pagoda and I can hardly wait to get back to Japan.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this year, which is a scary/exhilarating feeling when you’re jumping straight into a new place and new job. But that’s life. And teaching here has given me the experience and credentials to keep teaching—preferably older teens and adults—all around the world. I still want to teach for a year or two in Japan. I know that whenever I get back to the States I have plans to start teaching Microsoft programs and who knows, maybe I’ll find a company that will happily send me thither and yon for a week or two at a time.

I was listening to music while I tetrised my clothes into my big bag and a song, Devil’s Choir, by Black Veil Brides popped up. I could remember so many days listening to that song at full volume driving to my fast food and restaurant jobs and hating everything about my life. I had a POS car that was turning into a money pit, I wasn’t making enough money to get a place of my own, I had—still have—student loans due for a degree that was turning out to be more useless than the paper it’s printed on. My depression manifested as insomnia, wild mood swings, and periods of rage so intense I have gaps in my memory. I hated everything.

I started looking at jobs out of state, I started looking at jobs in state parks, government jobs. Anything my ridiculously narrow skill set and degree could get me. And then I had that conversation at the pumpkin patch that kick started the search for TEFL certifications. I found the one thing my degree in creative writing might actually be good for. It took about two years, but a year ago today I was boarding a plane to come to China after spending an incredible month in Cambodia.

It wasn’t easy to get to that point, and it hasn’t been easy being here pretty much on my own with a language barrier the size of the Great Wall. But I made it to that plane a year ago and I made it here for a year and even managed to make a few friends along the way. In two days I’ll be on another plane to Japan, a country I never thought I’d see in person and I’m going to be there a month.

So if you’re stuck and you’re angry, I understand. I won’t say it gets better because it doesn’t. You have to make it better. You have to be brave enough to get yourself unstuck. That’s the hardest part, being brave. Sometimes you have to be willing to jump into the fog even if you can’t see where you’re landing.

Adventures Abroad: Privilege of Travel

Adventures Abroad: Privilege of Travel

I scrolled past an article on FB about the privilege of traveling a few weeks ago. Although I use “article” in the loosest sense of the word; it was about five hundred words of the author saying we should remember that traveling abroad is a privilege. And while I found that to be an eye rolling duh what caught my attention were the comments. Most of them were unflattering opinions of people who travel abroad. A common thread was that people who travel must have lots of extra money to afford to do such things. That traveling abroad is an elitist pastime available only to the 1%. The article itself touched on that idea; the author comes from a poor background and it took a lot of hard work on her behalf to travel.

There are a lot of blogs discussing the privilege of traveling, like these here, here also here  annnnd this one. That’s just a quick sampling. Google anything about travel and privilege and you’ll find more. There are even links within those blogs to other blogs speaking about the same thing. It’s like blog-ception.

I mean, you read enough of those you’ll feel like an elitist bastard if you mention you’ve been to the state next door. But what’s more irritating than the feather-light brow beating these people feel is necessary is that none of them have proposed solutions.

The article I mentioned at the top was shared over five thousand times when I scrolled past it. And the only thing in that writing is a gentle wrist slap to people who actively encourage others to travel because not everyone has the means to travel and that makes us look snobbish. But there was nothing about how we can reduce that privilege gap and work to help everyone travel.

There’s not much we can do about visa restrictions, unless you’re a powerful figure in your respective country. First world travelers, such as myself, have a massive advantage. Canadians can pop in and out of 174 countries without the hassle of a visa. My fellow Americans, we can skip through 160. Have a UK passport? 175. Have a freaking German passport: 177.

If you’re from Ghana? 63.

Iraq: 30.

And Pakistan and Afghanistan have even less. If you’ve been following my blog you know about my trip to Chicago to get my Chinese Visa and that, while irritating, was easy. I’m only a three hour drive from Chicago. But if I’d had to go to Washington D.C.? That would have required money for airfare and a hotel stay. I would’ve had to take time off work instead of going on a day off. Visas are a goddamn pain and each one you get costs money. If I’d had to go to D.C. the total cost of getting my visa would have been around $500. As it was—if we don’t count the car getting towed because fuck Chicago—the total was $200.

Again, there’s not much individuals can do about visas, but there are some things you can do. Head over to GoFundMe once a month or so. There are people around the world trying to raise money to travel. Sometimes they have noble causes, sometimes they just want to see the world. But if you can spare five dollars, that’s five dollars that can help someone get a visa or get a plane ticket. Trying to untangle the rat’s nest of politics involved with visas is a bit much for any one person, but as one person you can help another.

I don’t have solutions for every circumstance in every country, but—as I’ve mentioned—I’m from the US and those are the issues I’m tackling first. No one can save the world all at once; you have to start with the problems you see. And, as the world has been privy to us airing our dirty laundry, the US has quite a few issues right now.

The first time I went abroad it was during my time at university. I spent a semester in London and from there visited France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Vatican City. My group was not full of Richie Rich kids either. Most of us lived off pasta and toast so we could afford to travel to additional countries. I missed a trip to Ireland because I had only three hundred dollars left in my account in a time when the dollar was significantly weaker than the Euro. We took the jump across the pond because a semester abroad was roughly the same as a domestic semester. I took out loans to make the trip and I’m still glad I did it even though I’m still staring those student loans in the face.

But not everyone is eligible for loans or the loans they take out don’t cover things like semesters abroad. But what if education was affordable? We can do that. We can make education affordable to everyone. We can fix the system that uses students as another source of income instead of working to help them. Going abroad will still be more expensive than a domestic semester, but we can fix that too. There are programs at universities that will help fund students’ travels abroad, but they’re not advertised. I didn’t know until six weeks before my graduation that my university had a program for writers. Had I written a short paper on whatever country I wanted to visit and how it would influence my work and how I planned to incorporate all I learned I could have had a chance to go anywhere in the world and the school would have paid for the flight and helped with living costs. At the time, one young woman was living in a small medieval village in Romania writing a modern thriller.

I spent about fifteen months saving up the money for the plane ticket to Asia and the program fee as well as money to live off of while I was getting my TEFL. And it was still a tight month before I got my first pay here in China. The reason I went with Language Corps was their China program got me lined up with my job before I even left the States. Had I not had a job before getting on the plane I probably wouldn’t be here. I didn’t have enough money to live for an extra three months and job hunt.

While in the States, I worked two jobs for a while before landing one that paid better than both and then I worked there every week as long as I could until the chef realized I was in OT and kicked me out. I remember very little about the year leading up to coming to China. I remember snippets of work and a few other things that FB reminds me of with their “memories” thing, but I worked pretty well from sun up to sun down. And there are people who are still doing that and working seventy hours or more a week just to afford an apartment and food.

Why don’t we have a living wage? I don’t care if you think people in the service industry don’t “deserve” fifteen dollars an hour. To afford an apartment, utilities, a car, food, and clothes; people will need that damn fifteen dollars an hour. Gods help them if they have kids. I figured at twelve dollars an hour I might be able to afford my own apartment as long as I carefully rationed my utilities and didn’t exceed more than seventy dollars a month in gas money and only spent fifty dollars a month on food. I still have my student loans to pay, and then I’d only be making the absolute minimum payment. So yeah, if you want to give yourself salt poisoning by eating ramen four days a week and toast the other three you can survive on about twelve dollars an hour.

And that’s bullshit.

Minimum wage is not a goddamn punishment. It is not “spending” money. This is a wage paid so that one person or a family can live. They should make enough money they can afford to eat real food and make sure their kids have clothes and if something breaks on their car be able to fix it. They should be making enough to put some money in savings. They should be making enough money when the holidays roll around they can buy their parents/friends/siblings/children a few gifts and not feel the axe of credit card debt hanging over them. They should be making enough money if they want to go out and have dinner and catch a movie they damn well can. Because that is what we do when we have enough money to live. Anyone, anyone, who thinks minimum wage shouldn’t be raised to a living wage is a picture of elitism. Why not? What makes these people who make your sandwiches and help you find your produce and stock your shelves and help you return clothes unworthy of being able to live a fulfilling life without worrying day and night about how they’re going to pay for their water or put food on the table? And that bullshit argument that people should just go to school and get a better job. You mean that school that puts its graduates in tens of thousands of dollars of debt? That school? If people can barely afford to pay rent, what makes you think they’ll suddenly be making enough to pay three hundred dollars in loans every month?

The writer of the article also mentioned she has chronic health problems which limits how much traveling she can do. So let’s talk about healthcare. Many of my friends as well as my sister have chronic health problems. They shouldn’t have to make sure they land an upper tier job to have health insurance. Everyone should have health insurance and it should be affordable. People shouldn’t have to choose between purchasing the medication that keeps them alive or buying food. There is abso-fucking-lutely no goddamn reason for it. Full stop.

Now let’s talk about the other types of privilege that can make traveling easier for some. In just shy of ten days I’m going to visit Singapore. In this particular country it is still illegal for persons of the same sex to kiss in public. It is a crime for which you can be fined or imprisoned. There are countries across the globe that will execute LGBT people. Trans-people can have an absolute hell of a time getting official documents that reflect their gender. As I said, homosexuality is still punishable by death in places.

And that needs to change. Right now. We can support groups who are actively fighting to change legislation in their countries. We can support the people who put their lives on the line by marching in Pride parades. We can acknowledge that these injustices exist instead of shrugging them off because they happen in distant places.

It’s still dangerous for women to travel alone in some countries because of oppressive patriarchal ideas of the role women play in life. We can fight that too. There are women around the world working to change society. Stand with them. Support them either with words of encouragement or financially. Get their message out there. Tell others, share it of social media. Let others know that there are women fighting to make their homes safe for themselves and their daughters.

So I have to say Ms. Ferguson—and all the others—I read your articles and I see what you’re saying. Traveling is a privilege that not everyone has access to. What I don’t understand is why you presented this as the way things will always be. We can change this. We can close the gap of privilege by making education and healthcare affordable, by paying people enough to live, not just enough scrape by and survive. We can make this world safer to travel for everyone, not just white men. Traveling will only be a privilege as long as we allow it to be.