I didn't write and post as much as I thought I would from Cambodia. Our days were long. I was savoring my final days with the group and with my family. But I wanted to at least share some photos from our final day's outing: exploring village life in Cambodia. And I also wanted to wish you a fond farewell, at least until my next trip. I also want to thank you for being such a great audience of readers. It's been a pleasure to move through this journey as a writer - always looking for the next story, the next quirky detail, that great overheard bit of dialogue, all those strange juxtapositions of ancient traditions and contemporary modern culture. To share my travel experiences with you. Each day searching for just the right story. I loved exercising my creative muscle in this way. ... [Continue Reading]
I've spent the last 30 years dealing with trauma and thinking about trauma, so while I was in Siem Reap, I felt a visceral need to do more than marvel at the ancient temples this area is so famous for. I wanted to do that yes, and I loved walking around Angkor Tom, Angkor Wat and several smaller temples--snapping pictures of the phenomenal carvings--but I also wanted to witness first-hand evidence of the killing fields and the war crimes of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. I'd read the memoir, First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung, and seen the movie, The Killing Fields. The genocide suffered by the Cambodian people at the hands of their own people has haunted me ever since. There was ... [Continue Reading]
One last P.S. from Laos. On my very last visit to the night market to buy some gifts, I came across this woman selling jewelry, key chains and bottle openers made from the aluminum that came from U.S. bombs. Talk about transformation! They money is helping their village in many ways. The sign explaining the project said: "We bring the new meaning bombs and help ourselves and escape poverty." I bought a bottle opener in the shape of a map of Laos.
Last night, after my wonderful interlude at Big Brother Mouse with Eliza, we returned to the hotel and headed out with our group for a farewell dinner and Baci ceremony at the home of a local family. Tui had arranged it for us and I knew it would be a wonderful evening. Judy and Surya always end their trips with something special. We were dropped off at a family compound, took off our shoes, and each of us was draped in a ceremonial wrap around our chest and shoulders. We sat on chairs around the perimeter of a large room. At the front of the room were members of our hosting Lao family: the oldest man (the high priest), several older women, a couple of teenagers playing drums and an instrument I didn't recognize, and two young children. They sat on the floor in front of a large altar ... [Continue Reading]
Several times since we've arrived in Luang Prabang, I've passed a storefront that says "Big Brother Mouse" and I've always wondered what it was. The other day on my way home from the night market, I passed a cart out in front filled with children's books written in Lao, including a Lao translation of The Diary of Anne Frank, which I thought was pretty cool. I recognized it because it had that classic photo of Anne which is on all the copies I've ever seen of her diary.
Anne Frank in LaoIntrigued, I picked up a brochure and learned that Big Brother Mouse is a project designed to promote literacy in Laos. The opening paragraph of their little pamphlet read as follows, "This is the story of how we are changing Laos from a country where 'people don't ... [Continue Reading]
The last time I rode on the back of an animal, it was a horse and I was in Costa Rica with my then 13-year-old daughter. We were on a mother-daughter vacation and she really wanted to go on a horseback riding expedition. I had already sworn off horseback riding years earlier after a disastrous and terrifying ride on a vacation with Karyn in Belize (horses seem to sense exactly when the person riding them is uncomfortable and afraid--and that would be me), but those of you who are parents know how it is. I was willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone-- way beyond my comfort zone--to give Eliza the adventure she wanted. I signed us up for the daylong horseback ride. We rode our horses up a steep jarring mountainous path with a sheer drop to my left. I hated every moment, but did my best ... [Continue Reading]
We went on another walking tour this morning, this time looking at the architecture in Luang Prabang. We learned some interesting facts from Judy, Surya and Tui: for instance, that nails are forbidden in this town because of its UNESCO world heritage status; only tongue and groove construction is permitted. There are also strict laws about the height and dimensions of buildings and how far they must be set back from the river. The two bamboo bridges that go over the river? The one I'd walked over and the other one? Every rainy season they wash out and need to be rebuilt. The local village wanted to build a more permanent bridge and was told they couldn't - the swinging bamboo bridge is part of the "quaint" look of Luang Prabang - and the old ways must be preserved at all costs. So every ... [Continue Reading]
Although I have been loving every day of this trip to Southeast Asia and savoring all the new tastes, smells, sights and sounds, I am not having the same experience as the people who paid to come on this trip. I am the writing teacher, the trip initiator and one of the leaders, and I am responsible for what happens. That means when I'm not teaching or preparing to teach, thinking about a blog post or writing a blog post, I am constantly scanning for potential problems, keeping tabs on group members to make sure things are going okay. In other words, I am working. And since I've been in Laos, I haven't had a moment free for myself. No freedom of movement. No alone time. Aside from meals (which have been fantastic - the food is terrific here), I've been on the clock all day every ... [Continue Reading]
When I travel, I always seek out the local food market. I love seeing the overflowing piles of rice, beans and vegetables, chili and fruit. So when Tui offered to take us to the early morning market, I jumped at the chance. Usually when I go to an outdoor market in another country, there are a lot of familiar foods and some unrecognizable foods. But in this instance, most of what I saw was unfamiliar and completely foreign to me. In fact, there were so many foods I didn't recognize out of the hundreds that were there that I made a list of the foods I did recognize: oranges, limes, lettuce, pineapple, bananas, rice, meat on skewers (but what meat? I had no idea), scallions, papaya, mango, edamame, coffee beans, long green beans, rice noodles, tomato, cucumber, eggs, cilantro, broccoli, ... [Continue Reading]