Friday, May 28, 2010

On the Road Again




I slept sooo peacefully at Sambor Village. In fact, it was the best sleep I’ve had this entire trip. Around 5 or 5:30am, I was awakened by the hilarious sound of a rooster crowing. “Cock-a-doodle-dooooo!” All I could do was laugh. After packing up again, I had a light breakfast of scrambled eggs, a really soft piece of bread that was similar to warm soft pita bread and freshly squeezed orange juice. This meal came with a jelly made of minced ginger and pineapple.
After checking out of the hotel/resort, we boarded our little shuttle bus to continue our trek to Phenom Penh. I had no cash so I asked Som if we could stop at an ATM. We stopped at a bank where I decided to cash out a traveler’s check. It seemed as if everyone was staring at me. I thought it must be because they seldom see blacks. I asked Som were they staring at me because I am black. He said, “You are not black. You are brown. They are staring at you because they seldom see Americans in this bank.”
We are now traveling to a village that is a mix of ancient and modern temples. Som says there will be monks there that speak English. Once we leave there, we will have lunch in the city and we are scheduled to visit a museum. Part of the group will then take a boat trip through a village where they produce their own silks and dyes. The other part of our group, including me, will go with our instructor Sriyani to speak with a woman who tries to help victims of human trafficking.
At this point, we have a very long ride so we decided to start singing karaoke-style on the bus. Som says we can use his microphone. I’m thinking I’m going to sing, “Jesus Loves Me,” Whitney Houston-style (think “The Bodyguard” with Kevin Costner pre-crack is whack period).
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
It is 10:44am and our driver just stopped so that I could take a photo of a crop of rubber trees (see photos above). No one else really remarked about the trees, so I’m thinking that maybe I’m the only one on the bus that didn’t know rubber came from a tree. I thought it was man-made! We’ve passed crop after crop of the trees. They have coconut shells fastened to their trunks. Tom, Sriyani’s husband, says just like people tap a tree for maple syrup, workers here carve into the tree when the time is right and allow the rubber sap to drip into the cup-like coconut shell. It’s then taken to another location and processed. Simply fascinating.
During the road trip, we stopped at a little outdoor market so that some of the girls could go to the restroom. Several young kids approached our bus wanting us to buy their goods. One girl was selling tarantulas! Som said the legs are fried like french fries and they taste like peanut butter! I think the girl selling the spiders had fun seeing us ooh and awww… she placed one of the tarantulas on her face and acted as if she was going to bite into it. Funny and scary at the same time!
Shortly after that stop, we made our way into Phnom Penh. At one point, as we were crossing over the Mekong Delta (a natural passageway from southern Vietnam to Cambodia), I felt as if I were stepping into a scene from a movie. Very, very crowded with Asian and European influences all around, asphalt jungle on one side, beach on the other. We are staying at the Hotel Castle, which is where we said our goodbye to Som. He was a wonderful tour guide and I hated to see him leave. I am now in the hotel lobby using the internet. In a little bit, we will all head out to dinner. We have a very full day planned tomorrow.

Thursday, May 27






Welcome rains are pouring down on us. We arrived at the Sambor Village Resort about an hour ago after a long first part of the day. The shuttle bus picked us up from the Khemara Angkor Hotel about 9am before setting off on a two hour drive to Kompong Thom. This Buddhist temple was built during centuries ago and even today, the village surrounding it looks primitive. However, once again, we were greeted by smiling children asking us to buy their wares for $1. I did not have any money but borrowed $2 from my roommate Hillary, so that I could oblige the little boy and girl that walked beside me, telling me to, “Be careful Madame” as I approached every little groove or bump along our trail. The $2 bought two very bright and colorful scarves that I’m told their moms probably made.
After touring the ruins and taking photos, we were driven to a local restaurant to eat as the locals do. A young woman served us smoked fish, cooked with its head still on, along with a spicy mango sauce (more like a cabbage slaw), soup, a sticky white rice and vegetables. The experience was great because we got an authentic Cambodian meal. The problem is we were seated outdoors in a hut-like structure and there were flies, mosquitoes and other small insects crawling around on the table and getting in the food. The drinking water was warm and I noticed on the pork in my soup—hair bristles still on the skin. At that point, I lost my appetite a little bit.
I am now in my hotel/resort room watching a rather large lizard crawl in and out of the very small openings in the beautifully crafted ceiling. Actually, the entire room looks like a piece of photography out of a Bombay catalog. A deep red and maroon scarf is tacked onto a frame hanging on the wall like a majestic work of art. The floor is made of a smooth peach tile and has some sort of art painted on a section of it. The beds are firm and the bed posts are made of a dark sturdy wood. No creaking, squeaking or any sound that might make one question the sturdiness of the bed. There are large white nets that remind me of canopies—somewhat romantic but in this case very practical, for during the night, they will shield us from ants, mosquitoes, geckos, worms and other creepy, crawly critters!
We all had dinner at the hotel’s dining area on the second floor of the main area. Two people served as hosts, cook and wait staff. A young woman and man seated us, took our drink orders then served us. They took our meal orders then cooked the food and served us. They were gracious and the food was good. (**The next morning, I saw our “cook” cleaning the pool. YES indeed, these people work so hard for their money.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Floating Village

Today we drove to a floating village about an hour away from our hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Som, our tour guide, said about 3 million people live around the Tonle Sap Lake. People live in hut-like structures on stilts in the water. Actually the craftsmanship was quite impressive. Some of the materials look like what Americans would pay big money for at places like Pier One. Even though it was a bit primitive looking to me, I thought it was funny that some of these 'huts/homes' had television antennas. We took a long wooden boat down the lake. At first, the water was very smelly and I thought I might get sick but soon the odor dissipated or maybe I just put it out of my mind. Actually as I write this, I feel a little as if I'm swaying from side to side!!! Okay, I digress. What struck me was HOW do these people live in, play in, wash in, use this very dirty water. I thought about the diseases it must carry. How they spend their time-- day in, day out around it. It is just something I don't think I can adequately put into words. We passed animals, dead fish, hard working people and lots of smiling children! I thought about what we consider poverty in the U.S. and what a relative term that is. Again, what we consider poor, they might consider wealth. The voyage continues.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Awash in Gratitude






We traveled to two more temples today and will visit a floating village, orphanage center and silk farm tomorrow. I have never seen poverty like this so up close. I teared up as our bus passed by one village. I never want to forget the feeling of gratitude that washed over me as we drove by people sitting on dirt, walking barefoot, children with shirts on but nothing else-- literally NOTHING else. They shared their front "yards" with sickly looking cows, goats, cats and dogs. The streams we passed were murky and dark-colored. I cried because I thought of how even the most basic requirements many Americans have: running water, clothes, SHOES, a few dollars, the ability to go to school-- and more, would all be considered the possessions of a materialistically well-off person in the eyes of the people I saw today. Yet, in the midst of all this sadness I heard a little girl giggle in one temple as her mother (who was working in the sweltering heat) took time to show her some attention. I gave another little girl my bottle of lemon tea, but her smile made me feel as if I had given her liquid gold. Along that drive, I saw a rice paddy, a parade of balloons as women shielded themselves from the sun, lotuses and amazing ruins at Banteay Srei. The journey continues.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Siem Reap, Cambodia






What a jam-packed few days it has been since I last wrote on this blog. I don't even know where to begin so I will try to be brief with my highlights. After a few days in Singapore, we caught a two hour plane ride to Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is the exact opposite of what I experienced in Singapore. Whereas, Singapore felt very modernized and hi-tech. Siem Reap seems very much tied to the past. There is extreme poverty here like I have never witnessed. There is also much beauty and hope. I will have to explain that sentiment later. I am about to head to dinner but I wanted to post some photos from the ruins of two ancient temples we visited today: Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Singapore






4:40am Friday, May 21

After more than 20 hours of travel, we made it to the hotel in Singapore. I flew from DFW to Los Angeles. Had a 4 hour layover. Boarded Singapore Airlines to Tokyo. That was a 10 1/2 hours flight with about 300 people on board. The flight attendants looked like these perfect little china dolls. Very beautiful and wearing form fitting outfits with their hair pinned up and perfect makeup. The customer service was unbelievable. They try to accommodate your ever whim-- a huge difference between them and domestic flight attendants. You almost get the feeling that if you aren't pleased with their service, they'd take it as an ultimate offense. On our flight, we were fed constantly-- great lunch and dinner with lights snacks in between and after main meals. For lunch, I had breast with mushrooms, carrots and potatoes. For my dinner I had some type of seafood in cheese sauce with noodles and salad. As one might expect, tea is offered hot or cold and is a signature with most meals. As for flight entertainment, everyone had a tv monitor with 99 channels. I saw all kinds of movies, some that were just in theaters, like "It's Complicated" and "Brothers." I also saw old movies. After landing in Tokyo's Narita Airport, I walked around a bit. The airport was very clean and extremely hi-tech looking. What I found interesting was that there was no art or anything on the walls. As my instructor's husband put it, "The hi-tech (electronics) is their art!" The restrooms were also state-of-the art looking. The flight to Singapore from Tokyo took a little over 6 hours. By the time we landed, my bottom hurt!! Too much sitting. I tried to get up and walk around on the plane but there's only so much one can do!! Singapore's Airport is very big, lots of wide open space and it had art on display. Immediately, I noticed all the multi-ethnic people. I learned that Singapore is made up of Chinese, Indians, Malaysian and Singaporeans. I have seen very few whites, but the two I did meet were from Canada and Australia.

The hotel we are staying in is the River View. The accommodations are nice and much roomier than I expected. When my best friend, Racine and I traveled to Europe ten years ago, we were astounded at how tiny our beds were. Now in Asia, I'm surprised at how much room we have and how large the beds are, etc. Our view is amazing, but considering where we are, it would be hard to have a bad view. There are high-rises everywhere, beautifully tall, gleaming buildings right near the water. Near those are ancient temples. It's a perfect blend of old meets new.

If you noticed-- I was awake and writing at 4:40 this morning. That's because we hadn't been at the hotel very long when I started writing in my journal (to copy over to the blog). Once I did go to sleep, I woke up again at about 9am, got downstairs about 10am for breakfast. There was a buffet with all kinds of food-- everything you'd expect at IHOP: pancakes, eggs, fruit, sausage and bacon plus Asian fare: fish balls, noodles with vegetables, and more. The students: Janelle (just graduated from UNL with a degree in advertising), Trisha (Junior broadcasting major), Callie (criminal justice major), Tawny (News Editorial major who will graduate in December), Chelsea (News Editorial major who will graduate in December), Paige (a sophomore news editorial major), Tyler (just graduated from UNL with degree in Advertising-- and me were joined by Suba (Tom and Sriyani's daughter who owns a boutique ad agency in Sri Lanka). After breakfast, the students split into groups for some sightseeing. Me, Tyler, Paige, Chelsea and Callie walked around near the hotel and went into a shopping mall that had many western looking stores-- a very fancy McDonald's and clothing stores with similar looking items I'm sure I could find back at home. The salespeople seemed sort of pushy. I felt "watched," a lot. I don't know if it's because I was the only black in my group or what, but it didn't bother me. No one bought anything and after leaving the mall, we took a free shuttle to Chinatown. This mix of outdoor market and indoor shops had more of the kind of things I'd expect to see-- including all kinds of Asian souvenirs, ornate fans, kimonos, etc. Even though it was only about 85 degrees, it felt about 100, probably because of the humidity. At one point, we stopped to take a drink of coconut juice, straight from the coconut! It was refreshing-- very cold and not sweet at all! Once back at the hotel for a change of clothes, we took taxi cabs to the advertising agency, McCann Worldgroup and met with senior planner Mohamed Salim. McCann Singapore has handled some huge accounts. Some of them include the first ever Youth Olympics being held in Singapore this year. They've also handled L'Oreal, KFC, XBOX and others. Salim talked about how he ended up in Singapore and how western it is. He said Singapore is an easy city to assimilate to, it's safe and great for walking. After leaving there, we walked to a nearby mall for dinner. I had Indian cuisine. It was very spicy and did not taste at all like the Indian food I've had in Dallas (or New York). The others wanted to shop a little, but I headed back to the hotel. I had a very friendly cab driver who talked about the people of Singapore. He said it's wonderful how so many races, ethnicities live together peacefully and seem to not have any problems. He said the government, which is run by most Chinese, seems to make everything work. I need to read more about their type of government here. I think I've heard before that it is a rather Draconian society. Everyone appears to be happy or at least they believe they are and that everything is perfect even though there is a large number of unemployed people (according to the cab driver, who seemed very educated). I keep hearing people talk about relatively crime-free it is here. That might be because of strict laws in place. Chewing gum or spitting in public is punishable by fine. They want to keep it clean!! When I went through customs at the airport, the back of a form they gave me said "Warning: Death for drug traffickers under Singapore Law." If you drug traffick in the U.S., you may end up in prison. For further proof of the "low crime", I have been watching Channel NewsAsia tonight. I haven't seen a single story about crime. I still don't know if that means it isn't happening or the government is just doing a good job making sure the media don't report it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Going back to Cali


I'm not completely packed yet but I need to be! My alarm clock is set to go off in about 6 hours. I'm catching a flight from DFW Airport to LAX. It's been about 20 years since my last stop in Los Angeles. I interned at KCET on Sunset Boulevard during the summer before my senior year. I'm sure things have changed A LOT since then!! Why do I have LL Cool J in my head now?? "I'm going back to Cali..." Serious flashback. At LAX, I will meet up with the other students from UNL for our flight to Singapore. Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ouch, that hurts!

I'm getting closer to my departure date but there are still so many things to do. I have renewed my passport, which was quite an experience. I hadn't been into a federal government building in a while. There were so many security cameras, guards, etc. It's really sad how terrorists have eroded our quality of life. I felt nervous and watched constantly. After taking care of the passport, I headed to the Dallas County Health Department. Fortunately, it was early and only one person in line to get vaccinated in the Foreign Travel office. The experience had me saying "ouch" on two counts! The shots I needed for travel to Southeast Asia cost $225! Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Polio and Typhoid. OUCH! Days later, I have bruises on both arms from those vaccinations!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fortune Cookie


There is much to do between now and my departure to the Far East! I still need to go shopping for outfits that will accommodate the heat. I hate packing so Reggie said I should start now! :-) There has been a lot in the news lately about terrorist attacks. One co-worker started talking about how she wishes she didn't have to fly. I don't look forward to the 24 hour flight to Singapore but I am not going to let fear keep me from experiencing life! We had P.F. Changs for dinner tonight. The message inside my fortune cookie summed up how I am feeling right about now: "Sometimes traveling to a new place leads to great transformation." I want to be greatly transformed!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It Really Does Happen That Fast

I am just a few weeks from traveling to Southeast Asia for Journalism 898 - a study abroad class focusing on magazine writing and photography. We will also look at advertising. What is amazing is that I learned about this course only days ago. I text messaged my husband to see what he thought and his response was, "go for it." I immediately contacted the instructor overseeing this program to let her know of my interest. From there, things started coming together quickly. About 12 of us (students and instructors from the University of Nebraska) are traveling to Singapore, Cambodia and either Thailand or Malaysia. The night before I planned on asking my job for time off, I asked my husband, "...am I crazy? People don't just up and decide to go to Asia. These kinds of trips are planned weeks, months, even a year in advance." He said, "No. Sometimes things really do happen just that fast." My job gave me the okay and I am eagerly anticipating what I am sure will be an absolutely amazing experience.