wander process

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One Year Out

Oh, what a year it’s been.

One year ago day, I had another typical, feverish 3am packing frenzy. I stuffed equal amounts of comforting things I loved and crazy thrift-store clothing I didn’t care about getting trashed into a medium-sized suitcase and a backpack.

I cut off all of my hair, partly because it was something I always wanted to do and partly because I needed to leave things behind.

I bid farewell to my friends. I said goodbye to my family. It was the first time I ever hugged my sisters and parents goodbye without knowing when I would see them again. Before there was always a return date in mind. When I set out for Bangkok last year, there wasn’t.

People always tell me how brave I am, to do something like move across an ocean, but I don’t know if I can understand that. It’s not bravery that I have as much as a desire to see the world, at any cost. And to not chase this desire while I’m young and unattached would be soul-crushing to me. This wanderlust I have is innate. It drove me as a young girl just as much as it drives me now.

I made this trip. Over the Pacific once more, nary a plane cankle in sight. And let me tell you, on that plane from Chicago to Hong Kong, I cried. Just because I do things doesn’t mean they aren’t scary to me. Quite the opposite, really. From constant challenges I grow, learn more about myself, learn more about the world. The only thing scarier than challenging myself is becoming complacent with shelving my dreams for another day, another year, another decade. Plenty of real adults I have met at home, in Providence, in Bangkok, in Buriram, have told me that they wished they would have done something like this when they were younger. And I am a firm believer in regretting more the things I don’t do over the things I have done.

My permavacation in Bangkok was magical. So much exploring, so much getting acquainted to do. Except this time, it was with a city. This was a year for falling in love with places. My heart will always burst for Bangkok.

And then I moved. I have met wonderfully kind, fascinating people in the middle of nowhere. I have had the chance to try and become wonderful and kind myself, but it’s hard. I thought I’d start immediately soul-searching. As much as traveling or living or working abroad is often equated with “soul-searching,” it shouldn’t be. Far-flung locales don’t facilitate soul-searching, it comes from within as a response to an outside conflict. And I don’t even know if soul-searching is a good phrase. It’s more about personal development and self-knowledge. But soul-searching and personal development are not why you read this blog.

It feels so universal, the romanticization of lives of friends and acquaintances and strangers abroad. I am more than guilty of this. I click through facebook, enviously clicking through pictures of friends’ trips abroad, wishing I could also travel. And then I have to snap out of it, because I remember that I’m abroad. This isn’t me bragging, this is me telling you that my life isn’t as exciting as it seems through a blog and facebook pictures. There are lots of things to overcome that wouldn’t exist if I was working at home. There are days when I have thought only about how green the grass must be in an alternate, America-dwelling life I would have had.

It’s hard, but it’s good. It’s rewarding in a complex, sometimes backhanded, sometimes straightforward way that nothing has ever been before.  I can’t always articulate it, but you know it if you’ve been here, if you’ve felt these same things. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made here, I’m grateful for the friends and family who have clocked in many early and late hours on skype. I am grateful for everything I’ve learned in this year, because it’s so much, it astonishes me. I am grateful for myself, for persevering and making it here in Thailand one whole year. I can only hope that my next year of life will bring so many adventures and insights.


Kampot: An Excursion to Southeastern Cambodia

Faced with the prospect of staying in Phnom Penh or traveling elsewhere while waiting for my visa to be processed, I chose elsewhere. Not knowing a whole lot about what to do (relax, duh!) or where to go, I asked the people at SuperStar Hotel, where I was staying in Phnom Penh. The owner threw out some ideas.

Do you want to go to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat? (Been there, done that.)

Do you want to see the river dolphins in northern Cambodia? (I never went through a hardcore dolphin phase when I was younger, so that didn’t interest me.)

What about Sihanoukville? You could go to the beach. (I didn’t bring my swimsuit with me.)

Man, am I difficult.

“What about Bokor National Park?” I asked.

You will have to go to Kampot and take a daytrip from there.

So I went to my room, thought about it, and purchased a ticket early the next morning. (Well, not that early. By the time I asked around 7am or so, all of the buses until 2 in the afternoon were full. So I bought a ticket for a late bus and then went to have my great breakfast of ficelle and butter and jam)

The way to Kampot was wonderful. The business of city life melted away to quiet villages. The farther south we went, the more beautiful the architecture was. The French had quite a stronghold in southern Cambodia and as a result, many people live in French colonial-style cottages. They were so charming and the colors were so perfect that I couldn’t contain myself. I wanted to burst. The sun had set long before I reached my destination, so I never got a proper picture.

I had only one full day in Kampot and I knew exactly how I wanted to spend it. Touring the Bokor Hill Station! There’s a national park that houses the remnants of a French colonial settlement, perched high atop a mountain, with vistas of the ocean.

We were up in the clouds.

Before the French took over, parts of the hill were popular vacationing spots for the then King of Cambodia. There were remnants of his estate.

I fall in love with a new color every week or so, and naturally I fell for the deep, rich color of this moss.

There was an old temple, an interesting use of French architecture for a Buddhist house of worship.

Bokor National Park was equal parts decay and (re)construction.

Take, for example, this church.

By the looks of it, I expected it to be abandoned on the inside. However, the Chinese had purchased a significant amount of land in the National Park and were building casinos and hotels left and right. Now the church is home to squatters, people working in construction with no places to live. It felt intruding to go inside the church, in these people’s homes, so I chose not to.

Worse still was the old French casino. The reason I took a 6 hour bus ride to southeastern Cambodia.

This was as close as I got. I took a few steps closer, but was yelled at by construction workers. I had hoped for a chance to explore the old casino, room by room. I wanted to see how time and weather atop a mountain had aged it. Unfortunately, the Chinese has purchase the old French casino and are turning it into either a new Chinese casino or a hotel.

The whole day was a disappointment. I was looking forward to taking amazing pictures, but economic development (really, future hotels and casinos and construction workers) got in the way of that. I suppose that this is rather short sighted of me, feeling disappointed that I was unable to take enough pictures of remnants of French colonialism. But what got in my way was almost neo-colonialism, in a way. I wonder who will retain the profits of the massive, future hotels and casinos. Odds are, they won’t go to helping any of the Cambodian people.

On top of all of my disappointment and processing, I was feeling a little sick all day. And then I had to watch a feeble old woman in my group cough up a massive wad of phlegm. That didn’t make me feel better.

I was dropped off back in the town of Kampot, where I was supposed to go on a sunset cruise down a river (not the Mekong, for once). I was planning on ditching the cruise, but decided I had nothing else to do.

While I waited, I talked with a Vietnamese woman living in Kampot who shared her amazing story of
being kidnapped and almost sold into sex slavery. On her way to be sold, she was in a massive motorcycle accident and lost her leg. She then started an orphanage and a bakery. Of course, I was listening to this as I had Khmer iced coffee and lemon meringue cake.

I’m glad I went on the cruise. It turned out to be the highlight of my day.

And so I went back to the cozy room in my hotel for the night. I was getting hungry and I decided to have a nice meal, hopeful that I would feel better with some food in me.

No such luck! I ordered a small, beautiful eggplant parmesan and a salad an I could hardly touch it. This upset me more than anything the whole day! The owner of the restaurant asked if the food was alright. I explained that it was delicious, I was just sick. And if you know me, you know my propensity to cry. I shed a few, silent tears over the fact that I wasn’t hungry enough to eat this great food. Thankfully, I am totally fine and this is now just a silly story to illustrate how solemn and ridiculous I can get sometimes.

To finish my trip:
– I made it back to Phnom Penh (the bus broke down and I took a motorcycle taxi the rest of the way)
– I got my visa
-I made it back to Thailand after a 15 hour journey and a rather harrowing experience at the border
– and here I am, back in the boonies, where my updates will come from now!