Making my way through Asia (and grad school) one adventurous step at a time.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Adventures in Mirth...

What a day this is turning out to be. I woke up chuckling from an odd dream I had, and soon sat down with coffee and toast in hand to peruse my morning websites. I spent a few minutes on Damn Interesting which my friend Jen introduced me to. I came across an article entitled "Humoring the Gelotologists" by Alan Bellows. I spent the next 10 minutes reading all about theories of why we laugh, and the healthy benefits of laughter. By the end of the article, I was sure I had laughed enough to add a few days to my life expectancy. I wasn't finished yet. At the bottom of the article were links to various funny sites. That's when I found it. It was a little creepy, a whole lot bizarre, and frighteningly contagious. Since laughter is so good for you, and I want all my readers to be happy and healthy, I'm sharing this for your own good. Be sure to turn your speakers on, and enjoy.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Adventures in Listening to My Conscience...

Early this morning, I rolled over and squinted at the sun in my eyes.

"C'mon, get up! If you say you're going to get up, you have to get up. You can't just decide not to, like a rabbit with chickenpox!" my conscience demanded.

I squinted at my conscience. "What??!!?"

I had promised no one, not even myself, that I would get up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday. I didn't like the tone my conscience was taking with me, and I realized that my conscience is not at it's best early in the morning. My slowly waking brain toyed with the possibilities..."Hmmm, so if someone wanted to convince me to rob a bank, they might have a better chance at 7am, since my conscience is still groggy and inarticulate..."

My conscience, embarrassed at the stupidity of the 'rabbit with chickenpox' bit, replied petulantly, "Well then, it's a good thing banks aren't open at 7am, isn't it. Humph! Now get up!"

I rolled over and went back to sleep for a little while.
Adventures in Cambodia
Part IV: The Government Comes to Call

A few days after we got back from Cambodia, there was a knock on my door around 7 pm. It was the security guy from downstairs, announcing that a representative of the Health Department would be coming by to see me. "When?" I asked.

"Today" he replied. I looked at my watch. I looked at him with my eyebrows raised. He added, "In about 1 hour, I think." About 10 minutes later, he returned to say that the official would come the next morning instead.

When we were on the plane, shortly before landing in Seoul, we had been asked to fill out custom's declaration and health cards. Since I didn't want to risk a hefty fine, or 5 years in prison, (as the card said I would if I lied), I dutifully checked the boxes that said I had had vomiting and diarrhea in the past 10 days. Annelie also checked one of the boxes because she has also had traveler's diarrhea. [This is more than you wanted to know about our trip, isn't it?] When we got the the airport, the heath official asked me about it and I told him it was just food poisoning, and we went on our merry way.

That's how, 3 days later, I found myself in my bathroom with a sterile swab in my hand, being asked to prove to the waiting government official that I didn't have cholera. How embarrassing.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Adventures in Cambodia
Part III: Phnom Penh

After a bit of a rough start in Phnom Penh, things quickly improved after a good night's sleep and a packet of re-hydration salts. I wasn't confident enough the next morning to join the pre-TESOL conference education tour though, and sent Jen in my stead. Tracy had returned to Korea the night before, so I slept most of the morning. By the time Jen and Annelie returned from the tour, I was feeling healthy and hungry.

On Saturday, while Jen was attending the first day of the conference, Annelie and I went to check out the Central Market. Built in the mid 1930's, it's a big yellow art-deco building housing an abundance of clothes, flowers, silver, electronics, etc. It was also HOT inside, so we didn't stay long. Instead, we spent the afternoon reading by the pool until Jen got back and the three of us went in search of yet another gem of a restaurant.

On Sunday, all three of us headed to the National Institute of Education for the last day of the CamTESOL conference. I hadn't realized that Sunday was only a 1/2 day, so I only had a chance to attend two sessions. The first one wasn't helpful for me at all, which is unfortunate, since "Cartoons in the Classroom" had seemed promising. However, the presentation contained mostly things I'd already tried and hadn't had much success with. I had been hoping for some new suggestions. The next session was much better though, and gave some good, solid, practical tips for teaching conversation in a large class. Some of the suggestions were techniques I already use, but there were also some ideas I'm going to try this semester.

After the conference, we discovered a nearby Indian restaurant that served quite possibly the 2nd best Indian meal I can remember. (The best was in Singapore). I was SO happy to be on vacation in a tropical country and have a healthy enough stomach that I could even enjoy some Paneer Korma and Aloo Pulao.

With the conference behind us, the next day was spent on the "must see" of all tourists to the capital. Often, as we were riding our bikes through the countryside, I couldn't help but imagine the country at war 30 years ago. Even so, books I've read and movies I've watched didn't prepare me for our tour of the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. When we arrived, we were taken through the area by a guide, but then, difficult as it was, we chose to go through again quietly on our own. [I've been sitting here staring at my screen now for a few minutes, unsure of how to continue.] The atrocities of the PolPot regime have always sickened me, but until that moment, it had always been somewhat remote. Now, I could picture the faces of people I'd met in Cambodia, and the horror of those years suddenly became much more real. It was a rough day, to say the least.

The next two days were basically spent finishing up our trip. We went the the National Museum, which, like most Asian museums I've been to, was more a cause of frustration than pleasure for me. You all know I adore museums; I can gaze at the artifacts and envision their parts in history before they were encased in glass. I can imagine what they were like before, and how they were a part of someone's life. I have trouble doing that in Asian museums. In part, the objects are really foreign to me, and I have trouble putting them in context. This hurdle could be overcome with adequate signs and descriptions. However, museums in this part of the world seem to think that "This xxx is 12cm long and weighs 28grams. It was made during the reign of King xxx." Fill in the xxx's with a word you don't know, and the name of a King you've never heard of. That's about as helpful as it gets. By the time we left the museum and went to the Royal Palace, I was making up my own stories about what things were. I'm sure that the Ho Preah Khan or Samritvimean ( an ornate building on the palace grounds) has a noble purpose, but it will forever be etched in my mind as the "Building to store the royal lime-paste pot collection", because that's what happens when you leave me to my own devices. If I could go back in time and re-do my conversation with my high school guidance counsellor, I think I'd tell him I want to be a Curator-at-Large for Asian museums.

Oopsy-daisy. I seem to have taken a left turn at the corner of Irrelevant Lane and Rambling Road and wound up in the middle of Digression Gorge. My apologies.

Hm, it seems like I'm almost done anyway. We spent a bit more time at the markets, and the grocery store (I love visiting grocery stores in foreign countries!) and beside the pool. Before we knew it, we were zipping up our suitcases, Annelie and I were bidding adieu to Jen and boarding a plane bound for Korea.

Do not despair, dear readers. The adventure isn't quite over yet. There's a post-script yet to come. Stay tuned for Part IV: A Government Official Comes to Call.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Adventures in Cambodia
Part II: Shihanoukville

[I forgot to mention that after our 3 days of cycling in Siem Reap, we spent an extra day there relaxing, and visited a silk farm which was very interesting and informative. It's part of an initiative to preserve Khmer artistic traditions, provide skills training and fair working conditions in rural areas. I have some photos of the whole process, so if you're interested in 'em, let me know.]

Early Saturday morning, we boarded a bus for a loooong day, but between dozing and being mesmerized by the scenery passing outside the window, it wasn't so bad. We finally arrived in Shihanoukville around 6:30pm and headed to our arranged accommodation, which we thought was 2 bungalows. Instead, we wound up with 1 hotel room. The next day, we did a little searching and found a lovely place right on the beach that had a 4-bed room, so we could all stay together. That afternoon, we went for a walk to explore our environs, and came across Scuba Nation. The next thing I know, I'm in a swimming pool wearing a tank on my back and flippers on my feet...and enjoying myself! I signed up with Jen and Annelie to go on a full-day scuba adventure on Tuesday.

Before going scuba diving though, we had also arranged to go snorkeling for $10 through our hotel. The BBQ fish-on-the-beach lunch that was provided made the trip worthwhile. The rest was, ah, let's just say it was memorable. We started the day wading out into the surf to climb aboard the swaying boat.
We puttered our way out to sea, and the captain pulled up near an island and just stopped the boat. We selected our masks and snorkels from a bag of badly battered gear, and, along with the rest of the passengers, just jumped off the boat and started looking under the water trying to see some aquatic life. In about 2 minutes time, I realized that the current seemed awfully strong. I had my face underwater, and was swimming forward...but according to the rock below me, I was actually moving backwards. I looked up and realized that the boat was now very far away. I gave up looking for sea life, and started swimming back towards the boat. Annelie, Jen and Tracy were nearby, and we all noticed our dilemma around the same time. We all started swimming for all we were worth. Annelie and I, both hampered by our life jackets, were getting nowhere. Tracy (a very strong swimmer, by the way), was hampered by her broken mask and snorkel and wasn't faring much better. Jen, swimming flat out for maybe 20+ minutes finally made it back to the boat, and got him to come and pick us up. In the meantime, the three of us huddled together, had given up trying to swim, and were bobbing along towards Vietnam. The boat finally came to fetch us, and we spent the next 2 hours lying in a hammock on a beach while lunch was prepared and eaten. (That, I think, was the best part of the day.)

What a difference a day makes. The next day we left our snorkel experience behind us and headed out to sea again. This time, we were on much larger boat, and went much farther afield. (asea?) We went on two dives (with lunch in between) and I absolutely loved every minute of it. (Except when I thought that maybe we had lost Annelie, but we didn't. Not really.) According to more experienced divers, visibility wasn't that great, since it was a windy day, and the bottom was getting churned up. However, since I was just so excited to be breathing underwater, I didn't mind. While I saw some pretty blue fish, and some brown ones, and some coral, I mostly just tried to make sure I could still see my diving instructor. He was awfully patient and handsome, so I wasn't all that interested in the fish anyway. (Just kidding, the fish were nice too.)
Anyway, you can see from the picture that I had a great time. I couldn't wipe that grin off my face for the rest of the day. I finally found a watersport that I can do without getting a sunburn or sunstroke, and allows me to hang-out on a boat for hours getting to and from the dive site! It's ideal.

The next day, we just kicked around on the beach and did a little exploring. We also got to know Ha and Han better. They were two women who worked on the beach during the day offering massages, threading, manicures, pedicures, etc. We had met them a few days earlier, and when business was slow, they would come and talk with us for a while. We chatted with them and saw pictures of their kids and shared some laughs. For the most part, the Cambodians and the tourists move in very different, very separate spheres. It was nice to spend some time interacting with some Cambodian women about my age.

The following day, our bus left Shihanoukville around 2pm. Around 1:30, my stomach started feeling a little queasy. Just a little. Around 1:59 it was definitely getting worse. 10 minutes after the bus pulled away from the station, the chicken sandwich I'd had that morning struck back with a vengeance. I'll spare you the details of the next 4 hours, but I will let you know that (a) I'm glad we spent the extra $2 for a bus with a bathroom on it, (b) I sincerely apologize to the other 39 passengers on board, and (c) it's a good thing the hostess on the bus came armed with a full can of air freshener.

That was the condition I was in upon our arrival in Phnom Penh and was led, carried, steered, and ushered to the hotel by my helpful and sympathetic friends.