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August 2017: Korean Kiddos and Khmer Kindness

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It’s raining. It was raining. It rained nearly all month, across the region. Now, at the end of the month, we’re seeing nighttime temperatures dipping into the fifties, and it appears that fall is nearly here. Though I suppose that the downpour was punctuated by a few sunny days.

Days Danced: 0
Days Sick: 0

From Rural Korea

I designed a lot of new material for the site these last couple of weeks, as well as outlining & drafting nearly two dozen posts for the next year and signing up for an online bean-to-bar chocolate making course that starts in September. But the overwhelming theme of this month was being in-transit. It felt like I was nearly always on my way to somewhere new, and it was honestly exhausting.

At the beginning of August I taught a 3-day English camp at a super rural school, in between finalizing my impending trip to Cambodia. Following a pancake-making lesson on the last day of camp, I headed home and then got on the bus to Seoul, to sleep at a hostel before taking the train to the airport early the next morning. Leaving this country is always a long journey in & of itself.

At the airport a whole hour early, I called my dad, who recommended that I call my grandmother, instead. Her 93-year-old body was really taking a turn for the worse, he said. We talked for awhile, I cried a bit, and I finally wrote her the letter she asked me to write several years ago. She told me that they were putting her on oxygen; she was afraid that she really wouldn’t be bouncing back from this one. The day after I returned from my trip, just two days after we last spoke, she passed away. I’m not ready to talk about it, yet.

To Phnom Penh

On my flights to Cambodia I managed to meet a Korean who was also taking her first trip to Southeast Asia. She took me under her well-planned wing and into her tuk tuk, which took us to her hotel and the promise of free wifi. We met up with my American friend after she got settled and all of us had our first dinner in the country together, where I made my first attempt at free translation services (coming soon to a country near you). My Khmer needs some work, however. We wandered markets and then parted ways so that my American friend and I could wait for the night bus that hauled us to Phnom Penh.

In Cambodia’s capital city we walked down the river promenade at sunrise, joined mainly by jazzercizers and people praying. That first afternoon we roamed a bit further, stumbling upon a local religious ceremony while walking the perimeter of the palace. My boyfriend wanted to take pictures of the people leaving offerings, but I was unsure & my friend was horrified.

She was adamant that he shouldn’t take pictures, even as an older white couple closed in and took several shots at the heart of the throng. He remained confused, so I asked him how he would feel if a stranger just walked into his wedding and started taking pictures from behind the bride, slowly moving through the aisles, loudly whispering to his companion about how cool it was to be this close to a traditional American ceremony. That snapped him right out of it.

Temple Phnom Penh Royal Palace Cambodia

The National Museum sucked up a couple of hours later that morning, but it mostly went over our tired heads; we really just needed to check into our hostel to nap. So eventually, we did, and the rest of the day all I did was learn some Khmer phrases at the front desk. We woke up ready to be unbelievably sad for a day, as we had planned a visit to the Killing Fields & Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. What we learned made the sweet smiles of the Cambodians around us even more impressive.

All we had known about the war was that there was a dictatorship called the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s and millions of people died, but it was somehow even worse than it sounds. The day before my birthday was the perfect time to find a lens through which to understand the country we were exploring.

On my actual birthday, we took a cooking class at La Table Khmer, unfortunately not up to our expectations. But we also stumbled upon a bakery & found what may be the nation’s only chocolate shop! On our last day in Phnom Penh, we made it a goal to go south and see the Wildlife Rescue Center and a bit of countryside in Phnom Takao it was beautiful & informative, even without a guide.

To Battambang

At 6am the next day we took the six hour trip back west to Battambang, a much smaller spread-out city close to the Thai border. Battambang is also a training ground for the nation’s circus performers and artists, so logically we made it a point to see Phare Ponleu Selpak, where 6 teenagers act out entire lives in the span of just 90 minutes. Our second and only full day in Battambang, we were determined to explore some of the nation’s countryside. So we rented out a tuk tuk & driver.

We saw: an ancient house, Cambodia’s own San Franciscan Bridge & its local pagoda, a Muslim fishing village with the sweetest kids I’ve ever run into, a fruit bat colony living in a huge tree at Wat Baydomran, Wat Banan’s monstruous temple on a mountaintop, and finally Phnom Sampeu’s mountain and temples and bat caves at sunset. Over a million bats are believed to live there, and it took about 15 minutes for them to come streaming out at sunset. Truly. Awesome.

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To Siem Reap

Three and a half hours in a minibus later, we arrived in Siem Reap and headed straight to our hotel for real (expensive) food and planning. I learned even more Khmer phrases from every tuk tuk driver we had, but our man Lai was the most helpful in my short Khmer journey. Our next three days were dedicated to the Angkor Wat Complex, with over 400 temples spread out across the region, and Lai was our trusted leader.

We were honestly so exhausted after every trip out that we needed naps each afternoon. The only extracurricular activities we got to were a massage, another & much better cooking class, and quite a bit of shopping. I broke my budget a few times over, on this trip. Some of the things I brought back include clothes from an NGO supporting disabled Cambodians, locally-grown spices, and a painting by a 13-year-old artist.

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I had to say goodbye to my friend, after three weeks of being with her constantly, as she had to head back to the US a couple of days later. She also visited me in Ecuador two years prior, but it’ll probably be another few years before we meet again.

And Back to Rural Korea

My return flight took off on-time, but my layover was overly long, and we arrived in Seoul two hours late. I had to spend another 24 hours in transit to get back to Yeongwol, and I was till late for work. Damn. What’s worse, just a few days later I went on an epic journey from home to school to Seoul to the bank, and then to the bus station to head to Chuncheon.

I booked it to the immigration office only to find an extra ₩10000 won in my wallet— and discover that the ₩50000 note I brought was actually a ₩5000 note. Oh shit. It’s a 7-hour round trip journey, so my co-teacher took pity on my and loaned me the cash via bank transfer. Then I began my 4 hour journey back to town. Basically, the rest of my month was spent recovering from the first half of it.

Have you ever been to Cambodia? What was your favorite thing to do there?

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