Winter Vacation

The dreary gray and smoggy days here in Mianyang persist into March, as the new semester continues. Forthcoming posts about recent activities in the works, however in this post I take a fond look back at the warm winter vacation I spent with two of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers in three sun-filled countries: Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I returned to places I’ve been as well as experienced the new. I’d been to Bangkok before, but nevertheless enjoyed the massive city; I took a new mode of transport between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia–a speedboat, which was definitely worth it; and ventured into Vietnam, all three of us for the first time.

Below are a few of the photos. I was especially enamored with Vietnam. My time there was short, on a few days, but from the sights of Ho Chi Minh City to the food to the beach at Vung Tau–I thoroughly enjoyed it all.

The people I meet: Cambodia

IMG_2840.JPG

This is Suon. He is a victim of the war and devastation caused by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. I met Suon while taking the tour at the War Museum in Siem Reap. The museum itself is little more than rusting old tanks, and an assortment of guns, landmines, and photographs. What makes the experience real are the personal stories of tour guides. Not only did I learn about Cambodian politics past and present, but more importantly I heard a man’s story of suffering and survival.

Suon’s family was killed by the Khmer Rouge and he was taken and made to be a soldier as a boy. His life as a soldier ended when he stepped on a landmine that blew off his right leg. The recovery was long and difficult without any family. Now he makes a living as a guide at the War Museum. He expressed dismay at the current situation in Cambodia, but hope that change for the good can come. I am amazed that such hope can prevail over cynicism or despair–but it is hope that is necessary to make a better future.

He asked if I had come to Siem Reap because of the half marathon race. Yes, I said. The day before I, along with about 7,000 other participants, had finished the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon. He thanked me because the race was organized to help charities in Cambodia, especially for those who suffer because of land mines. The work to remove all remaining land mines and to care for the victims is ongoing and must continue.

A week earlier I had a brief encounter of hope on the way into Cambodia. The woman who sat next to me on the flight into Phnom Penh was visiting her country for the first time since her childhood. After leaving Cambodia, she became a US citizen and hadn’t returned since. She expressed a mixture of excitement and nervousness to see the country of her birth. Her life was very different than the tour guide’s, but they are all part of Cambodia. I don’t know what happened after we landed, but I hope the time was good for her, and that she found what she needed in visiting her country and with relatives.

I continue to think about Cambodia. I am thankful for the stories I heard and share in their hope for the future.

July: Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore

July was my month off from teaching with no responsibility to be at either of my schools. Beleaguered by the slow-moving process to renew my visa to work in Indonesia, I had to leave again, so why not make a vacation of it?

The original plan was for Chiang Mai and Bangkok in Thailand and Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia (where I met up with a good friend of mine). Along the way I had to extend my plans to include Singapore, where I would stop to arrange for the visa with the Indonesian Embassy (yay).

I was content with eating fabulous food, making discoveries on foot and bicycle, and peering into Buddhist temples. Since I’ve already been hiking in the jungle to a waterfall here in Indonesia, it didn’t seem so special to do that near Chiang Mai—besides, I totally felt right at home at the market there.

A friend of mine is working in Phnom Penh for two months, and what great timing that I could visit during my vacation time. A fun time was had just hanging out and also seeing the amazing temples at Angkor Wat. I also worked through some weird culture shock (American who has been deeply immersed in rural Batak-Indonesian culture traveling in Cambodia encountering American expat culture…I was lost to know what cultural norms to use).

Altogether 3 weeks, it was a lot of fun. Now it’s time to get back to teaching, so stay tuned for updates on that soon.

Please see the photos below! And find the whole sets on flickr for Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore.

THAILAND

_MG_7626
Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai
IMG_8431
Waroros Market – Chiang Mai

CLICK FOR MORE
Read more