Going to Hanoi and Halong Bay has been a bit of a dream. It has gone by as fast as a blink of the eye. We arrived at Hanoi Saturday night and were greeted by an angry car driver. He saw us, took on of our bags and then ran to the car. We desperately tried to keep up and not lose him in the crowd. We were so confused as to why he was walking that quickly but soon discovered the cause. When we got into the car he said one sentence to us the whole ride home: you were an hour late. Yes, our plane was delayed because of weather and so we were unfortunately an hour late. We didn’t really know what he wanted us to do about it. Kaylee and I kind of looked at each other and she said “I miss Bunly”. He was our tour guide and I couldn’t blame her. I desperately hoped that everyone in Vietnam wasn’t like as unfriendly. We arrived at the hotel and were greeted by Steven (I really don’t think that is his real name), the polar opposite of the man who drove us home. He is so helpful and eager to please. He has been amazing in terms of organizing our time here.
Hanoi is very different from Siem Reap. It is larger, busier, and crazier. I would not have known how to cross the street if I hadn’t lived in Siem Reap for 2 months. The traffic is the same but on roads twice the size. I really love Hanoi. As much as I miss Siem Reap it has been a nice change of pace. We saw a water puppet show that was incredible. It was unlike anything else I have seen. It was funny, silly, and beautiful. The entire time we have been here we have been comparing it to Cambodia. I at least expected it to be a lot more similar than it is. Hanoi is a lot more modern. Everything about it is more modern and yet it still has the southeast asian feel. Today we went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It was very bizarre. You waited in a line that moved well but went on forever. Every could of minutes a guard would stop you. When you finally got in you were there for a couple of seconds and then pushed out. It was also very bizarre seeing his body. It was a little eerie. While there I experienced more culture shock than I have in a while. Cutting in line,pushing, touching and shoving is accepted here. Kaylee and I were handing in our water for them to hold onto and a woman just shoved me out of the way and put her stuff down. I put my things in front of her and we started a little dance. We didn’t speak the same language but neither Kaylee or I wanted to tolerate this. Eventually the attendant told the woman to go to the back but it was very strange. Later another woman held onto my back as we walked through the crowd. I turned to face her confused and she let go but she was holding on for a couple of minutes. It has been quite the experience. Overall, I have greatly enjoyed my time here and the chance to see another country in this area. However, my favorite part of the trip has been Halong bay.
There isn’t much to say about Halong bay other than it’s my heaven so I’ll keep it short. We took a boat out for three days and two nights. We were with two older couples. This trip was amazing. We kayaked, ate lunch in a cave, swam, and relaxed. I felt so happy and comfortable. The water was the perfect temperature and it was a full moon. There was so much food. They just kept bringing out course after course. Every morning we woke up with the most incredible view out our window. The company we went with, Indochina sails, goes to another part of the bay from all the other companies so there were very few boats out with us. It was just incredibly peaceful and just what I needed before 8 weeks of research. I have loved both of these trips but I am ready to go home. I can’t wait to see everyone and relax before returning to Union!
Today was my last day of teaching. Today is my last day of classes. Saturday I will be leaving for Vietnam for a week and then home for one week before I start research. It felt strange knowing I am not going to see my kids anymore. I am not going to teach them ever again. I didn’t have a clear cut emotion. I was sad but not in a weepy kind of way. I questioned if I really taught them anything especially important. This was before I came to class today. The students didn’t have any other classes besides English today. The teachers had to attend a meeting. So all of them made the trek to school just for our class. As our tuk tuk pulled up for the last time around 5 to 10 of my kids hopped onto it. We were surrounded by children. Ryan turned to me and said “this is going to be an interesting day”. As soon as my kids saw me they ran for the classroom. My girls often bring flowers and other chachtkies to class so when I saw them do that today I didn’t think anything of it. I just had them play games because it was the last day. We joked around despite the language barrier. I tried to speak Khmer and they cracked up. At the end I told them in Khmer goodbye and prepared for the next class. However, before they left every single one of them approached me with little gifts. They gave me tons off flowers, drawings, and candy. Some created boxes to put the little gifts in out of paper. One child wrote a note to me in Khmer. I had one of them read it and could pick out a couple words: Akun- thank you, jool jet- like, rien- study. I’ll have to get someone to really translate it for me. What really amazed me is that these kids have very little. Yet, they used what they did have to show their affection and appreciation. They were creative and innovative. The next class came in bearing gifts also. I couldn’t even get them to play games they were so distracted. They just kept showing me the gifts and putting flowers in my hair. I amused them a little bit by trying to write in Khmer. When we left they followed us out the gate hanging onto the tuk tuk and running beside it. They grabbed our hands as we pulled out. It was incredible. At times during the past two months I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t know if I was actually helping these kids and didn’t think I was getting through to them. Some picked up on what I was teaching but the vast majority seemed confused. Now I realize that it doesn’t matter. As long as I helped one person it was worth it. Throughout all of this I have learned one important thing. These children teach more to visitors than visitors teach to them. They taught me how not to give up. They taught me to smile even when it is difficult to do so. Today, they taught me that even with very little you can make a world of difference.
I have around two more weeks left in Cambodia. It is a surreal feeling. I don’t know if I am happy or sad. I am definitely ready to return to the many perks of the first world but I know that I am going to miss this place. I am going to miss the inexpensive… everything. I am going to miss the food and its of wheat. I am going to miss riding my bike everywhere. I am going to miss the people. I am going to miss the kids. I am going to miss the energy and spunk that is Cambodia. Even though I am tired of the bugs, the heat, and the random illnesses I have gotten in the past couple of weeks, there continues to be moments that put a smile on my face. The past couple of days I have made two new best friends. I am their entertainment and play thing for a couple of minutes every morning. Last week I came to school early and was waiting to teach my class. I saw out of the corner of my eye two little kids, around 5 years old, several meters away. I smiled and waved at them and they giggled a little bit. A few minutes later I realized that the kids were creeping closer. All of a sudden I felt someone hit my backpack. I turned around and saw the kids run away. I laughed to myself and decided to go along with their game. I pretended to ignore them and let them use me as a dare. They would edge each other toward me, daring the other to touch me. Then when they got up the courage they would bolt away in a fit of giggles. If I tried to interact with them they would stare at me and smile shyly. Their favorite moments were when I paid no attention to them and they could use me as entertainment. It was adorable. I figured this was a one time thing and I wouldn’t see them again. However, much to my delight, today they did the same thing. Of course they were more daring this time because they were used to my presence. Yes, I am exhausted and really just want to curl up in my couch surrounded by my family. However, those moments make these two weeks worth it. They make these 10 weeks of hard work worth it. They are why I love Cambodia.
Last Monday Ryan and I went to visit a school 3 hours outside of Siem Reap, in a village called Kanar. We went with Lori, Ponheary, and a couple of other people. We brought with us supplies for the children, including toys, books, arts and crafts, and food. Ryan, the other volunteer and I, were supposed to teach a group of children how to use watercolors. They were kindergarten through second graders and had never seen paint before. On top of this they didn’t speak a word of English so we had to rely on our limited Khmer and other forms of communication.
We arrived at the school, after driving down a broken and bumpy road, eager and excited. We started to unload the car as curious small, dirty children crept among us. They were eating breakfast that the school gave them. Once they finished eating, we went into one of the classrooms where we were going to be teaching. Forty children looked up at us expectantly. We filled cups with water and began passing out paper and paint. They eagerly took the supplies bowing their heads as we gave them each object. We demonstrated how to use the paints by holding the paintbrush, dipping it in the water, swishing it around in the paint and then sliding it across the paper. I am so used to paints that in my mind this activity should be intuitive. I had never met a child who had never seen paints before. Even after we showed them what to do, they just stared at us. We had to go around to each kid and work with them individually before they would even attempt it. It was very difficult because we couldn’t really communicate. I know the word for “pretty” so I just kept saying it over and over again. I didn’t know how to not talk. It’s incredible how you have to rely on other forms of communication when language is not an option. I really loved painting with these kids but at the same time it was a shock. I knew how poor they were but in my mind every child grows up with paints. It was hard to see kids who hadn’t.
After we left, Lori told us that this was the school that a bomb had gone off in a couple of months ago. The village that these kids live in is still filled with landmines from the war. People in the village have missing limbs from explosions. A couple of months ago a little boy found a bomb and decided to bring it to school. He knew what it was but he is a kid and so didn’t really understand the consequences of what he was about to do. The bomb exploded and 11 kids were injured from shrapnel. The leader of the province refused to send the children to Siem Reap and instead sent them to an equally far away but less reliable hospital. There they were not properly taken care of and the shrapnel was left inside of them. This is very dangerous because it is 30 years old and can lead to infection and major problems. I met one girl who almost lost her eye. A piece of shrapnel went into her forehead/eyebrow. It was left in and slowly made its way down toward her eye. Thankfully her father took her to Siem Reap where it was removed and she did not go blind. However, there are other kids who have the same injury and their parents won’t bring them to Siem Reap. They probably will lose an eye. Learning about this was extremely upsetting. This is these children’s lives every day. They have to be concerned about randomly setting off a landmine. They have to be aware that you can’t just pick up objects you find on the ground. At their age I didn’t even know what a bomb was; I had never seen a person with a missing limb, and I certainly never had shrapnel inside of me.
These kids play, laugh, giggle, and get excited. They are kids just like kids in the States. However, they also live in a minefield, having to watch their step and be careful every minute. They have worries that no one should ever have, let alone a 6 year old. Some don’t get enough food. Some have to take care of their parents and siblings. Most have never seen paint. Yes, their kids but in many ways they are much, much older.
For the past 4 weeks I have been craving sour patch kids. Everyone on the trip knows this and keeps an eye out for them. I have been to two different western supermarkets. They have snickers, mentos, peanut butter cups but no sour patch kids. I have also really missed Cosmo. I used to never read magazines but for the past year my roommate has gotten a subscription and I have read one every month. These are very ridiculous things to miss. First world problems. It’s incredible how those little pleasures stand out when you no longer have them. I often feel badly about missing silly things like this. Especially when I see people who have never even heard of a magazine or sour patch kids. Food to them is heaven. The other day I was doing a homework assignment observing people near the old market. I saw this old man walking across the foot bridge I was on. He was on the other side and was with a little girl. He had a cloth bag with a long string around his neck. The little girl was walking 5 steps ahead of him. Every couple of feet they would stop and he would play the flute to some tourists. I couldn’t figure out what the little girl was doing or why she was there. As they came closer I realized that she was leading him. He was blind. She held onto the string and pulled it to tell him to walk. She would then stop pulling in front of a tourist to tell him to stop and to play the flute. She would wait till he played, see if the person was going to give money, either collect the money and move on or just go to someone else. She had so much patience. She didn’t get angry when someone didn’t give money. She didn’t get annoyed that they had to move at such a slow pace. She was perfectly willing and happy to help him. I don’t know their relationship but it was clear she cared for him. Now, this is not a good thing. That little girl should have been in school instead of working for money. However, it was still incredible to see her kindness and his efforts to work. The thought of sour patch kids and Cosmo never entered my mind while I watched their interactions. Moments like this make me realized just how privileged a life I live.
I have now lived in Cambodia for 5 weeks and I have 5 more weeks to go. The time has gone by so quickly and I know that the next 5 weeks will go by just as fast. I have gotten into a rhythm living in Siem Reap. Life here has started to feel normal. I go to teach, I go to class, I eat meals, and I shower. A lot. My favorite part of the day is my tuk-tuk drive. For a half and hour there and back I just sit on the tuk-tuk and watch Cambodia. It’s nice and breezy and I feel content. I am forced to not do anything. I can’t help but feel happy and thankful with my life. Everything feels easy when you’re being driven by a moto. However, even though life has started to become normal, I still experience new things everyday. The other night we went to a Pot Lok dinner at one of our teacher’s houses. We had no idea what to expect. We brought some restaurant prepared food, we don’t have a kitchen, and biked to his house. There we were greeted by bubbly, happy children. Our teacher, Dara, showed us around his house. He apologized for the children’s toys on the floor but we didn’t mind. We ate at a table because there were around 10 of us. Usually they eat their meals on the ground. His wife had prepared a special meal of Curry, which is normally reserved for holidays. His two little boys kept coming up to us to play. His youngest son, an adorable 2 year old, much to our delight, kissed each of us on our cheeks (I have decided that eventually I am going to adopt a Cambodia baby). We sat around for a couple of hours eating, talking, and laughing. It was so nice to not have anything else besides each other to entertain ourselves. At the end we said goodnight, thanked them and biked back home. It was a really enjoyable and relaxing evening and we really appreciated it. It’s strange to think that I only have 5 more weeks of this. I miss home so much and know that I will be happy to return. However, I am going to miss the Cambodian people and culture a lot. These past 5 weeks have been a whirlwind of crazy sights, smells, and tastes. I hope that the next 5 are just as amazing.
When I was younger I loved driving down “the bumpy road” to get to my grandparent’s house. “The bumpy road” is basically an unpaved road. As soon as we started driving down it I would become so excited I would jump out of my seat. I knew that for the next week I was in for great adventures. Arkansas felt like my playground. I got to see my wonderful family, ride 4-wheelers, fish, climb trees, and play with baby animals. It was awesome. The bumpy road was a symbol of adventures for me. In Cambodia I have experienced many bumpy roads and they have been a lot more intense. The past couple of trips we have taken have been in the country. The road quickly goes from pavement to dirt. I have to hold onto the rail so I don’t go flying. The car jumps and flies around carrying us with it. Just as the road is a lot crazier than in Arkansas so are my adventures. The last trip we took, we went on a 2 mile hike to a temple in the middle of the jungle. We had no idea that we were going to be doing this and hadn’t eaten for a while. The heat was also getting to us. The hike was beautiful. We saw the most gorgeous sunset I have seen in Cambodia. It was over fields and blew my mind. This was the last temple we were visiting and it was a journey to get to. We were really tired but enjoyed the scenery. Even so, the tour guide told us that no one really knows of this temple. It was hidden behind trees and bushes. It was bizarre to hike to a hidden, secret temple. The temple was small and similar to the many others we have seen. The home stay on the other hand was wonderful. The family was really nice and we played cards with the teenage girl who lived there. There was a wedding going on down the road which was entertaining. We could hear the music from our guesthouse. This was fun until we tried to fall asleep and the room was shaking. It eventually stopped and we fell asleep but then it began again at 5 am. Weddings here last a couple of days. That was in itself an adventure. Lastly, our car wouldn’t start. They used another battery to start it and then switched the old battery back in. This made the car start but then once we stopped it we couldn’t start it after dinner. So, Bunly had to repeat the process. The trip was entertaining and certainly an adventure, as it has been with all of our trips. We are excited to get back into a schedule and have a break from trips. I have loved them and have learned a lot but it has been a crazy two weeks.