Prayers for Lolo

So my grandpa has been in the ICU for the past 3 weeks for a severe case of pneumonia. He’s 97, so his case is rather sensitive and he now eats through a nose tube and breathes through a respirator.  He’s been my idol growing up, and I spent my afternoons after school playing with him in his house and listening to his war stories.

I thought of cutting my trip short to see him, but then couldn’t visit him in the ICU anyway. Finally got to see him this weekend and he was sprawled across his bed with many tubes and apparatus tied to him.  He was awake but looked so tired and couldn’t speak with the tube in his mouth.

I offer up this prayer for his continued strength, healing and recovery:

Much love, healing and strength to you Lolo.  May you find the peace within and may you continually be enveloped by God’s caress.  May every blood pressure test, needle, dialysis, breathing tube etc strengthen your body.  May you continue to have a zest for life and the compassionate heart you shared with all of us.  Love you so much Lolo!

Angkor Wat

Ever have those experiences in life you thank yourself for?  Seeing all these beautifully hand carved temples was an experience I won’t forget.  Angkor Wait has about 200 temples spread over 10 miles.  Each temple is dedicated to a different king and tells a different story that varies from intricate carvings, stone, marble, landscapes Buddhist images, Hindu statues, lighting, worship practices etc.  Wow! Our group walked all day to see the main temples, but I went back the next day for some more temple hopping.

I took too many photos because I was in awe, so I hope you enjoy them!IMG_0975 IMG_0980 IMG_0982 IMG_0987 IMG_0989 IMG_0939 IMG_0944 IMG_0961 IMG_0955 IMG_0950 IMG_0948 IMG_0947 IMG_0945 IMG_0967 IMG_0968 IMG_0998 IMG_1002 IMG_1005 IMG_1019 IMG_1016 IMG_1014 IMG_1032 IMG_1038 IMG_1044 IMG_1048 IMG_1052 IMG_1053 IMG_1066 IMG_1071 IMG_1095

 

 

Finally some solo touring!

Although I started this trip solo, I’ve been with the tour group 24/7 and really needed some time to myself.  Don’t get me wrong, some of them are great company but my roomie, well….she’s more than a handful.  Imagine the brattiest person you know, add a lack of travel experience and pompous white privilege and that’s precisely her.  Not to mention being around her 24/7 🙁 I already complained to the tour guide about her, but understandably, there isn’t much he can do about her.  So I decided to skip the group activities today and explore on my own.  So glad I did because I sure needed the refresh.

First thing I noticed about touring solo – it’s very easy and tempting to take a ton of selfies. I normally avoid them, but what the heck I’m a traveler.  Who cares!

So I went to tour a silk farm, and on the way over my tuktuk driver was excited to show me some cockroach, worm and spider snacks. GROSS!!!!  He had me tried it though, and the tiniest bite I took had be gag immediately.  I suppose if I wasn’t vegetarian it would’ve been more appetizing.

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The silk farm was really interesting.  The tour showed how silk was created from cultivating worms, gathering their cocoons, spinning thread (as shown below) and then weaving them into beautiful cloths.

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Then I treated myself to a huge lunch and a much talked about fish massage.  The concept sounded weird, but it was actually soothing.  There are huge fish tanks like this…IMG_0904

…and it was $3 for however long you could stand all those little fishies eating the dead skin off your feet. Yikes!  Here’s me trying to look relaxed while eating a coconut with my feet soaked.

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Then I just walked around the many shops and markets in Siem Reap, grabbed a beer and chilled by my hotel pool before bed.

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Ahhh….thank you! Now I think I’m ready to do some more trips solo (not with a tour group).  Although it can feel weird to walk around an unfamiliar by myself, it was actually refreshing to make the most of it.  Next up – a much awaited tour of Angkor Wat!

Homestay

A part of our tour package is an overnight homestay in farming community called Chambokville.  It was an eye opener for the others, but just like camping for me.

The night we arrived, these kids performed their native dances for us. So so cute!

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The families hosted us and let us stay in their Nipa huts.  We slept under mosquito nets in their rooms while they slept in hammocks under their huts. Felt awkward,, but they said they prefer sleeping outside anyway. (Not pictured: outhouses with no toilets, eek!)

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The next morning we hiked and bathed in the nearby waterfalls.  I even found a flower crown for myself, how dainty.

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Tomorrow we’re going to a beach party town called Sihanoukville. I’m guessing it’s like Boracay, so I’m curious how it compares.

 

Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields

I figured I’ll just do my trip entries with story photos so you can share the experience.

From Saigon our group took a 8 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The border crossing was so unorganized. There were no lines, no control, and no proper instructions. We gave our passports to a guard, then stood with a sea of people waiting for our names to be called, squashed our way to get our passports stamped, then walked through a very long hallway leading across the border.

From the border to Phnom Penh, the highways looked a lot like the Philippines, complete with farmland, peddlers and random food stops along the way.  Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, we checked in to a cute guest house with no elevator. We roommate and I were assigned to the 5th floor and the narrow stairs on the way up were harsh! So glad I packed my light.  My roomie, on the other hand, packed her whole closet and hyperventilated as she carried her things up.

That afternoon, we checked out the King’s monument park.  This is a park right next to the Royal Place where locals often play and hang out after work. Caught awesome lighting at dusk too!

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Meet my new friends, Sharni, Kate and Rachael, 3 out of the 11 others in my tour group. We’re being silly wearing table napkins as hats.  (Fun fact: majority of the tourists here are Australian that the locals speak and sound just like them).

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The next day, we took a short bus ride to the famous Killing Fields where the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot orchestrated mass killings and genocide during his regime.  Because he wanted complete control over the country, he ordered all educated persons killed.  Or anyone against him actually.

Below is a mass grave, basically a plot where 400 people were burned and their ashes still remain.  There are about 10-20 of these scattered across the killing fields.

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Though the genocide was in the 1970s, bone fragments and clothing are still evident on the ground. I felt the fragility of life as the pieces crunched with my footsteps and these bone fragments and clothing begged for attention.

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This is a stupa of skulls of the victims, arranged in order as women, children and men.

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After the Killing Fields, we went to the Cheoung Ek Museum, a former school that was used as a concentration camp during the Pol Pot regime. Each classroom was converted into prison cells, divided by bricks with no bathrooms and no windows. The school offices were interrogation rooms where officers beat up prisoners who they assumed knew intelligence against Pol Pot.

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This is a gallow where prisoners were hung and their heads were dunked into jars filled with feces and foul water until they confessed or admitted what the prison guards wanted.

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There were only 7 that survived this concentration camp, among them is the man I met below. He had quite a compelling story.  He was a mechanic jailed by the regime because they taught he was affiliated with the CIA. The poor man didn’t even know who or what the CIA was, he was simply a smart mechanic to liked to fix things.  The prison guards didn’t believe his story, so the beat and imprisoned him for “lying.”  After a year or so, the guards had trouble with their typewriter so they tested the mechanic and had him fix it. If he could fix it, they promised him his freedom. It was an easy fix, and here he is many years later sharing his story.  Such a humble, friendly and inspiring man!

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This was one of those experiences that reminded me of my fortunate freedom and respect for history, well worth the trip here.

 

The heat is on in Saigon

They say an important part of solo travel is keeping people updated of where you are and your next itinerary. So I’ll do my best to update this as I go.

Arrived in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh today and settled into a hotel in their central business district. Took a nap, met my Australian roomie and then explored the war museum, reunification museum and giant public market this afternoon.  Below are a few photos from today’s galavanting:

Crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh is no joke.  Not only do they ignore stoplights but they are so relentless you just have to squeeze through the attack of scooters.

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Went to the Vietnam War Memorial museum that featured the remnants of the US-Vietnam war.  It was very intense.  It showed all the leftover artillery, the dramatic demotion and rebuilding and worst of all, the gruesome effects of agent orange.

Here’s me surrounded by all the US tanks.IMG_0639

Looking like a commie…

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10 super skinny buildings in one block, it was crazy!

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And don’t you worry, I know who to be friends with.  Here’s my BFF for the day, he stopped traffic so I could cross the street, helped me get a cab to the museums, and best of all, suggested the most delicious dinner spots. At no charge or flirt too! I wish I could take him everywhere.

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I also met the rest of my tour group tonight.  There are 4 Americans (including me), 2 British and 5 Australians.  So far everyone seemed friendly, but let’s see how the rest of the tour goes.

Early tomorrow morning, we catch a bus for an 8 hour ride to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.  I’m not one for long drives, but looking forward to the journey. Will keep you posted!

Hello World…

I’m coming for you! Leaving Baguio today, a then backpacking SE Asia in 2 more days. I’m seriously excited, anxious, happy and hopeful. I do know this is precisely what my soul needs and I pray for Providence and support as I go through it  

there is no end to love

Today is June 19th, and it’s been 6 months since mom left us. As much as I’ve accepted that she’s passed on, I often think that she’s just on vacation (she traveled often anyway). I know she won’t and I know it won’t happen but I still like to tell myself that she’s coming back and we’d return to eating and laughing together as we always did.  Then I snap back to reality, find her room empty, and remind myself to move onto my new normal (whatever it is).

Missing mom has been tremendously painful.  I often scold myself for not facing reality, awkwardly hurt when I feel like I get too busy to think about her, and keep asking when I’ll ever get over the grief.   After a bit of counseling and a lot of reading, I realized it isn’t a matter of “getting over” her loss. It’s a matter of keeping her love alive in those she loved so deeply.  One book I’ve read had a passage that had just what I needed:

The one you love has gone Home and is now at peace.  Trust the bond of love that forever united you with your loved one.  None of us knows how the future will unfold, but walk into what awaits you with confidence.  Trust that you will be given what you need to heal from your loss.  The compassionate grace of God is with you and will uphold you through whatever storms and struggles come.  You have more inner strength than you know.  Trust in your ability to survive and to move on from your grief. Be ready for new touches of love and joy. Welcome your restored peace when it returns and walk forward with hope in your heart.

Then it continues with a prayer:

May you rest your heartache in the compassionate arms of God each day and find comfort from this Enduring Love.  May you welcome the tears you shed as friends of your soul, gifting you with an opening to release your pain.  May you trust the hidden part of you where your resilience resides and remember often the inner strength your spirit contains.  May you find the balance you need between activity and quiet so you can be attentive to your grief.  May you be gentle and compassionate with yourself by caring well for your body, mind and spirit. May the day come when memories of your departed one bring you more comfort than sadness.  May you trust that love is stronger than death and draw comfort from the bond that unites you with our loved one.

And with that I say thanks again, Mom.  Thanks for teaching me what it feels to be loved, and to love in return.  Thanks for your love that sustains beyond grief and life. Thank you for keeping your love alive in me.

Where is home?

It’s interesting how what seems like an easy question, can reveal so much about someone. Asking where home is can also mean: Where are you from?  Where were you born, raised and educated? Where do you pay your taxes? What place goes deepest inside you?  It’s something I take to heart in getting to know others.  Or rather, know myself in the world.

I remember asking this on a first date, his answer was so unscripted that it led up to 4 (or more) hours of an interesting conversation. By definition of place, he was born in the UK, raised in Boston, lived in many countries in between, and was in San Francisco for work. By affiliation, however, neither place felt like home to him.  Most people just assume home meant their address, but he naturally opened up how home was purely contextual for him. We shared how “home” brought up feelings of (mis)identity, our paths of finding our “niche” among social circles, our family life, the places we’ve seen and lived, and our communities in general.   Years later, I still remember that conversation as if it were yesterday.

As it is now, home is more of a feeling rather than a place.

I’m back at the place I was born and grew up in, but it doesn’t feel the same.  It used to be a small town with a mountainous playground, a cheerful people and places to explore, now it’s an even smaller polluted town filled with traffic and grumpy people.  (LOL…I realize I sound like an old grump saying “back in my day….” but you get what I mean about change)   I’m very grateful for childhood friends and family of course, thanks to them, home is as comforting as can be.

Of course I miss my American home.  I miss Seattle, San Francisco and the communities I’ve set up for myself that make it home.  I miss the freedom and diversity of life there.  I miss the sense of ownership I worked hard for.  I miss the rewards of the work hard play hard lifestyle.  Home meant making the most of routine.  Home meant overcoming those challenges.  Home meant fun.

But I also miss the feeling of home “out there”.   Foreign as it is, there’s a sense of belonging travelling to a different place instills.  That feeling of knowing who you are, where you are meant to be, or simply making the most of not knowing when you could go back to that same time and place. It can be so naturally ours. Being out there can even be the best home there is.

So then….where is home? I found this TED talk by Pico Iyer and got my answer.

“Take pieces of many places and piece them together into a stained glass whole. Home is a work in progress of constantly adding improvements.  For more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil than, you could say, with a piece of soul. Home would have to be whatever you carried inside you” – Pico Iyer

TED talk on Where is Home (click for video)

Thanks to his short talk, I’ve been reminded that home isn’t just the place where you’re born, or where you are.  It’s not just where you sleep, it’s the place where we stand. It’s the place where we become ourselves.  ‘We find this place by stepping out of our devices, making the most of our present and constantly creating a home to keep going back to.

Home is simply the pieces and places that create where we belong.