Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Part I of My First Post

Hello everyone!

First off, I just want to say that I miss everyone and I really appreciate those who have made an effort to keep in touch while I am traveling as I was having difficulty finding good internet connection.

I was planning to write a weekly post on this, but it was very difficult to get some alone time to just sit down and write while constantly traveling with others. I am going to cut this into parts as I have a month worth of experiences, opinions, etc. to share. I hope you are willing to listen :) To fully describe the culture shock I am experiencing, I will also create topic blog post about subjects such as, the enforcement of law to how people drive here (the driving here really confirms the stereotype about Asians being bad at driving :( ). At this point, I will say that even though the flow of traffic is chaotic, it also has its own system that has become practical for people here.

As I am trying to organize my thoughts, which will certainly sound scattered and unorganized, I realized that it is fine since it will mimic my feelings about transitioning here. As a Cambodian-American, I find myself enjoying Cambodia, but at the same time, I feel angry and flustered at times. I cannot describe the feelings I felt when I first saw the infamous and historic, Angkor Wat. It brought tears to my eyes. I was truly in awe. Adjectives, such as, “gorgeous” and “majestic” would be an understatement. Not to sound like I have an identity crisis because I lived in a bicultural setting in America, but seeing Angkor Wat really connected me to my Cambodian side. After what the Khmer Rouge regime did to our own people, I felt proud to see another side to the Cambodian story. Cambodia was really ahead of our time. They developed a system of irrigation for rice production earlier than when most people thought irrigation was developed (see documentary). At the same time, this is why I feel frustrated being here and seeing how Cambodia is now. If you want to experience how it is living in a classist society, then come to Cambodia. There is such a huge rich/poor gap, but thank god, there is an emerging middle-class. After a month of traveling, I have handed out an approximate total of $200 to people in poverty. Simultaneously, I do not want to contribute to a sense of dependency because I have realized that asking for money is becoming more of an occupation here. However, the issue of poverty will be a separate post.

The first day I arrived in Cambodia, I had to switch out my shoes and wear rain boots because my carry-on was overweight. Even though there is a monsoon season here, people do not wear rain boots! Everyone stared at me as I walked through the airport. Wearing rain boots was also a bad choice as I felt the hotness and humidity immediately as I stepped out of the airplane. A driver from the American Embassy picked me up. I naively realized that I would have to speak ONLY Khmer here and I was so used to mixing in English back at home. Speaking Khmer can also be a separate post within itself. Today, I was asked if I came from Thailand and France. I have everything but an American accent. Ha! I was also told that I have a beautiful accent, which is laughable because anywhere I go, I struggle with having an accent and end up feeling like a FOB. However, the driver was very accommodating and cute as he tried to speak about American issues. I realized that the outside world knows more about American politics than Americans, themselves. Sadly, Americans are also not as aware about other nations’ political situations. Ironically, I also tried to relate to him by asking about the political situation here.
We ended up staying and recuperating in the capital, Phnom Penh, for awhile. Distant relatives coming from all over Cambodia, such as a district in Battambang to relatives who reside here came to visit my grandma. It had been about 30 years since she has been in her country. Thirty years apart from family members and close friends. Tears of joy were abundant as she reunited with each person. Imagine being your age now and seeing someone close to you 30 years later. You were once young and now you both are old and the 30 years that have past are evidence in every slow moment and wrinkles in your face. Not only is it a culture shock to transition into a developing country, but I have also experience the shortness of the timeline of life. Every story that my grandma and her love ones share shows how much of a lifetime they have lived as I am only beginning to start a new chapter. You really do not know someone unless you have experience a whole lifetime with that person. I have realized that my grandma more than just my grandma. Anyways, going on an emotional tangent can also be a separate post lol. I’m sorry, but feel free to stop reading or just skim through this. I just have so much to say!

The view from my hotel in Phnom Penh

After staying in Phnom Penh, we went to visit a beach town called Kampong Som or Westernly known as Sihanoukville. Our travels revolved around places in Cambodia that my grandma has never visited so it was quite a trip. On our way to the beach, we stopped by Pich Nil Mountain, which had a sacred, religious shrine. Every passerby stopped for a moment to pray for a safe trip on my way to whichever destination. It is respectful to ask what Americans would consider “Mother Nature” or the gods of the land for a safe entry and return into the territory. On every mountain top, Cambodian seem to always built large, monumental statue of Buddha as a way to maybe be closer to the Theravadas.

Me and my grandma :)
My grandma and relatives. Everyone wears flip flops here!
It was pretty quiet at the beach. We went on a weekday, but it was one of the first times that I have experienced the meaning of poverty here in Cambodia. People in poverty in America can survive with the social benefits that they receive, but people here do starve as you can see with your own eyes how skinny and boney a person can be. However, it was very nice to relax at the beach after the plane ride. This is the type of feeling that I am experiencing in Cambodia; the combination of enjoyment seems to always mix in with a sad awareness of social issues.

After a little afternoon drizzle

To be continued...
P.S. I know I am an English major. Forgive any grammatical mistakes and I'm sure there are plenty.