Monday, July 30, 2012

I Heart Cambodia

Today has been one of the most unforgettable, adventurous and heart-warming days of my life. I arrived in Battambang by bus this morning where a tuk tuk driver was waiting to take me to the guest house. The owner greeted me at the gate, showed me to my room, and then he lent me a bicycle so I could go explore the town.

I found a cute lil restaurant where I chatted with a French tourist who is also a teacher. Then a massive downpour rolled through town so we waited it out in the cafe, and he invited me to hang out in the afternoon and ride bikes since we both had borrowed bikes. We ended up going to the market to try to find sacks of marbles, which was an adventure in itself since very few shopkeepers knew English. He knew the Khmer word for marble, so we walked through the huge market asking everyone, "marble?" over and over until we finally found someone selling them. They all had a good laugh at the crazy foreigners looking desperately for marbles.

Then we rode our bikes around the mud-puddley farm roads on the outskirts of town, stopping wherever we saw children playing. Each time we found new children, we got off our bikes, handed them some marbles, and showed them how to play. The looks on their faces was something I'll never forget. I don't think their smiles could have gotten any bigger. It was such a blast. The parents looked so happy as well.

After riding our bikes through the muddiest streets, my tires started to get so caked with clay-like mud that my bike stopped moving altogether. We had to keep stopping to dig the mud out of the tires with sticks and rocks and fingers. After about an hour of this, we were completely muddy head to toe, drenched in rain and sweat, and having a blast. Feeling super guilty about muddying up the bike I was lent, we found a gas station where we mimed to the owners to ask if we could wash our bikes off somewhere. They led us to the outdoor bathrooms where we were able to dip out buckets of water out of a huge sink and clean the bikes as best we could. All of the mud from the bikes pretty much ended up on us. Then we cleaned up the gas station bathrooms, said our goodbyes, and went on our respective ways.

Tonight (after a much-needed shower), I took the bike and rode to a cafe the guest house owner recommended, had a delicious Khmer meal, and then rode extra slowly back along pitch black country roads enjoying the fresh air and nature sounds. The sounds of nature out here on the far edge of town are amazing...and LOUD. Frogs, crickets, and dozens of other sounds I can't place, but I'm sure they are huge bugs and creatures I don't wish to encounter.

When I returned, the guest house owner invited me inside, gave me some bananas and we chatted about volunteer opportunities in Cambodia since he has worked with NGOs for several years and knows which ones are legit. Tomorrow I'm taking a tour around Battambang province to ride the bamboo train, visit a winery, and a couple of more temples that were recommended.

I've only been in Cambodia 3 days, but have already fallen in love. After a couple of days of Angkor temple tours, tuk tuk rides wayyy out on the country farm roads through remote villages, attending a family-and-friends party thrown by the first guest house owner with lots of great food, drinks, singing and dancing, I already feel completely immersed and at home. The people are so warm and welcoming, the food is amazing, and this country is breathtakingly beautiful.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I'm not sure what was most mind-blowingly awesome today...

That I found the Mao Mao Chong ("caterpillar") restaurant on my first try today, that I successfully navigated my way through my first Chinese haircut (after 6 months of cutting it myself into an uneven mass of mayhem for fear of not being able to communicate how I want it cut), or climbing the Great Wall after only seeing photos of it for so many years.

You're right, it was the haircut. Success!

Ok ok, Great Wall. So many pics to upload but this hotel internet is as slow as a mao mao chong.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Where is the caterpillar?

My friend Charlie recommended a bar/restaurant near where I'm staying called Mao Mao Chong, which means "caterpillar" in English. So I walked around for about an hour this afternoon asking people on the street and in shops "Where is the caterpillar?" ... it's no wonder every single person burst out laughing at me. I had to keep telling them, "Yes, I know it's funny. But it's a restaurant."

I never did find it, but I looked more closely at the map and will try again tomorrow. Today was quite a full day with so many pictures to upload (if my internet will cooperate) and tomorrow I'm visiting the Great Wall. Excited!

Virginia is For Losers

Today during my visit to Tiananmen Square, I saw the cutest sweetest looking old lady, dressed all in lace and carrying a beautiful laced umbrella.

Her t-shirt said, "Virginia is For Losers"

Sorry, Virginia, she's not one of your fans.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Made it to Beijing! (via the train ride from H-E-doublehockeysticks)

Arrived in Beijing today after a 33 hour train ride, over 3000km or 1900 miles, from way way South to way way North. I can now check off my bucket list "try to have the nastiest travel experience ever."

Luckily I had mentally prepared myself for a nightmare experience for weeks in advance, and I found myself having the most patience I've ever had in my life. I was a peaceful little buddha.

But somewhere around hour 18, I was shocked awake by a screaming baby sitting at our table. Nothing was going to make this baby happy. Next thing I know, I start to smell something awful, and I look over, and the mom is holding the baby over the aisle (the baby is wearing split plants btw) while it poops all over the floor just a foot from our feet. (I'll spare you the details, but this was not your normal little baby poop).

No one made a big deal or said anything, and the mom wiped it up with newspaper the best she could. The most anyone did was discretely cover their noses. But because all she had was newspaper to smear it about, the last 15 hours of the trip were pretty smelly.

I conjured up all the happy places I could think to go to in my mind. And the baby screamed for several more hours late into the night, and off and on until about 4am, again, while no one even said anything or grimaced. I did have an urge to gently pull the mother aside though and tell her, "You know, it's probably not the best idea to feed a one year old baby a bucket of spicy instant noodles and a bunch of candies for dinner."

Overall it was quite the experience. I was lucky to have a seat at all (so many people had to stand in the aisles or sit on a nasty floor near the restrooms) and lucky to have some cool seat mates for most of the trip.

There were so many weird, annoying or disgusting things that happened that I found myself just laughing to myself. I think that's all you can do here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Darkness at Noon, last page

I just finished Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, and the last few lines are my favorite of the entire book...

There was the sea again with its sounds. A wave slowly lifted him up. It came from afar and travelled sedately on, a shrug of eternity.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shopping and Tipping (and a very unoriginal blog post title)

There are many things I like about living in China, but shopping is not one of them. I didn't think I could like shopping less until I experienced it here.

Not even counting the lack of personal space (hello lady who set her things on top of mine on the checkout counter, even before I finished unloading my basket...and why are your toes touching my heels and why can I feel your breath on my neck...)......all I think when I'm walking through the aisles is "wow, China is one big bedazzled Dollar store." Ok, to end on a nice (and totally unrelated) note, I love how many taxis there are in this city.

Speaking of taxis, my new favorite thing is to always carry little individually wrapped pieces of fancy candy with me wherever I go. Since the taxi drivers nearly always refuse my tips, I now tip them in candy. I've realized the need to tip runs very deep. They seem to really like candy tips, but maybe they're really good actors.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Weird dream convo

I had a dream in which a friend and I were having a bizarre conversation. I don't remember much of it, but this was the last exchange before I woke up...

Me: Why are we humans so quick to judge each other from our preconceived notions.

Friend: I dunno. Are fish superstitious?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Attack of the Zombie Children

Three year olds are so freakin hilarious and WEIRD. Today I was reading Lady and the Tramp to my youngest 3-yr-old class, and we got to the page where the evil siamese cats are introduced.

And one little boy stood up, raised his arms out in front of him, and then slowly started walking towards me while making the zombie noise "eeeEEeeeEEeehhhhHHhhh" and then, of course, ALL the kids stood up and did the same thing. Next thing I know, there are over 20 tiny kids shuffling towards me with arms outstretched going "eeEEehhHHhhHhhhh"

I was like WTF?! I died laughing and looked over to the Chinese English teacher and said, "This is by far the funniest and weirdest thing I have ever seen in my life." and she looked just as thoroughly confused by what was happening. We just sat there laughing our asses off while a whole class of zombie children shuffled towards us.

We finally had to get serious and stand up and say, "Ok zombies, sit down please!"

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Salvi The Man

Last year around this time I cat-sat for my friend Jen. She brought over her two cats, Salvador and Cher. Cher was just a baby at the time. And this is Salvi, trying to seduce me by attacking my ear...

Thank you, Jen, for sending this photo to me today as a reminder of how big of a stud your cat is.

Darkness at Noon, p135

The Third Hearing, an extract from Rubashov's diary...

     "The maturity of the masses lies in the capacity to recognize their own interests. This, however, pre-supposes a certain understanding of the process of production and distribution of goods. A people's capacity to govern itself democratically is thus proportionate to the degree of its understanding of the structure and functioning of the whole social body.
     "Now, every technical improvement creates a new complication to the economic apparatus, causes the appearance of new factors and combinations, which the masses cannot penetrate for a time. Every jump of technical progress leaves the relative intellectual development of the masses a step behind, and thus causes a fall in the political-maturity thermometer. It takes sometimes tens of years, sometimes generations, for a people's level of understanding gradually to adapt itself to the changed state of affairs, until it has recovered the same capacity for self-government as it had already possessed at a lower stage of civilization. Hence the political maturity of the masses cannot be measured by an absolute figure, but only relatively, i.e. in proportion to the stage of civilization at that moment."

A fleeting moment

utterance of dissonance

leave our lips
                        hanging thin

faded snapshots
                        we are

forgotten gestures of skin

A poetry prompt from The Sunday Whirl. Although, I only used seven of the words.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


This night is filled with fire
fire in your eyes
eyes ablaze with fury
fury never lies

lies quietly in the shadows
shadows of the soul
soul wearied by a sleepless mind
mind matters have taken their toll.

Toll, a fare paid long ago
ago spent on a youth
youth consumed by contempt for now
now there's only room for truth.

Truth knows not of a future,
future is now within
within this moment is yours to choose
choose this fire as a spark to begin.

A poetry prompt from Poetic Bloomings. An attempt at loop poetry, where the last word of the first line becomes the first word of line two, and so on, with rhyme scheme abcb.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I just learned that our kindergarten stays open a couple weeks longer than most of the other schools here in Haikou. And there's one word that describes all my students this week...


Done learning. Done being well-behaved. DoneDoneDone. They are wild little maniacs. It's almost as if their parents have sleep deprived them and then fed them a pot of coffee before coming to school each day. Our last day of school is next Friday. It's going to be a lonnng week and a half.

One little girl who is usually one of the sweetest and most engaged in class did something yesterday I couldn't help but laugh at. I tried to tell her that since she's been so good, I'm choosing her as one of the first kids to participate in today's game. I tried handing her something for the game, and she just sat back in her tiny chair, slowly lowered her eyelids til her eyes were closed in that very bored-and-not-having-it sort of way, and then simply raised her little arm and gave me the no-no-no hand. I died on the spot. It was the action of a very mature and privileged adult who has just been brought a subpar bottle of champagne. She's three!


Land diverse in beauty of fields and oak tree leaves,
yet longing more by far
the spirit of the pioneer
i n d i v i d u a l,  by the heart

led into open spaces, desire to breathe
in air never exhaled
by the singular mind or creed.
A quiet pride in ours who failed

is a nod to those who tried, for they are the free
spirits of our homeland,
the real we in whom we believe,
bound together without a brand.

A poetry prompt from naming constellations.

This prompt was all about Javanese poetry forms. I chose to try the tembang macapat form called Mas kumambang. It is supposed to follow the theme of longing or homesickness, and adhere to the structure 12i, 6a, 8i, 8a, where the number indicates how many syllables in the line, and the letter indicates the vowel sound of the final syllable of the line. I strung three stanzas together, and played around with different "a" vowel sounds in each stanza.

Since I recently wrote about my culture shock experiences, I was feeling especially drawn to the theme of homesickness. Couple that with tomorrow being our Independence Day, well, my poem quickly took on a pretty overtly patriotic tone. Setting aside the circus of politics, and the poetic inclination to build layer upon layer of hidden meaning, this one came out pretty simple and close to the surface. As a side note, I've only lived away from the US for a short time, but already I appreciate more than ever the way we nurture individualism and creative thought from a young age. This Independence Day holds a special meaning to me this year, my first 4th of July away from home.

Monday, July 2, 2012

For My Mother

Space is the least of what she shared with her mother.

Her greatest treasures born of a will not her own.

A spore will mushroom in the warm shade of the tree.

Carried by the wind and uprooted with ease, she draws every day from the soil.

A poetry prompt from:
the imaginary garden with real toads

This is my attempt at the ancient Koan form of Chinese poetry.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Blodwyn Pig - Dear Jill

I didn't really discover Blodwyn Pig until last year. I had packed up my truck and hit the road north out of Denver to go camping up in the mountains outside of Fort Collins. I think it was in a coffee shop somewhere on the drive up where I stopped that I saw a blues/rock CD at the counter. I recognized some of the musician names but none of the songs, so I bought it for the long drive up. It was going to take me another few hours to get way back into the mountains and I didn't really have much music with me. I'm so glad I picked up that CD and discovered this amazing song.

After returning home from one of the best camping trips of my life, despite getting yet another speeding ticket on the drive up, I decided to look up Blodwyn Pig to see what else they had done. I learned that Mick Abrahams, the original guitarist for Jethro Tull, left the band to form Blodwyn Pig because he wanted to move toward more blues/rock. I wonder how they came up with the name of their band.

I can listen to this on repeat, endlessly...

Please Do Not Stampede the Toilet

Today I visited a coffee shop and used their restroom, which is one of the nicest I've seen so far. They have two stalls for the women. One of them has the traditional squat toilet, and the other one has a western toilet.

I have grown to like the squat toilets because it's easier to hover and not have to touch anything. As weird as the squat toilet may seem to us westerners at first, it's starting to make good hygiene sense to me, and now I actually prefer them. I have a western toilet in my apartment, and I'm very very very happy about that, but in public restrooms I prefer the squat toilet.

At my kindergarten, the women's restroom has two stalls as well, one for the squat toilet and one for the western toilet. All of my coworkers prefer the squat toilet, which I didn't quite understand at first. The western toilet would be completely free, and still everyone would stand in line for the squat toilet. Now I get it.

Anyway, today at the coffee shop the squat toilet was in use so I used the western, and I saw this cute sign...

The sign says 请勿踩踏 (Qǐng wù cǎi tà), which the Google translation site translates literally to "Do not stampede."

Hee hee.

I tried to translate it again by retyping the characters into the site, and it translated it slightly differently to "Do not adopt step."

I guess either way it translates, point taken. But really, the picture was pretty clear. Although it does kind of seem like the foot is shouting at the toilet.

At first the sign seemed kind of strange, because why would they need to tell people to not stand on the toilet. But then I remembered a friend telling me that people do not like sitting on the western toilets, for the hygiene reason, so some people stand on the toilet seat, turning the western toilet into a squat toilet. A very tall squat toilet. Hmm, that could be pretty dangerous. Probably best to have a sign.

Passport Photo Phreakshow

Today I went to get more passport photos taken, because it seems you can never have too many here and I need more for the upcoming trip for the visa paperwork.

I was wearing a gray shirt, which the photographer apparently didn't like (I assumed he was telling me it wouldn't show up very well against the white background) and so he pulled a crumpled up black blazer out of a dirty corner and made me put it on. It was covered in fluffy dust bunnies and had the most ginormous shoulder pads you've ever seen. Straight out of the 80s, but times 10.

They also wanted me to take out my earrings (which are super tiny in the first place) and I politely declined, and then a lady came at me with a comb, and I politely shooed her away. I don't think they were very pleased with my appearance, but I didn't know all of the Chinese words for "No thanks, I've done this a million times before and my hair is adequate and my earrings are fine as they are." ... so I'm sure I looked like a jerk foreigner just waving my hands at them and saying no no no it's ok it's ok it's ok.

Given the amount of sweat I was sweating, and the massively-shouldered blazer, needless to say I wasn't super pleased with the photos, but it's done, whew. And I asked them to print way more photos than I need so I don't have to do it again for a very, very long time.