Monthly Archives: June 2013
Sometimes, on an around the world jaunt, you’ll run into problems. You’ll have to classify these problems after the fact as something that was either totally out of your hands, or, what Kate and I like to call, Kelley and Skye hijinx, i.e. we most likely caused this to happen but are safe now so let’s crack up about it endlessly.
Last night was a slight combination of both. It started out completely out of our hands, but slowly dissolved into the hijinx that would land us using an emergency credit card at a 3 star hotel, drinking instant coffee and using the free internet to write about this very instance. You see, yesterday, Kate and I boarded a rickety old bus to take us to another rickety old bus. On that rickety old bus we stayed, for nine hours. NINE hours to go about 300 kilometers. I know what you’e thinking, “how in the fresh hell is that possible?” and the answer is, that’s typical, and not even the longest bus day we’ve had on this journey. it was, however, the most frustrating. We stopped about every other kilometer for about fifteen minutes to load on people in surgical masks carrying boxes. What was in the boxes, we wondered? Fruit? Clothes? Which quickly turned into talk of drugs? Fake Prada bags? Child slaves? Guns? The fact of the matter is, no one seemed to know but the bus driver and the men getting on and off. So, here are some Dos and Donts about what to do on a Southeast Asian intercity bus ride:
DO bring a sweater, because even though it’s searing hot outside. Like, baking your skin off hot, they WILL attempt to freeze you off of the bus. The a/c vent is a personal one, like on an airplane, only you can’t close it, and it WILL pound you with freezing cold air throughout the entirety of your journey.
But also, DON’T dress only for cold weather because the bus a/c might be broken in which case prepare for the hottest, sweatiest, sick nasty bus ride of your life. There will be B.O. It will mix in the air. But at least you won’t have to pee as much since your body will need all the water it can get. Really, it’s just:
DO prepare for all climates from Everest Base Camp to the Serengeti.
DON’T ask what’s in the boxes or question if it’s okay to bring this many live roosters onto a public bus. You may implicate yourself should your bus be pulled over and searched. Better not to know. Better to try and sleep. But,
DON’T sleep unless you have a fanny pack for your valuables or a friend in the aisle seat who cannot sleep on the buses or airplanes because locals WILL rifle through your shit to find money, cell phones, really anything of value.
DO use the squat toilets at the rest stops because you won’t have another chance. Learn to use them while wearing a backpack and a purse dangling dangerously below your knees. Do bunch your pants up as much as possible but don’t squat too low because then you risk getting your self soaking wet with water from…where? Who knows? Punjabi pants are great for bus rides because you can pull up the elastic around the ankles.
DONT eat the food at the rest stops, even if you have a strong stomach. Trust me implicitly on this. Even though your bus driver will pull over what feels like way too many times to get off the bus and have a full half hour long sit down meal, you shouldn’t.
DO bring Pringles.
DONT get excited when you see GI Joe Retaliation is playing because you won’t be able to hear it. But DO prepare to watch, on full blast, the same Cambodian music video DVD on every single bus ride. You’ll memorize the songs and vampire movie commercial in between. You’ll be an EXPERT at Southeast Asian dance moves. You’ll turn the volume up all the way on your iPod and just be mixing the sounds of the Vaccines with the sounds of a Cambodian karaoke music video superstar and at first you will think it’s hilarious. But slowly, it will drive you to the point of asking the person next to you to knock you out. Just punch you right in your face to avoid this fate.
DO get over your crippling fear of spiders because they will be crawling around in a tray on the floor of the rest stop that doesn’t offer Pringles, but does let you pick out your very own giant spider with a giant stinger on its butt so they can fry it for you on a stick. And you can eat it.
DO get over the fact that the person behind you is eating a giant bag of crickets. Snack with them if you’re adventurous. Yolo.
It probably sounds miserable. It probably sounds like I’m complaining. In actuality, if you have any sense of humor at all, you will find it hilarious. HILARIOUS. The first go around. Then it goes from funny to zany, funny but seriously what is happening, what is life, am I a person, do I have a family, what is my name? These are the stages of intercity bus rides. You will feel them all. And then you will arrive in your destination city, in this case, it’s Phnom Penh. And in a matter of hours you will have been threatened by a Cambodian street gang.
Kate and I had stayed in Phnom Penh before. You may recall, if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, that we were upgraded at our hostel, MeMates Place from the dorm to a private air conditioned room with an ensuite bathroom and HOLY SHIT it was awesome. When things like that happen, because someone overbooked the dorm, you truly feel your guardian angel kissing your forehead, telling you that you deserve this. You can now not worry once more about top vs bottom bunks, snoring, farting, hard partying roommates who don’t shower, etc.
So we booked for our layover night in Phnom Penh at MeMates because DUH they were a great hostel the first go round and they had a delicious cheap breakfast AND you could book your 30 hour bus ride to Laos through them. And we were SO looking forward to that bus ride. So we got to our hostel, and, here is a copy of the email I sent to my Dad about what happened next, edited to exclude certain details (since this is a public blog and I’m apparently on the run now):
Hope trial is going great! So Kate and I got off of our 9 hour bus ride from Siem Reap and took a tuktuk to Me Mates Place, where we had stayed before, and booked another night, to sleep before catching our bus to Laos. We booked the room two days in advance and got a confirmation email that it would indeed be ready for us.
Upon arrival, they had overbooked us and were acting REALLY weird. Also, the staff we had known before was not the same. It was all strangers, which should have been a warning sign, and kind of was. But they quickly told us they could book us at a hostel up the road (read: in the red light district) if we just gave them $10. It was all sorted! “Great!” we thought as we headed into our free van to drive us to the hostel
So we get there, they have us sign in and take us to a room and I’m not exaggerating, Dad, there was blood and water on the floor, Kate’s pillow was stained with brown, and my sheets had been eaten by a rat. Also, there was poop in the toilet. It was basically a Hungarian torture chamber, or a jail cell. We went and got dinner, thought about it, came back, and there was even more water on the floor. So we decided to NOT stay there.
Because we had already paid $10 to the strangers at Me Mates, we asked the staff of the 11 Happy hostel (the red light one) to please call them so that we could get our $10 back since we weren’t staying at either place. They graciously let us use their phone, and when we called back, we may have incurred the wrath of a Cambodian street gang. I DON’T WANT TO FREAK YOU OUT, and as such, we are checked in (on the emergency credit card) to a nice hotel with 24 hour security filled with Westerners. But back to the story: so we asked the guy for our money back and he said he wouldn’t give it to us because he had had to pay $3 to book us at the other hostel. But it was his mistake that they overbooked. I know what you’re thinking, Dad, “Erin’s it’s $10, let it go”. But when you’ve been ripped off by lazy Cambodians for three weeks, it gets a little old and $10 is a small fortune here, so we insisted they give us our $10 back or we would involve the police because, in essence, what he was doing, was STEALING from us. He then said, “he’d find us” and demanded to know where we were staying, we told him hell no, and hung up, but before we did, he told us he’s find us whether we told him where we were staying or not. The people at 11 Happy hostel told us they didn’t even know this man, they’d never met him before, and they didn’t know what to tell us because THEY WEREN’T EVEN SURE HE WORKED AT MEMATES PLACE! This. is. Cambodia. We then high tailed it to a hotel. HOWEVER, do I feel safe in Phnom Penh now, not really? Are we planning on taking the 30 hour bus ride to Laos? No. Am I sleeping with my knife next to me Fiji style? You betcha. But really, don’t worry. We’ll laugh about this in Hanoi together.
I love you!!!!
Oops! Typical Kelley and Skye hijinx! But don’t worry, y’all. We are leaving Phnom Penh in a matter of hours and headed to new lands, sans any street gangs trying to “find us”, and have learned our lesson about overbooked hostels. If they don’t have your reservation, just go find somewhere else! Also, never stay at MeMates place again! Also, the red light district’s hostels, while affordable, are in fact, scary as hell and could give you an incurable disease, and are therefore, not worth the money. Also, don’t you dare try to get your money ack. Also, rats will eat your sheets here.
Also, don’t threaten scary men with the police. Also, maybe don’t come back to Phnom Penh for awhile, and if you do, wear a disguise.
So there you have it, those have been the last 24 hours for me. How’s everyone else’s week going?
I’ve been in Cambodia for three weeks now, and I’ve formed some opinions on this country. Opinions are, of course, like assholes, everyone as one, and therefore, I’d like to preface this post by saying three weeks in Cambodia probably isn’t enough to fully gage what it is I’m trying to talk about here, but I’d like to try nonetheless.
Cambodia is a beautiful country. This cannot be denied. It’s lush rainforests, breathtaking waterfalls, stunning ancient ruins, and smiling children (who are fond of waving from the front of their parents scooter as they whiz by) make for an aesthetically grand country, so close to the Equator you’ll no doubt sweat through all of your clothes in a matter of minutes. What isn’t so beautiful is what you find when you take your eyes off of the skies- off of the natural wonders, the ancient man made structures, the bright sparkling eyes of that child on the motorbike, and look down at the street. That’s when shit gets real. Because the amount of garbage, stray dogs, skinny, struggling children and staggering poverty of the people is enough to make anyone depressed for much longer than three weeks. We leave tomorrow for the green fields and tubing rivers of Laos, but what I have seen will stick with me.
Siem Reap is by far the nicest of the cities we have visited in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is, arguably, the country’s national treasure, and therefore a lot of money is flooded into this area, moreso it seems than Phnom Penh, the capital. Flooded, however, by foreign aide. India works to rehabilitate crumbling Ta Prohm, Japan works on Bayon, and the US floods money into various temple projects like the restoration of Angkor Wat. Where then, is the tourism money Cambodia makes from the thousands of people who visit these sites per day, going? Into the pockets of a corrupt government? Into flawed and cracked systems of healthcare of education? I don’t know, and neither, when asked, do the Cambodian people. They know their government is corrupt- there is really only one political party- and they don’t seem to care.
I chalk up their apathy from the hardships they have faced as a nation throughout the last century. They were bombed mercilessly in the World Wars, suffered in Vietnam and Korea, and lest we forget the most awful tragedy of our parent’s lifetimes, the tragedy so often swept under the rug and not taught in schools, the bloody “reign” of the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian people are focused on their present with little regard toward their future. Their children beg or sell overpriced souvenirs in street stalls and on the roadsides, young men drive tuktuks for $2 a pop rather than work toward a higher education, and the human trafficking in Cambodia is on another level of horrifying. And yet, life rolls on for these people. And Angkor Wat is just another business venture- it’s no exception. It’s especially frustrating because as tourists we are told we must cover our shoulders and legs and show respect for the temples, yet the Cambodian people rush up to you while you walk about the temple grounds screaming at you to buy postcards or T shirts or sodas, blocking your pathway, grabbing your arm, asking you why you won’t help them, why you won’t buy 10 magnets for a dollar.
The answer to that question is, of course, that you don’t want to feed into the poverty levels. You don’t want to give money to these children who will just bring it back to their caregivers. You want to be the bigger person. But you’re not. Because the white guy behind you is going to buy that T shirt if you don’t and the cycle begins again. And it’s so. fucking. depressing. No one cares about their children’s futures, hell, the orphanages here are tourist attractions. No one cares about the quality of their craftsmanship or the authenticity of their goods or the honesty of their business. Everyone is just trying to rip everyone else off to make a buck, and as Westerners, we take the huge brunt of this practice. And it sucks. Of course it sucks, but at the end of the day, I make more in one shift at work than the average Cambodian does in a month, possibly a year. And yet I STILL have the audacity to complain about it. What the fuck is my problem, right?
Anyway, I digress. My issue with Cambodia is not with Angkor Wat or the quality of my visit or the searing heat or the amount of times I was so clearly ripped off. My problem is that there is no end in sight. No change to be made. No one is working toward a better Cambodia. Nobody. Not the king, or the government, or the people. Stray dogs with worms and fleas run around the streets. People stomp at them and chase them away when they beg for food or shelter because they’re, you know, SOCIAL ANIMALS WHO ARE STARVING IN THE STREETS. It makes me want to cry. I clearly have an issue with this stray dog problem and I won’t get into how Kate and I have made guerrilla efforts to fix it and failed miserably because on the off chance someone is reading this who doesn’t care about animals (what’s your deal, are you a serial killer or something?) we can just get back to the issue of children. And the elderly. And the fact that there are no elderly people to teach these children the way of the world because they were all killed in the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. I’m not kidding- I have seen maybe two people over the age of fifty. Everyone else is young. Really young. With no one to guide them. And so how can I blame them for the way their children beg and run around naked and have no regard for their futures? How can I be mad when their kids beg for money, just like they did, and still do, in a way, selling fruit on the side of the road? How can I shake my head and say “no” to the double amputee who lost an arm and a leg to the genocide, who now wheels a makeshift cart about the city selling books about the very genocide that maimed him, that traumatized and scarred him physically and emotionally, for just a few dollars to white people who feel guilty? I have no right to judge Cambodia; I have no right to be disappointed in its people. But I want to change it so badly.
There are so many things that are needed here. A garbage program for starters. Clean water. Sustainable resources. Medical Care (free is even better!). An education initiative. Shit, I swear Kate and I have had so many talks about the things we want to change about Cambodia. For the better. For them, not for us. Better business practices for one! Everyone is selling the same shit at the same prices so NO ONE MAKES ANY MONEY. I want to teach Cambodia about supply and demand. I want to tell that woman to put down that Tshirt she’s trying to sell me and take her daughter to school because she has a right to an education and a future and the government is taking care of that. I want to tell the man selling books about the genocide that he doesn’t have to do that anymore. That the King has set up a program for victims of the Khmer Rouge. But I can’t. Because there fucking isn’t one. So he has to keep guilting white people into buying these books. He’s just trying to make an honest living. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
When Kate and I were in Sihanoukville, a beach town, where one comes for the sand and surf, and I suppose stays for the garbage and stray dogs, we were accosted, and I mean accosted, truly harassed by Cambodian people trying to get us to buy sunglasses, hair braids, bracelets, even get our pubic hair threaded on a PUBLIC BEACH for just a few dollars. I am now wearing three bracelets from the beach in Sihanoukville because as one girl put it, I’m an “easy sell”. Because I feel bad. Because my heart breaks for these eight year old girls hocking shitty bracelets on a Tuesday when they should be in school learning about history and math and geography and how to get as far away from Sihanoukville as their legs or their father’s tuktuks will carry them. I would be laying down, eyes closed, trying to be inconspicuous, and all of a sudden in my ear, “Lady, lady, you want to buy bracelet? I give you good price. Cheap cheap.” And as much as I’d say no, God damnit they’d wear me down. Little by little, til i was wearing one of their bracelets. But if you give a mouse a cookie, she’ll tell her friends and they’ll want cookies too. After awhile I’d just make excuses to not go to the beach anymore and just read outside at the hostel instead. I simply couldn’t afford it.
So that’s Cambodia for you. It’s a beautiful country with a glorious history complete with jungle ruins, silly monkeys (which I can’t get enough of) and delicious banana smoothies. But It’s a land of smiling children, most of whom have no future. Of friendly people, who stop being friendly once you won’t buy their wares. And of breathtaking temples, that will cease to exist once no more money can be squeezed out of them. If this sounds pessimistic, that’s because it is. While I’ve enjoyed my time in Cambodia immensely (other than a three day bout with some horrendous food poisoning), it has not left me unscathed. I want to take this country in my arms and cradle and give it a future by nurturing it and cultivating it and helping it grow. But I can’t do that, so I’ll start by donating to aid programs (NOT run by the government). I’m talking grass roots, ex pat, international foreign aid shit. I’ve got to, or I’d never forgive myself. I took what I could from Cambodia, and while it wasn’t much, I already feel like it’s time to give back.