Thursday, January 30, 2014

Around and Back Again

Yesterday, we traveled from Phu Quoc back to Phnom Penh. It was a mostly uneventful full day of travel. Hot. Tight spaces. But safe and productive. We made it "home."

The ferry boat was tight.

It was nice to get back. Fay made dinner and we talked about our trip. They always feel like family.

Then, today, Jeremy and went back to the Russian Market to get some souvenirs and cheap deals. This place is an indoor, smelly, and quiet claustrophobic market with everything from pirated DVDs to fruit, clothes to Buddha statues. They've got it all. So we both got some summer clothes (because clothes are SO expensive in Korea) and some fun things too.

This poor kid fell asleep at "work."

Because today was the first day of Chinese New Year, Cambodians were lighting small fires (yes, even indoors at the market) and burning fake money. Don't ask us why. Google it. 

This has been such an amazing trip. One I never expected I would get to make. I am so grateful for these new memories I've been able to make and the adventures we've had this time around. It's also pretty dang cool to have five different currencies in my wallet.

Chinese yen

Vietnamese dong

Cambodian riel

US dollars

Korean won
We've been downright shocked to see how many Koreans live in Cambodia. There are Korean flags, restaurants, and language schools. We're not exactly sure why they are coming here, but it's been pretty freakin' cool to see them on the street and say "ahnyoung haseyo" as their jaws drop in surprise. 

Korea, we're coming back for ya! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Good morning, Vietnam

On Sunday, we came to another place on the island of Phu Quoc. Quite different, but still lovely.

We took a look around.

And went for a walk on the beach at sunset.

The next day, we went to the pool.

It was the first time my tummy had seen sun since...July.

And as a result this happened. Oy. And ouch.

So we spent the rest of the day inside until sunset.

We found us sum yummy beachside Vietnamese food. 
Which may be our new favorite kind of food. 
The jury's still out though.

The next day, Jeremy went swimming. Alone.  

I sat in the shade and watched.

And as I sat and watched, I struggled--as I have the last ten days--to take this all in
Not even to necessarily understand or make sense of it all. 
Just to see it all. 
Just to observe enough of it to capture it in my memory. 
To keep it there. 
To remember that this entire experience is not a dream. 
Not pretend. 
This is a beautiful opportunity that Jeremy and I have been able to have. 

We don't necessarily deserve it. 
We won't always get to live this way. 
But for now, this is it.
And we keep reminding ourselves, "We are in Vietnam!"

We are enjoying this blessing of travel. It is such a beautiful gift.

Tomorrow, we'll head back to Cambodia:
carsick patch
ferry boat

Back to Phnom Penh. 
Back to Tim and Fay.
One more day there.
Then, our current home, Korea. 


Monday, January 27, 2014

What I Missed The First Time

My prayer for this trip has been:
God, show me what I missed the first time.

I've been trying to remain cognizant of my memories of this place, but also aware of this time and this place. Two-thousand fourteen. Changes. Growth. New eyes.

Waking up in my old bedroom, not to a mental illness, but to a sleepy husband.

Walking through my neighborhood, not with my guard up, but with my guard down.

Going to school, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

Seeing familiar faces, not out of obligation, but out of desire.

Going around Phnom Penh, not to get things done, but just to take it all in.

Looking at the culture around me, not with judgment, but with intrigue.

This time around I've been granted the status of a passerby. Just a traveler passing through. I don't need to understand. I don't need to make sense of it all. My only task is to breathe and touch and taste and listen.

And possibly, if there is one thing I've seen differently now it is this:
Cambodia is not the place where everything fell apart.
Cambodia is the place where everything began to come together.

And indeed, that usually requires breaking down, but it also moving forward.
And I experienced both.

I came to Cambodia, a nineteen year-old anorexic. 
I left Cambodia, a twenty year-old bulimic. 
And twenty-five pounds heavier.

I'm not sharing this number to prove any point other than this: 
I came to Cambodia needing to fed.

Left to my own devices (anorexia), I was sure that I knew what I needed to weigh. I could control it. Manipulate it. Make it what I wanted. And what I wanted was to be small and to disappear.

But this country--like a loving and nurturing parent--fed me. Not in a way I'd repeat or recommend (bulimia is no slumber-party), but because it had to be done. I had to gain weight. My body was crying out for me to be made whole. To become all of the person I needed to be.

Cambodia brought me to my set point weight. A number that immediately felt wrong. Too big. Too much. But now I know is exactly where I always needed to be.

I've never thought about it that way until last week. And this time I walked the streets with more openness--even gratitude--for this country that both broke me apart and continues putting me back together again.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


The mind is such an interesting place.
The spirit is an an intriguing place.

I don't always understand, nor pretend to.

But here's what I know today (supplemented by Eckhart Tolle's Silence Speaks):

Inner stillness is good.

"When you lose touch with your inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world."

But absolute quiet in your environment is not necessary for your insides to be still.

The mind is powerful.
We have to pay attention to the difference between the mind and the soul

"The stream of thinking has enormous momentum that can easily drag you along with it. Every thought pretends that it matters so much. It wants to draw your attention in completely. Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don't take your thoughts too seriously."

My mind is not who I am.

My mind is part of me.

And while it is powerful and often demands my attention.

I still have a choice in the matter.

My counselor used to tell me that my mind is like a river. My tendency is to catch and analyze every leaf that comes past me. Stop. Catch. Stress. Judge. Then release. But realistically, we can't do that. We have to let some things go. We have to trust that what we need to know, will be known.

"In you, as in each human being, there is a dimension of consciousness far deeper than thought. It is the very essence of who you are. We may call it presence, awareness, the unconditional consciousness. In the ancient teachings, it is the Christ within, or your Buddha nature."

The closer I am to stillness of mind and awareness of the world, the closer I am to God.

If this is all a little whoo-woo for you, consider this:
This "consciousness" or "awareness" is just
slowing down
breathing deeply
taking time to notice blessings
to be grateful
to let go
to trust in something larger.

This stillness has always been a struggle for me.
Because I want to control and manipulate and know.
But it's a losing battle.
Because life doesn't work that way.
Instead of fighting it, it's best if we let go of it.
I'm learning to let go.

This idea is important to the owners of FreedomLand (where we've been staying in Vietnam), Peter and Rita. He's Vietnamese and she's Portuguese and they met in Europe. They've slowly created--one bungalow at a time--this quiet place in the jungle where people can come and rest, enjoy good food and good people.

Yesterday, Peter said, "This place has been a journey. The first year, all kinds of whiny people showed up. Difficult to please. It was miserable. But we didn't change. We only offered what we could: a safe place, open hearts, and good food. And as time passed, the good energy we offered came back to us. Wonderful people from all over the world starting coming to us and enjoying what we had to offer. It's all about energy."

And we feel that. They've created something special here that's difficult to explain. But sitting around the long dinner table under the palm tress and twinkle lights eating yummy food with people from all over the world, it just feels right. We've sat and talked with people Germany, Czech Republic, Holland, France, Bulgaria, Japan, Russia, and England. It's like our own little U.N. every evening and it's been really great.

I'm grateful for this stop along our journey.
It's teaching me a lot.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Here and Everywhere

I'm often skeptical of tranquility.
Too much space.

Too much time.
Too much calm.
As if there's only so much to go around,
so we've all gotta suffer through this.

And while tranquility is something I've longed for,
I probably assumed that longing was the closest
to tranquility I would ever be.

I've felt this way since going to Cambodia.
Struggling to quiet my mind.
To be still.
Since encountering an existence that was both
full of chaos
full of alone time.
And if the eating disorder didn't kill me first
it felt like the loneliness was going to.

I hated being left alone.
To my own thoughts.
My own devices.

This overwhelming down time didn't feel tranquil.
It felt like solitary confinement.
And I responded accordingly: with fear.

But if tranquility is a real thing, it's here in Vietnam.
Specifically, at little place called FreedomLand.

It challenges me--this peace.
To slow down.
And soak in.
To rest.
And absorb.

To believe that peace won't hurt me.
That I can trust myself now.

And the thought of leaving here makes me sad.
Because it's not often I feel such peace.

You can be happy in Kansas 
(a place where people stereotypically assume is a barren place) 
and miserable in Hawaii
(a place where people stereotypically assume is heaven on earth).

It is not my destination that defines my joy.

I can be calm.
Here and everywhere.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Growing Up

I woke up this morning in Vietnam to the sound of birds chirping outside our beautiful, wooden bungalow. A huge change from Phnom Penh.

I think I really needed this.
To see Phnom Penh and then to take a step back.
To figure things out.
To take it all in.

Coming to Cambodia, I knew I had changed. I had grown up.
But I didn't expect that Cambodia had grown-up some too. 

Cambodia Adventist school looks completely different now.
There is a real, concrete school building and not just the bamboo shacks I taught in. 
They have a decent science lab and some greenhouses. Whaat?!

In the city, there are more paved roads and fewer dirt ones.
There are more bridges which lead to slightly fewer traffic jams.
There are trash cans (trash cans people!), even if few people use them.

There are more traffic lights, even if they aren't always obeyed.
There are sports complexes where there used to be trash dumps.
There is a Dairy Queen and several other western franchises.
There's an air-conditioned grocery store that has more variety than ours in Korea!

There's a ton of foreigners here now, too.

As Jeremy and I sat people-watching from a restaurant, he said, "Wow, look at her" as he pointed across the street. It was a young foreigner, probably my age, walking alone down the crowded street with her arms folded across her chest, taking quick footsteps looking straight ahead as men jeered and called to her. No expression. I noticed how much she looked like I did then: closed off and tough. And this is the posture of most foreigners here. Because it feels like the only way to endure. Survival mode. We bristle. We put on a hard shell because sometimes just walking down the street feels like an attack. Bombardment. Phnom Penh is not the easiest place to live.

But, my experience in Cambodia has been quite different this time around. Men don't harass me on the street because I have Jeremy with me. He holds my hand and lets me cry and that makes all the difference. Because when you don't have one safe place, one safe person to talk to, it can be hell.

I remember hell.
This no longer feels like hell.

Phnom Penh is just a city in Cambodia. A city full of people with friends and family trying to find their way in the world. Trying to make sense of it all. A city with corrupt people and good-hearted people. Just like anywhere else. The people may look different. The neighborhoods are a bit run down. And the culture takes some getting used to.

But Cambodia was never the problem. 
I carried the problems on my own shoulders
Sometimes unable to let them go.
Sometimes unwilling to let them go.

All-in-all, as I showed Jeremy around I regularly wanted to say, "Well, it wasn't this easy before. Everything's changed. It was a lot harder six years ago!" As if I had something to prove. Something to defend. That somehow the presence of a shiny grocery store would've dramatically improved my experience.

I look around Cambodia and I see changes and progress.
I look at myself and I see changes and progress.

I'm proud of both of us.

Traveling to Phu Quoc

Today was a travel day.

A day for multiple modes of transportation.
For standing.
And waiting.
For sitting.
And thinking.
For feeling lost.
And being okay with that.

We were up early this morning to catch a tuk-tuk for our van headed to Vietnam. We arrived where we thought we should be and then boogied to where we were supposed to be. Only to find that the van was a bit late by about an hour (“Just ten more minutes, miss…”).

And it’s interesting how everyone reacts to travel differently. Personally, I’ve found that patience and a sunny-attitude go a long way. However, the Chzeck and French couples waiting with us decided yelling and name-calling would be the best route.

So I made a special effort to ask nicely, “Are we in the right place? Do you know when the van should arrive? Oh, thank you. I know how hard it must be for you because you cannot control the bus drivers. This is not your fault. Thanks for all your help.” I heard a little scoff from the angry Frenchman pouting in his chair and walked away.

Either way, the van arrived. The 15-passenger van (a.k.a. Cambodian size passengers) was stuffed to the brim with 16 foreigners from all over the world. We got out of Phnom Penh and into the countryside. So much to see. So much to take in.

the small shacks
the people standing and watching
the emaciated cattle
the kids that make the street their playground
the grand palm trees dotting the horizon
border crossings
the ever-present horn-honking
the motos littering the road
and then, 

We had a four hour van ride and then a two hour ferry ride to get us to the island of Phu Quoc: new country, new language, new money. 

Another hour in a van led us to this little oasis called FreedomLand. This is the place I found on-line with the disclaimers about electricity and “friendly spiders.” It was certainly off the beaten-path but rated #1 on TripAdvisor. We quickly understood why.

At several points today, I thought, I'm tired and headachy and hungry. I hope this is all worth it. 

Isn't that why we put ourselves through this? Because it's not particularly fun to sit in a stuffy plane for 13 hours or bake on the side of the road at customs. But we do it anyway for the hope. 

The hope that at the the end of a long day of travel, there will be a splendid reward. 

And this is quite a reward.