Movement.

Path.jpgEarly this morning, I looked at my calendar after awaking from a restless sleep. After months of living at or near limbo, I am ready to make as much of a decision as I am able to make in my current situation.

The decision that I have become fixated upon involves taking a leap that I have dreamed of making for years but haven’t dared take—leaving Portland.

20140123-215031.jpgI have fallen for this city. In these past five years in Portland and the surrounding areas, I have explored my mind, body, heart, and soul. I have made friends with waterfalls, blown kisses to the ocean as the water gently caresses the shore, watched the appearance and progression of wildflowers signifying the arrival of Spring, chased rainbows and the rare thunderstorm, spent months buried in books, and fell in love for the first and second times.

Life in Portland has been good to me. Though I often complain mostly about rain, bearded men, and cigarettes, I enjoy what the city has to offer and the minimal amount of effort it takes to live here. I love that I live equidistant from a specialty market and my favorite yoga studio, and only a mile from a(n inactive?) volcano. I enjoy that I can get away with never changing out of yoga pants, and that I rarely have to explain my eating habits when I share a meal. Life in Portland is easy. It’s been great and has stolen more than a piece of me.

Wildflowers_Mt. Hood.jpgI am a creature that loves beauty and exploration. I thrive on change and often find myself craving movement. I haven’t yet left Portland because of its comforts and its ability to make time evaporate. I also can’t get away from the city’s proximity to the easily-accessible and jaw-dropping beauty of the Pacific Northwest. I willingly (with some moments of hesitation) gave my early twenties to Portland, but, as I progress into another phase, I now feel that I am ready for change.

As I looked at my calendar this morning, I counted how much time I likely have left here in Portland, and I picked a date.

March 31. 66 days.

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I then thought longingly about the lonely drive from Portland, Oregon to Sedona, Arizona—It will be pretty come Spring…

And I then started looking at plane tickets, made some calculations, and explored the fine lines between dreams and my early morning consciousness…

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2013: Reflections

Two-Thousand-Fourteen.

Twenty-Thirteen has come and gone in what feels like less than a moment. This time last year, I was lonely in Coimbatore but living passionately. It was perfect. I was shadowing at the wonderful Womens Center and running almost daily (in an attempt to ease heartache and train for my first and so-far-only race—the Coimbatore Rock n’ Run Marathon—where I ran a rocky and dusty 10 km and got fairly drunk for breakfast immediately following its completion).

What a life I have lived.

Dancing in a Cambodian Wedding Train

Dancing in a Cambodian Wedding Train

Asia was just fantastic and I have been recovering from the high since my April return (really in recovery since May, as the high lasted for at least couple of weeks). Travel really is a drug—I find myself reaching and plateauing at these sensational peaks—constantly in love with everything, everyone, and my own serendipitous and glorious existence. And the come down, the come down…It has lasted much longer than any hangover and leaves me longing for the constant engagement and stimulation that travel provides…

My return was difficult. It has been difficult. I moved into a transitional state (where I still linger) and I am someone who dislikes states of prolonged uncertainty (yet somehow, I am still in love with life and all its complexities just the same). My six months of unemployment were a lesson in humility, as my hopes and ego were shattered on a daily basis with silent rejections (I have since found a wonderful job that has proven to be a near-perfect fit for my brief stint in limbo). And then there was the reemergence of more-than-one heartache that I thought that I had left behind, somewhere in the bowels of Asia…

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On top of a mountain, looking up…

To the hum of this ambient whine, and most important to me as a person, was the task of applying, interviewing, wait-listing, and then finally being accepted into medical school. This endeavor has been with me constantly for at least the past year—even entering my mind while spacing out in the produce section of New Seasons Market—and has been the topic of hours upon hours of conversation. It has been a source of great stress and has tested my patience. Now that I have finally been accepted into a school where I feel that I will be quite happy, I breath. I have worked so hard for these things that matter most and everything is finally falling into place, like they often seem to do…

Twenty-thirteen has been a year of lessons. I was reminded that life is full of peaks and valleys, gives and takes, moments of delightful ease followed by months of challenge, that I will get through whatever is thrust before me, and still come out grateful for both sides of the experience.

[Change is inevitable and, as wonderful as it would be, life has no pause option (and I am thankful that just this past year has given me a plethora of pause-worthy experiences, so many that I couldn’t even begin to choose where to bask in the sun—or snow—for eternity)]

But I am ready for change and have been asking and working hard for more movement, wherever it takes me. Once again, I am incredibly thankful for the experiences that have allowed me to learn, love, and grow. I will continue to use these valuable tools to fine-tune my life.

May twenty-fourteen be stimulating, engaging, and full. May twenty-fourteen be exactly what we need.

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On Open-Mindedness

Aldus Huxley's Doors of Perception

Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception”

I like to think of myself as open-minded. We all like to think of ourselves as open-minded (If you have ever heard someone describe himself or herself as a close-minded individual…I’d be curious to meet him or her. But then again, maybe not…). We all have friends or family who identify as homosexual. Perhaps our neighbor identifies as transgender. Maybe we had black or other minority students in our college classes. Or maybe we went to a liberal arts college. We ride our bicycle exclusively (even when it’s dark and rainy and we are carrying a week’s worth of groceries). Or maybe we exclusively take the bus (after all, it builds character). We have been to strip clubs and have giggled in sex-shops (after a healthy debate, of course) and we even have a friend who was an “exotic dancer”. We may have done more drugs than our peers and feel that, because we have had these experiences, our minds are more opened (or we have done no drugs and raise ourselves above those who have—after all, drugs can contribute to brain damage). We meditate every morning before breakfast. We drink only fair-trade coffee (often out of mason jars). We eat local food. We are vegetarian, or better yet, are vegan or raw-foodists. And our bank is our local credit union.

Yes, we believe (consciously or not) that being open-minded is equivalent to the lifestyle choices we make. However, being liberal does not equate being open-minded.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo "The Vegetable Gardener"

Giuseppe Arcimboldo “The Vegetable Gardener”

Having grown up in Sedona, Arizona, and having spent the majority of my adulthood in the progressive community of Portland, OR, I have spent my life around people who believe themselves to be open-minded. However, despite having lived in these communities and despite what we like to believe about ourselves, I am confronted with close-minded “open-minded” individuals on almost a daily basis.

I argue that this closed-minded “open-mindedness” is severely limiting and can prevent us from truly connecting with others.

(from the University of St. Andrews 2013 Open Minds series)

(from the University of St. Andrews 2013 Open Minds series)

Some of the best lessons I have learned have come from “unlikely situations”, situations so unlikely that I have had to grapple with my own boundaries of open-mindedness. One such lesson came from a brilliantly loving Maori woman who was a single mother that was several months pregnant with her second child. As we worked together in the south island of New Zealand, we talked about the struggles of motherhood, the profoundness of love, and the absolute beauty of bringing new life into our world. Talking with the woman, my then-somewhat troubled relationship with my own mother began to unfold and I became overwhelmed with an appreciation for the sacrifices that my own mother had made for my sister and me. For the first time in my nineteen-years, my heart opened to the beauty of motherhood. This moment impacted my life and I remember it with warmth and fondness. I felt so much respect for this woman who had overcome so much (and taught me about motherhood).

Then we took our lunch break.

Lunch PailAs I opened up my lunch of homemade bread (baked on top of a wood stove in a Dutch oven), local cheese, and local smoked venison salami, this amazing woman who had taught me so much went over to the corner of the dining area and lit up a cigarette. And then another one. And perhaps another one. At six and a half months pregnant.

She saw me looking over at her, nodded her head at me, and genuinely beamed in my direction.

I looked down, averting her gaze. And, for the remaining few weeks that I worked at the farm, I never made eye contact with her again.

Because of those cigarettes (which at 19 I occasionally smoked myself) and her pregnant condition, I had no idea where to place my experience with her. I was too close-minded to appreciate the value of our connection and to separate her wisdom from her addiction (or lifestyle choice, depending on your view of cigarette smoking).

After deconstructing the uncomfortable feelings tangled with my reaction to my interactions with this woman, I learned two valuable lessons. The first, involving motherhood, I have already discussed. The second, and perhaps more important lesson, was to realize humanity and be more open-minded about my teachers.

So, I want to pose some questions to us “progressive” folks. (Mind you, I am known to enjoy some healthy exaggeration, especially when it comes to life in Portland, OR…)

FolgersHeart RoastersHow do we view those who drink Folgers? Or those who drink Starbucks instead of Stumptown (or Stumptown over Heart)?  How do we view those who drive their cars to work rather than spending their long commutes biking in the rain or taking multiple buses to reach their destination? Those that choose to drive a BMW over a Prius? Or those that shop at Safeway or at Whole Foods rather than the farmers market or exclusively at their local co-op? Those who still eat McDonald’s? And what about those who came from wealthy families and had their opportunities “handed” to them?

In fewer words: How do we view those who have made life choices that differ or even conflict with our own?

We all try to justify our lives and the decisions we have made to get us where we are or where we want to go, often failing to recognize that other paths and choices are completely valid. To us, our “open-minded” ways are more “enlightened” than those with differing views or with those who have made different choices. And, on many levels, I am just as guilty as my peers.

One of the things that my advocacy training has reinforced is that we are the experts in our own lives, and are not experts in the lives of others. I believe that this lesson is key to being open-minded. We must consider where others have been and where they are coming from. We must understand that there is more than one way to save the world. We also must learn that just because someone is different or has a less than savory (or too savory) background, which we find conflicting, we can still learn valuable lessons.

After all, it is conflict and difference that makes our world interesting.

Note: While this post illustrates a bit of my sense of humor concerning myself and the locals where I have spent a significant portion of my life, I feel strongly about its content and ask my readers, especially those who identify as liberal or progressive, to critically evaluate their own “open-mindedness,” including judgments which they may project inadvertently.

On Unemployment

Shit

A poem I wrote a few weeks ago

Unemployment. The one easily identifiable benefit of this period of my life is that it has given me the ability to empathize with a group of people whose situation I thought I would never experience. I now understand something many people from my background overlook. Finding a job (any job) is actually quite difficult—Unemployment is hard.

And, in Portland, Oregon, with one of the highest rates of unemployment in America and a city where twenty-somethings with college degrees “go to retire,” finding any job, much less something interesting and meaningful, is all the more difficult.

(On the unemployed: It’s not that we are lazy and don’t want to work. It’s not even that we have too much pride to take positions that we feel we are overqualified. We want to work. It seems as though there just aren’t enough jobs.)

Returning from Asia, I felt at the top of the world. I received good grades from a well-respected college and had more energy than I knew what to do with. I had (and still have) so much that I wanted to contribute and felt that, more than ever, I was in a position to put my passion to work, help save the world, all while giving myself valuable experience in the “real world” before I ventured back into the realm of academia and towards my career as a doctor.

So I wrote cover letter after cover letter, getting excited about the possibilities and all that I could learn. I honed and re-honed my resume and wrote more and more cover letters. I started to expand my search, first to include more job-hunting websites and then into “less interesting fields.” I even convinced myself that working at a restaurant would provide valuable experience working with people that I could use my in future interactions with patients (I still think that it would).

Jellyfish In all of this effort, my confidence has been shaken. Unemployment sucks. Of the I-don’t-know-how-many jobs to which I have applied, I have had one offer ($10/hour, 12 hour shifts, with a commute and no benefits), one preliminary phone interview, and a smattering of rejection e-mails and postcards. I occasionally find out that the job I applied for (along with over one hundred other applicants) went to someone with a master’s degree in a related field and ten years of relevant experience. All for $14/hour and decent benefits.

With the free time that unemployment has allowed, I can’t really do too many interesting things as I happily blew the majority of my savings traveling around Asia (and most recently registering SHELTER International as a 501(c)(3) organization). I do spend a fair amount of time researching and applying for jobs and do my best to not get too excited about the possibilities that will most likely not come to fruition. I try to stay positive and continue to apply. But there are only so many jobs openings in Portland to find and I am left with the little known phenomena, “free-time.”

I am a workaholic. Unemployment has thus been particularly frustrating. Though I love stillness, I can only have so much before I crave stimulation and engagement. To solve this problem, I have reached out to organizations where I would like to volunteer, but with so much in the air around my schedule, am unable to commit to a regular shift. I am also looking into reading and thinking about academic topics that interested me in college but never had the opportunity to explore. Luckily, I can keep myself occupied with the development of my NGO and have enjoyed dreaming up ideas to turn this vision into something more concrete. I also have my long-term future to think about. Yesterday, while strolling for miles along the Oregon coast, I found myself longing for my secondary applications for medical school.

This period of time has also made me thankful that I have parents who, however reluctantly, are willing and able to help support their ambitious twenty-four year old college graduate who can’t even find a job at a grocery store (because there aren’t any and these jobs might be even more competitive than most). So, thank you for paying my rent and not forcing me to move into a moldy basement somewhere on the outskirts of town.

I’ll stay positive and hopefully something (anything?) will come my way soon.

Reflections on Self

Paul Muller-Ortega

Paul Muller-Ortega

This evening I went to a Satsang at my yoga studio with Paul Muller-Ortega. Paul spoke about a number of things, including one of my favorite topics—the self and the formation of identity. As my college professors know, I wrote all of my papers outside Biology on either the conceptualization of the self, women, or some combination of the two (I even did an independent study one semester titled “Feminine Identity in Early Modern Europe”). With this interest, I was excited to hear Paul’s ideas on self and self-exploration (I knew he might have different insight than say, Montaigne…). Listening to him for that hour or so simultaneously made me want to go back to college, attend lectures and methodologically read books, and to silently retreat, exploring my own self through meditation.

Specifically, Paul spoke about how the self is continually being recreated, constantly reassembling itself from moment to moment. However, this recreation is not random and it is possible to influence the process and shift the patterns of self in a particular direction (free-will anyone?). Thus, we hold some power over self-creation and development (and in turn our own destinies).

This shift, however, does not occur by simply setting intentions or projecting lofty goals and letting the universe take control (although I won’t argue that positive thinking doesn’t help). Instead, in order to meaningfully direct this re-patterning of the self, a method or structure is required—a refined and appropriate method of casting. Millions of methods exist to reach any number of intentions or desires but, ultimately, nothing is given to us freely.

To achieve whatever end, we must work diligently and persevere.

Re-patterning the self (courtesy of http://www.tricycle.com)

My disappearance (from the virtual realm)

20130606-100644.jpgWell, I have finally returned to Portland after a seven-month hiatus. It has been an interesting time of transitions and perhaps why I have not updated my blog in over a month. (I’ve been figuring out some health issues, applying to medical school, applying for jobs, working on writing up a report for my research on Indian widows, catching up with old friends…)

I’ve been settling back into life in Portland. I’ve moved back into the same little cottage with the same furniture and flatware and I sleep in the same bed where I slept a year ago. Back in this reality, I’ve had several moments where I began to question if anything had actually changed in my months away. Everything looked the same. Habits that I didn’t even know I had resumed. Even my kale tasted the same. Had life just paused? Reality—Check?

Of course I had changed. My face even looks older and I am now rarely carded when I buy wine. Being back in a similar situation as before has really forced me to look at the lasting effect of my travels (or the effects of time on self-development). I’ve had to put myself into the context of this new here-and-now.

The still unfinished "self" portrait ( I assure you that I am at least 50 billion times happier than I appear in this portrait)

The still unfinished “self” portrait ( I assure you that I am at least 50 billion times happier than I appear in this portrait)

A few weeks ago I felt like painting. Intimidated by the task of starting something new, I picked up an old unfinished self-portrait from over a year ago. I set up my drop cloth where it had been and carefully placed my mirror. I sat in the exact location as before as to capture the same shadowy contours of my face. As I sat there looking at myself, I was overwhelmed with where the last year had taken me. Physically, all over (well, almost). Emotionally, I have traversed a great deal as well. Looking into my eyes—both my actual reflection and the old portrait—I saw my growth. Perhaps it took this disorienting juxtaposition to remind myself that the last (now eight plus) months actually happened and I had grown from them.

While reintegration has been a bit disorienting, I am grateful to have been granted such a unique opportunity to reflect on myself.

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(reverse) Culture Shock

I experienced little to no “culture shock” while journeying through Asia. I arrived in Asia knowing that life would be vastly different and brought an open mind that fit this realization. Instead of shock, I felt intrigue and let the beat of new cultures and environments pulse through my veins.

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Coming back to the West, I have experienced what one might call “reverse-culture shock.” This “shock” hit me hardest when I entered a gas station in rural Arizona while driving from Sedona, Arizona to San Francisco, California. I stopped at one of those massive truck stop filling stations in Yucca, Arizona–the first stop on my trip and the last exit before the California border and elevated gas prices.

I stepped out of my car to be surrounded by smiling and arguing families in minivans and solo drivers in large SUVs with smug looks on their sunglassed faces–I think I was actually sized up! Suddenly, something so simple and completely ordinary became surreal. My perceptions slowly began to shift–I felt as though someone had spiked my water with some mind-altering substance.  Then I walked into the gas station’s attached “mini”-mart…

Country music was blaring and I saw the first actual cowboy boots off of fashionistas in a long time. And nearly everyone was wearing them. People were looking at me strangely (perhaps because in my unease my hands were glued in “namaste”)–and I got an almost confrontational vibe. And then there were the packaged “foods” and bucket sized drinks being carried out and slurped by what will surely soon turn into giants and giantesses. And then more county music and the nauseating smell of hot dogs slowly rotating under a heat lamp (and the knowledge that they could have been there for years). Welcome (back) to rural America…

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At only about 10 am or so, I ran back to my car, put it into the completely uneconomical and  un-eco-friendly sport mode which I reserve only for “emergency” situations….and sped away, back to the controlled solitude of my comfortable car and the distant mountains of the Mohave Desert. Thinking of the food and realizing I hadn’t eaten in hours, I reached over for an organic apple when my appetite returned after this jarring experience. Back in the peace of my mobile sanctuary, I realized that, for practically the first time in my life, I had experienced culture shock.

Note: Those of you that know me well hopefully realize that, while there is some truth to this post, I am having fun making fun of my quirks. But, I have definitely experienced some reverse culture shock–like people stopping for me when I cross streets with the aggression needed for surrival in Asia (and visiting truck stops in rural Arizona)…

New Beginnings (the journey ends)

20130416-104147.jpgMy journey in Asia has ended and I have returned to the United States where I am currently visiting my parents in beautiful Sedona, Arizona (of the countless countries and places I have visited, Sedona continues to be one of the most beautiful and special places that I have ever been. I feel so blessed to have grown up here). In total, I traveled out of the country for six months and 10 days although I could have gone on indefinitely had money and time allowed. What an amazing trip! I spent roughly a month in Nepal, three and a half months in Southern India, one month and a half in Cambodia, ten days in Thailand, and five days in Singapore. I have finally caught up on sleep and have recovered from my long and sleepless flight from Singapore, to Tokyo, to Los Angeles, to Phoenix, followed by a two hour drive north, to Sedona.

In Singapore, people were surprised that I traveled so long—especially when they found out that I did so alone. “Wow!” they would say, “did you have any moments of amazing insight?” “Shouldn’t you have those everyday?” was my reply. And I did. And I still do. But I will say it is so much easier to be “gifted” this wisdom and intense appreciation for life while traveling.

So, of course I had many eye opening experiences on my travels. Far too many to count and probably far too many to even remember! But, they were all meaningful and all served to help me stretch and grow as a person.

Now, what are these insights you might ask?

Firstly, my work in India (especially) showed me something that I already knew—that I need to spend my life working for the improvement of health and happiness in others, particularly women. We women are such incredible creatures and while the world has made enormous strides in helping to better our lives, we still have a long way to go and I would like to be part of this push. Thus, spending so much time with women in need made my conviction that I need to be a doctor even stronger because, as a doctor, I can combine all my passions and, in doing so, do so much more to improve the lives of others.

13919_10200340754134414_1825709756_nSecondly, the world is a strange and beautiful place—and my traveling days are far from over. I had so many beautiful experiences and exchanges that I cannot even begin to capture in words. However, I will try: Eating corn after a long motorbike ride on the side of a dusty dirt road in rural Cambodia while attempting to converse with the seventeen year old girl tending the shop. A little boy using me as his pillow on a bus ride while his grandmother gave me apologetic glances. Stumbling on places of such intense natural beauty that my atheistic mind declares—“Alas! God must exist!” The realization that there is just so much more to discover…

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A morning prayer

Thirdly, the sentiment that I literally constantly felt flowing through my veins of—“How lucky am I?” On my entire trip, I had next to no bad luck or unpleasant experiences. Even when it appeared that disaster struck (the loss of a rented motorbike) redemption followed (it miraculously was returned). I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunities and experiences, good and bad, that I have had and I absolutely love my life. I am incredibly grateful to be alive.

The next portal?

The next portal?

Lastly, the journey didn’t end when I stepped foot on American soil. I feel as though my life is a (nearly) blank canvas that I can fill and consciously create whichever way I choose. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to create the life that I want for myself and plan on taking full advantage of this rare freedom. I will continue to live honestly, continue to grow and expand… I have so much life and learning ahead of me—it will be exciting to see where it all takes me.

Note: I have been asked by several people if the end of my trip means the end of my blog. In case you haven’t noticed, I love writing so the answer is probably not. Anyways, I have at least two more posts about my trip that will come out at some point in the future so look out for those. Also, thank you all for your continued support!

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Cambodia, Cambodia!

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How can one put experience to words? This is what I must try to do in writing about my six weeks in Cambodia. I sit writing this piece crouched in the last seat in the back of a Cambodian bus–leaving Sihanoukville for Phnom Penh…departing Cambodia for Thailand in the morning. I am thinking–“Is there a way to capture it all?” Definitely not. But I hope to retain the feelings, sights, and experiences in memory, and perhaps in a few words as well. But what an experience it has been.

I started my journey to Cambodia with a red eye flight from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India to Singapore, to Phnom Penh. Being the sleeper that I am not, I was awake for at least forty hours when I finally arrived in Phnom Penh in the early afternoon–only to discover that while I had arrived, my baggage had not. I perhaps managed to leave my information with the “baggage officials” at the airport and set off for the only guest house I booked during my time in Cambodia. I showered, changed into the running clothes that I thankfully bought in the Singapore airport, and went off to hit the city. I wandered here and there, sweat some–and then some more, and then asked an ex-pat where I could find authentic, affordable Khmer food. He sent me somewhere near the night market–I could identify it because it had the number “18” encrypted into the Khmer script of its name. I wasn’t sure what I had–I ordered and pointed to the picture of something that looked like it didn’t contain pork. I wandered back, sought company, and introduced myself to a group of backpackers staying across the way. We had a beer or two (or three) and I managed to convince a small crowd to come check out the “girly bars” with me as sex-work is something that has always fascinated me.

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Typical

So, with two boys and one other girl…we hit the clubs. We followed a solo, older, western man to a bar with a tame sounding name—“Oasis”–to be greeted by young, beautiful, and unhappy looking Khmer girls wearing next to nothing–tight, cleavage revealing red “dresses.” We chatted with the girls for a bit, finished our pitcher of beer, decided to be a bit brave, and next hit club–“Sixty-Nine”. We danced–the other girl wandered off to bed–and we were given some dirty looks from the mama san as I guess we looked like unlikely customers. We bought a few drinks for the girls to make mama san happy, got everyone dancing, and explored the underworld (perhaps tamer than what I could have found) of Cambodian “girly bars.” While not all of the girls were actual prostitutes, they were all looking for “western boyfriends” which many of them found as you could see by the many aging, mostly overweight, western men walking around Phnom Penh with potentially underage and skantily clad Khmer girls hanging off their flabby and often tattooed arms.

It was an interesting time in Phnom Penh.  I loved it.  I stayed four or five nights waiting for my baggage to arrive before heading to the beautiful and relatively peaceful Kampot (read Blaming the Victim for more on Kampot). I stayed at Bohdi’s Villa in a rooftop bungalow overlooking the river. For a few nights, I had my own palace.

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After a few days of lazing away between motorbike adventures, I headed off with an American girl I had met to Otres Beach where I continued to laze away–letting the warm sea, gentle waves, and soft sea breeze blow what little cares I had left away. Several days later, I chased my bus to Pousat down on a motorbike. I stayed there just two days and had an experience out of a Salvador Dali painting–a visit to the nearly untouched floating villages of Kampong Luong. Then I was off to Battambang, where I climbed up to the killing caves and saw ten million bats fly out of another cave. In Battambang, I looked at my calendar, had a near panic attack, and immediately booked a ticket to Sisophon where I planed to visit Bantey Chmar, a long lost jungle temple well off the beaten tourist path.

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Crickets with the groom

Sisophon was an experience. More so than Pousat, I was the only westerner and felt like I had the small city to myself. While wandering around, I stumbled on another westerner who happened to be taking part in a traditional Cambodian wedding (a joy of being a solo traveler!). I was invited by the groom to stay for dinner and any and all of the next few day’s ceremonies. While I didn’t want to impose (but I actually really did), I joined them for dinner that evening where I avoided pork but tried the Cambodian delicacies of whole baby frogs and crickets.

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My time in and around Sisophan was magic. I found my favorite Bahn Chev (savory pancake) place at the market where I had a blast each visit trying to communicate that I wanted a vegetarian pancake by the chef’s wife and I making animal noises and faces at each other while laughing. I had many delicious (and vegetarian!) pancakes at this stall for just twenty-five cents. I was completely satisfied and didn’t even get sick from the accompanying basil leaves and lettuce (my stomach is getting strong!).

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Giant helmet

In Sisophan, I created one of my favorite memories that I have had in Cambodia (but my oh my there are just so many!). I rented what I now call the shittiest motorbike in the world and drove it over 120 k down one of the world’s worst dirt roads. On this road were Lexus (plural) speeding past, semi-trucks that would fly by creating giant dust clouds and complete white out conditions, and the occasional Cambodian family tightly packed onto a motor bike. With no suspension and little motor biking experience, I did my best to dodge potholes and sandpits. In areas where there was “road-work,” I learned how to handle hydroplaning and driving through mud. (Don’t worry–my helmet was huge!). It was a long rough ride and I realized how important it is to live in the moment while motor biking (and otherwise as well!). The minute that I slipped off into a sweet daydream, I hit a combination sandpit-pothole and went down hard and fast. Lucky for me, I fell to the left and I didn’t suffer and burns from the exhaust pipe. Alone and in the middle of nowhere Cambodia, I struggled to lift the bike off me and managed to get to the side of the road with the bike. I observed the damage, which was really not much more than ripped and blood stained pants (my spoon was in my pocket–which ripped through the pocked and into the surface of my thigh) and some probable (and rather terrible) bruising. I was lucky. While I could have hailed a car to get me back to Sisophan, I decided to get back on the bike, this time really aware of living in the present, and headed towards that temple. But, my bike wouldn’t start so I hailed down the next Cambodian that passed–who gladly fiddled with my bike and got it started again. And I was off. (Despite the little mishaps I have had motor biking, I am seriously considering trading my station wagon in for a 500 hp Royal Enfield…)

The temple was incredible and I had the 9 km grounds more or less to myself.  As I signed the tourist register, I noticed that about five other tourists had visited in the last week. I spent a few hours wandering in awe before I started the long and rough journey back to Sisophan. I enjoyed another dinner and dance in excellent company at the Cambodian wedding (and was even dragged up to dance on stage with the band!) and went off to Siem Reap early the next morning.

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Angkor Wat was, is, and forever will be amazing. You can read better writers writing about it so I won’t say much here other than I loved it. Seriously. I think everyone needs to go. I also enjoyed great people watching in Siem Reap’s night life. I met great people in Siem Reap and really enjoyed my time visiting the temples.

From Siem Reap, I went straight back to Otres Beach. I spent just three weeks there but feel as though I created a small life for myself. I went on early morning beach runs and in the afternoon helped a friend facilitate donation-based yoga and meditation classes on the beach. Yoga and mediation have been an important part of my life since the age of sixteen and, while I am still very much a student myself, I love sharing the little bit of knowledge and my love for these practices with others, especially if they have never done anything like it before.

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Every Saturday, Otres Beach has a little “hippy market” with live music, cold drinks, and food stalls. Here, I tapped into my long-lost creative side and got into making chocolates (first “bark”, then truffles) and sold these at the market with a friend who made delicious chocolate balls and (later) epic veggie burgers. We also offered tea and “almost raw” salads. While I love Otres Beach and the community of people it attracts, a lot of life there revolves around drinking and drugs. While I am not a judgmental person, my friend and I thought it would be nice to offer something a little more healthy to balance the lifestyle of the average Cambodian beach goer (hence the yoga and dark chocolates that both get you high–naturally!). The next week we expanded the offering into veggie burgers which flew off the six-dollar gas-powered range. I had the pleasure of taking part in three of these markets–it was nice to do something so lovely that I will probably never do again. I am a chocolate lover to the highest degree and really loved watching peoples faces explode in pleasure as they tried the chocolate truffles and “sophisticated snickers” I made using just a metal bowl and a three-dollar hot pot as my instruments. With both the yoga and market, I made some money and really enjoyed doing so. I rediscovered my love for creation–this time in cooking–and am looking forward to continuing these delicious creations with more tools in the US.

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In Otres, I stayed in a lovely but very basic room above a Cambodian owned and run bar and restaurant called Sunshine Cafe. The family who runs the place wakes up early every morning to start serving customers and works late into the night, every night, for months and months on end. So, at the suggestion of a few westerners who work at the bar for food and accommodation, we closed the Cambodian kitchen for one night and took over the restaurant and bar. I was in charge of veggie burgers and dessert, and the other two “chefs” (one actually was a chef from Ireland) were in charge of everything else. Things got off to a rather rough start–the supermarket in town was out of lentils so instead they bought beans which wouldn’t cook in the few hours I had to prepare the veggie burgers. The others were also dealing with shortages of this and that and we had to borrow pots and pans from various other beach restaurants. However, we got over the bumps and actually put on a great meal for at least fifty-five people (despite it all–the veggie burgers turned out great!). For dessert, I made my first ever rice-pudding. It was flavored with palm sugar and mango and topped by a choice of warm mango or banana sauce. I loved watching the faces of those that tried it and hearing the satisfying “mmms” and “”yummms” coming from the mouths of happy customers. While the five of us worked hard (two bar/server girls), we made over $400 that night. When we gave the earnings over to the family, their faces lit up in gratitude. They had a night off from working (although they seemed very skeptical and perhaps a little afraid of what we were doing) and I think made at least one hundred dollars more than they make on an average night (which goes along way in Cambodia—especially if you are Cambodian…).

Well, once again I have fallen in love with another country. Cambodia truly took care of me and blessed me with many beautiful and enriching experiences. I immediately felt at home here and, since my arrival, have had many people (including ex-pats and Cambodians), mistake me for an ex-pat! I have been touched by Cambodia deeply and hope that one day I will have the opportunity to return to this country and explore more of its beautiful countryside and lovely people. Cambodia, Cambodia…. What will I do without you?

(I will find out tomorrow!)