Tales From A Broad

My year of teaching English in Japan is up. Next mission: backpack Asia before going home to the U.S.A. Currently HOME!

i'm coming home*

Monday, October 23

As you can see I've been updating this blog like a maniac in the past few weeks. There's just too much for me to catch up on, and I was slightly worried that I wouldn't have time to do it when I get home. Alas, this is my last post until I settle down in the US.

This is it. Almost a year and half ago, I left America for Asia, fresh-eyed and optimistic. Clueless about what would happen there, but excited nonetheless. I had no expectations. Now I'm at the end of it, and my head is overflowing with new ideas and opinions about everything. I could go on and on about what I've learned, but I'll spare you a lot of it.

I left home to make myself as vulnerable and insecure as possible by taking away all the familiarity that being home cacoons me with. I wanted to learn my boundaries so I could defy them. I'm not sure if I've accomplished any of this, although maybe I'm making a start. One thing is for sure though--exploring Asia woke me up.

Never in my life have I been more aware of myself, of life and the of world. My strengths and-- especially--my weaknesses. How much potential there is in life. All the opportunities in the world. It makes me so excited, my head feels like it's going to explode.

How did this all happen? It's not just because I was in a new country with new people (undoubtedly this is the fundamental part of it though). It's seems more than that. I believe that a lot of it has to do with the solitude. The isolation from everything I've ever known. No one pressured me to leave. If anything, there were some who discouraged me to leave, or at least were baffled as to why I chose this path. No one was with me from the beginning to the end. In spirit, yes. But in the physical, no. No friends from home. No boyfriend. No roomate. No co-worker. Every single decision has been mine. All the mistakes and successes were solely mine.

In the past I mostly kept this to myself, but now I'm not afraid to say that my time abroad, occasionally, put me in a dark place. I don't think I've ever experienced more dissappointments in my personal life than during my time in Japan. And this isn't a direct result of the country at all. Death. Love. Family. Old friends. New friends. Details are boring. I just left home at a bizaare time in my life. Many people stood by me, and some even tried to help. A few walked away. Most didn't suspect a thing.

Make no mistake. There are no slit wrists here. It seems like the worst is over and I'm slowly surfacing, noticing so much about life like it's my first time. Luckily, I had so many unforgettable, phenomenal, life-changing, unbelievable experiences to enlighten me. This blog doesn't do justice to my time away. It only scratches the surface. How can I describe what it's like to see Laos women faithfully get on their knees at dawn to sacrifice food to monks? Or how I felt when my tiny Japanese students walked me home, as far home as their parents would let them? Or what the sunrise over an unspoiled Malaysian island looks like? Or how many eye-opening conversations I've had with Russians, Singaporians, Isrealis, Dutch, Thais, Australians, Colombians, Welsh, Angolans...?

I'm finally awake and I'm coming home.

*I'm a private person. I tend to shy away from revealing personal info, the real stuff, that makes me "Christine," on my blog. After all, its a public website! But, I think I'm going to make an exception this time as to commemorate my homecoming. Plus, I owe to you guys--the people who have kept up with me the whole way through. Thanks for reading!

once home, I'm excited to...

...walk down the streets without being noticed [for being a foreigner].

....wear flip-flops in the winter again.

....go to the dentist.

....drive my car.

....eat Mexican food. The kind out of the back of an old pick-up truck off the side of the road.

....eat a variety of real cheeses and cereals, chocolate, whole grain bread, wine, soft chocolate chip cookies that are a little raw in the middle, BBQ cheeseburgers, buffalo chicken sandwhiches, dipping pizza in ranch sauce, my mom's Cuban food, hummus, salsa, chocolate cake, macaroni and cheese, lasagna...

....watch all the good movies I missed.

...take Lucy to the dog park. :)

....meet outgoing guys [who aren't afraid to approach a girl].

....be home for the holidays.

...take my nephew trick-or-treating.

....sit-down toilets.

....my bed.

...see everyone!

....fly 13 hours in a plane.

tubing down the mekong-part 2

Sunday, October 22

My pictures from Laos are all here.
Our last beer stop before getting back on the river. FYI: night swimming and drinking in a foreign country is totally safe.

Check out the sign directly above his head. Hmmm... Interesting.

These are some of my favorite people I met on this trip. From left to right: Damien (Australia), Sylvie (France), me (USA, but you already knew that), Peter (Germany), Adam (USA)

tubing down the mekong river-part 1

From left to right: Peter, Sylvie and Tim farting around in tubes on the Mekong.

Some would describe Van Vieng the "Cancun of Laos." It's notorious for the long afternoon trips down the Mekong River. We, the crew from the organic farm, were addicted to tubing and would take as many opportunities to do it. We floated the river 3 times before we all left town.

The beauty of tubing, is that there are little bars/restaurants along the river that pull in energetic tubers from some wholesome drinking. Thus, it earned its' Cancun reputation. As if drinking and swimming weren't safe enough, they also have these huge flying swings where people can test their mortality, or show off with summersaults into the Mekong. It was so much fun!! The first time is such a rush and you feel like you're never going to slow down enough to fall in the water.

Me on the notorious flying swing.

The whole experience is without doubt, one of the "must do's" of Southeast Asia. There's no other place in the world like it. Aside from the fun to be had meeting fellow tubers, dancing in the bars, tempting fate off the swings, and floating lazily down one of the most famous rivers in the world, it's also stunningly gorgeous. Giant limestone cliffs line the river all the way to the end. This has got to be one of my favorite places in the world.

working on the organic farm

Saturday, October 21

Sylvie with our primary school class.

The organic farm had lots of chances to volunteer. We could do anything from paint houses to landscaping to teaching English to the village kids. I had originally had my heart set on helping the women make mulberry tea by hand. I've never done anything like that before, but my very first day on the farm, Peter and Sylvie asked Adam and I if we wanted to help out with the English classes. We couldn't turn the invitation down.

Recess time: this shoe and rope game was the most popular game at the village.

I'm still a bit weary about teaching English again since my job in Japan is still so fresh in my mind. I never thought I'd be doing it so soon, especially on my vacation! We tagged along and it was a lot more enjoyable than I thought it'd be. It hardly felt like work. There were 2 classes, the first filled with young children, no older than 10. This was, by far, my favorite class. "teaching" them is a another word for playing with them. The second class is comprised of the teens. We were all so impressed with how much English they all seemed to know. Way more than any of my classes in Japan. Sidenote:I found that the poorer a country is, the more English the locals know. Survival surely plays a part in this.

Peter and I singing the classic, "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes."

I had only planned to volunteer in the English class that day, but the kids were just too addicting. So many of them asked us to come back the next day. Eventually, I ended up teaching English to them for a week!

At the end of the older class, the students performed a traditional Laos dance and tried to teach it to us too. We were pitiful, but it was still a lot of fun to try! Thankfully, Sylvie has been dancing her whole life and did a Dirty Dancing-esque routine for all the boys and girls. How can I describe to you what it was like to see Sylvie booty-dancing in front of all these teenage boys and girls? Whether the students were scared or impressed, or both, was hard to tell, but one thing was for sure: they wanted more and they wanted to learn how to dance!

Our older students teaching us the traditional Laos dance.

By the end of the week, Sylvie gained the unofficial title as the "Hip-hop instructor." Now that's internationalization!

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the organic farm

Thursday, October 19

The infamous organic farm.

The organic farm in Van Vieng, Laos is the perfect place to get away from it all and feel like your doing something good for the community. Mr. T is the owner of this farm, not a man of many words, but still interesting, nonetheless. He used to live in Bulgaria, which for a Laos person, is pretty extraordinary. The farm is also a guesthouse and restaurant. Goat cheese, mulberry pancakes, pumpkin soup, and Harvest curry are just some of the choices on their menu. All organic and all tasy.

Our rooms overlooked the cliffs.

All of these things are nice and all, but the main reason why I loved this farm is because I met an amazing group of people who were staying there as well. There was Sylvie, a Parisian, who has got to be the only French person I know who doesn't like Paris. There was Peter from Munich who worked on the farm last year and loved it so much, that he came back. There was Adam from New Jersey who did the Peace Corps in Bulgaria and even taught English in Japan on the same program as me (JET program)! There was Tim from Oregan who is taking a year off to travel the world. And there was Matt from Texas who just finished his 2-year job teaching English in Vietnam. We were a force to be reckoned with.

Our furry wake up calls--the baby goats.

Every morning, I'd wake up to baby goats walking up and down the hall outside our rooms. They were only a week old and were so friggin' adorable. One of them was like a little puppy and would let us pet him. It was really sad though because a mosquite bit his eyelid and by the end of my week at the farm, it had completely swollen shut. Thus, the name "Quazimoto." Hopefully, he's still alive. If not, R.I.P. Quazi.
Coming soon: Working on the organic tubing and tubing down the Mekong River!

the wonderful world of laos

Tuesday, October 17

A Laos boy filling our motorbike with gas.

The way north to the Cambodia-Laos border is long and dusty. I took the local bus, a long-tail boat, a taxi and a motobike. When I finally arrived to Vientienne, the capital of Laos, 2 days had passed.

The bus was nothing more than a pick-up truck with railings on the sides. I soon learned the best way to get a bus in Laos: sit on the side of the road and frantically wave your arms in the air. I was lucky enough to sit inside. The order went like this: the driver on the left, me pushed against the stick-shift, and 2 Laos women. We were lucky.

My 4-hour "bus" ride through Laos.

With every crazy arm in the air, the driver pulled over to let them jump on. Just when I thought we couldn't possibly pick up another person, the resourceful Laos would climb on the roof, or hang off the sides. The process never stopped until we arrived in Vientienne. Drive. Crazy arms. Pull over. Pick up. Drive. Crazy arms. Pull over. Pick up. Drive. Each time I turned around, to see who or what we actually picked up, a fresh smily face was pressed against the window. I was already liking Laos.

The passengers (and motorbike) on the boat over the Cambodian-Laos border.

By the time I had passed through the Laos border, I had already missed the next bus north to the capital. I was in a remote fishing village off the Mekong River. A village so small, that not even the locals could pinpoint the exact location of it on a map. This was going to be my new home for the night. At first, I was annoyed that I had been mislead, but then I saw it for what it was: an adventure. This truly was off the beaten path.

The Mekong village I stayed in.

My patience was truly tested. Yet, I'm happy to say, that I passed. What was supposed to be a straight shot through the Cambodia border to Laos, according to the travel agent, turned into a loooong process with a lot of waiting around. I've heard this story a million times by other travellers. How typical it is for a bus to break down, only to wait for another bus to "rescue" passengers for a small fee. Or how immigration police give travellers trouble until they give them a bribe. There's usually a challenge. Luckily for me, the only inconvenince was the waiting and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

my flight home

Monday, October 16

FLIGHT RESERVATION ==================

DEP/ CITY DATE TIME DAY FLIGHT/ CLASS/ STOPS ARR AIRCRAFT STATUS ---- -------------------- ----- ------ --- -------- ----------- ------------





AIRLINES ========


final thoughts on cambodia

All my photos from Cambodia are here.

I can't believe a place like this exists. It was an unforgettable week, but I was happy to be able to walk down the street again without someone grabbing my attention to sell me a tuk tuk ride, drugs, or his empty baseball cap for money.

The Khmer people are a sad race. Virtually every family has been traumatized by the systematic killing by the Khmer Rouge, been injured or killed by landmines planted by the Americans, or just too poor too eat. Life throws salt on their wounds by giving them a heartless govnerment that couldn't care less about their own people. The Cambodian government has left their people to the streets. They've left them with nothing. It's pathetic.

The power of money in Cambodia shocked me the most. EVERYTHING is for sale. Women. Guns. Murder. People, particularly the vicous government, are so money-hungry, that they are willing to sell things that the Western world teaches us are priceless. Things like love, justice, and life can all be bought for a pretty penny.

Experiencing Cambodia is like stepping back in time. All you have to do is look at the capital, Phnom Phon, which looks more like a sprawled-out village than a city. People sleep when the sun sets and awake when it rises. Wooden shacks house families of 8 people or more. Naked babies sit on windosills. Women wash laundry outside in tin bins. Dirt roads are the streets. Everything is so rudimentary.

Every minute of Cambodia fascinated and shocked me.

Don't play with guns!! But if you do, try them in Cambodia.

Chris, Tony and I with our weapons of choice.

As an America, it is my God-given right to be a gun-fanatic, but I'm just not. Still, this didn't stop me from trying it while on vacation. What could be safer than firing guns from a shooting range in Cambodia that was taken to us by our tuk-tuk driver?

Tony in the hottest 2006 fall fashion. And also tryingnot to die on the way to the shooting range.

Chris, Tony and I pile into our tuk-tuk, a glorified lawn-mower with wheels, to be driven 20 minutes outside of Phnom Phen to the shooting range. Without any seatbelts, doors or sanity, we bobbed around the inside, while our driver manueuvered us through every obstruction imaginable-- pot-holes, herds of cows, 20 ft. bamboo poles, whole families on motobikes, clouds of dust from all the traffic...

The traffic behind us. Ooops! My hair is in it, but I was trying so hard not to fallout!

As if straight out of the MTV show Cribs, the gates opened to a tiny kingdom. The owner sat us down and gave us the most dangerous menu I've ever seen:

$200 Rocket Launcher
$25 AK47 (25 bullets)
$25 M16 (25 bullets)
$30 Grenade
$25 Colt45

There were about 20 weapons to choose from, and at the bottom of the menu read, "Do not take picture of this menu!!"

Tony chose the grenade first and was instructed to throw it in the little swamp outside this guy's house. It was the most normal thing for him and his family. His daughter, who couldn't have been older than 13, was browsing a girly magazie. She was completely uninterested in the fact that the earth just shook or that her lake had just burped up black smoke.

Next was the M16, AK47, and Colt45. We all had our turns on each, but one shot was enough for me. As with every good Cribs episode, the owner of the shooting range wasted no time escorting us out, shutting us of those gates.

Asia's Holocaust

Tuesday, October 10

After the temples of Angkor Wat, I take the morning bus to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Phen. I befriended Tony, an Ozzie guy who recently quit his job as a nurse at a prison and had went to Cambodia to do a 10-day meditation course. Needless to say, he had some interesting stories. He also introduced me to his friend Chris, an English guy who had just finished his job teaching English in Cambodia. The three of us ended up spending our days in crazy Phnom Phen together.

Some of the 2 million genocide victims.

We went to the genocide museum in Phnom Phen to witness the horror of Cambodia's past. The Khmer Rouge was the brutal military in power during the 70's. They were an extreme communist government convinced that they had to kill off any "traitors," which was a very loose term applied to practically anyone. Men, women, children, babies, scholars, students, reporters, foreigners, monks and many others were some of the people selected as "traitors."

To learn more about the Khmer Rouge and the genocide, click here.

The Khmer Rouge turned a high school in Phnom Phen into a fully-functional concentration camp where they imprisoned these innocent people. The prisoners spent an average of 3 months in the old high school, working as forced laborers until they were sent to the killing fields and murdered in atrocious ways. Like so many of the victims in Hitler's holocaust, the Khmer Rouge victims were made to dig their own graves and shot, stabbed, or beaten to death once completed. Babies were spared this and were beaten to death against a tree instead.

One of the torture rooms.

To make matters worse, the victims were tortured on an almost daily basis. Not only did they face terrible living conditions like starvation and disease from the lack of personal-hygiene in the prison, they were also sent to rooms to be tortured with wrenches, hammers, or hung from trees. One of the worst examples is that they pulled of their toe-nails with plyiers.

The rules enforced by the Khmer Rouge to control the innocent victims. Click to make the picture larger.

Unfortunately, the genocide of the almost 2 million innocent victims is a large fact, mostly unknown to the average Westerner. Sadly, Cambodia still suffers to this day because barely any of the torturers faced any sort of punishemnt or even a trial after the Khmer Rouge fell apart. Not even the organizer of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, was brought to trial and it's too late to do anything about it now. He died before anyone could bring any justice to the people.

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please, please, please

Sunday, October 8

Begging is big business in Cambodia. Pay no attention to the fact that Cambodia recieves some of the world's largest donations from NGO's and the UN. Not to mention loads of money from the booming tourist industry. The government is outrageously corrupt and sees to it that the people don't see a single penny of it. As a result, begging has become an essential part to survival. Locals take to the streets and stalk tourists like vultures for a meal, a drink, a dollar.

Begging in a bowl. There were even beggars in lakes and riversl

They play on Western guilt (Non-existant in the East as they see life as the product of karma. Born a beggar? Oh, you must have done something horrendous in one of your past lives.) by waiting outside of museums. Or stalking people in restaurants. So profitable is begging, that families send their children to the streets than to schools. The locals are professionals, especially the children, and it's become a game to them. They teach each other the English they need to know to talk to tourists and have even learned the capitals of the most common Western countries, as to impress tourists. The omnipresent question, "Where are you from?" had never been more annoying because my reply was always met with, "Washington D.C. is the capital of USA." I decided to mix it up:

Beggar: Where you from?
Me: Nowhere.
Beggar: Oslo is the capital of Norway.

I eventually caved in and invited a little beggar boy to have dinner with me. Not only was he happy to accept, but he also ordered the MOST expensive thing on the menu. When his french fries and chicken breast came out, he wanted to order a bowl of rice, admitting that he didn't even like french fries. I found it all laughable because the motto, beggars can't be choosers, was actually coming into play in front of my eyes. That was the defining moment when I stopped feeling guilty.

The little beggar I ate dinner with.

Probably the most disheartening part of the begging problem is that many of them are victims of landmines left by the Americans during the Vietnam War. Unfortunetely, most of the landmines haven't been deactivacted. Consequently, locals roam the streets with stubs for arms and pathetically point them to traveller's in the hopes that they'll spare a dollar.

one of the 7 wonders of the world: Ta Phrom

Saturday, October 7

Completely unrestored, Ta Phrom temple has become a beautiful and willing victim to nature. Carpets of moss blanket the stone roof, while monstrous vines dig through the ground. This was, by far, my favorite temple at Angkor Wat. I listened to my Ipod to drown out the hordes of Japanese and Chinese tour groups and laid on a crumbled wall to take it in all its' majesty. Two girls behind me had the same idea, spending the afternoon sketching the dark greens of the temple in their notebooks.

Ta Phrom temple had an eerie feel to it.

The Khmer boys who were my mini-travel guides.

While inside, these 2 Khmer boys singled me out to follow them through the dark passageways. They led me by the arm to a dark corner, with absolutely noone around, to show me the head of a tiny statue that was almost completely strangled by tree vines. Pleased to show me their little secret, they ran off laughing, hiding themselves from the rest of the tourists.

The secret tiny face. Can you see it?

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one of the 7 wonders of the world: Bayon

Pensive at Bayon temple.

So many head statues.

Bayon temple is notorious for the countless carvings of Buddha-Hindu heads. Although most of them are missing ears or mouths due to nature and time, they are still pervasive. I climbed to th very top to find an old Khmer woman worshipping in a small room. When she finished praying, she spotted my curiousity and motioned for me to meet her at the top of the stairs. Despite the language barrier, she taught me how to properly pay my respects by letting me copy her. She gave me incense sticks, clapped a few times, bowed here and there, and sat motionless. After I followed her lead, I thanked her and put my donation at the alter.

The beautiful Khmer woman I worshipped with.

I took the rest of my time to sit in a nook to write in my journal. The ideal place for introspective inspiration.

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one of the 7 wonders of the world: Angkor Wat

The sunrise over Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat was finished in the 12th century.

Siem Reap, Cambodia is the proud home of the temples of Angkor Wat, one of the seven wonders of the world. Why are they wonderful? Comprised of more than 100 temples, Angkor Wat served as a metropolis for religous, social, and administrative buildings. They also were built to mimic one of the constellations at that time. The sheer size of it all is humbling, making it pretty easy to avoid the mobs of tour groups around.

This was quite possibly the best sight I've seen during my travels in the past 15 months. No other place I've been to was as mystical and relevant as the temples of Angkor Wat. Unlike many other ancient marvels, this sight is still used on a daily basis by the locals. Khmer people still come here to worship. Monks still meditate and chant on the temple grounds. Families still live next to them. The corroded stones are the only reminders that time, centuries, have passed.

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price tags in cambodia

Friday, October 6

$1,000 a cow
30 a grenade
30 to blow up a cow at a shooting range with a grenade
2 a pizza
3 a "happy" pizza
1 to upload one whole album on your Ipod or Mp3 player
400 to hire a hitman
500+ a "Get Out of Jail Free" card; a bribe
5 a prostitute
1,000 a virgin, soon-to-be prostitute

All prices are negotioable.

These services/items were either offered to me, the people I was with, or told to us in secret by the locals and expats.

No cows were harmed in the making of this post.

welcome to cambodia

I spoiled myself--just this one time--by flying from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia because I saved my unused plane ticket from my last trip [due to a certain Swede ;)]. I didn't have to pay a penny and it saved me all the trouble of sitting on the back of a shoddy pick-up truck for 7 hours on a dirt road. Thank God.

The airport in Siem Reap is strikingly modern and rich--a sick contrast to the impoverished people who work them and the pot-hole roads that lead up to it. I paid my $20 for a visa and checked into my guesthouse to prepare myself for the insane week ahead.

Cambodia is a ridiculous place. Much more on that later.

"Food" ive eaten in asia

Sunday, October 1

...continued from a previous post. Click here to see the full list of "foods" I've eaten in Asia.

The lovely black spider I ate. The legs were like beef jerky. The lower body (the poo part) was a luscious sack of gooey barf.

Sauteed snake eggs. Don't they look like over-sized pearl necklaces?!

The typical entree selection at your average Asian market.

21.) sauteed snake eggs in Siem Reap, Cambodia
22.) fried crickets in Surat Thani, Thailand
23.) fried spider in Phnom Phen, Cambodia
24.) spicy frog soup in Qingdao, China
25.) dog in VanVieng, Laos

To be continued, I'm sure....

Coming soon: guns, girls & ganja in Cambodia!!

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