Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Censored! (and other odds and ends)

A quick update from Hanoi while Brian is out making things happen...

We've noticed that our blog (and all the blogs on blogspot.com and some other blog sites) appear to be blocked at the majority of public internet terminals we use. Every once in a while we are able to get to the site but mostly we get the big DENIED message. Interesting. We were anticipating this happening a lot in China, but not here. Given that we had no problems seeing it in Laos and Cambodia, we did not expect the restrictions in Vietnam. One more reminder that despite all the changes, improvenments and relaxations of control over the past 5-10 years, this is not yet a totally free country.

I've finally uploaded the rest of the Cambodian pictures (Angkor Wat temples, first visit to the orphanage, Landmine museum, and a bunch of pics of the child vendors). Unfortunately, most of our best pictures from the temples in Siem Reap were on the camera when it got stolen, so we don't have the amazing faces at Bayon or the jungle winning the battle at Ta Phrom. The pics are in the middle of other Vietnam pics, but you can get right to them through the tags. (Also, I didn't have my notes with me and couldn't get to our blog to refresh my memory so the names/descriptions are pretty sparse. I'll update those with the correct temples, etc. when I get a chance). All that is to say that as a whole, they may not be up to our usual standards, but there are still some cool/fun pics in there (like the one in the upper right).

We've been using Hanoi as a home base (and cool place to sightsee in its own right) while we take short trips out to see different tribes and topographies and do some hiking and biking with a great tour company: Ethnic Travel. While a little more expensive than the tours offered in every hotel and cafe you walk by, ET's tours take you places where you don't see another tourist, are in groups of 2 or 4 (max 6) instead of the "small groups' of 16 (on up to 50) with the other operators. The company was started by 4 friends from university and they have a strong emphasis on sustainable/eco tourism. We're happy to support them and urge anyone travelling through Hanoi to do the same. We'll write more about the trips themselves in a future entry.

We've had some fantastic meals in the past few days (three words: Fresh Vietnamese Seafood!) and have gotten to make our own springrolls at an island home stay we just did. I'm happy to say that we remembered our filling and rolling techniques from our Chiang Mai cooking course and our springsrolls were as nice to look at as to eat. Speaking of food, if you want to see some scrumptious deserts check out these photos. Good thing we were only in Hoi An for a couple of days!

Off to do some more errands. It's nice to be in a bigger city where we can restock essentials.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

State of the Davis

Since we've received a number of "so when are you guys coming back?" emails, we thought we'd give people a brief update of where we're still planning on going before arriving back in the States.

Currently: In Vietnam. Visiting Hanoi and outlying areas. Getting our Chinese Visa (surprisingly not on the combo menu).

Early March-Mid April: Six weeks in China. Itinerary to be sorted out along the way but likely to include SW China, Xi'an, Bejiing, most likely Shanghai, Hong Kong and a ton of places in between. Coolest part of this for me is traveling overland from Vietnam.

Mid April-End of May: Fly from HK to Sydney and then onto New Zealand. Spend the time hiking, visiting folks we know, exploring the two islands and playing tourist with Becca's mom who is coming to visit.

June-Mid August: Fly from NZ back to Sydney. Spend two(ish) months exploring Australia with a possible side trip to Indonesia along the way. Visit more friends and give Becca her introduction to the Outback.

Mid-August-August 23rd: Fiji for nine days. Nothing else to say really.

August 23rd: Arrive in LA and hope they let us back in. If they don't, we get the hint and use our open ticket to London.

After that: Such a good question. We certainly don't have any idea yet. Any suggestions are welcome in the comments area below.

Of course, like life this entire plan is subject to change. As Becca likes saying we might find someplace where we can sell Yak Butter and live in a Yurt. If that happens, we're there.

In the meantime, we're off to Halong Bay tomorrow for an overnight trip. Also, many thanks to the former mayor of Fallujah, Iraq for the wonderful lunch.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Being in an unfamiliar position....

Saigon ended up being a very pleasant surprise for us. After hearing countless horror stories of the endless touting (i.e., moto drivers, book sellers, other hucksters) we were prepared for the worst. Instead we found ourselves pleasantly surprised. It's a busy place. But as far as craziness and volume of sketchy people goes, Phnom Penh is light years ahead. Throw in the fact that they have some nice green spaces (similar to the Park Blocks in Portland) where you can watch young lovers lounge on their motos, it ended up being a city that very much exceeded expectations.

The most memorable part of our time there though had to be the dynamic we experienced visiting the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi tunnels. In both of these places we had the unique dynamic of visiting a war location where our country was without doubt the loser. It's a interesting perspective; having to listen to an alternative version of the facts and know (Communist Propaganda aside) that it's the truth. As the quote goes; history is written by the victors. Just uncomfortable being on the other side. (And strange as well to be welcomed with smiling faces to exhibits and films talking about the evil American aggressors, etc. I suppose the tourist dollars in our pockets help...)

The War Remants Museum was our first stop. It was an educational visit; the exhibits showed the history behind the conflict, the jails and various torture methods by the US, photos of My Lai and some of the other low points of American involvement, and a striking collection of photos from the various war correspondents who died during the war. The tour also made me realize how limited my knowledge of the Vietnam war was. From the history behind the uprising, the US's involvement and the gruesome nature of the combat; all gave me a fuller perspective and a sense of foreboding that left me to wonder whether we'll be walking through a very like-minded exhibit in Iraq in 30 years time.

The visit to the Cu Chi tunnels took a little more effort to absorb with a even keel. A number of factors led to us shaking our head at the end of the day. The first was this was our first "tour" in a long time; complete with 30+ people piling on and off the bus and traveling like a giant pack of lemmings from location to location. (The most humorous part though was watching everyone struggle at the end of the day to find their respective buses from the identical pack waiting to take us back to town.) Add in the fact that there were about 15 other like minded groups doing this and you had this bizarre scene of group jostling for position to get the best view of a particularly gruesome booby trap or be in line first for the firing range.

Yes, a firing range. If you were willing to pay at least $10 bucks you could fire away with a AK-47 or any other number of machine guns and handguns. For those of us not interested we had to wait around wincing while the guns blared in the background. Now if they'd had a rocket launcher I might have been interested...

Otherwise, it was amazing to see the tunnels that the VC soldiers made their way through. We stooped/crawled through one that was 2x (both height and width) the size of a regular one and it was more than small enough for us. We almost couldn't believe it when we saw one of the real entryways. (They let a couple of tourists try and squeeze in and I was the only non Asian tourist to successfully fit) Just difficult to imagine people scrambling through them while being bombed and the like. Of course, we got the chance to visualize just that thanks to the best piece of propaganda I've even seen. The film we watched (with the cheeriest, bounciest soundtrack we have ever heard) went on in depth on how the people of Cu Chi defended their land and for their attacks they were labeled an "American Killer Hero". Yes, evidently there was a medal for just that. (Of course, the US didn't help their defense by building camps on top of the tunnel network allowing VC soldiers to appear and disappear as if out of thin air. )

History goes to the victors indeed.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tale of the Tape...


height: 5'9" (175.2 cm)
weight: 167 lbs. (75.7 kg)

Courtesy of the Vietnamese talking scale in Hoi An:

height: 5'10" (179.5 cm)
weight: 157.2 lbs (71.3 kg)

To summarize: Traveling causes you to lose weight and grow! My best selling book will be out shortly.

An review of our time in Saigon/HCMC soon. In the meantime we're in Hoi An exploring the old town, enjoying the much cooler weather and recovering from our 17 hour train ride while simultaneously preparing for our 16 hour one in a few days time to Hanoi.

Good times abound as China looms in the horizon. More soon.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Separated at birth...

THE historical figure of Vietnam...

and The Face of Finger Licking Good...

You make the call. At least it explains why the ol' KFC is the only fast food chain we've seen in the country to date. Comments welcome.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Good Afternoon Vietnam!!!

We're safely in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) and starting the Vietnam experience. A few quick thoughts from our two days of buses to get from the peaceful serenity of Sihanoukville to the western bustle of HCMC:

- The breaking point of in-Bus entertainment was reached on our way back to Phnom Penh. On the various trips through Asia, if you pay a few extra bucks for air conditioning (which we've done as we've headed south into the 90-100 degree temps) you also get subjected to SE Asian in-route entertainment.

Here's Becca's excellent description:

This mainly entails video "karaoke" where cloying (at times screeching) songs are played at full blast while the same boy/girl meets boy/girl, fall in love with soft lighting, and lose boy/girl videos play over and over with the words scrolling karaoke style across the bottom.

This is occasionally replaced by live "action" stage shows with scary bollywood type costumes with the same words scrolling. I don't know if it would make it better or worse if people sang along, but somehow they restrain themselves. The music is so loud that we can't listen to our own on the ipods. Today the music was so loud that we threw in our earphones just to blunt the painfully loud screeches.

What pushed us over the edge was the "movie" that got shown on the way back to PP. It was low budget, shot on video, not film, had terrible acting (though one 'gangster' was tastefully dressed in a Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt -ed) , and basically consistent of annoying and unattractive people screeching and yelling at each other in whiny voices for 1.5 hours. I think it was supposed to be a farce, though I certainly wasn't laughing. The volume was turned up so high though that we kept wincing and checking each other to see if brain fluid was dripping out of our ears or noses. If it had gone on much longer they might have found us curled up in the fetal position whimpering when they unloaded the bus.

Sounds like fun, no? Thankfully today's trip to Vietnam was much more subdued from that perspective.

- The Cambodian/Vietnam border was "interesting". The Cambodian side was no problem. The Vietnam side has all sorts of fun.

We walked into the office and promptly someone said "passport" grabbed our passport out of our hands and went over to a table. We realized that they were filling in our entrance forms, for a price (in this case $1 each). For those that felt self sufficient enough to do it themselves, they were met with a brush off and in one case what I think was a threat of bodily harm. You'd think we were in Chicago or something. Best part? They were "official", complete with Vietnamese government badges. They hassled me for even looking at mine to make sure the info was correct. Guess that made the decision not to complain about my gender not being checked an easy one.

From there we got to go through three separate checkpoints, one additional bribe (at least we got a receipt for it) and a friggin' x-ray machine. After all that, a well placed duty free shop proved a tempting but eventually unused distraction.

- One final note. After six plus weeks in Laos and Cambodia crossing the border into Vietnam was a shock. Fully paved roads, sidewalks, a KFC and a hot water shower told us we'd reentered "western" civilization whether we like it or not. And to be honest, I'm not sure we do.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Greetings from the beach...

We're currently in Sihanoukville, Cambodia for a few days recharging our batteries before our sojourn into Vietnam. For us recharging equals reading some books, taking walks on the beach and drinking drinks with umbrellas in them. A rough life indeed.

For those of you who haven't checked in awhile, we put up four new posts last week and over the weekend. Feel free to catch up on the fun. For those of you a little more active in reading the site, don't worry; new stuff is on the way. Well, it will be after we stop enjoying the ocean view...

Hope all is well for everyone wherever you may be. More from Vietnam.


(more beach pictures to come.....)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ruminations about the Ruins...

More on our time in Siem Reap, this final installment covering the four plus days spent touring the various Angkor period ruins. Enjoy.

So I considered writing this from a perspective where we gave our impressions and some historical background of the various temples we visited. I then realized that in four days we've visited 13 temples. Yes, 13. In fact, here's the list (in the order of how we visited them) in it's entirety.

Preah Khan
Preah Ko
Banteay Srey
Prasat Kravan
Angkor Wat
Ta Prohm
Prasat Neak Pean
Ta Som
Eastern Mebon
Preah Palilay

Despite the hype around Angkor Wat (pictured, which was definitely very impressive), our favorite temple area was the Angkor Thom complex, and by far the place that struck us the most was Bayon. This is the temple with all the towers with 4 huge faces. We could have spent a lot more time there and just absolutely loved the atmosphere. (At this point we were going to link to a number of really cool photos that we took of the temple and the faces, but those were on the memory card when the camera got stolen....so you'll just have to check here).

In an effort to not bore the living beejesus out of the reading populace (all five of you), I'm not going to talk about all the other temples and our experiences visiting them. If you're a history buff and would like to learn more about any of these sites, check out The Angkor Guide. The guide itself is a bit old but has plenty of useful information. In Part two of the guide there is specific info on the particular ruins.

Instead, I'm just going to add a couple of thoughts and/or interesting facts we learned while visiting Angkor...

- First and foremost, a healthy thank you to Andrew Dennis our great tour guide and the Reverend John Dennis for inviting us along to be a part of the tour. Andrew was a fountain of knowledge (thanks to his time working with the World Monument Fund) and gave us the information necessary to fish for ourselves in amongst the years of history. Now if only he'd quit using his fluent Khmer to tell the sellers "You see the guy in the red shirt? That's Brian. He's rich and he told me he wants to buy four silks/books/trinkets/whatever you're selling."

- Before the trip, I just assumed that being in a Buddhist country that all the ruins were Buddhist in nature. Instead only about half of them are and they were all built in a 40 year period. The rest of the time (about 400 years) and the other half of the temples were built for worship by the Hindu religion.

- Since the Buddhist period of ruins was sandwiched by the Hindu periods, an unthinkable amount of time was spent in the Buddhist temples both carving out Buddha images as well as doing some creative remodeling such as adding beards, crossed legs and some muscle definition to tens of thousands of Buddhas. On the flip side, there is an eight armed Buddha that was formerly a Ganesh.

- Brick v. Sandstone. The construction materials of the temples is an ongoing topic while visiting the ruins. The builders started with brick and over the years went to sandstone, the quality of which diminished over the years. The brick temples are 200 years older in most cases and in significantly better condition. As a result, Angkor Wat (built with lower grade sandstone) looks ancient compared to some of the earlier works. Maybe that's why people like it so much...

- Having the experience of being part of a family picture at Bayon. We'd walked up to start our tour and there was a family of about 25 who were up from Phnom Penh to visit. Next thing we knew Andrew had convinced their photographer to take pics of all of us. It was then that the eldest man referred to us not as balang (foreigner in Khmer) but as white Khmer. Very cool.

- The man v. nature battle that is Ta Prohm. This is the wildest of the sites because of the many trees that have intertwined themselves in amongst the ruins. So far nature is definitely winning. The conservations groups thought it was in the best interest to eliminate new trees growing in the area. Unfortunately in doing this they eliminated the most evident source of future support for the ruins. Eventually the current trees will shrivel up and die, leading to the collapse of Ta Prohm. Despite the ongoing efforts of the conversations groups, no real solution has been found.

- The giant jigsaw puzzle that is Baphuon. The French were in the process of rebuilding the temple piece by piece when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 and destroyed all the plans. Now the French are back at it again. Of course they're doing so while trying to piece together the plans as well. Just a fascinating project. Like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces but with no images on the pieces or box cover to tell you what it's supposed to look like.

- One great story related to the sellers in Angkor. When you step out of a vehicle, they are all over you, selling their very similar wares. Their pitch is usually some equivalent of "Two for one dollar" They're persistent but most of the time a simple no thank you will suffice. However, I had the following priceless exchange:

14 year old Girl: "You want book?"
Me: "Aht te aw kohn" (Khmer for no thank you)
Girl: "You want postcards, silk?"
Me: "Aht te aw kohn"
Girl: "What do you need?"
Me: (wearily) "I don't need anything. I have everything."
Girl: (two thumps on her sternum) "You don't have me!"

And with that she stormed off into the late afternoon sun. I had to admit I wasn't expecting THAT.

- The disturbing lack of an unified conservation strategy for the Angkor Wat ruins. The French, German, Belgian, Japanese, Chinese, Indians and the World Monument Fund (WMF) all have various projects they are working on but no one has taken the initiative to make sure it all is uniform. In fact in talking with Andrew I was amazed at the multitude of different restoration styles used. You'd hope that Aspara (the government based company related to Angkor) would take the initiative but my impression from the ground was they were too busy resupplying the vendors with silk and purses to sell the tourists. This is in contrast to the conservation effort at Preah Khan, where the WMF is in charge of all elements from forestry to architecture to construction and has had a clear vision over the last 10 years of work there. It will be interesting to see how this progesses with the number of visitors increasing exponentially year after year and with it the need for proper conservation.

- Finally, a bit of travel advice. DO NOT visit Siem Reap during Chinese New Year. Way too many people and more tour buses than you can shake a stick at. Andrew did a good job of moving us around to avoid the peak times at various temples but it still was very busy in places. We found one place on our fourth day devoid of tourists (and no, I'm not saying where) and it seemed like a slice of paradise.

We're off now to Phnom Penh in the hope that we don't get shot at or have acid thrown at us while we're visiting uplifting sites like the Killing Fields.*


* Note to the mothers: this only really happens later in the night according to the Phnom Penh Post Police Blotter. We'll do our best to stick around the drug pushers and touts near our guesthouse once it gets dark. So be rest assured we're a-OK :-)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I haven't killed her yet...

"I want to spend every moment of the rest of our lives together"


I have found out there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.-Tom Sawyer Abroad

Yes, these quotes may seem conflicting and a little out of place. I love my wife. And when you find the one you love, what's wrong with spending all your time together?

Then why do so many couples upon retirement find they can't stand to be in the same room together for more than a few hours? Why do people find the excuse of "working late" to avoid having to spend extra time at home with the significant other/family? Where does spending so much time together go wrong?

For the past nine and a half months and counting, we've had a chance to find that out. From when we quit our jobs to today, almost every waking moment of every day has been spent together. Never mind traveling through 17 languages and 22 countries so far; this has been the challenge of the trip. And as the post header says, we haven't killed each other yet.

How have we been able to do it? Such a good question. We have always had a relationship where things happen organically. There isn't a big powwow or lots of lists to make big decisions. Ok, there's actually lots of lists (I am married to my wife after all) but they seem to act as confirmation of the organic discussions. Things just kind of just happen after a lot of smaller discussions. I really believe that this is the biggest reason why we haven't had any major issues. Because of this steady stream of conversation, we haven't had to worry about having small issues get out of proportion over the long haul.

Sure, it hasn't been easy at times with our own foibles being magnified in the gaze of international travel. What with Becca editing my posts after they go up, reading books at a rate no human can keep up with and sometimes letting her Type A+ personality reemerge like a Phoenix at the most inopportune of times there are moments when I feel my sunny happy demeanor being strained. Not to say that I'm a saint; my faults tend to be more in the self punishment/crappy self esteem genre except for when I'm stubbornly insisting on walking places we could get to in a fraction of the time for 25 cents.

How do we handle those bad times? Other than the obvious yet pretty effective answer of communication (still the best answer out there), we've got a few little tools we've picked up over 9 1/2 months to help smooth out the bumpy spots:

iPod Shuffles: In general they've been used a little more in Asia thanks to the long bus rides where reading and writing is an impossibility. Their primary use is to signal to the other that any non-essential communication is now officially on hold until said iPod is shut off.

The Morning Walk: Mostly a me thing but definitely needed for those days that one of us isn't exactly full of energy while the other is bouncing off the walls driving the other insane. Varying energy levels is something typically not thought about on a trip like this. Why? Because when you're at home one of you can go for a run or doing something active while the other sits on the couch and reads a book/watches football. Not as much of an option when you're on the road.

Books: What? Us? Read Books? Always the default when one of us wants some quiet time.

Probably quite a few more but I just can't think of any more due to the triple digits temps I'm currently writing this in. But the short of it is we've done an excellent job of picking up when one or the other is needing some "me time" and acting accordingly. And not being offended when the other decides to take it.

So how do people successfully survive being together? I've mentioned a few of the methods we use but it seems like the key is just being willing to give each other time alone when you need it and continuing to communicate. And being able to recognize the signals that it's time to have that time alone. Mainly, listen to all the clues (verbal and otherwise) and act accordingly.

So to Becca, thank you for being my best friend and being willing to take the plunge together on this trip. I know I'm not always the easiest person to be around; I can be moody, petulant and exasperated all in the same afternoon. Traveling isn't always easy but doing it with you has made it the best no matter how many "good stories" we've accumulated.

And to my wife, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! Thanks for not killing me yet...


Getting by with the help of our friends...

We have had some unbelievable opportunities to get beyond the temples and primary tourist sites during our time in Siem Reap. (Not that the temples aren't well worth the trip here as Brian's temple entry will attest to). Most of these opportunities came because we had the good fortune to meet up with the Rev. John Dennis and his group.

While we have very much enjoyed travelling on our own, it's also really nice sometime to feel a part of a group (and to have somebody else to talk to!) And when they are folks as interesting and nice as our group it's even better. To whit, included in our group was a professional clown who performs in hospitals etc, a retired Seagate executive who is making life better for kids in several Asian countries, the mom of a soldier killed in Iraq (and her two cool siblings) who has made it one of her life missions now to fight the scourge of landmines, a young cancer survivor, a peripetetic minister who has been assisting land-mine victims in Cambodia for years, and my former third grade crush who has worked with the World Monuments Fund restoring Preah Khan (one of the Angkorian era temples) on and off over the last 10 years and so is not only fluent in Khmer, but knows his way around a temple or two.

With this group we alternated touring temples led by super guide Andrew with visiting children at schools, orphanages and hospitals and watching Albert do his magic. We also were able to do several landmine-related activities (yet another blog entry).

All in all, being with this group and participating in their activities brought so much more to our Siem Reap and Angkor Wat experiences. We give thanks to serendipity, and to John and Andrew Dennis for their gracious invitation to join them.


Other notes:

-- Despite our enjoyment of being part of a group for a couple of days, this experience also confirmed our decision to go it alone in China instead of with a tour group. (China was the one place we had been considering getting some help travelling). After 8 months on the road we have definitely developed our own rhythm, and it was difficult to adjust to the schedule and speeds of others. It's no problem for a couple of days, but there's no way we would have survived 4 weeks of it in China without some sort of major incident.

-- Check out the info on the Angkor Children's Hospital. They're doing yeoman's work with little resources and are always scrambling to cover their needs. If you happen to have a new pediatric respirator to donate, John Morgan's your guy. And if you are looking for a bday present for the person who has everything, they are considering offering a hospital for a day. For four thousand dollars you will have a plaque up on the wall honoring you for the day and will be responsible for medical care being delivered to (they will send you the exact stats for the particular day) approximately 250-400 children on an out-patient basis and approximately 50 inpatients. Not a bad way to make a difference on your day.

Landmines on my mind

Before this trip I had always thought about landmines at an academic and intellectual level. I knew that Cambodia had a tragic history with landmines that their people were continuing to pay for on a daily basis and I heartily believed in the equation: LANDMINES = BAD.

But I didn't get it, really get it at a visceral level, until this trip.

My eyes were opened by a one-two-three punch of events. The first was meeting Lynn Bradach. I've already mentioned Lynn in the group post (and you can read more about her here), but in brief, her son Travis was killed in Iraq while clearing mines, and in his memory she has made fighting landmines and the terrible damage they do one of her life missions.

As the Portland Tribune said in the linked story:

"First she persuaded a dozen people to raise money to get rid of land mines in former war zones by running a marathon together. Then she took the more than $30,000 they raised and invested it in the children of Sakream Tbong, Cambodia, who walk through a minefield each day on their way to school. And then she traveled there to present the gift in person. She left behind notebooks and pens for the kids, and a plaque dedicated to the memory of her son, Marine Cpl. Travis Bradach-Nall. The memorial will stand by the flagpole of a new school being built by a Japanese aid group. Before the school can be built, the mines must be cleared, and Bradach's gift will make that happen."

That was a year ago. Now Lynn and two of her siblings (the gentle giant James and irrepressible Katie) were back to see the fruits of her efforts and attend a dedication of the memorial. We were privileged enough to be invited along.

This trip was the second element of the visceral recognition. When we arrived we found 300 children in school uniforms lined up like honor guards along the path from the road to the new flagpole that incorporates a memorial to Travis. As Lynn and Sokhon (who led the mine clearing efforts), followed by James and Katie, walked down the honor path, all 300 kids started clapping. It was an incredibly moving moment to see the children clapping for and thanking this woman who had made such a difference in their daily lives .

The moment then turned incredibly uncomfortable when the organizers called for the other people in the group to walk down the center of the path too. The rest of us didn't have anything to do with the fields being cleared, weren't related to Travis, and in fact had never had the opportunity to meet him. And though at least John had led the trip the year before when Lynn came out to make the commitment and Andrew had guided them then, Brian and I had just met them the night before. We were all just kind of there for support for Lynn and to see the school and field for ourselves and be inspired. We felt very much like a fraud walking down between the clapping children since we hadn't actually contributed anything to the effort. But we each put a flower on the memorial for Travis and added our thoughts of thanks for what his mom is doing in his memory and our prayer for an end to landmines and an end to the killing in Iraq.

The final eyeopener was a visit to Aki Ra's landmine museum in Siem Reap. (pictures for this paragraph to come later.) You can read his full life story here, but basically Aki Ra was a child soldier conscripted by the Khmer Rouge who set many landmines in uniform. Now that peace has come to the country he has dedicated his life to trying to make his country safer and improving the life of land mine victims. To that end he regularly goes out on mine clearing trips on his own using none of the technology or equipment that protects the official mine clearers and he has taken in a number of children who have lost limbs to landmines in other villages and provided them with a home and a chance to go to school. He has created a somewhat strange but compelling museum/exhibit area with all sorts of defused explosives and information about them and their victims. After being out at the school with Lynn (and seeing the ubiquitous landmine victims begging all over town) the experience walking around the small compound, looking at all the mines and ordinances scattered around, checking out the model minefield, watching the documentary on his efforts and reading all the life stories of his kids were the final pieces to bring it all home to me.

I'm not exactly sure how I am going to put this deeper understanding of the evils of landmines to use, other than obviously supporting anti-landmine initiatives. As we get settled back into regular life after our return, I'm hoping to find a way to incorporate action on a number of issues that have become important to me during the trip. Who knows, maybe someday I'll be able to help a group of children the way that Lynn has done.

Each of us doing our little part to act, instead of just talk. That's how things change.


-- Other cool parts of the visit out to the village with Lynn and co. was distributing the notebooks and pens that she had donated to the children and teachers and watching how happy they were with these items, and checking out the kids learning in their new classrooms. Since they don't have textbooks, the teacher writes everything on the board and they copy it all down into their notebooks.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Update from the Wild West

The picture to the right is an artist's rendition of us trying to cross the street in Phnom Penh. (Anyone remember Frogger?) Now on to the regularly scheduled post.

Wild West you say? Is the reason we haven't been posting that we gave up and hightailed out of the Far East? Did all the traveling finally cause us to breakdown?

Far from it. It's just that our current locale (Phnom Penh, Cambodia) feels like the old Wild West towns you'd see in the movies. Well without the active shooting of people in the streets. As far as we know.

In the last three days we've been a participant in a number of blackouts (they roll them through the town at unspecified times because the country doesn't have enough energy for the city), had our camera stolen (thankfully we only lost 4-5 days of pictures) and been losing a good pound or two a day in sweat. Fortunately we haven't seen any of the drive-by acid throwing and cutting of throats that the Phnom Penh Post police blotter had promised. But the one night we were outside after dark we lost our camera. So there you go.

As a result, we've been a bit... preoccupied. Good news for you the reader though is that we're refocused. We should have a number of new posts (including parts 2 and 3 of Siem Reap) going up this week. Look for about one a day for the rest of the week. Pictures will be coming as well though at a bit more of a leisurely pace. Or not at all depending on whether we have another blackout.

Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy. We're off for an uplifting trip to the Killing Fields tomorrow and then to the beach to celebrate a certain someones birthday....