It's been a long while since my trip to Cambodia and I've held off on writing about my experience for several reasons. Particularly because this was one of the most terrifying yet amazing trips I took this year. Another being that this was my first time visiting the country in which my parents were born. I had been promised by my dad that we'd go as a family when I was younger but those dreams always fell through so that being said, I was already in Hong Kong and Cambodia was a short $60 flight away.
As a lot of my close friends know, I got a high fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit during my Cambodia excursion which lasted 4 days of the (~) 12 that I planned on exploring my parent's home country. Andrew and I started off Cambodia in the south in Sihanoukville and the island of Koh Rong. Sihanoukville was hyper-touristy and I was frequently asked if I needed my underarms plucked. (Hey, some things just don't matter when you are traveling on a budget and schedule!) Koh Rong was glorious - we kayaked, snorkeled and roasted mini crabs that Andrew caught over a bonfire on the beach. Amid all of our fun, we paid little attention to the awful sand flies that kept attacking us in hordes and feeding on our blood. Thinking about it now still gives me shivers. Any bare flesh we had ended up being covered by these sand flies while each smack we'd deliver to the demons wold leave skinny trails of blood down our bodies. There were so many sand flies, I became slightly traumatized by mass flocks of tiny insects and had mini-nightmares when I returned to Hong Kong...but that is another story!
After our little honeymoon-like escapade, we returned to Phnomh Penh, the capital of Cambodia with intentions to see S21 and the killing fields during the Khmer Rouge reign. I really wanted to see and learn about this because this is what my parents experienced as children in Cambodia and then refugees. However, that night we came back I just became exhausted and knocked out early in the evening fully dressed in my dirty clothes. I woke up at around 3-4 am to shower because I felt sticky and dirty and returned to bed. When I woke up in the morning, I was even more exhausted and fatigued. I felt extremely hot and dizzy which I attributed the humidity of the country and assumed would go away after breakfast. Breakfast came and went with none going into my stomach because I lacked appetite and I told Andrew that I needed to lay down for a bit. An hour past and my fever just got worse and worse. Andrew hesitated to take me to the hospital because I didn't want to go to a third world hospital and I am slightly apprehensive of the idea of hospitals in general. Another hour past and I knew I had to go somewhere for help because my fever and fatigue were not improving.
We took a trike to the nearest hospital which ended up being the French Cambodia Calmette Hospital. To my dismay, no one spoke English and only spoke French and Khmer. I understand Khmer a decent amount but I cannot speak it and I became more than nervous as I could understand them expressing how awful of a position I was in without being able to communicate effectively. I had an IV put in and it was one of the most painful medical experiences of my life and I cried. I tried so hard to not cry but I was terrified and there were nurses around me in flip flops and no gloves in the hospital. I thought that if I wasn't going to die from the fever, I would die from the lack of sanitation.
4 days and 4 nights came and went with lots of drugs, care and rest. There were a lot of things I wish I could have foreseen or done about what happened but these are lessons for the future. I am glad I wasn't alone during this all because the rare times I was alone were the times I was most afraid.
If you're reading this, thank you Andrew.
It's time for reflection but I don't know where to begin. I've finally mustered some energy and motivation to put this blog together now that my extreme jet lag is starting to wear away. My body has been waking up at 4 pm Los Angeles time thinking that it is 7 am Hong Kong time.
How do I describe my 6 month experience with anything but a whirlwind? From meeting new friends from all over the world to taking international business courses and learning exceptional amounts of so many different cultures, this is a semester I will never regret and never forget.
I met most of my great friends on a hike to Victoria Peak and they became the people I traveled with time after time...starting with the Philippines and ending with Thailand over the course of the semester. Over this time, I realized how ignorant I was to outside cultures and while I initially blamed this on the educational system with which I was brought up, it really came down to my own minimal self-exposure to the world. I'm so very happy to say that I've learned an enormous amount about myself, life, travel, and what it means to care for others.
I returned home a few days ago feeling ready to return to the reality of productive college student existence and ready to spend quality time with my little brother who I missed the most. It is nice to escape the humidity of Hong Kong and rejoice in the beauty of my temperate LA but while I feel so different and changed, everything back home has remained the same. I cannot say I didn't expect this as I did but it is just peculiar to finally be here and witness it in action.
I'm not sure what day it is but I'm now in Myanmar - it's a seemingly long while since China. I'm waiting for food at the Golden Emperor Restaurant in Bagan just doors from Winner Guesthouse where we are staying with some friends we met up with in Yangon. Andrew has a severe high fever which we speculate and fear is dengue fever. I just got out of the Calmette Hospital in Phnomh Penh, KH, where I stayed for 4 days bedridden with a 40 degree Celsius fever. Unfortunately, it is Andrew's turn for the fever which is terrible for him since he's looked forward to Myanmar the most between us both. It hasn't been the best of luck for the two of us in our three week mini-adventure across SEA. I really hope he does not get as ill as I did. He's currently in bed back at the guesthouse as I wait for takeaway food to bring him. We are considering flying to Bangkok to seek more western and serious medical attention.
To continue, I'm very concerned. I don't have that many days left and I cannot leave Andrew alone in the hospital. If we do go, hopefully Andrew recovers quickly, but as I said, we haven't been the luckiest. Burma may well be the nicest Southeast Asian country thus far. The people are kind and do not (yet) hound you for money nor do they harass you for tours. There are very few tourists since the country just recently opened in 2010. The number of pagodas and temples is just astounding as well - literally every corner you turn! The roads are great for bicycling and our friends said its the best before/during sunrise when were is absolutely no one else on the road. I imagine its just you, your bike and the cool morning air. I hope Andrew gets to experience some of this.
Went for a day of shopping and relaxation in Shenzhen with Judy this fine day. I've already been to China via the Shenzhen/Hong Kong border many times so getting there was a piece of cake. One simply takes the Hong Kong MTR to Hung Hom, hop on the East Rail line to Lo Wu (which is the actual border between Hong Kong and China), and go through immigration. Once you get past immigration, the station becomes Luo Hu, which is the putonghua pronunciation whereas Lo Wu is the Cantonese equivalent. That is when you know you are in China -- you'll also realize this upon being restricted to squatters as your only source of consumption relief. Bahaha. With many months of Asia in our pockets, we knew to bring our own tissue and other toiletry needs that we once took for granted (Hand soap? Check). A great thing about Shenzhen is that the subway system is nearly identical to the Hong Kong MTR. The only difference is the color scheme as Shenzhen's is green and the striking lack of advertisements in Shenzhen when compared to Hong Kong. I suppose it's expected but coming from Hong Kong, the China subway almost looked sterile.
Anyhow, we decided to explore Dongmen Market which we heard was an ideal location for local shopping and cheap finds. This was indeed true but Judy and I found the local market to be a massive sensory overload. Stores upon stores alongside stalls blasting any catchy saying on their speakers. Never have I ever been surrounded by so much neon and nauseating lights. Too much clothes? I thought I'd never say that but yes, we couldn't handle the amount of shoes, socks, dresses, everything, everywhere! We ended up deciding to grab street yums and people watch before heading to our next destination. While wandering about, I stumbled on this gem that I recorded. Real life fruit ninja (sort of) but see the video below and you'll know what I mean. Apologies for the poor quality as it was shot on my outdated Nexus One.
Afterwards, we returned to the Luo Hu Commercial City right at the border and ended up spending the rest of our day there. The summed up in too many shoes purchases, a fascinating drug bust and Judy crying (and occasionally shrieking) during her massage. Good times.
Today is Thursday, May 9th. I've said this many times over the semester but these past 5 months have been nothing less than a whirlwind. I am currently overlooking Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan Province, China on Day 2 of a trek over mountains, rocky inclined paths, and waterfall streams.This is is Day 7 of 9 in this province. Andrew and I have gone through quite a bit of travel starting with flying into the Kunming Airport from Shenzhen (after taking the 3 hour MTR from Hong Kong).
We started off our trip by staying at this interesting hostel/bar called The Hump Hostel in the city of Kunming.
We then took a bus to Dali which turned out to be a beautiful ancient town with lots of character and cheap and delicious food (6 yuan/meal!). We took a half-baked hike to one of the small hills in the area and passed through the remnants of what appears to be a poorly-cleaned night/day festival. Here are some handy bins part of the amenities provided to us by the bus service.
We encountered the Great Wall of China! (Just keeeeeding)
After a couple days in Dali, we took a 2 hour train to Lijiang, another beautiful but very touristy ancient town.
Now that I'm in Tiger Leaping Gorge with some time to reflect, I can't quite perceive life the same way anymore-more specifically how much I struggle with Chinese and Chinese culture. I tend to claim that I have intermediate fluency in Putonghua but I get so nervous and flustered when speaking at times. It doesn't help that my listening comprehension is particularly weak in Yunnan where there is a strong local accent. My strength lies in the more standard Beijing/Taiwanese accent.
中虎跳 has been so amazing and gorgeous with its ridiculous 28 bends and hours of trekking. Admittedly, at some points during the trek inclines I really just wanted to buy a donkey ride. It didn't help that local men followed us up the mountain path on their donkeys early on constantly shouting over, "美女, 你要騎馬嗎? 美女, 累嗎?" Yes, I was 非常累, but Andrew let me take many breaks along the way and was incredibly encouraging. In retrospect, I wish we stayed 3 days instead of 2 so we could have finished the trek from one end to the other. Breathtaking beauty.
We got lost a couple of times since the arrows on the ground are no longer very obvious. Once, we ended up in the front yard stable of someone's home while it was pouring rain. Andrew finally decided to put on his waterproof clothing so there we were in the middle of a stable with a new horse as our friend and Andrew stripping down to his boxers to change. With our stroke of luck, the woman who lived there walked up the path to her house and saw us while Andrew was mid-change. Thankfully she was a nice old woman who told us that we were on the wrong path and redirected us. "走錯, 走錯" became more common on our trek than we would have liked. However, there was always something to see and it was always so rewarding because of the kind locals we were surrounded by.
Had to re-energize some time through the hike with a quick power nap!
And, of course, it was unbelievably worthwhile.
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