When you visit a new place, how do you try to ensure an authentic experience? For me, it’s through public transit. While I certainly don’t accomplish it in every new place I visit, public transportation has provided with me with an inexpensive insight into many new places. That realization dates back to my second international trip when Delicious and I realized how cheaply we could explore Portugal. At that point, budget was one of our top priorities so it was wonderful. A side benefit was that we saw the countryside and met a lot of new people. Since then, I’ve ridden tuk-tuks, subways, trans, buses, junks, motorbikes and boats. It’s my favorite way to travel and, I think, gives me the best exposure to a place and its residents.
When you’re fulfilling your wanderlust, how do you travel?
Book Review of First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
On a recent trip to Cambodia I got to witness it’s rich culture, lush landscapes and delicious, delicious food. At every turn I also saw the remnants of a painful past. I spent a hot afternoon walking through the Tuel Sleng Genocide Museum, having my breath taken away as I walked from room to room, each worse than the last. In one section of the former prison, I walked into a hastily made brick cell and felt so instantly claustrophobic I had to run out into the open air. The pictures, informational plaques and even the conversation, held via hand gestures, with a former prisoner couldn’t help me grasp the genocide that occurred not that long ago.
Later I went to Choeng Ek, the most (in)famous of the killing fields. I walked up to, around and even in the commemorative stupa that had been built to honor the murdered and to hold their remains. Seeing children’s skulls display evidence of so much violence with the cracks, dents and bullet holes broke my heart. Walking through the grounds and stepping on peoples’ bones and clothing remnants that were making their way up through the dirt… Knowing that every year the rains would bring up more remains…. How do people make peace with that? How do they move on?
Loung Ung lived through the genocide and has carried on her life by teaching others about what happened, helping them to survive the atrocities that seems to keep happening around the world. In her memoir First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers she tells of the Cambodia genocide from the eyes of a child. This perspective that makes what happened all the more heart-wrenching but also makes the facts easier to understand. (I use that word loosely, because I can never understand why what happened did, but I want to, need to, understand the facts of what did happen.)
Genocide is such a big concept. The Cambodia genocide was so messy, political, based on a series of events that made it possible. A child’s memory strips out all of the extraneous facts and delivers only what they know. In her memoir, Ung inserts the historical facts necessary to keep her story moving, but she inserts them as dialogue from her father delivered to her. History as would be explained to a small child doesn’t include the political intricacies that make our world so confusing. For this, I was grateful to Ung. Her tale helped me establish some basic knowledge from which I can expand with future reading.
A quick read, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is the kind of book you start reading and don’t want to put down. It’s a great introduction to anyone interested in visiting Cambodia, learning about their history or learning about genocide in general.
Sometimes I feel like there is a hamster living in my head who won’t get off of the damn wheel. He just keeps running and running and things won’t turn off. I lie in bed and and can’t shut down. I need to shut down. So I come up with workarounds.
In the evenings while I watch TV I’ll cut fabric for a quilt I’m working on. Or I’ll color in one of my multitude of coloring books (thanks to some birthday scores). The combination of keeping my head distracted and my hands busy, of using all of my senses at once so that I don’t have time to let my mind wander, that seems to work.
Last week I went on vacation with eleven other people. We went to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic and I had few goals for the trip: have fun, make new friends and strengthen existing friendships and, most importantly, check out. I think I accomplished all three. And thank goodness! On a beach trip back in May I read a lot and got some sun but couldn’t get my head out of work and that sucks. For this trip, I worked uncomfortably fast in the weeks prior so I could go out of town feeling like I was all caught up at my job. Downside, my wrist was hurting for the week from rapid mousing and typing. Upside, I didn’t think about work. At all. Hallelujah!
During our one week getaway, I read only four books, about half as many as I read on a standard beach trip. Despite unlimited food and alcohol, I never felt too stuffed and imbibed less than expected. But I experienced my first foam party, attended vow renewals that had me tearing up because they were so sweet and got to go on a snorkeling cruise / party boat and swim in some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen. I spent dinners laughing at ridiculous stories, stared at the clear oceans waters and enjoyed the luxury that is a midday nap.
This past Fall I visited Nepal with my husband and two friends. It was a jaw-dropping trip in so many respects.The people there were welcoming and friendly and generous. They had so little by our American standards but were thriving, particularly when you look at the country’s recent history. We saw makeshift trams (not the right word but I’m not sure how else to describe them) strung out over valleys so children could attend school. People farmed on the most impossible of land, making food production a possibility in the harshest of conditions. I heard some of the timelines for the building of monuments and parks and it was painfully slow, but it was constant. Slowly but surely, people were moving forward.
And then an earthquake stopped things. It stopped the lives of so, so, so many people. The death toll is more than 3,000 right now and seems to never stop growing.
And the beauty I saw all around me? That has changed too, some of it never to be reclaimed.
USA Today said that “Saturday’s earthquake — the same magnitude as the one that hit San Francisco in 1906 — was 22 times more powerful than the 7.0 quake that devastated Haiti in 2010.”
If I think too long about the people or the things there, it makes me cry. The people… Three thousand people. I can’t wrap my brain around that. The things, certainly not more important than the people, is something I can understand more. It’s simpler. It’s less emotional.
Nepal has the densest concentration of World Heritage sites in the world. When we visited there, we were lucky to see several of them. We stayed overnight in Lumbini and toured the birthplace of Buddha. We visited Chitwan National Park and were able to see some amazing wildlife. In Kathmandu Valley, there are several structures considered to make up that World Heritage Site. So many of those were affected by Saturday’s earthquake.
The seven parts of the Kathmandu Valley National Heritage site include the Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu), Patan and Bhaktapur, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Bauddhanath and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan.
Pictures like this one, of Boudhanath Stupa, suddenly feel precious to me.
Or this one of the Durbar Square of Hanuman Dhoka.
Every now and then I realize that things seem grey. My clothes, the weather, my attitude. In Nepal, Outside, Frankenstein, Wonder Boy and I were constantly commenting on the color. The people wore bright clothes! The signs were bright! Everywhere you looked were vibrant bursts of color!
Holy Man in Kathmandu, Nepal.
A little girl dressed in red, totally matching her environment, in Kathmandu.
Prayer Flags at the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Now this is color! Saris in Bhaktapur, Nepal.
Fierce fashion and even fiercer eye makeup!
View inside the German Buddhist Temple in Lumbini, Nepal.
Prayer Wheels at the Shree Gaden Dhargay-Ling Monastery in Pokhara, Nepal
People at the Tashiling Refugee Camp 50th Anniversary celebration in Pokhara, Nepal.
Man in a Haka Topi in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Brightly Colored Powder for Diwali in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Vendors in Kathmandu, Nepal. Their outfits and their wares are bright!
Fabric for sale in Kathmandu, Nepal. Just try and find a dull pattern.