Wednesday, June 25, 2008

First Impressions

Jeem riap sua!

After a long day of flying, I finally made it safe and sound! Spending over 24 hours in airports and up in the air was a little grueling, but it ended up a lot better than I thought it would.

Highlights of being en route to Cambodia:
1. Chatting with a sailor and impressing him with my knowledge of the symbols on his uniform (all thanks to matt peden)
2. Making friends with the two 4 and 6 year old Korean kids in front of me on the 17 hour flight from LA to Singapore. I always knew that my origami skills would come in handy some day! :)
3. After watching Charlie Wilson's War and Singing in the Rain, I freaked out the Malaysian guy next to me by starting to cry during the romatic yet horribly sad Japanese film I randomly decided to watch.
4. Meeting a nice Cambodian guy in the Singapore airport. He had moved to New Zealand seven years ago, and this was the first opportunity he's had to make it back to see his family. It was so awesome to get a good introduction to the Cambodian people. He taught me how to write my name in Khmer, and he even gave me his sister's number so that I could call in Phnom Penh in case I needed anything.

Whoa, I've only been here two days and I feel like I could write pages and pages of what I've seen and experienced. I can't post any pictures yet, so I'll just have to describe everything.

There is so much going on at once in Siem Reap that your senses are completely overloaded as soon as you get off the tuk-tuk (pronounced took-took, it's a covered cart pulled by a motorbike..and the main way to get around in the city!). Since I was still in extreme jet lag mode, the first thing that really made me realize that I was actually in Cambodia was the smells. There's the smell of incense as you walk past the Wats (temples), the sweet smell of fruit, and the very very poignant smell of the market where you walk past dangling intestines and still gasping, 2 foot long fish. Since the air so thick here with humidity, all of these are mixed and multiplied by ten.

Even though it is obviously a very touristy town, the whole atmosphere is still very different from anything I've been around. The walk itself to the main part of town is an experience in itself. Part of the road on the way is being "redone"...which basically means they dumped large chunks of stone over it and a man in a steam roller just drives back and forth all day crunching it down. Not only is it really hilarious to try to walk down, driving over it in a tuk-tuk is an adventure! On the way, there are all these stands with adults and their children selling small trinkets or fruit or touristy items. The best part is that there is a school on the way, and you can see the children who are lucky enough to attend running around in their navy pants and white button up shirts. The main town is covered in shops, massage parlors, and bars, and the funniest part is seeing restaurants that are "Mexican" or "Irish". And at night, everything looks completely different because everything is lit up with neon...a totally different feel and mood.

The best part of all so far is the people. I have never met such a gentle and friendly culture!! Everyone is always smiling. The people at our guesthouse are so amazingly friendly and helpful. Today, for our orientation, we were split up into groups to research different topics in the city, and my group''s topic was fashion. Yeah, you can all quit laughing now.. :). Anyways, we walked around the market and asked the shopkeepers questions, and they were so eager to talk to us and tell us about their the styles of clothing and traditions that they have.

The only thing that is worrisome about this place is the traffic. Oh my goodness. There are motos and tuk-tuks and cars and bikes and carts just zooming around everywhere..crossing the street is really stressful, and there aren't a lot of sidewalks. I guess walking around the city is a bit of an acquired skill..

It's also horrible to see how bad the poverty is here. There are constantly kids coming up to you and asking you to buy things, and you can see the older children or their parents watching them around the corner. The worst was when a little boy said "Hey lady, you buy something, I leave you alone." Well, those who know me, I love is so hard for me. I've also seen a couple landmine victims without hands or legs or their faces are disfigured..

The thing I'm looking forward to the most is learning some Khmer. So far, I can only say "hello","no, I'm sorry", and "my name is". There's a girl in our group whose parents are Cambodian and she can speak it a little, and when she speaks to someone, their faces light up. Everyone here pretty much knows enough english that I would be able to get by, but I think I would be missing out on a lot by not at least trying to communicate in their language..The Wat where we're having our classes is so beautiful, and today we talked about the syllabus and class schedule..I AM SO PUMPED TO START CLASSES. I really want to volunteer, but it sounds like the workload is going to be monsterous. I hope that our teacher is exaggerating, because there are a couple centers around here that do things with music and children that I think would be realy awesome to get involved in. :)

No funny stories yet (well, I have funny moments, but they're more of "You had to be there" moments..). Knowing me, that probably won't be the case for long...Well, we were told that women should stay away from the monks because if you accidently touch one, they have to fast for a week or something. Well, they''re pretty common on the sidewalks by the river, so I've been awkwardly trying to stay out of the way..

Wow, this post is really dry and kind of boring, sorry! I am extremely worn is so hot here, and everyone in the group is really bushed. I think I've drank 3 times my body weight in water today..and this place is so amazing and I have so much to say that I have no idea where to start. Hopefully, my other posts will be more detailed and uh..entertaining.. :P

Hope all of you are doing well! :)


Kim said...

I'm glad you made it safely. I love the updates, keep them coming!

Heather said...

I'm glad you're there, safe and enjoying your time!! Keep updating...your stories will keep my summer interesting!

I miss you!


Kevin said...

I love your use of the word "bushed" in the last paragraph. Also, you should go on a monk touching spree. Just run around and touch as many as you can. Just learn how to say "I hope you're not hungry!" haha