Thursday, October 17, 2002

"Cockroaches In Cambodia"
Thursday, October 17th, 2005
Phnom Phen, Cambodia

Greetings to all of you!

We've made it safely through Cambodia and have reached the final leg of our trip...Travelling from fall/early winter in the Himalayas of Nepal straight into the heart of the tropics was a shock to our systems. When our plane touched down in Siem Reap, Cambodia a sudden thought hit me that had escaped my attention entirely until I saw the swamped ricefields:
I hate the tropics.

Stepping into the searing heat and humidity of Cambodia is like eating a dozen glazed donuts then sitting in a sauna with a sweatsuit for days on end. Heavy and sickening.

It looked like the country was made of H-2-0 entirely and we were landing in waterworld until we spotted the houses on stilts (that weren't yet underwater) and all the palm trees and taxi drivers waiting to kidnap us and take us to the hotel of 'their' choice.

We quickly befriended two American guys (don't worry sweetheart...not nearly as cute as you!) who kept us laughing for several days through our explorations of the temples. The Khmer Empire was one of the greatest civilizations in all of Asia from around 900-1200 a.d. and created a network of temples that rival the pyramids of Egypt and the ruins of the Roman and the Mayan Civilization. And it was bloody hot when they built them, too.

It was driving through the countryside through the rice fields past the houses on stilts and small villages that we enjoyed the most. Our driver "Ban," (thanks for the suggestion Peter!) stopped for an impromptu lunch in a town with a school, two oxes, a bike and a half (missing the seat), and several kids playing with blue balloons. Within half an hour we realized they'd never seen a woman had met an African man years earlier and confused "African" with "American" so deduced that all Americans were as dark as the night. She was mesmerized with my mother's blue eyes. Within 45 minutes the entire village was lined along the dirt road watching us eat our rice and chicken as we watched them. We began to make faces. We began to get strange ideas. "Now, who are the monkeys?" are friend Ren laughed.

Within an hour, through some strange American logic, the 4 of us decided that we owed these kids and their mothers some sort of a performance, seeing as how we were the first foreigners they'd ever met.

I have no idea what happened next but mother and the American guys were shoving me into the center and I was rapping "Salt n'Pepa's" song "Shoop"...."Here I go, Here I go, Here I go again. Girls what's my weakness?!." The kids were absolutely blank.

They warmed up when I started to dance (picture a dirt road, rice paddies, a few very confused oxes, and a bunch of kids and women standing around barefoot against two rusty bikes) some hip hop moves (Hirschegger, you would have been proud!). One particularly fiesty Cambodian woman took it upon herself to mock my moves which the kids really loved. The whole village was clapping and cheering in absolute delight. The rest is a blur.

The kids took a turn singing for us, several were all lined up on a row of little plastic chairs, with full grins and giggling. The four of us couldn't figure out any songs we all knew the words to so we resorted to singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with my mother and I doing all the callbacks and motions that go with driving Santa's sleigh.

We've left behind the legacy of a small Cambodian village who thinks that all Americans dance hip hop and sing Christmas Carols. But we did it in style.

In the late afternoon we headed to the last temple set in the jungle "Indiana Jones"-style. The movie "Tomb Raider" was filmed nearby. We had to hire an extra guide to take us on the appropriate footpaths through the jungle to avoid the landmines still present. For the first 15 minutes, the 4 of us followed him in a line like a row of ducks. Timidly. It was a sobering experience and a reminder of the horrors the Khmer Rouge govt. has left for its people.

The next night, mother and I celebrated our stay with a giant feast at a Cambodian restaurant filling our guts on pork crepes, rice rolls, spring rolls, fried noodles, weird shaped fruits and dumplings filled with anonymous meat.

We made the mistake of topping off the meal with a cockroach each that we bought from a streetside vendor. (How could we pass up the opportunity to eat cockroaches?!). Some Cambodians munch on them like popcorn so we thought we should give them a try. Yes, they were full-grown 1.5-2 inch long black, oily cockroaches that we chewed on and swallowed with eyes, legs, and crunchy carcuses. They weren't so bad...crunchy and a bit fleshy in parts.

After a 5 hour river boat trip the next day (we sat on the roof for the whole trip cause it's a death trap if the boat sinks --which they do--and you're inside), I wasn't feeling so good.

I spent the next 9 hours experiencing "Extended Liquid Expulsion" which had me staring into the spokes of our ceiling fan and the very bowels of our toilet wishing for better days. Agonizing. I figured it was either the Pork Crepes or the Cockroach which did me in. We consider ourselves lucky however, that in two major trips to Asia and eating lots of street food and sketchy restaurant food that this is the only sickness either one of us has ever had.
Mom was a champ and sat by my side murmuring encouragement to me and letting me hold the remote control for the t.v. whenever I had just finished running to the bathroom to puke my brains out.

What better way to recover from a day of food poisoning and lingering nausea than to visit the Killing Fields and a museum dedicated to Genocide. Tough day. I have so much to say about the incredible resilience of the Cambodian people and their ability to look forward with positivity and tenacity. We were brought down incredibly by the sight of the fields where 9,000 men, women, and children's bodies were bludgeoned to death and the Tuol Sleng museum where nearly 14,000 Cambodians were tortured and eventually sent to their deaths.

The Khmer Rouge regime, headed by Pol Pot, was one of the nastiest and brutal governments that the modern world has known. The genocide of their people (anywhere from 1-3 million Cambodians were killed between 1975-1979) rivals and sometimes eclipses the Holocaust and the genocides that have taken place throughout the past century. I look forward to being able to share more history with you all later this winter.

We've arrived in Bangkok and have become immersed in the backpacker culture of the Khao San Road. This morning we feasted on a bowl of black sticky rice with warm coconut milk, fresh mangoes, bananas and toasted sesame seeds. Another bowl of noodles with vegetables and peanut curry sauce. Life is rough. We've explored local temples but have really focused on the important element of this last phase of our trip: shopping.

I want to say that Mother has been the penultimate travelling companion, friend, sister, and mother to me on this great adventure. From Everest Base Camp at 18,000 feet to the sweltering tropics of the Khmer Empire Temples of Cambodia, we've done what we came here to do. Enjoy ourselves, challenge ourselves, learn a little bit along the way, take a heck of a lot of photos for slideshows for you all!, and continue to love each other as deeply as we do now.

I want to add that so many of these stories and the photos we've taken wouldn't be worth it at all if I didn't have you all to share them with when we return. The thought of more slideshows is what drives my camera and the thoughts of sharing these stories and these experiences with all of you is what fills my heart on so many occasions during this journey.

We hope you are all well and we can't wait to be home again and share all of this. We're comin' home!

See you all soon!