I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, traveling is such a blessing. To be allowed to waltz into a person’s life. To surmise your surroundings with a glance. To take it all in. To smell the flowers, fruit, spices, and sweat of another place. To hear each language, rolling of the tongue, as that casual stringing together of consonants and vowels, inflected by straining vocal folds, tells the story of the speaker. Where they are from. Why they are here. Reflected in the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the tongue they speak, and the way their eyes move to read the faces of others.
In Vietnam, staring is incredibly socially exceptable. Children speak, “hello,” and giggle with pleasure when the same echoes back, pleased to have made the connection between their culture and mine. In the Philippines they speak English so well. But count in Spanish. But speak a language all their own, yet carved out by the legacy of colonists and conquerers long before them.
And so, blessed I have been. Since my previous post I have traipsed across a fair amount of miles. From Vietnam we flew to General Santos (GenSan), in The Philippines. I don’t know why The Philippines needs a definite article, as there isn’t an ‘a Philippines.’ Worse yet, why don’t we just say, Philippines? Why must a country’s name sound so plural when it, as an entity, is singluar? (Although the argument that The Philippines is made up of MANY islands could be made, I suppose.) Needless to say, we went to the southernmost large island of The Philippines to visit a long ago friend of Betty’s (that Erleen knew too). The woman and her family (husband and 2 older children) have been living there for the past 2 years as missionaries. We were their first guests. They had all grown up in Paraguay some time ago and we spent a hefty amount of our time there reminiscing and participating in what we could call “fellowship,” as is beneficial for families who are isolated on islands so many miles from ‘home’ for such a long time. Aside from chatting, we also.. went shopping, visited the tuna capitol of The Philippines (GenSan’s own tuna port), rode in a trike (GenSan’s version of a tuktuk), and hiked back in a remote mountain to visit our hosts’ mountain home and give balloons to happy children. We were in The Philippines for a week.
From there we returned to Vietnam for a night, crashing in a friend’s living room at 1 am (after I proudly found our own taxi ride from the airport and navigated him to the apartment steps using a nearby hotel business card and pointing). We left at 6 to catch our bus to the boarder and on to Phnom Phen (Cambodia). It was a pleasant ride and little did we know, our favorite boarder crossing. In Phnom Phen we found new friends. Krista, Jon and Gloria are all the first (and newest) members of the DNI missions team that is starting (within the past 6 weeks) in Cambodia. Right now they are doing language study. Which allowed Krista the time to lead us around town. First to the night market, for dinner: sitting on rice mats in the center of a block of food carts. Then to sleep in her apartment. Then (the next day) to the Killing Fields, S21 (a torture camp), and the Grand Palace (which was a very different place altogether). All in all, by the end of my second day in Cambodia I had decided I liked this developing nation. One thing that was cool, was that they used BOTH American USD and Cambodian Riel as currency. Often in the same purchase! And despite their tragic past, they were moving forward.
So, we left he next day for Siem Reap, the location of Angkor Wat and (perceptually) the gathering point for all tourists. And so, the swindling began. Food cost more, tuktuk cost more. And we somehow ended up with a frustrating Thailand-Cambodia boarder crossing situation. (more on that later). But. While in Siem Reap we: saw the floating villages, Angkor Wat, and a lot of market places. I guess I’m glad to be able to say that I’ve been there… but Siem Reap is not my favorite place in Asia I think. It’s much too superficial. However, it was our only time we were somewhere entirely on our own, so we didn’t have any personal connections to the place. Plus, we suffered from a lack of information.
For example. We visited Angkor Wat. We were told that this is a massive place that would take a week to view everything. So, I gathered that we would have to skip a few things in order to see the highlights. So, when our tuktuk driver dropped us off at the first temple we 1. didn’t realize it was the main temple, therefore failing to get THE iconic picture we were hoping for (with the water reflection). However, when we asked our tuktuk driver he acted like he didn’t know what water we were talking about anyways. 2. We also didn’t realize that the man offering to be our tour guide would have been our tour guide for the entire temple viewing. And since we didn’t know we were at the main temple, we turned him down, assuming we would get a guide when we go to the ‘most important one.’ Add that to a very warm day. And we magically viewed ‘most’ of Angkor Wat in 3 hours time. So much for a week. Plus. Comically I suppose. Erleen bought a history information book about the temples (in her logic, b/c we didn’t have a guide) for $13. Betty bought the same book outside the temple 15 minutes later for $5.
And finally, the story of our blessed boarder crossing. BASICALLY, we paid for direct bus tickets to Bangkok for $25 each. Once we got to the boarder we got stuck in a long line at the Cambodian side AND on the Thailand side. Our consolation, all the people budging us would still have to wait for us for their bus to leave. So we boarded the songtewl (Thailand’s version of public transportation I suppose), and were dropped at a restaurant. We were told that we had 30 minutes for lunch before heading in minivans to Bangkok. We asked the people at the table next to us for the name of our bus company. “Why?” Mostly because we weren’t too impressed with them so far. But we didn’t say it like that, instead we just told them about what ticket we thought we had booked. “Oh,” she said, “We tried to book a direct bus ticket too, but they were sold out. So, we went to another place and got $10 tickets for a bus to the boarder and then a minivan to Bangkok.” (The same exact route we were on we discovered.) To add insult to injury, the 30 minute lunch break turned into a 3 hour wait in the sun, standing up each time when a minivan arrived, only to be bypassed because we were at the end of the line. Turns out those budging, pushing people in the immigration lines knew what they were doing. They reached Bangkok 3 hours before we did, likely with $15 more than us as well.
But. We did eventually arrive in Bangkok. On the 3rd attempt I found a taxi that agreed to take us to our hotel on the other side of town. The hotel was so nice and the shower so relaxing that we decided that, at the end of the day, it wasn’t worth being mad about our ridiculous day. So we went to bed, slept soundly, and awoke the next morning to make our way to Ko Samet (Samed Island) for 3 days at a resort. A staff lady at the hotel caught our taxi for us, which arrived at the bus station just in time for us to walk on the bus, which arrived at the pier just in time for us to walk on the ferry.. and we finally made our way to the little beach cottage in which we now reside.
And for my first day ever on a resort? I slept in. Free breakfast. Sunburnt before lunch after sitting in beach chairs on the shore with our feet in the waves. Lunch. Finished a book. Games. Dinner. Walk the beach. Games. And frequently repeated, “this is the life,” sentiments (especially before I got sunburnt).
And that’s how I know I’m blessed. It’s hard to believe that in the next week I will be back in the U.S. of A. It’s not that this trip has gone sooo fast. Or that I don’t want it to be over. But that experiencing it has been a blessing. Of that, I’m reminded every day.