After my adventures in Laos, I was in dire need of a home. A place to unpack, a place to call my own for more than two nights, and a family to spend time with. On the way to 4,000 islands (officially called Don Det), I met a fellow traveler, named Dan, who had the same intention for Don Det. Our Lao Visa's both expired on the same date and we both wanted nothing more than to do nothing for a few days and play guitar. It turned out that Dan was an incredible guitar player, and I spent the next week receiving advanced guitar lessons. He taught me chord theory, cage theory, pentatonic scales, major scales, circle of fifths, inverted chords and all sorts of other techniques. Our guest house was filled with our "family"and it was my, somewhat over-sized, balcony that was used as the "hang out" spot, partly because of the music and the view, but also because Dan and I rigged about 8 or 9 hammocks so that all of the 'residents' had a place to relax
. My time in Don Det was exactly what I needed, and by the time my visa was about to expire, I was ready to move on. Unfortunately, because Don Det is so remote, there are no ATM's and no Banks. So the money that I arrived with had to last until I left for Cambodia. By the time that it was time to leave, I did not have enough to pay for my Guest House. So I grabbed my strings and pendants, went to one of the bars and before long I was busy making bracelet after bracelet for other travelers. I was selling them for dirt cheap and making a new one every half hour or so. I was literally up all night to satisfy the queue of orders, and I still had to let a few people down. The demand for custom made jewelery was so high. I ended up making just over $20 which is a lot of money to make from other budget travelers. Suffice it to say, I made enough to pay for my Guest House. The next morning, we packed and made our way into Cambodia. A country that truly tested my resolve to continue my travels.
Cambodia is a beautiful country with incredibly friendly, positive people. However the true state of affairs and Cambodia's not to distant past leaves a bitter aftertaste. I have never seen such a disparity between the rich and the poor. The wealthy here are so unbelievably rich, and the poor are as equally unbelievably broke. The country is set up so that the capital, Phnom Penh, is the center and the starting point to get anywhere
. So Phnom Penh is where we started, spending a few nights in this town was interesting. Nights hanging out and sharing $0.50 rice wine with broke tuk tuk drivers was offset by nights getting driven around with Cambodian bourgoise and catered to by clubs strikingly reminiscent of the style and quality one would expect to see on Sunset Blvd. I did some sight seeing here, viewing one of the centers of torture left behind from the recent Cambodian genocide dealt by the Khmer Rouge, brought to power as a result of another American secret war. The center seemed to represent George Orwell's "Ministry of Love" depicted in his book, 1984. A place I thought could never exist, but did. A place that I would imagine would instigate severe international response, but didn't. Even now genocide and terrible crimes against humanity occur all over the world, and other than a few facebook groups popping up every few months. There is not much being done about it. I suppose we are to busy spreading our unwanted political ideology in the Middle-East to worry about saving lives. In a few decades, the only thing left in places where genocide is present will be a museum, like the one I saw in Cambodia, and another important lesson ignored by the international community.
After Phnom Penh I went to Sihanoukville. A beach town on the Southern Coast of Cambodia. This was the spot where I had planned to spend my birthday, and a number of my friends were coming down there to celebrate with me
. The town was what one would expect of a touristy beach town. There wasn't much relaxing on the beach with all the extremely persistent vendors pestering each person. I enjoyed the beach for a day and then I fell ill. A high fever struck me on the day before my birthday, it broke overnight and I went out to celebrate with my friends. I paid for it and relapsed, spending the next week in bed. As I slowly recovered I went to Siem Reap to visit my cousin and explore the ancient Angkor Wat ruins, one of the wonders of the world and, by far, the biggest Hindu/Buddhist monuments on earth. It was here that I was pickpocketed by a group of children, lost far to much money as I had just gone to an ATM, lost all of my credit cards, all of my debit cards, my drivers license, and with that, lost any ability to withdraw funds. I needed to get money wired to me asap, unfortunately my passport was in Phnom Penh pending a Vietnamese visa, so I had no form of identification to claim a transfer. I was completely screwed. For the first time in my life, I was hungry and I was thirsty, and it wasn't the type of hunger that I could fix. I couldn't cook. I couldn't go and buy food. I just had to sit and be hungry, there was simply no other choice. Fortunately, I was here with friends and when I found them in the late evening, they lent me a few dollars to take care of myself, and pay for important phone calls to rectify my situation. I spoke to a friend on facebook and told them of my situation, they explained to me that that is why they decide to live in their bubble, because while they like to think that everyone is inherently good, they find that they are not and prefer to surround their world only with people who are good
. While I understand their logic, I am inclined to disagree that the answer to living the 'good life' is to stick one's head in the ground and pretend like it's not happening. In most cases, it is nurture, and not nature that results in a person's immorality. Everyone, especially those who enjoy the good life, have a moral responsibility towards humanity to help and make a difference, and if not, at least to acknowledge the people who are less fortunate. When my wallet was stolen, I felt so violated, I wanted nothing more than to stay in my room and ignore every local who walked by me. But I forced myself to look at the situation with compassion. If I went bankrupt, I would always be taken care of. I would always have friends or family willing to allow me to sleep on their couch, or give me some food. I would never starve and I would never have to sleep on the street. Chances are, most people reading my blog also have such friends, family, or business associates who would help them in a dire situation. Then I imagined a case where I didn't have any friends who were in any better position than myself, my family had all been tortured and murdered in a vicious genocide. I Imagined that I was the last generation alive. It was only after meditating over this, that I was able to understand where the child was coming from. It does not make what he did okay, but I do understand his dire situation and the unfortunate circumstances that led him to do what he did. Unfortunately as a result of the poverty of this nation, beggars and thieves are everywhere. They often stand in front of international shops to prey on travelers. They know exactly how to play with the emotions. Usually they have some sort of new born baby, which they rented from another poverty stricken mother for the day for a dollar, they go up to travelers, but they know better than to beg for money. Instead they beg for food, or milk for the baby. Upon buying it for them, they will promptly return it to the store, take the money and gamble it away hoping for their big break
. It is rampant across Cambodia and it is posted everywhere to not give money to beggars, if one wishes to donate, there are plenty of charitable foundations that provide alternative means of living for the poverty stricken of Cambodia. Giving money or food directly merely perpetuates the problem, and now, because I dropped my guard and allowed to have my wallet stolen, the child who stole my wallet will be a beggar and a thief for the rest of his life, because he now knows that his 'line of work' provides a substantial income. As travelers, we have a responsibility to help, and not hinder the progress of this country, and as citizens of a first world country, where the poverty live like kings in comparison with the state of affairs over here, we have a responsibility to acknowledge, help, understand, and certainly not hide from the sad and unfortunate reality. It is that mentality, the idea that the answer to a happy life is to stick one's head in the ground which is why situations like mass murder and "war rape" occurred and/or continues to occur in Cambodia, Darfur, Congo, Rwanda, East Timor, and many other countries across the world. It takes more than a facebook group to make a difference.
After Siem Reap I made my way towards Phnom Penh, my big plan for Cambodia was to do an extensive 10 day trek into the Jungles of North East Cambodia, I had been looking forward to this for months and I was very excited
. It was somewhat of a birthday present to myself and I saved the best for last. After asking tons of people, I finally found a partner crazy enough to do it with me (it is way cheaper with two people). We booked our bus ticket for Ban Lung, and both excitedly went to sleep after planning our trek. That night I woke up with a very high fever, a severe headache and the worst intestinal problems I have ever had. I knew that it was the same sickness that I had in Sihanoukville and because it had been to long to be a relapse, it must be something more severe. With extreme regret, I had to back out of the trek. I made my way to the hospital and spent the weekend there taking care of my parasitical infection. About 400 games of solitaire later, I am finally being discharged today, unfortunately because of a few 'oversights' by my traveler's insurance, I am stuck here with the hospital holding on to my passport until my insurance gets their shit together. My visa in Cambodia expires in 5 days, minus 2 days required traveling there and traveling out. It doesn't look like I will get to trek. However, I am forced to make the 10 hour journey to Ban Lung anyway since it is where I arranged my replacement cards to be shipped. I am hoping that the Guest House I selected decided to hold on to what probably looks like junk mail. Immediately after that I will probably have to go back to Phnom Penh to get a bus to Vietnam.
Cambodia has truly tested my willpower and my resolve
. For the first time in my travels, I wanted nothing more than to be in a place that was safe and modern. However, no matter where I am, life always happens. I am so lucky that my wallet was stolen in a modern town filled with my friends, and I am extremely lucky that my illness took a turn for the worse during the 12 hours that I was staying in the capital in between bus rides. If my fever resurfaced two days later, I would have been in the middle
of a jungle hundreds of miles away from any modern hospital. The truth of the matter is, it could always be worse, and in the end, it will just be another good story. Once I get out of the hospital, hopefully before tomorrow, I will get a bus to Ban Lung and cross my fingers to get a new debit card, after that I will be heading to Vietnam where I will begin planning my trip into India where I plan on studying to become a Yoga Instructor by the same organization my mom studied under decades earlier. The last few weeks have been anything but fun, fortunately, there is only one direction I can go, and that direction is forward.
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