Category Archives: Uncategorized

Travel Planning

We are embarking upon unknown voyage of discovery in which anything is possible.  – Roger Bennett 

 

Travel planning is one of the most exciting parts of the whole travel experience. Anything is possible. Nothing is off limits. The anticipation is at its peak. Until the research and pricing is done, possibilities are endless.  I even love airports (on the way to the trip, not so much on the way back) because it is buzzing with excitement and eagerness (and maybe a little bit of fear of flying).

 

I am going to Europe next week to visit relatives in Sweden. We are specifically going to the city of Goteborg, on the southwestern coast of the country. I’m not sure what to expect, and I am leaving all the planning for that part of the trip to my family. 

 

Once we leave Goteborg, my brother and I are taking a high speed train to Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden. High speed trains are something that a country as big as the United States needs to adopt. They are economical, convenient, and downright cool. Especially with the oil prices rising (and oil reserves diminishing), mass public transit is something that America should definitely consider. Granted, I may change my tune once I actually ride one of these high speed trains, but I seriously doubt it. 

 

In Stockholm we are planning on seeing one of the ships from their great empire sank right outside of the harbor. It was perfectly preserved and raised to put inside of a museum. It is called the Vasa Museum. Other than that, there looks like a cool armory from the same time period, but we are only spending a day and a half there so not too much time to do much else. 

 

Next we fly to Amsterdam where we are spending 3 days. We rented an apartment through Airbnb, which I have never done before. I am a little skeptical, but I’ve heard good things so I think things will turn out nicely. I am keeping my schedule pretty clear for Amsterdam because I want to feel the flow of the city and go with said flow and see where it takes me.

 

Time’s a wasting on my dreaming of how the trip will go, so wish me luck!!

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Nostalgia

nos•Ÿtal•Ÿgia [no-stal-juh]

Noun: A wistful desire to return in thought or fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.

They say hindsight is 20/20. That may be true right after the fact, but as time goes on, one can often view the past through rose colored glasses. This is particularly true for me, but I think it is true for most people. As the days and months, and years pass, the details of an experience can fade and only the good or the bad things, the highlights, remain. Many of the events that I talk about are out of the ordinary events, leaving your comfort zone whether it be through travel, overcoming hardship, etc.

“Perfect,’ like ‘happy,’ tends to sneak up on you. Once you find it – like Thomas Keller says – it’s gone. It’s a fleeting thing, ‘perfect,’ and, if you’re anything like me, it’s often better in retrospect” (Bourdain 272).

Flying

Airports and airplanes have always been a source of excitement for me. Whenever I am going to an airport and getting on an airplane it means I am at the beginning or end of an adventure. This sense of anticipation associated with them makes me love to fly, even with the cons of flying, like airport security lines, cramped seating, bad food, delays, etc.

One year ago today I was getting on a plane to fly to Asia. I was filled with excitement, anticipation, anxiety, and a tinge of fear. In all this time I think that my view of that trip has changed drastically. This post is about that feeling of nostalgia.

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I had a tough time while in Cambodia. A bit of culture shock, combined with the food (or lack thereof) and the god awful heat/humidity really took its toll on my psyche. That being said, looking back on the experience now, I would not trade it for anything. The harshness and pain of my time there has faded and the rewards and highlights of the good have remained. This is a basic human evolutionary trait about the fear of the unknown. Nostalgia as a sense of the longing for a former time or place is a testament to the human idea of the comfort of the familiar. While you are in the present, anything can happen, but in the past, things have already happened and there is no uncertainty, no doubt about whether or not you can succeed or thrive.

In my case, the Cambodia trial was something that was hard, but I was able to overcome, therefore I look back on it as a conquerable event, and not something that I am unsure about whether I can get through the ordeal, a source of pride in my accomplishment. This is true with most things in life. I can laugh off the time I almost stepped on a scorpion, my severe dehydration, random crime in the capital, and getting lost in the wilderness of the Cambodian farmland/jungle and worrying about landmines. It’s a funny thing how my brain has trivialized these encounters in the past year.

I almost stepped on this scorpion walking down the road one night. It was the first scorpion I had ever seen.

I almost stepped on this scorpion walking down the road one night. It was the first scorpion I had ever seen.

A large contributing factor to the feelings that I have for my time in Cambodia is the way I left. By the last week of my time there, I had gotten used to much of the shenanigans associated with Cambodia, so it did not affect me too much. However, I did not stay so long as to become miserable again. It was the sweet spot of just getting comfortable (as much as someone like me can in a place like Cambodia) with my surroundings and situation. While leaving was a welcome relief to the sweltering heat, it was a bittersweet departure. I still believe that to this day. Cambodia is a magically different place in a world that is increasingly becoming more and more similar. This experience will stick with me for the rest of my life and make me a much more rounded person. I will not jump at a chance to go back any time soon, but someday I might, if just to revisit the places I have been to chase that feeling of nostalgia again.

To be continued…

I will end on a quote from Anthony Bourdain, one of my favorite public figures:

“I was wondering how a miserable, manic-depressive, overage, undeserving hustler like myself – a utility chef from New York City with no particular distinction to be found in his long and egregiously checkered career – on the strength of one inexplicably large score, could find himself here, seeing this, living the dream.

I am the luckiest son of a bitch in the world, I thought, contentedly staring out at all that silence and stillness, feeling, for the first time in a while, able to relax, to draw a breath unencumbered by scheming and calculating and worrying. I was happy just sitting there enjoying all that harsh and beautiful space. I felt comfortable in my own skin, reassured that the world was indeed a big and marvelous place.” (Bourdain 123-124).

Works Cited:

Bourdain, Anthony. A Cook’s Tour. HarperCollins Publishers; 2001.

First Impressions (Belated Post)

**Note: This post is quite overdue. I wrote it on my phone on the plane back from Los Angeles and forgot about it. Enjoy!

First impressions make a huge difference in the way people perceive things. Hence the phrase: “Judging a book by its cover.”

I remember when I went on a college visit in Michigan. My mother and I stayed at a hotel in downtown Detroit. It was the first time I had been there, and it made a lasting impression. When you walk the streets of a big city, in between all the high rises, you expect to see people walking the sidewalks and cars on the streets. In Detroit, all of those were conspicuously absent. It was like a massive ghost town. It was very unsettling and made me anxious and uncomfortable. This post is about my tip and how first impressions can color things and how they are hard to overcome.

I took a trip in late August to check out two potential cities I might move to: San Francisco and Los Angeles.

San Francisco

After my flight landed in San Francisco, I took the public transit to the city. I get off the train (called the BART) from the airport in the middle of the financial district and that eerie feeling I got in Detroit came back with a flood. The streets were devoid of people or cars. There was no one around except the people that got off the Bart with me. As I walked around, the only people I saw were two or three homeless people for blocks. I had some time to kill before I could check into my hotel, so I explored looking for people in the desolation. The more I wandered, the more I realized that the sidewalks and streets are very dirty here. I realized later that a large part of that is because it rarely rains in San Francisco, so the water cannot wash away the dirt. When the time to check into my hotel came closer, I started heading in that direction. And as I went I finally saw some people, but they were bands of homeless people.

Reflection. The deserted streets and abundance of homeless really put me off in the beginning. However I gave the city another chance and it rewarded me. I realized that the cheap hotel/hostel that I stayed in was cheap partly because of shared bathrooms and Spartan accommodation, but because it is right next to one of the worst parts of town. But that it’s the trade off with an expensive city and a limited budget.

As I explored the city and got to know it better, I realized that it is just like any other city, with its good and bad parts. I happened to be staying in the bad part, which skewed my first impression. With my exploration, came the discovery of the better parts of town; the parts that everyone raves about. I still don’t think I could live there, in part because it is so damn expensive, but I think I would really like the suburbs or the surrounding areas in the valley.

I took a tour bus out to Muir Woods and the coast. After growing up in the Midwest, seeing the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean was stunning. I cannot imagine what Lewis and Clark must have felt when their journey took them here.

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Los Angeles: The City of Dreams… and Nightmares

The conclusion to a couple of the most ridiculous two days of my life:

I fly into LA on Tuesday night and go to the Lego + Belkin launch party of their new iPhone case, with a Lego board on the back. On Wednesday I went to the Warner Brothers studio tour. We looked at all the sets for Conan, Two and a Half  Men, and Two Broke Girls. We then went to the on-site museum where the sorting hat used in Harry Potter sorted me into the Slytherin house (oh no!). I concluded the day with a night that I will never forget. The friend I was staying with, Chris, works for Steve Aoki’s music studio. That night Steve was filming a music video and needed extras. We found out after we got there that the music video included Richard Simmons. The premise was that the headphones teleported Steve Aoki into Richard Simmons for some reason. Now if you asked me for the most random “celebrity” I could have seen while in LA, I couldn’t have even gone that deep into the list of celebs.

Now, not only did we see him, but since we were performing our role as the crowd–A signature thing for Steve Aoki concerts is that he throws a cake out into the audience. So since he was acting as Steve, he threw a cake into the crowd, which I was a part of. Later, Richard dressed up in drag (apparently his thing?) and was walking through the people as we were acting like we were partying for the show. It was a very strange experience.

While we filmed the parts with Steve Aoki, he also threw a cake, and it happened to be on the girl standing right next to me. He also sprayed two bottles of champagne all over the crowd. So by the end, I was drenched in champagne and cake and in state of disbelief that that whole experience had happened. What a couple of days.

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Building a Brew

As I opened the first bottle of beer I ever brewed, I was tense with anticipation, fear, hope, and a sense of accomplishment. So far, so good. There was that white vapor between the cap and the beer, and the nice head after I poured. A good five or six hours of work and a month’s worth of fermenting has all come down to this. My hand is shaking as I bring the frosty glass to my lips to take my first sip…

History of Beer: The Rise of Civilization
Before we get to the results, let’s go over some history of beer and brewing.

The sensation of thirst comes from the second of the three requirements for a human to survive: air, water, and food. As man experimented with different types of food and developed a palette, he had a desire for something other than water to drink. It is common belief that fermented drink was first discovered by nomadic peoples in prehistory. “It might have been from rotting fruit; it may have been from stale honey, or even from suppurating dates, damaged cacti, or festering palm sap. We shall probably never know for certain” (Hornsey, 1). This mind altering substance was a revelation in the prehistoric world, a way to escape the dreary existence that most people lived. It became such a central part of life, that it helped the socio-economic development of early man. “In the light of floral, ceramic, and iconographic evidence, the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages, particularly beers and wines, have played an important role in the socio-economic development of early man, and were fundamental in the emergence of complex, hierarchically organized societies, such as were emergent in the Near East (beer and wine), the Levant (wine), and Egypt (beer), (Hornsey, 5). This emergence helped agrarian societies set up a farming infrastructure that allowed them to pursue other interests. And as the centuries passed, these other interests fueled the rise of civilization and humankind. All because of beer. (Just kidding… but not really).

Through the ages, beer, wine, and liquor has always been in the background. In some places of the world, it flowed more freely than clean water. Beers (I can’t speak for wine or liquor) have had different styles brewed out of the necessity. One such legend (I’ve heard conflicting rumors lately, but it is a generally accepted story, true or not) is about the beginnings of the India Pale Ale (IPA) style. Back in the days when the sun never set on the British Empire, the soldiers and other Brits abroad needed some good English beer. The largest “colony” with the longest occupation, and most demand, was India. So for the beer brewers back in England, they needed to find a way to make the beer last the journey to India. The beers they did make were pretty bland, so they experimented and came up with adding a large amount of hops. That is what helped preserve the beer for the journey, and what gives an IPA its distinct hoppy flavor and aroma. Other types of beers are brewed for certain situations. A light citrusy beer is made for a warmer climate, and a dark, thick, malty, spicy beer is for a colder climate. Beer has evolved over time just like everything else, and it has grown into a huge market with all the craft breweries that are exploding today.

The Brewing Process
This is my understanding of the brewing process from the perspective of a beginner home brewer. It can be broken down into four major days: the brew day, racking into the secondary fermenter, bottling day, and tasting day. (The last one is the most fun.)

The Brew Day
With anything in the brew process, it is extremely important to keep the tools you will be using clean and sanitized. This will go without saying for the rest of this post. I like stouts and porters the best, so that is the type I will be describing how to make. I have only brewed from recipe kits to this date. Now the tools you will need include: a very large brew kettle, a five gallon bucket or carboy, a five gallon carboy, a nice spoon to stir with, and a grain bag. An optional thing that is nice to have (which I don’t) is a wort chiller. This helps to quickly cool the liquid after the boil, called the cold break, which helps the beer have a better flavor and appear clearer. If you don’t have a chiller, you can put your kettle into a sink full of ice.

Now back to the brew. After everything is sanitized you want to get about 2.5 gallons of water heated up to 155°. You want to steep the grains (barley, oats, malt, etc.) for about 20 minutes. This brings out the sugars and the flavor from the grains. It also gives the beer much of its character. Once the grains have been steeped, you need to bring the water up to a boil. Once it is boiling, you need to add the malt extract. This can come in different styles and also gives the beer a lot of its character and flavor. After this is added, the water becomes a thing called “wort” (pronounced “wert”). This is the base of your beer. While the wort is still boiling, you want to set a timer for 60 minutes and add the first round of your hops. These will be the hops that bitter, or flavor, the beer. Some beers require you to add more during the course of the brew, but for this, we will wait all the way until there is ten minutes left. At that mark you want to add the aroma hops. These will (surprising, I know) give the beer that distinct aroma.

Once that 60 minute boil is over, you need to cool the beer down, and fast. This is where the wort chiller would come in handy. But alas, I must settle with a sink of ice. After the beer has cooled down to about 70 degrees, you can pour it into your primary fermenter. What I do, is pour the wort back and forth between the fermenter and the brew kettle to oxygenate the beer. This will help the yeast during the fermentation process. When the beer is oxygenated, you top off the wort with enough water to bring it to the 5 gallon mark. It is here that I want to mention that if you are using dry yeast, then you should hydrate it before pitching. To do that you just put the yeast packet in a cup of warm water and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Pouring the yeast into the wort and giving it a gentle stir. This is called pitching the yeast. (I have no idea why). The liquid is now beer. Seal up that fermenter, with the lid and an airlock to let some of the CO2 out, and you are set for a week. (After the cleanup of course).

Racking to the Secondary Fermenter
Once your first week of fermenting is done, you should rack the beer into your secondary fermenter, usually a glass carboy. This is when you get the first whiff of how your beer is starting to smell like beer. It takes about a half hour with cleanup. After you’re done, you can wait another week until bottling day.

Bottling Day
This is the second longest day of the beer making process. After you sanitize the bottles and bottling bucket (five gallon bucket with a spigot at the bottom), you need to transfer the beer from the carboy into the bottling bucket. But before you do this, you need to prepare the priming sugar. This sugar gives the yeast a power boost of food that naturally carbonates the beer inside of the bottle. All you need to do is dissolve the sugar in some water and boil it for about 5 minutes. The sugar is added to the bottling bucket before the beer, so while you are siphoning the beer, it mixes in evenly. Once the beer is in the bottling bucket, it is time to start bottling. At the end of the spigot, there should be a bottling wand. This wand makes bottling the beer so much better. It is a long tube with a tip that only dispenses the beer when depressed. So when you plunge the wand into the bottle, you press it to the bottom. The bottle should be filled all the way to the top with the wand inside. The wand displaces the perfect amount of beer for that gap between the cap and the beer. A five gallon batch fills roughly 45 beers, or about two cases. Once the bottles are filled and capped, the final part of the process begins. It is called bottle conditioning. The flavors fill out and the yeast carbonates the beer. Only two more weeks to go. (Many stouts and porters become better with age, so if you can restrain yourself, it’s not a bad idea to let the beer age a little bit).

The Taste
And now, the moment we have all been waiting for! My first sip. A month’s worth of work, my homemade chemistry experiment, it all comes down to this. I don’t even wait for the beer to get cold, my pulse is racing, anxiety building, I take my sip.

“Hello.” (take a look at the color and clarity)*

“How are you?” (Smell and identify the flavors)*

Sip.

….

..

.

It is fantastic! (Not to be modest or anything) a nice roasted flavor comes shining through. The beer is nice and creamy with a good mouth feel. (Now this beer was from back in May, so my flavor characteristics may not be the best.) The best part about drinking a home brewed beer, other than the quality of beer, is the sense of accomplishment with each and every sip. I love sharing my beer so that other people can see that they too can make high quality, tasty beer.

References

Hornsey, Ian. (2003). A History of Beer and Brewing. Royal Society of Chemistry.

* http://tv.esquire.com/shows/brew-dogs

I Draft, Therefore I am

Rene Descartes quote was used before its time I think. He was really talking about our fantasy football league this year. His actual quote:

“Accordingly, seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us; and because some men err in reasoning, and fall into paralogisms, even on the simplest matters of geometry, I, convinced that I was as open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasoning’s I had hitherto taken for demonstrations; and finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects (presentations) that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the skeptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.” -Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method (1637).

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Now what I think this means in our context is that these teams do not really exist, they are figments of our imaginations. Conjectures of our own personal realities. They are singularly ours. And in this sense, we have attached our thoughts and our projections onto this team. This “sport” of fantasy football is in its own way a philosophy. It totally changes the way we watch, take in, and perceive football and its coverage. It changes from a team sport to a group of disparate individuals. However, each of these individuals have a personal meaning to us. We have built this “team” from the ground up, selecting every single person from a pool of hundreds. Sure, we like some better than others, just like some seasons fare better than others, but that’s representative of people we know and the lives we live.

All this talk of Descartes has me thinking of cart”es”ography (see what I did there?). Now, cartography is the study and practice of making maps, and a big part of that is topography. The topography, or landscape, of football has changed. Out with the old and in with the new. The youngsters have taken the NFL by storm, making it more exciting than ever before.

Enough philosophy, how about a little overview of the draft? After some last minute shuffling, we ended up all getting together in the hotbox that is Shannon’s swank pad. We lost a member, the one of the red pants, so it was only the four of us crowded around a table. We had a new format for the draft this year, which was fun. However, with all of us sitting at the same table and outbidding each other it got a little contentious. It was also funny how after the draft, the men and women settled comfortably into their gender roles: Meg and Shannon gossiping, and Tom and I slaughtering some N00bs in Halo. It was a good time, like always. I have two observations in retrospect about the draft though: 1) I set the kitty too high since we all ended up with way too much money to spare; and 2) with just four of us, we could make the draft soooooo much more fun. We could do offline drafts with big dry erase boards, and even theme each year’s draft.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LbXIEmXnvg

Either way we will prevail as a league for a long time to come.

I’ll talk a bit about my team now. It would be named the Tight End Bonanza, but I like the picture I have just too much. (My stud tight ends are on the block for any interested… and if not, I’ll just start both). We’ll start with QB: Peyton. I’ve never had Peyton before, and I have that foreboding feeling that it will result in his doom. But in the meantime, we can rely on some gems like this during training camp:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mp59nuBwIg

We also have my boy CJ Spiller, who I have on all my teams. He had a breakout year last year and I expect his rise to continue. This will be helped along by the rookie QB (although EJ looked good) and the fact that his offensive coordinator has stated to the press that they are going to give the ball to CJ until he “throws up.” That should be great news for his fantasy numbers.

I also have AJ Green, in fact, I also have another CJ (Chris Johnson)! New team name is Two CJ’s and an AJ..or Triple J. By the way, Chris Johnson was a steal at $1. I didn’t like it at first but as the weeks go by I think he’ll do much better this season. Another steal was the increasingly healthy RGIII off waivers. I’m still hesitant about my team, but things are looking better and better:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX5jNnDMfxA

 

[Addendum]

Things are looking dire……

0-6

0-6

 

 

Cambodge

How to approach this topic? I don’t want to seem biased or make any harmful judgments. It is for this reason, (and procrastination) that I have taken so long to write this post.

The later part of my time in Hong Kong saw my culture shock diminish as I got used to the differences. However, in Cambodia (and very briefly Thailand), the culture shock I experienced was much more intense. While the Hong Kong’s shock lasted about a day and a half, Cambodia’s lasted two weeks—actually more, I am still not totally adjusted after three weeks, but it is significantly better now.

My first couple weeks here were a major struggle. I left from weather that was about 10˚F with very low humidity, and came to 95˚F with VERY high humidity. As someone who does not deal well with heat in the first place, this was difficult to deal with. However, I expected to have to battle heat, but I was not expecting the horrible humidity. Even just sitting in on my bed with a fan going full blast directly at me could not stop me from sweating. I woke up in a pool of my own perspiration every morning, assuming I actually got to sleep at all—which was not very often and never for long. Thinking straight was harder because it felt like my brain was melting. I told myself that I just needed to wait till my blood thinned out again and it would get better. But the feeling of constant filthiness (which will always make me grumpy), heat exhaustion, and dehydration broke me down that first week. This was largely in part because since it was my first week, I did not have any regular duties to perform to take my mind off of how uncomfortable and miserable I was. I just stewed in my desolation and had no relief.

Nothing here works well and everything is inefficient. In my three weeks so far, the power has gone out twice. Each time was for about 3 hours. As if it wasn’t bad enough when the power goes out, so do the fans and my laptop (I brought my old shitty one with a 5 minute battery life). It starts to get sweltering hot in the house, and with candles lit it becomes even worse. I was dripping sweat into my own meal during dinner. People are also working on Cambodian time. Every day they take a 3 hour lunch from 11-2. This is unbearable to me, coming from America where half the time I would work straight through my lunch. Appointments are the same way. I was waiting in the house for a carpenter to bring some bunk beds; he was due at 2 o’clock. 3:30 rolls by and still no sign of him. He finally shows up at 4, two hours late. It is like this with everyone.

On top of the weather, the whole area is extremely poor. Now this is sad and I am not trying to seem like some stuck up American and belittling the people for not having much, but while I walk around and get stared at all the time, I feel embarrassed. I cannot control where I was born, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. Being stared at all the time makes it very awkward. Part of my internship is to go out to the poorest area of the district and interview families to determine their ability to run a business with as potential grant recipients. Therefore I see the worst of the worst situations. Some of the children out there have never seen a white person before and there were varying reactions. They ranged from terrified and running away, to grabbing my arms and legs and stroking my “pretty” white skin. It was very uncomfortable. This part didn’t surprise me too much, when my family and I were in Beijing, we were stared at constantly. I also thought I had seen poor neighborhoods before, but nothing compared to this. Even with the widespread poverty, everyone seems in good spirits and is timid, but friendly.

One of the grant families

One of the grant families

A nicer street

On a quick social structure and history tangent, I think that the Khmer Rouge Era really messed up all of the countryside as well as the country as a whole. The genocidal lunatics killed all of the people who had any sort of brainpower and sent everyone else into the countryside to become farmers. Pol Pot (the Khmer Rouge leader) had some sort of deranged agrarian society dream, but instead of using the rice to feed his people, he sold it all to China in exchange for guns to fight the Vietnamese. I think that the reason the people in the countryside are so poor is because the repercussions from this time are still being felt to this day. People always remember the Holocaust and the havoc wreaked there, but this was almost as bad and took place 30 years closer to today.

But back to the topic, it was like I had died and gone to a burning hell. I was about to just quit and go home, I was so miserable. Thankfully, the group was planning a trip to Phnom Penh the first weekend I was there, so I had an escape. We went out and saw the children’s school that was turned into a political prison and torture camp. Then we went out to the Killing Fields where the Khmer Rouge held more prisoners and (obviously) killed them. Very uplifting stuff. On the way out to the Killing Fields, my friend Ollie and I stopped at an old military base where they have a bunch of guns that people can shoot. We both shot a clip from a AK-47 and then I fired off 100 rounds from an M60. I’m glad that we did this before seeing the Killing Fields because it was quite a downer and would feel very inappropriate to go shoot a bunch of machine guns. Granted, most of the victims were not killed by guns, but still.

After my first two weeks, things started to get much better. Four more volunteers came the next weekend: three really nice (and pretty) British girls and one 17 year old dweeb from Colorado who I would have to live in a tiny room with. This last week was very busy as I had to interview 14 more families and help administer business training to people who have already been selected to receive grants. Since I was so busy, and the house was livelier, I was able to keep my mind off of the heat and any other problems I was having. I also just stopped caring about being hot and sweaty all the time.

The other night I was talking to Kim and Charlotte, the local coordinators. They expressed how happy they were with my work here, the way I conduct myself, and the ease with which I have spent my time. It was by no means easy for me, but as local coordinators, they have enough problems so I did not want to add on to them by being a pain in the ass.  I apparently have been the volunteer that has complained the least. They even jokingly said they want to steal my passport and kidnap me to make me stay. After my first week here they weren’t too sure I would make it as well as I did, but I overcame the adversity and made the best of my time here. It really makes me happy to hear this because I really was having a tough time and I wasn’t sure I was doing any good. Kim and Charlotte are good people. They work really hard under difficult circumstances and do good work here.

The day after tomorrow I will be heading back to the United States. The temperature is supposed to be -2˚ when I get back. Another 100˚ swing on the way back. I’ll be happy to not be sweating all the time. It will be sweet to go back to civilization and cool weather. But it will also be bitter that my journey is over and I will leave this place and probably not see any of these people for a long time (if ever again). I think that this experience has made me a better person in the end and I am glad that I fought through and didn’t give up after that first week. See you in a few days United States!

Thailand to Cambodia

My arrival procedure was to fly into Bangkok and take a bus from there to the Poi Pet border of Thailand and Cambodia. This was quite an adventure. By myself, with a huge duffel bag and a large backpack and an idealistic attitude. Once I crossed the border, I was to be picked up by the local coordinator and driven to my final destination is Battambang.

Once I landed in Bangkok and make my way through immigration, I needed to take a cab to the Ho Chi Mit Bus Terminal. I had to really hassle with the cab driver to get him to only take me to the bus terminal. He was basically begging me to have him drive me to the border. Eventually I get to the station and am confronted by totally different languages and culture than anything I have ever seen before. To quote Bill Bryson:

“That’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You cant read anything, you only have the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.“

I had to wander around the bus station for quite a while before I was able to get my bearings and find the window I wanted. I get a ticket for the border and wait a while till the bus is ready to leave. I am finding the heat much warmer here than in Hong Kong. Thankfully, the bus was air conditioned. Sure it smells like fish, but that is a trade-off I am willing to make.

While sitting on the bus waiting for departure, I was reading my book, Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. A white man and his wife/girlfriend (backpackers by the looks of them) walk by and he says how the book is very good and he has a copy in his bag. It is always nice to show some camaraderie on the road. It seems like he is living the vision expressed in the book.

From the bus

From the bus

My impressions of Thailand from out the window of the bus (not very authentic, I know), are that it looks a bit like Florida, but maybe after a hurricane and with mountains in the background

After the six and a half hour bus ride (only supposed to take 4 hours), we get off at near the border. As soon as you step out, you are swarmed by locals offering things. I make my way past them and grab my bags, only to realize that I have no idea which way to go and there are no signs around. I spot some westerners from my bus walking confidently away, so I take a chance and start to follow them. My gamble paid off, as they were heading to the border as well. I catch up and talk to them as we go and find out they have already acquired visas too, so we skip the super long lines to head to Thai exit immigration. There is only one line, so I let them go first since they were nice enough to show me the path. We part ways here and exchange words of good luck.

Now this is the first time I have ever crossed a border on land (other than driving to Canada, but that hardly counts), and I always assumed that it was basically just a line in the sand with officers checking passports and such on either side. At this border, that is not the case at all. There is like a no man’s land in between the border offices that is filled with casinos and all sorts of other stuff. I was quite baffled by this. As I walk out of the office, I get swarmed again, but this one man is really persistent. I start explaining to him that I’m getting picked up and don’t need a ride, when he says, “wait are you an American from Chicago?” Taken aback, I say yes, and he says he knows the guy who is supposed to pick me up. Now I am skeptical of this, but he takes me across the street to a man who asks the same thing and when I say yes, he goes, “Oh you must be Tim Hanlon! I was sent to meet you here and take you through the Cambodian side to the car!” I’m relieved. Most of the signs were not in English and I would have had some difficulty finding the other border office without this guy’s help.

I make it through and find the car (the driver had sent this guy to find me and help me get to him), in which myself and another volunteer–who was there to renew her visa–head to Battambang. After that all-day fiasco, I had planned on sleeping in the car. But driving in Cambodia is absolutely insane. There are tons of scooters and motorbikes on the roads at all times, and the car would get so close to them that if I wanted to, I could roll down the window, reach out, and squeeze someone’s brakes if I wanted to. Almost everyone drives recklessly. For example: passing on the narrow roads with just a few meters to spare from getting in a head on collision. We almost died a few times. It is safe to say that I got no sleep in the car.

We finally arrive at the volunteer house at 8pm, just 16 hours after I began the journey that morning. But I have finally arrived to my home for the next month.