Archive for the ‘Other stuff’ Category

“We Need Your Ticket Number”

posted by Megan Swanson
"We need your ticket number."
"Honey, we need your ticket number."
"Call them and say you need a ticket number."

I did not and could not after calling Korean Air, Delta reservations and 7 people at
Priceline.com, find the correct ticket number. The tickets were lost in the abyss of what
is the Roswell, Ga. post office while I harassed my way to a Priceline voice that told me
it was my fault. “Miss Swanson we cannot find your ticket number and we cannot do a
thing about it.”

After several threats against Priceline, their staff and their non-existent customer service,
I folded, bought another ticket and drove home to leave five hours later for the Atlanta
airport at four in the morning. I would claim my rightful ticket hop on the first leg of
my flights to Cambodia via Detroit and Seoul, South Korea and stare out the window,
watching Atlanta fade behind my plane, and in my mind, all at Priceline became smaller
and smaller.

Boarding my extended flight to South Korea I walked along the aisle looking for 34A,
two men already sat in the window and middle seats. I sat down next to the two men,
backpack still on, obnoxiously large carry-on still in hand, put on my best sweet little
girl face and proclaimed my love for the window seat. The middle man opted out of his
seat immediately. Player one was out of the way, but window seat man failed to budge,
chuckling under his breath in a I would, but I’m not going to sort of fashion. Win, player
two.

I sat down in the middle seat and much to my dismay he promptly closed my window
to the world and dashed any hopes and dreams of watching Siberia and the artic float
beneath our plane.

Sleep did not come at all during the entirety of the flight. After I hit the time it would
take to fly to Europe I began scrolling through the movies. All sense of time and location
was lost. My family was at home asleep, or maybe they were awake, going out to dinner.
My friends going out for drinks and preparing for their own jobs and journeys around the
world.

I managed a slight peek out the window, compliments of the Ambien I saw Player 2
take previous to lift-off. He did not wake up for the entire flight, so with a few awkward
maneuvers over his belly and around his heaping knees I managed to blind myself with
sunlight as Siberia and the arctic escaped my view.

Finally in the Incheon airport I propped my sandaled feet and fresh pair of pants onto the
seats in a waiting area outside of a gate. Floor to ceiling windows provided a wallpaper
of the surrounding airport followed by a glittering strip of pale gray water leading to the

mountains shaded by a thick layer of fog.

Intermittently staring out the windows to South Korea for my entire 5-hour layover
left me in a haze somewhat like the mountains into which I was staring. My family
and friends were miles away on a completely different schedule, but for the first time
in months I was alone for several hours. I crave time to myself, but inexplicably I was
craving being around people. The inability to politely contact those closest to me, let
alone people who speak English left me thinking about why I was traveling halfway
around the world.

After I arrived in Siem Reap I asked Kate, our tour director, almost immediately how
she found herself living in Cambodia. A career in human resources and several stints
in the jobs that followed, coupled with a connection to the owners of the hotel had her
on a plane to start a new career as tour director and general keeper of order at Journeys
Within.

The following morning when Kate, unknown to me, responded to my parents assuring
them that I was here safely. There were four emails from the dear Swansons. It seems the
surreal nature of travel and destinations supercedes the halting powers of Priceline and
any attempts to try to forget my companions are rotating on the other side of the world
these days.
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Good night, moon

By Nicole Meadows

We walked out of the Siem Reap Night Market, and were serenaded by an a capello band of tuk tuk drivers and fish massage attendants.

“Oh, I remember you!” said one female to me. We had passed by the night before.

She had a perky ponytail, bangs and shadow, a pink long tank over leggings. She assured me she wasn’t going to make me, her friend, buy a massage, and I believed her.

She asked where I was from. “America,” I said.

“Oh! United States!” she said, and then pinched my cheek. We exchanged names. She lit up at hearing them.

She had a sparkle in her smile – a tiny white rhinestone embedded in her canine. I complimented it. She complimented my lip ring and pinched my cheek again.

She plucked a small white flower from the pool of fish and handed it to me. It was a jasmine flower, mles.

The flowers were on the water because of Vesak Day, celebrated on the first full moon in May. It is a holiday for the life, enlightenment and passing of Buddha. We saw flowers for sale in the market earlier, and a guy had pointed out to us the bright, round moon behind the grey iridescent clouds.

I had been told of the many traits common to Cambodians, sincerity and genuineness included. I received gifts of both tonight – my new friend squeezing my shoulder and wishing us a good night and good day. I know that tomorrow will be great.

In Seam Reap’s prison: To each its own

By: Kema Hodge

Visiting the prison in Siem Reap was an eye-opening experience in many ways. This prison was unlike any I had ever seen or could imagine.

For one, the prison did not have any electricity. Andrea Ross informed me of that fact prior to our visit. Only those who run the prison have access to electricity by way of generator.

As we walked inside the gate, I noticed pleasing aesthetics. The prison grounds were covered in beautiful, well-maintained flowers, bright plastic decorations, and religious ornaments. All I could do was take pictures as I stood in awe while prisoners freely walked around tending the grounds. They were neither chained nor escorted by guards. They simply wore prison uniforms.

By that time, I was completely out of my element. I didn’t expect much coming into it, but the little that I did anticipate was off.

Once we were signed in, Andrea, Nary, the guard, and I headed to the sewing room. I wanted to talk to women who were learning how to sew while in jail. This surprised me as well. I don’t think that American prisons allow or offer an opportunity for their inmates to learn a skill that will give them a chance at a better life. Yet, all around us were rooms that were open to inmates for classes such as English, musical instruments, and crochet.

As I sat in the small room with no AC unit, no lights, and no form of electronic technology, I was reminded once more that I was not in America. These women were technically considered “dangerous,” yet they, too, did not have handcuffs. Despite that, I showed no fear as interviewed them.

After speaking to them all, I realized that I was sitting in room with two murderers, an accomplice to armed robbery, and a Madame – a woman who previously ran a brothel. Each took the class for the same reason: They hoped to be able to leave jail with an employable skill.

I left the prison with this sentiment: To each country its own. Because, as I also realized on day one, Siem Reap, Cambodia has its own, unique way of doing things.

In Siem Reap’s prison: One woman’s story

By Kema Hodge

Walking down the cement sidewalk, I thought about what words would be exchanged in a room full of prisoners.

Andrea Ross and a woman named Marie helped to start a sewing class for the women at Siem Reap’s prison. I was there to interview them and ask why they chose to take this class, but I was also very interested in knowing why they received time.

Nary, a Journey’s Within B&B staff member, joined us to translate.

The first series of questions I asked were simple questions pertaining to personal information, such as: Name, age, reason for taking the sewing class, and so forth. When I ran out of basic questions, I dared to ask the one that intrigued me most: “Why are you in prison?”

Nary explained that the women did not have to answer the question and then patiently listened while the first woman opted to tell us her story. Even though I did not understand the Khmer she spoke, I followed the expression in her eyes. First, it was shy. She probably didn’t feel fully comfortable telling us her story. Then, her eyes grew big like she was getting into the yarn she spun. As she progressed, I noticed that her eyes revealed sadness, bitterness, and regret.

I turned to Nary when the story was finished to hear her translate. In short, the woman claimed she served as a lookout to her husband’s attempted armed robbery. After turning herself in, the police gave her 18 years.

Shocked by the length of time she was given for being a mere accessory, I expected to hear more inhumane sentences. However, no one else there had received nearly as much time as the first. Even the two women who were convicted of murder only received ten years. 

Corruption or lies? I doubt I’ll ever find out which. My guess is that it’s a little of both going on at Siem Reap’s prison.

This little piggy went to the market

By Colin Tom

I winced as she shook her beaded bracelets by my waist.

“Plllleeaasee, sir.  For school.  I need money for school,” the little girl cooed.

“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to keep my eyes ahead of me as I walked while also not trying to hate myself.

“Pleeeasse, suurh, you make me cry,” she said in her most desperate voice while tugging at my shirt.

I could feel my heart starting to rip at the seams when my guide intervened.   There was a quick exchange in Khumer before he cocked his head up, sighing. The girl remained steadfast, and returned to her cooing.

My guide stepped in again, this time with a childish grin on his face.  He grabbed her unwilling hand.  She tried pulling her arm into her body, but he was able uncurl her fingers.

“Noooooo stop!” she cried.

He spread her fingers and cracked each of her knuckles.

“I hate you! Stop!” she pleaded.

Her cries turned into restrained laughter.  She was breaking character.  Soon they were both giggling.

“It’s a game that the kids play,” my guide informed me.

The girl recollected herself.  She tugged at my shirt again, with wide sad eyes.

“Please siiiirrrr!”

My hand dove from above, cracking each of her knuckles.  Her giggles were unwilling, but powerful and the hard shell of a young merchant was penetrated by the laughter of a child.

I watched her walk away and return to her friends.  I was sorry that she was just one of the countless children I wouldn’t be able to help, but grateful that she wasn’t hardened entirely.  She was still just a child.

The Blue Sign

By: Elizabeth Wilson

The temple rubble is visible at the end of the long dirt road.

Situated in a sprawling jungle, the huge stones from over eight thousand years ago are covered by vegetation. This crumbling, overgrown rubble of Beng Mealea, is the type of image that normally comes to mind when one thinks of Cambodia.

We stood in a group, taking in our surroundings. Although the monstrous temple was within my sight, the large metal sign on my left distracted me.

It was a big blue sign with white writing in multiple languages. Underneath the Khmer script, I read “Minefield Cleared by CMAC.”

I was about to explore a temple that was used as a minefield. It had only been cleared in 2007.

A picture of the blue sign remained in my mind the entire time I climbed over the rubble. My body was tense with apprehension.

Luckily we had a small Khmer woman following us around, guiding us through the temple. She had an Absara Authority patch on her khaki shirt that identified her as part of the security that takes care of the temple.

She knew exactly what to point out and where to climb.

As we explored, I learned that in 1992, 600 Cambodians were killed or maimed every month by landmines. CMAC, Cambodian Mine Action Centre was created to rid the country of these landmines, clearing the land for Internally Displaced People.

The land that I was walking on had experienced both wealth and war, just as the country of Cambodia has. The landmines that had been scattered throughout the ruins of the majestic Hindu temple depict this extreme dichotomy.

Although the ruins of Beng Mealea moved me, it was the blue sign that got me thinking.

Fighting for the tiniest

By Beth Pollak

Children ran around, fighting with swords. Women were cooking around and among the 20 buildings. People reclined in hammocks. All the doors and windows let the breeze flow into each room.

This was not a small village. This was Siem Reap Referral Hospital, the hospital for most residents of this and the surrounding provinces.

As Jayshri, Nicole and I traveled through the hospital with our guide, we ran into no security, no closed doors, no questions. We were allowed to go anywhere we pleased and talk to anyone we wanted. Photos were allowed of the patients and rooms. We visited the ICU, post-op, and general diseases wards, but the one that hit me the most was the maternity ward.

In the room, 14 beds held more than 20 people. We walked to the back of the shaded room to talk to two new mothers. One baby was three days old with a full head of hair, happily and hungrily breastfeeding and wiggling around. At 3.2 kilos (7 lbs), she was a perfectly normal size for a Cambodian newborn.

Across the aisle, a tween girl was feeding an incredibly small infant with a tiny bottle. Weighing in at 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) after one week in the world, she was clearly premature. Her yellow skin indicated she was jaundiced. She had to have a bottle with a special small nipple because her mouth was so tiny.

Premature babies in America have a strong chance of survival — many mothers even elect to have Cesarean sections early, knowing their babies will get proper care. Jaundiced babies in America have an even higher chance. But in Cambodia — where even the basic protocol that jaundiced babies should be in the sunlight, not the dark, is not being followed at the referral hospital — these babies have even less of a chance. Today, 1 in 15 Cambodian children die before the age of 5, from ailments like dengue fever, malnourishment or malaria. In America, where these problems are virtually unheard of, around 7 out of 1000 babies don’t live to age 5.

Cambodia has made many huge improvements since the brutal Khmer Rouge regime ruined its medical system, but they still have a long way to go before Cambodian children have even CLOSE to the same survival opportunities that Americans take for granted.

One common selling technique of people in a floating village

By Kema Hodge

As I departed from the floating souvenir shop and restaurant nestled at the heart of the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, I stepped into the 10-foot boat that awaited my four other classmates, our two tour guides, and the two boat navigators.

I was still in awe of the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia as well as the floating village that surrounded us. The village consisted of countless boat houses and shelters attached to bamboo in order to float on water. 

As the rest of the group settled in, another boat approached ours. The boat contained an older woman (likely the mother) and two young children. Each member of the family had fixed their face into a look of utter despair as they requested one dollar.

I began to try to take pictures of the young girl nearest me, but not because of the hopeless look that seemed to fill her eyes. Rather, it was because of the five foot thing that she casually wore around her neck. Slightly intrigued but not quite as afraid as I should have been, I snapped one picture of the young Vietnamese girl and the live boa constrictor that hung around her neck. Having been the fourth time I had encountered a Vietnamese child of an illegal immigrant approaching me with a similar technique, I was not nearly as impressed by the girl’s ability to bravely hold a python while asking for money.

I turned away to mention something to the other passengers and then quickly turned back to the family.

I suppose my movements were a little too quick for the family to rearrange their face, because for a fleeting two seconds they looked as if they had little care in the world. Once that short moment passed, however, the request for money accompanied by a look of anguish returned to the family. It was that moment that solidified the realization that not only do the families in the floating village live drastically different from those on land, but their entrepreneurial skills were just as unique.

The horrors: Snakes on a boat

By Nicole Meadows

We motored in boats along a tributary that feeds into Tonle Sap Lake, 23 miles at its widest point, passing fishermen, other boats with tourists, and a floating Catholic church. The lake is home to four floating villages, rootless wooden houses on bamboo poles.

We came to the village that was enveloped in haze and smelled like hot chocolate. I didn’t notice the pair of boats approaching along side. Pirates, perhaps?

In each sat two kids and a father, who steered them gunwale-to-gunwale with our larger vessel. The two closest each had a boa constrictor draped across their shoulders, holding the head towards us and chanting the familiar “one dollar.”

Based on their speed, I thought they were going to fling the snakes like grappling hooks and shimmy across them into our boat.

Fortunately for me (I’m snake phobic), my shouts of “no” and arms repeatedly cutting “x” into the air kept them out of our boat.

But then at the tourist float, where catfish and crocodiles were on display, two more snakes appeared for photo opportunities, handled casually by natives of all ages and worn by classmates.

I saw four snakes today, which I thought was a lot, but Liz Price for Wild Asia reports that during some points of the wet season, 8,500 snakes are caught per day.

I do not want to be near water in the wet season.

The sweetest thing

By Frances Micklow

I continue to be amazed by the hospitality extended to me by the people of Cambodia.

While visiting a village family who produces palm sugar, I felt as though I was welcomed into the house and trade as if I were a longtime friend.

After being offered a seat in the shade, I sat and played with the children as we listened to the process behind making palm sugar. The man of the house walked us through the entire process and even scaled a palm tree to bring us down a jug full of the milky, translucent liquid.

The children scurried to help at their mothers command. One got glasses and washed them in the well water. Another retrieved a green mesh strainer from somewhere in the back of the house. Yet another got a metal bowl. Then all aided their mother as she prepared the palm sugar juice for their visitors to drink.

The liquid was thin, sweet and refreshing. I looked up from my first sip and caught the wide eyes of one of the children. I smiled and nodded approvingly before enjoying another sip.

There were no suspicions or hesitations on the part of the family, they were simply showing me the same kindness and hospitality I have come to realize is characteristic of the Cambodian people.