Friday, 23 February 2007

Calm in the Storm

It has been an interesting, hectic couple of weeks. Asia feels so far away. We are all ok, coping exceptionally well in the midst of a crisis that is as unexpected as it is dramatic and worst-nightmarish in character. I won't go into any details, but it is someone close and something serious, yet ultimately nothing we can't deal with. We are keeping strong, putting our faith in God and in doctors, and staying very positive. I am focusing on going to Byron Bay in the middle of the year for some yoga and good food, and in the meantime busying myself with work, friends, preparing for Uni next week - and the endless tumult of doctors, lawyers, test results, washing, cooking, paying bills, writing emails, making phone calls...

I think people are finding it odd that I am actually more a ball of gratitude than of worry at the moment. I am overwhelmed by people who have left groceries, chocolate slice, vegetables on the doorstep; who have run errands, bought or brought dinners, sent cards, sent flowers, made offerings, not allowed me to pay in cafes or for appointments. Most of all I am indebted - forever, forever - to those who have prayed or kept us in their thoughts. I wrote out a list the other night of people who were doing that for us, and there were hundreds of names on it - from Hobart to Cambodia, Santa Fe to London, New Orleans to North Queensland. We have been so strengthened by these prayers and positive thoughts.

This experience has taught me a great deal, and coming on the end of the Asia trip, I feel like a very different person. I have learnt what are truly life's priorities. I am focusing on less, and doing it better. I am looking forward to spending the next year as a well-rounded, happy person rather than as a list of achievements. What matters is family, friends, education and health: the rest is superfluous. My faith in God has been strengthened. And I have finally learnt to forgive several trespasses I once thought could never be forgiven. And I hope that the trespasses I have inevitably made, may also be forgiven one day. I have also learnt never to travel overseas without a mobile phone and enough money to pay for an airflight home - thank goodness I had both of these things in Phnom Pehn.

Hobart is a fantastic place, filled with wonderful people. It is exceptional to have so much given to you in such a short space of time, and I will always be grateful.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

But who PUTS ON weight in Asia??

Apparently, I do. Wonder if these cakes, and others similar, could be the culprits? Oh well, it was nice while it lasted...

The Last Couple of Weeks

hawking books, phnom pehn

Well, it has been hectic, to say the least. I have arrived home early due to a family emergency. I got the news on Sunday night; by Monday night I was on a plane home; and was back in Hobart by Tuesday at 2pm. Phnom Penh to Hobart in the blink of an eyelid. It proves that the world is not a big place when people are helping you.

I am so lucky and I will always be grateful to the guardian angels who have helped me this week: Scott the Intrepid tour leader; the fantastic Mr Sorphea who operated a 24hour travel agency in Phnom Penh and even drove me to the airport; the people who listened to me along the way; the Cambodians who protected me and helped me at every turn; friends at home who pulled all strings to get me home; and all the help and support I have been offered by everyone. I can't begin to describe how grateful I am.

But before I left Cambodia, I had several wonderful days in Phnom Penh. I am looking forward to returning soon. Highlights included...

  1. The people. Along with the Lao, the most generous, kind-hearted, beautiful individuals. I was welcomed from the first minute, and I appreciated their honesty in discussing their recent history. Their smiles were broad and constant.

  2. Oddly enough, Tuol Sleng (the genocide museum) and the killing fields. It was important to me to pay my respects there.

  3. The food, of course - I particularly liked fish amoc (fish cooked in coconut milk and spices in a banana leaf) and khmer chicken curry.

  4. Friends the Restaurant. It is a non-profit restaurant operated by former street youths and comes under the umbrella of Mith Samlanh Friends, an NGO which assists approximately 2,000 young people through 12 interlinked projects, of which the restaurant is one. Fantastic food and a great cause. I even bought the cookbook and looking forward to getting stuck into a touch of Phnom Pehn in Hobart.

  5. The Foreign Correspondents Club for a sundowner at Happy Hour.

  6. The shopping... silk, silver, anyone??

  7. Everything, everything, everything.

And now I'm home, thankful for everything that I have: my health, family and friends who are more like family, and incredible experiences. This has been a cursory post but I hope you forgive me that, as my energies are elsewhere at the moment. I'll post more some other time, but until then I'll leave you thinking about Cambodia, an exceptional country with stunning people.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Well Past the Halfway Mark

So there is less than a month left. I'm definitely starting to feel the affects of all this travel, and I'm looking forward to a home cooked meal, a soft bed, hot water without fail, decent coffee, cheese, red wine, salamanca place, uni (call me mad but I miss the academic rigour of study something chronic), and talking to people who both know me, and are intelligent. I love you guys! This trip has been incredible. It hasn't been the time of my life all the time, but it has been the time of my life overall. Honestly, I have nearly come home innumerable times, for a range of reasons. It has not been easy, and I will never travel alone in asia again. But I have had such a great time. I have learnt to say "thank you" in several languages; been tubing in Vang Vieng and Kayaking in Ha Long Bay; practised my french with schoolkids, talked to monks, and shared my lunch with a Lao girl about my age; seen the affects of war with startling clarity; eaten crickets and dog (that was an accident and one I never thought I'd make, but oh well); learnt to cook thai, lao, and Vietnamese; walked up waterfalls and swam in streams; met the most amazingly kind people; seen the Lao dancing information at nightclubs; compared the merits of "Mr Whippy" across asia (hilarious portable icecream vans); I could go on forever... but you get the idea. I have also come to numerous conclusions about myself and my life. Let's face it - this trip was as much to get away, and get some space after the worst year of my life, as it was to see southeast asia. I have had the space I needed and I have discovered that I love my life and I am proud of myself and my achievements, but I am constantly wanting to better myself. So I have made a few promises to myself. I'm not going to share them, except one which I want you guys to help me keep - I want to swear less!! So you all have to help me on that front ok!

So from here, on to Cambodia, where I will keep you all posted on my further adventures! All love, Sophie.

How Did That Happen?

I'm currently in Hoi An, aka capital of tailor made clothes. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has incredible architecture, food, and lots to do - but most people come for the clothes. You would think that after six weeks travelling through Buddhist countries with only a backpack, one might be inclined to renounce all material possessions. After all, how many dresses does a girl need? As it turns out, the correct answer is at least four - one ball gown, one summer dress, one formal little black dress, and one plain little black dress. Match that with a couple of skirts and some trousers, a woolen jacket (pink!) and an opera jacket (because I go to the opera sooooooo regularly - I got that one already made in Ha Noi) and a girl should be about set. It turns out that a girl also needs at least four bags (evening, day, play and work), and several silk scarves. And jewelry. Some of this booty I have already sent back to Aust. Some of it is sitting in my pack. I'm still wearing fishermans pants and sneakers and a fake wedding band and looking like a slob.

Update: I have just posted most of these things home and am now $30 US lighter. Oops.

Viet Nam Generally

Viet Nam is an amazing country. But I have to say, it has also been the most difficult country I have ever travelled in as a young single female. I have never felt in danger per se, but I am painfully aware that most people see me as "easy game" to be ripped off, scammed, or harrassed. In every other country I have travelled in, there have been the inevitable bunch of people who want to abuse your vulnerabilities. However, what I have always found is that the majority of people are struck by the "I have a bambino at home just like you" phenomenon, whereby they go out of their way to help you, generally because they hope that someone would do the same for their child if they were in a similar situation. From sharing their food with you (Poland, Laos); to handing out free bottles of water (Laos); or undercharging you on Taxis (Thailand) - people are so, so generous and it is one of the main joys of travel. And whilst I am not asking for this help, it always mitigates the feeling that peopleare out to ripp you off. This semblance has not been my experience ofViet Nam. Every traveller has their own tales and their own experience of countries. Unfortunately mine, as a single female traveller, has been very much to be harrassed and cheated, and I have not had anyone do anything to help me. Just one example is that I have watched motodrivers ignore women with boyfriends, or two women together, and then spend the next 5-10 minutes following me ("Hello! Where you from?Melbourne or Sydney? You come with me? Many people from Australia have good time on my moto! I love you!"). It's fine, but after 10 days orso, it gets tiring. I nearly hit a moto driver the other day, and that's saying something for me! I try to remember what these people have been through (I continue to thank God every day for the fact that I have not experienced similar). I try to remember their poverty. But none of this mitigates the fact that this is a very, very difficult country to travel through if you are a young woman travelling alone. So whilst this is anamazing country, I will not be coming back to Viet Nam anytime soon.

Ha Long Bay

I've wanted to see Ha Long Bay for the better part of a decade now - a desire with no real basis; maybe someone mentioned it once, or maybe I saw a photo, I don't know but it manifested into pictures on my wall and ultimately a trip to Viet Nam. And I haven't been disappointed. I spent three days cruising Ha Long Bay, which are probably up there with some of the best three days of my life. We were on board a massive junk (ship) and just puttered around the bay, taking in the view, which was exquisite, and the seafood which was also very good. The caves were impressive but I was just in awe of the massive karsts rising out of the aquamarine sea, so proud and righteous looking. It was absolutely spectacular. In the afternoon, we went kayaking. Now, we all know I'm no elite athlete, and kayaking in particular is not my sport. Some of you may have heard the story of my mother and I kayaking in Byron Bay last year (picture us in a kayak, in the middle of humpbackwhales, dolphins and huge waves. Amazing, but kind of... scary too). In this case, however, the water was still and there were no whales, and we kayaked for about an hour, to a massive inclosed lagoon (getting there through a tiny cave opening). It was so serene and quiet and you couldjust take in the most exquisite scenery. Definite highlight of the trip. And, I have to say, the highlight of Viet Nam, by a long long long shot.

The Battle of the Blog

Well, I am back online (sort of) after an extended absence, due to not being able to access my blog anywhere in Viet Nam, other than Ha Noi and now Sai Gon. I emailed back home, which I'll now post so that those of you who are reading but who are not on my email list, can keep up! I am guessing that the lack of access to blogs has a lot to do with ideological opposition from the Commies that run this part of the world, but I have no idea why you can access blogs in the big cities but not in any other part of the country. Oh well. So back online, for the moment, anyway; and tomorrow I am heading to Cambodia where hopefully there will not be any issues with blogs!