Cambodia

Consume & Update: 101, Maroon, and Onslaught

Today's post came out a bit late, but that is due to the high quality of work I found this week. I also have lots to share...

How's The List Coming?

101in365

101in365

Do you have a bucket or life list running? Are most of your goals doable, or are they unattainable? Don't you wish you had that gratifying feeling of accomplishment more often than once a year or so as you near your bucket-kicking age? Allow Jenn to make it easier for you.

101in365 is all about "avoiding mediocrity, one to-do list at a time." And though I know this contradicts a post I've listed below (see Other Discoveries), I love making and completing these mini-goals to reap that sense of accomplishment. Jenn's been expanding on this web concept for a while now, and has recently pumped it up to admirable heights, offering even more awesome!

What a Maroon--ed Novel...

Speaking of my 101in365 list, one of the goals is to read a classic book this year. And from the way I'm feeling these days, I'm thinking that classic novel will either be the Lord of the Flies or Robinson Crusoe, thanks to this lovely list that reminds me of my time in the South Pacific. Any opinions on a good classic novel to read this year?

Big Tony in Chicago

Apparently, Anthony Bourdain spoke in Chicago last week about all topics on which he's verbose: food, travel, TV, and just about anything that could conjure opinions. Prior to the talk, he spoke to the Chicago Tribune to drumroll his performance. The interview was food-centric and classic Big T, with a couple comments I found amusing:

The big takeaway from the first book [Kitchen Confidential] are the rules, like don't order seafood on Mondays. Any new rules in the years since?

"Kitchen Confidential" was about a career that took place mostly in the 70's through 90's. When I wrote "don't eat fish on Mondays," the guy writing it didn't think anyone outside New York City would even read the book.

Things have changed so much in the industry. The behavior in any good kitchen has changed a lot. Certainly the business still attracts the same kind of personality types, but a lot of the behavior I was talking about — snorting cocaine or having sex on the cutting board — would probably be frowned upon, particularly in open kitchens, which is a relatively new development. There's so much genuine hope for a real future in kitchens that didn't exist back in the early part of my career. An Irish pub on Monday, I'm not sure I'd go for a seafood salad. But I wouldn't have a problem at the sushi bar at Le Bernardin.

What would you do if you were given control of the Food Network? Let's say profits were no issue, and you had editorial and creative control of the network.

I'd bring back "Molto Mario" right away. I'd have Mario Batali do a standard instructional show that would be the cornerstone. I would make it more chef-centric, of course. I would make sure Sandra Lee was never allowed near any cooking utensil or food item. Immediately. I'd have a long talk with Rachael Ray. I'd say, "Look, Rachael, you're bigger than food now. You're in Oprah territory. You don't have to cook anymore. Move on."

The Molto Mario comment excited me, as I will actually get to dine in his restaurant in a month! No idea if he will be gracing us with his presence, but since he's on the creative council for ProjectExplorer, the possibility is out there!

Eyes on Cambodia

Nice snap, Gary. Speaking of Cambodia, my friend Cathleen is enjoying her last month in Phnom Penh after five months of developing her Fighting For Futures initiatives. It's truly a place that could suck you in and put you in a trance. Subtly lovely.

Other Discoveries

Some great ideas on how to develop products for your blog without a massive business plan

Also, a little help making your blog more experiential...a favorite buzz word of mine

Oddly enough, this interesting post helped me get this late issue of Consume & Update out today! Kill your To-Do list!

And finally...thank you Amar for giving us 7 Steps toward scoring free travel from your blog

Update on Nomadderwhere

If you've made it thus far in this post, you're a trooper. I have a lot to tell you about my future plans for Nomadderwhere and for myself. I'll start by reviewing what went out this week:

Prepare for the Onslaught: As you can tell, I'm all over the place with my postings. My schedule is odd, because it's important to me to publish various forms of content: video, written, photographic, as well as displaying the work of others.

I have roughly one month until I head to Mexico on my new job, and it's been said to read more current accounts from my travels is more thrilling than the flashbacks (like I'm doing with Fiji at the moment). And though I'll be incredibly busy in Mexico, I would like to attempt more real-time postings in my favored various media forms.

Therefore, I'll soon be amping up my written postings from The Nakavika Project, telling the elaborate tales more frequently in the week in order to fit it all in before the bulk of Mexico. I'll also be covering what I'm up to in present day while still offering timeless advice and perspectives on all things travel. The videos will become more current, expansive, and interactive.

This is going to be one ca-razy month!

1 Minute or Less Moments: This week on my Nomadderwhere Facebook Fan Page, I've published raw video clips of Garrett and I enjoying the Coral Coast on New Year's Eve.

Nomadderwhere's Facebook Fan Page

Nomadderwhere's Facebook Fan Page

Journeys of a Lifetime in December

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Airboat in the Everglades: Get deep into the mangrove forests of Florida's backcountry where alligators seemingly get bigger as you go deeper; you may even catch the rare Florida panther if there's a blue moon out.

Lake Nicaragua: A freshwater lake surrounded by lush forest and volcanoes? Crocodile-like reptiles submerged below the jungle canals? Swordfish sport fishing in a mystic lagoon? Am I dreaming?

By Road

The Grand Trunk Road: Peshawar to Kolkata: a road some call "the great river of life." It's a highway beaded with historical and memorable cities that combine to make an incredible, South Asian road trip.

The Pan American Highway: It's pavement that spans continents, but taking a ride in Tierra del Fuego and reach the end of the world: Ushuaia. You'll see grazing grasslands and ominous, omni-present mountains. Pretty great, huh?

By Rail

El Chepe: Ride the rails through an unspoiled landscape four times larger than the Grand Canyon. Indigenous Indians of central Mexico line the way, giving you access to a brilliant Latino culture.

The TranzAlpine: Cross Arthur's Pass and witness a blizzard outside your train window on this mountainous journey through the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Sounds like it gets wild.

On Foot

The Headhunters' Trail: Stay in a longhouse with Iban villages. Wade through the tea-colored waters while admiring the limestone spires. Hope you still have your head upon the trip's completion.

The Levadas of Madeira: The levadas of Portugal are a network of watercourses that hydrate the paradiasical sugarcane fields. Apparently, moseying along these canals is a camera-friendly activity.

In Search of Culture

Colonial Virginia: Even if reenactments and period acting isn't to your fancy, Christmas just may be, and Williamsburg does this holiday justice.

Ancient Egypt: Show up for the peak Nile cruising season and enjoy the history museums to make sure your time in this ancient landscape is epic.

In Gourmet Heaven

Blue Mountain Coffee: It's the best coffee in the world. It's the best time to visit Jamaica. Those are two good reasons.

Vietnamese Cuisine: Imagine a leaf of cilantro floating on a sea of seasoned broth, handmade noodles sitting below the surface like a hundred Loch Ness monsters. Are you hungry for some pho yet?

Into the Action

Surfing in Hawai'i: You're going to need a wetsuit in that chilly water, but you're also going to catch some towering waves at hot spots like Waimea beach or the Banzai pipeline on O'ahu island.

Friesland's Eleven Cities' Tour: 16,000 ice skaters jump at the proclamation of the Elfstedentocht race, which only happens on the rare occasion in Holland when the ice is 5.9 cm thick. Await the call of the race anxiously and follow the races route along the footpath beside the frozen river.

Up and Away

Skyriding over St. Lucia: This Caribbean island will make you see colors. Real colors. Absolutely vibrant hues popping through the tropical air. Zipline around the canopies of the forest, and then save some time for some fresh product at a cocoa estate.

Angkor by Helicopter: Seeing the world's largest religious monument in a way that few experience, an enlightened view from above. See what can be done with incredible planning, gray stone and a herd of trained elephants for heavy lifting.

In Their Footsteps

Hemingway in Cuba: The Malecon was Hemingway's first view of Havana after sailing from America. Go and be moved by the same places this famous writer and Nobel Laureate frequented during his time on this vivacious island.

Alex Haley's Roots: See what Alex Haley found when visiting Gambia, a main topic of his Pulitzer winning book Roots. It would involve a boat ride and a village chief...and surely an incredible cultural quest.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in January for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

A Creepy Recurrence

Some sweet Cambodian kids

Some sweet Cambodian kids

I pretty much praise anyone who finds a reason or the time to explore my site, and when people search the web and end up on Nomadderwhere, I'm just as thrilled. Some of my most popular posts are some I wouldn't have pegged to be for the masses, for example: My JanSport Backpack Review

Things I Didn't Know Before Coming to Greece

My Brush with Controversial Cambodia

And since the death of Evan Witty in April of 2009, I've received google searches daily from people who still wonder about his abrupt and unexpected death in Cambodia. It's somewhat comforting to know he's still very much in people's minds. I hope my post on Evan Witty offers some comforting words, as it's by far my most popular post to date.

However, I also get many searches that creep me out:

"child sex" "naked boy"

and the most troubling...

"cambodia sex tourist friendly hotels"

From these searches, people navigate to such stories as my night out at a hostess bar in Phnom Penh. That evening out, I experienced street flooding, chatted with some ladies at a hostess bar about their children, and fell asleep in the bathroom (don't judge). Hopefully those interested in the child sex industry are coming here to look for actions against the epidemic, not directions explaining how to find such activity.

I write about this today because...

1. it's Friday the 13th and creeps are ...well, creepy; and

2. I left the orphanage a year ago today.

It was one of my goals by year's end to find a way to return, through a collaboration with Fighting for Futures and an alliance with Airtreks. Though this didn't pan out due to my own budget restrictions, I don't plan to cut off my concern just because I can't physically return. What can I do if I can't actually be there? Enter the knife-like tongue.

Down with the Creeps

Someone I'm pulling for

Someone I'm pulling for

The visceral effect this disgusting occurrence has on those who witness it is a repulsion that screams to be known and acted upon. I know it's hard to decide which worthy causes in this world deserve our attention the most, as it's something like choosing a favorite child, but for me it's hard to imagine a worse start or end in life than to rely on a pedophile's twisted business for basic sustenance.

The media have been posting stories and videos on Youtube for decades displaying the realities of the sex tourism industry around the world, and not surprisingly the creeps keep on a-violating. Does it make a difference to simply make the public aware of this issue we seemingly cannot change? I guess we all say, "It's worth trying," but the utterance of this phrase [to me] almost seems to declare instant defeat and the acceptance of heartsickness for one and all.

Here's one of the many videos I found, this one from the New York Times from 2007.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSDiMIgrd9A

We make that worthy try, and there seems to be a airtight seal on the workings of impoverished communities where women and children fall into the industry of the body.

Then come organizations that seem to finally have a solution for catching the scum. Here's APLE and their sting operation on Harvey Johnson, suspected offender of all codes moral, judicial and human. I have yet to find the outcome of this case, but let's hope being a spectacle on ABC and across the internet will incapacitate him wherever he is.

There are a lot of people doing this work locally and operations concocted stateside, but I don't think it's promoting the right mindset to think these are the only people who should be making strides.

Fighting for Futures

Fighting for Futures

Enter initiatives like Fighting for Futures, which blossomed from a traveler's experience in Cambodia and aims to eradicate the child sex industry (and other awful realities of the third world) by enhancing their educations with liberating, creative approaches. Cathleen, the founder of FFF, felt that visceral repulsion and now spends every waking hour putting her own money into fundraising efforts across New York City in order to promote her upcoming trip to Southeast Asia to implement these creative programs.

She traveled. She was moved. She's going after the creeps.

I Challenge You

Today, on this Friday the 13th, I urge you to combat the creeps. Take a look at Fighting for Futures, Operation Twisted Traveler, and many other programs and organizations for the empowerment of kids stuck in this creep industry. It's modern-day slavery, human trafficking, and it's despicable.

Hey, That's My Leg You Ran Over: Day 192

Five Guys, One Motorbike. Get Comfy.

On this final night in Cambodia, I adorned my trekking shoes for the first time in weeks and chaperoned an excursion to Phnom Penh's Water Festival near the river. I missed the main events of boating and races during the day, but the locals spoke of crowds that would stop traffic, which I was eager and willing to miss. Instead, I decided to take in the excitement with the older kids by foot in the evening. Evan, Zan (the other volunteer), and I stomped along the mile or two of road in between the orphanage and the riverbank, passing the vehicles alit on the road like we were reenacting Office Space. There was lots of hand holding, and people switched up often to grab my hand or Evan's or their close friend's in front. We were a group stepping in tune with each other and finding joy in being in the others' presences. It was another one of those moments when I was stunned how comfortable I was far away from my home bubble.

The water festival is timed to occur with a full moon, and this moon cast a glow over the city that rivaled the sun. As I write about this evening six months later, I write now knowing every full moon I've seen since reminds me of Cambodia's water festival and the evening amidst the nighttime light.

The streets went from scattered to bustling to impenetrable. We held hands like we were preparing for a round of Crack the Whip, but had we not, we were sure to lose a soul or two.

At one point, I actually had a motorbike advance up the back of my leg, impatient to wait for the hundred or so people standing in his way. I think I tried to give this man a "Hey, pardon me, but you just ran your motor vehicle over my calf" perturbed look but couldn't rotate my body or even head in his direction to make the gaze. I may or may not still have the tire mark on my pants.

We found ourselves within a block of the water but couldn't dare move in that direction for fear of getting our bodies crushed under the pressure of thousands more. Evan and the older boys turned towards the city and led us back the way we had come. Hours of walking got us to the heart of the traffic and nothing more.

We were bummed and opted for rickshaws back to the compound. But such an outing had to include some radical behavior, so we made the way back a ride to remember. I sat with six girls screaming at the top of their lungs to strangers on the road. Easily amused; my kind of people.

The youngins were still up and romping in the near daylight of midnight. I pulled out my camera and let them go to town with their photographic skills. Evan rode a two foot bike around with little girls shrieking in his wake. I sat in constantly shifting human piles of little kids and saw spots from all the camera flashes.

Litho, one of my strongest bonds in Palm Tree, sat cross-legged next to me as I tried to describe where I was going and what I was doing the next day onward. I gave up soon after starting and just focused on laughing at nothing but the sweetness around us. My last hugs were sad as some boys uttered the word "sister" in my direction; it became official, I was returning some day, hopefully soon.

I awoke at roughly 4:30am the next morning to a slowly warming sky and air damp with that morning anticipation I rarely get to witness personally. The cook was already awake and spooning out plates of breakfast, a few girls at her side on their turns to help the kitchen.

I knocked on Evan's door quietly at 5am to say my goodbyes to a guy that will forever be in my mind. I gave him a small sheet of paper with my number, e-mail, and home address, hoping he would be in touch with ground level news of Palm Tree on a regular basis. I also looked forward to a reunion in Chicago upon his return in July of 2009. I handed him my recently completed copy of Shantaram as he exchanged it for Mountains Beyond Mountains.

It was a pleasure to know that kid, and I'm still in shock of his sudden celestial departure. This, of course, was not something I was thinking about while we embraced that final traveler's embrace. I instead was thinking of time's little tricks and wondering when I would next be grasping this same man's shoulders; on what continent, after what amazing accomplishments on both sides have occurred? This bittersweet moment seemed sweet in real time and in hindsight should have been bitter to the last drop.

I found a way to finally get passed the gates of Palm Tree to the street beyond, hopped on a motorbike after an effortless haggle, and zoomed past Thai Chi demonstration after Thai Chi demonstration in the brisk morning air of sunrises. A hand slowly grasped and still continues to hold my arm in the direction of that city and that country; it was a tangible and evocative goodbye to Cambodia.

Chicken and Clams, Partying Khmer Style: Day 191

Palm Tree Hoodlums

Palm Tree Hoodlums

After seeing a film about orphans in northern Uganda, my parents felt moved to donate funds for the kids at Palm Tree. For about two weeks, I asked the administrators, teachers, and Evan what was lacking there or what needed additional funding to occur on the ground level. As the days passed, my interest in their nutrition fed a desire to hook them up with a big ol' feast of protein. I had one of the older kids translate my intentions to the head cook, a sweet lady who seems to do little else but clean dishes and boil more rice. She looked at me with the softest face and hugged me, nearly made me cry.

We soon hopped into a rickshaw with three or four older kids in tow and headed to the local version of a super Kroger. Open air, piles of food lining every walking path and lane, not one foreigner in sight.

The older kids held my hand or hooked elbows, making it a bit difficult to navigate over the trash rivers and around coasting motorbikes. I wasn't sure what compelled them to stay so close, whether a cultural habit, sign of appreciation or friendship, or fear of getting run over. Whatever the reasoning was, I was slowly feeling my American citizenship seep from every sweating and content pore.

Every wet step concerned me with thoughts of the substances now on my feet. Innards hung from the umbrellas in the open market, and I had to watch my head for fear of slapping it into a cow face. The cook decided upon a vendor and began weighing out chickens with their bare hands.

I couldn't bare to watch the food handling methods: grab the yellow skins to be weighed, drop it in a sack, wipe the brow, handle some money, shake hands, grab another chicken and whack its wings off with an effortless cleave. I handed the money to one of the kids and stepped back to avoid the flying bits. I guess I have my limits. What a nancy of a carnivore, I am.

We picked up some oil, seasoning and veggies and found our rickshaw waiting for us on the madhouse of a street. I reminded the cook on our drive back that I wanted all the food to go to the kids and none to reach the volunteer pagoda. This wasn't a meal for us. This obviously hit silent refusal as she was already conjuring an elaborate image in her head of our meal for later. I assume she thought it insulting to not make us food in appreciation, and she surely wanted to express her cooking abilities now that she had something more exciting to work with.

The meal was delicious, and the kids thanked me again with incredible formality. And the we threw that formality out the window.

The administrators pulled out and stacked speakers that reached heights above my head, and the kids began dancing on tables to versions of "Beautiful Girls" dubbed in Khmer. Their moves were awesome: sometimes organic, always repetitive, and often a duplication of a previous volunteer's dance routine.

I, for some reason, didn't feel like dancing much, which was probably because all eyes were on me, ready to mirror my image. I busted a few moves, a quick robot and wave sequence, which stunned some and caused them to practice for the remainder of the evening.

Soon into the event, Evan pulled me aside and brought me to the area of the compound where some teachers and admins live. One of the resident ladies had a baby that week and was now having a welcome home party with family and much of the Palm Tree staff. Tables were littered with beer cans and all the clams one could hope for.

I forget if I spoke much or even what was said around the table. I graciously accepted a little boxed wine from Evan and tried to psych myself out enough to try a marinated clam in front of me. The surrounding men were popping them like Orville Redenbacher.

The Grown-Up Party

And with each cheers, everyone was required to chug whatever drink sat in front of them. Cambodians sure love to drink; unfortunately, not many can hold their alcohol well. This resulted in some hilarious and awkward encounters with men who stared and smiled in my direction for lengths too long to be casual.

I couldn't handle the late hours the kids were willing and ready to reach with their dance party antics. The volume the speakers hit made it very evident there was no neighborly rule or law stating loud noises and music weren't tolerated. The windows and doors in my room reverberated with every bump of the base.

I retired early to finish reading my Shantaram novel and prepare myself for the everyday early wake-up. Within minutes of a full blown dance party, speakers shut off and returned to their storage areas while women and children hung their mosquito nets and fell into deep sleeps on their wooden platform or the cool linoleum floor.

The Cheap Battle Against Scurvy: Day 190

After ten days of teaching in classrooms, drawing cartoons, tutoring English, pushing swings, riding bikes too small for me, picking up from school, playing in the rain and watching TV while intertwined in a human pile, I finally felt comfortable taking my camera out of my room and clicking photographs of the kids I lived with. I guess I had the luxury of time on this leg to experience first and document later, but there were so many moments I wished I had captured digitally up until this point. But that was not the point. With only two days remaining in my Palm Tree experience, my place at the orphanage had solidified as much as it could in that span of time. I prioritized the friendships above the visual memories and even the written records because that was the sole reason for making this detour to Cambodia. It wasn't to be a white knight and put up a barrier between the kids and myself.

I didn't want to muddy my intentions for being at Palm Tree by pulling out my wallet and strutting the streets like Daddy Warbucks. There's no doubt I have enough personally to donate, but the trick is finding the right time and purpose that reflects my heart's place. All this travel made me ultra-sensitive in the act of gift-giving and honoring the dignity of the gift-receiver.

Spending multiple days eating next to these kids, filling up with rice and anchovy-sized fish on occasion, I realized my concern centered on their basic needs, like nutrition. One day, while walking outside the orphanage's salmon walls, I passed a small mart that sold apples. It took a lot of gestures, poor attempts at speaking Khmer, the involvement of passing Palm Tree children, and smiles to make the vendor understand what I wanted: 100 apples at her best price for the kids down the street.

The cost was $12.

I wanted the act of distribution to be as anti-climactic as possible and asked the cook to put them on their dinner plates. Of course, Cambodians cannot help but be grateful, appreciative and polite, and every child approached our little pagoda during dinner to thank me with a bow that displayed a sense of formality so easy and natural to them.

Evan reminded me of a market down the street that would offer a better selection of fruit and possibly better prices. I took three or four little boys with me the next day (and by took, I mean as I walked towards the orphanage gate, they ran up to see if they could tag along on the mini-adventure, skipping and holding my hand the whole way). As I took every step with such care as to avoid mud and piles of trash, the boys romped around without shoes (as they preferred to be) like we were in a field of marshmallows.

A lady with a heaping pile of green oranges caught my eye, and I sent young Vishna to discuss a sale of 100 juicy orbs. After getting a price quote, he came over to ask for roughly $10, and I gave him the equivalent in Cambodian riel. The vendor began packing her massive bag full and a few nearby ladies offered her their hands in the counting.

A few minutes passed, and Vishna came back with three more dollars because she realized she overcharged. One look at the vendor, and I felt this subtle moment of sweetness and good standing in their community. It was an honest view into a seemingly rough city most foreigners can only hope to glimpse.

$7 for 100 oranges. And to think I've bought a cocktail for more than that.

My Brush with Controversial Cambodia: Day 189

There's such a thing as a hostess bar in Cambodia. It's an establishment that offers libations, snacks, and the most salient feature of spry, young Cambodian women, available for modest companionship and eye candy. With such a gag-evoking reality of child prostitution and sex tourism in this country already scarred with unfathomable [recent] history, I was very careful to approach the idea of nightlife in Phnom Penh. It had been a long time since I participated in after hour activities, especially with anyone resembling a travel buddy or friend, and with two weeks in this relative hub of excitement, I thought it was a necessary experience. I also had to see what this hostess situation was about. Evan understood and shared my outlook on Cambodian nightlife and offered to introduce me to this unique experience. The ride to the bar occurred after an incredible downpour that flooded the streets to levels beyond my comprehension. Our tuk-tuk driver had to get off his seat and push his vehicle (with us still in the back, lifting our legs from the incoming water, because he wouldn't allow us to get out and push with him) until he passed through a thigh-high water situation at the intersection of two roads.

I was stunned this amount of water could puddle together with buildings and storefronts lining the streets, as if the water level displayed the correct ground level and the driver walked in some sort of quicksand below. Evan kept his feet elevated, hoping any minor cuts wouldn't get infected as one had the previous week (which he had to keep soaked in bright purple iodine). The moment was surreal and simply hilarious. I'm disappointed the lighting didn't lend to some telling pictures.

I was already quite sauced before we entered the first watering hole, a hostess bar that was vouched for and legitimate by standards unbeknownst to me. I said "yay" to a Long Island Iced Tea and sat at a U-shaped couched where Evan and I were soon thronged by women of high school age or older.

With daily gigs of encouraging consumption and making witty conversation with travelers, these hostesses were skilled in language. They understood the complexities of humor, based in languages and cultures foreign to them (a laudable skill, as I learned in Italy). I guess in a sense they were the Cambodian equivalent of geishas.

The awkward feeling in my gut led me to act oblivious and just start ordering food while throwing out jokes and anecdotes to anyone listening. Eventually I loosened up and began chatting with the girl next to me (who was only nearby because she, along with the others, was enamored with Evan and his care for the Palm Tree kids).

She had a son who suffered from elephantitis of the testicles. He was roughly two or three years of age. She flashed a picture out from her pocket and showed me his face and worn frame. This woman had no reason to tell me this sad truth of her life, as she knew I wasn't there for special companionship or to buy her drinks. She wasn't even the one who brought the topic into conversation.

Looking around at the other tables in the bar, I realized we were monopolizing about 80% of the hostesses on duty. They flocked to our table in hopes of hearing Evan's attempt at speaking in Khmer and chatting as friends. The rest of the tables were occupied by twos, one traveler to one woman, and the game at play was flirting. It was like we made it to the backstage party and bypassed the controversial showing of "You Like Me. You Buy Drink."

Approaching this outing like a foreigner made it easy to judge, but I then took my own understanding of nightlife in College Town, USA and applied the same eye. Aside from the drink incentives and hourly wages paid by the bars, the social scene in both countries seemed eerily similar. Girls go to bars. Boys go to bars to find girls. Girls try to get guys to buy them drinks. Guys buy girls drinks to encourage further conversation and companionship. And at the end of the night, if two people like each other, they can choose to exchange numbers and stay in contact with one another. And some day, when feelings blossom, who knows?

The next morning I awoke in an empty hotel room, shivering from the billowing AC and listening to the MTV channel I had fallen asleep to. Since we weren't planning to be back from our night out before 9pm or after 5am (when the gate would be locked), we rented a $10 room each with all the essentials (TV, AC, personal bathrooms and soap). Lying in that bed, I listened to the newest works by Keane and Lil Jon and began to anticipate the boat loads of new music I would encounter once back stateside.

Evan and I waltzed back to the orphanage in time for a double fried egg lunch with the kids, and their looks of confusion as to why we were just returning from the evening were refreshing. Luckily, the Palm Tree kids are among the few in Phnom Penh (and Cambodia) who see the world with fairly innocent eyes. Most were never exposed to the professions of the night and had trouble understanding why we went out on the town the night before. Even though our evening activities weren't scandalous and were for the pursuit a unique cultural experience, it made me happy to know they were protected from the burdens of their demographic.

Except for one new girl.

Srey Nith arrived at Palm Tree only a few days before I had, and her patchy English and mysterious personality made it difficult to see where her mind would lead her actions. Word on the playground was she had been taken from the despicable child sex tourism game. Her brown eyes and toothy smile conjured mischief, and I wished terribly that we could speak a common language. But instead we spent many minutes and hours drawing pictures and saying simple English and Khmer phrases to enable some better communication.

She often mentioned her boyfriend or a boy she liked, pointing off to a group of older guys and saying a name I wasn't familiar with. I'd question what she meant and upon hearing her insinuate actions and thoughts above her maturity, I immediately shut them down with friendly disapproval. I wanted her to know, if she was saying those things for acceptance, it wouldn't work for me. Instead, I showed enthusiasm with each new statement she learned in English, and her constant quizzing of Khmer phrases helped my skills immensely. She sang for me with English lyrics she didn't understand, and I wrote them out on a whiteboard, during an impromptu tutoring lesson, so she could realize what she was indeed singing about.

She had a do-good heart hidden in a battered shell, and I found her to be one of my most intriguing friends at the orphanage. It pained me to hear when trouble went down by her doing. With the "physical education" and mature lectures she received in her short lifetime thus far, I can imagine her thoughts of entering a new place filled with men she had to seek approval from. And seek it she did, but in a way neither she nor the young boys she touched were aware and ready for.

The next week, five boys at the orphanage were a bit quieter; one of which was my self-proclaimed "little brother" who used to climb up my torso like a tree to hug and kiss me on the cheek but now shied from my taps on the shoulder. I spent the next days slowing building the boys' trust back in females and solidifying their beliefs that I was there to do no harm or embarrassment to them. It was a slow process, but thankfully, I got the smiles and the hugs once more.

For all the good we do or think we do in the United States, I hope citizens are aware of, thoroughly disgusted by, and prepared to flog any of the Americans that makes up the quarter of the child sex tourism industry around the world (and 40% of Cambodia's red-light market).

My Friend, Evan Witty

There are a couple reasons why I've chosen to live my life the way that I do. The unpredictable coming of death is a major determining factor that leaves me feeling helpless to the forces of nature. When traveling to distant lands and seeking adventure make us more vulnerable to risk and danger, but statistics claim most accidents and fatal situations happen close to home, I can't help but believe in living like you have no control over your own time; so I've stopped living a comfortable life that lends to such a mentality. By doing so, I hope to improve my quality of life to a measure that cannot be surpassed, one that doesn't stop sopping up beautiful moments while leaving nothing but good things in the wake, making my time of death a welcome occurrence when it arrives as I've deferred nothing for that non-existent future. I say all this because I lost a friend today, someone I knew 12 days in total but held dear nonetheless. And though 12 days is but an infantile blip in the timeline of my existence, this friendship began and proceeded as the best ones do: as a traveler friendship.

Arriving in July to a city, country, and continent he'd never visited, Evan Witty began his time as a long-term volunteer at the Palm Tree Orphanage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. When I met him in November, he had become a staple figure on the grounds, knew every one of the 100+ children by name (names not easily absorbed by a Western mind), understood their personalities and tendencies, and had grasped an incredible take on Cambodian culture from both an outsider's and an insider's eyes. He revealed a lot to me about a country I was ignorant of and welcomed me along in his own experiences both at Palm Tree and around town.

Though many times as a volunteer we were confused as to our part in the grand scheme of Palm Tree, it was understood that Evan was there to become inexplicably linked to the kids and make wonderful things happen, both tangible and emotional. He had goals for his fundraising efforts and knew his place there. As a result, he was deeply respected and sought after for guidance on a wide range of issues.

Evan and I

Evan and I

I needed him dearly to break the barrier that had formed around me in India. I hadn't been exposed to the familiar in so long and hadn't felt a hug from home since July, but when he told me he was a Midwestern boy, whom had experienced the wonders of Indiana University's Little 500, knew mutual friends, held leadership positions in his greek organization, and loved being away from the comfort of the United States, I felt at ease, finally. And with traveler friendships and the ever-present expiration date, we got to know each other fast and in ways that sidetracked the common small talk of two ships passing. He showed me how to call home for an hour for less than a US Dollar, enabled my experience of the  Cambodian nightlife, and acted himself in a way that compounded my sense of purpose and possibility for the things I hope to accomplish in life.

Since Evan was lousy at correspondence, and thankfully made that known to me before I left, we didn't get to speak after I left at 5:00am on the morning of November 13th, 2008. He made sure I woke him up to say goodbye, exchange contacts, and promise to meet again once we were both stateside. And honestly, I was still very much looking forward to that meeting after his summer flight back to Chicago; I thought about it many times, imagining conversations over beers or a baseball game where we discussed the kids and his future plans for probable humanitarian work (since he was meant to care for others).

I made a CD with my videos and pictures of the kids I thought he would appreciate. I wrote him a letter, hoping to help him in whatever task he was working on. Those were only just being delivered this week with the arrival of Terry Kellogg, one of the founders of Cambodia's Hope, and I'm sad I won't get the chance to further any initiatives he started or had dreamed up.

I awoke with a shock when I rolled to my side to look at my phone; one e-mail from Marvel Kellogg stating Evan had passed in his sleep. It's hard to shake that confusion off when a friend never wakes, especially at the ripe age of youth, and I am bitter that this has happened to friends of mine more than once.

There’s a certain awe I feel toward Evan Witty and his now legendary heart and determination to do good for the kids at the Palm Tree orphanage in Cambodia. As a guy with a great deal of education, charisma, and experience, he could have moved into a powerful job path and made monetary success his mission. But he found more appeal in living with 100+ kids in a country he had no ties to. He wanted to move people and make physical and emotional necessities available to anyone. With that desire and an experience such as the one he had at Palm Tree, his life work was destined to be hugely impacting and awe-inspiring, and I'm so sorry we don't get to witness his next steps. But he passed with people who loved him and he loved in return, in his sleep on the beach in Cambodia. As unfair as this whole situation is, that irreversible fact has a peace that adequately reflects the dignity Evan deserves to receive.

I will continue to think of his dreams for the Palm Tree orphanage and stay a part of the children's lives, keeping in mind Evan's work and what he would want to happen for the future. If you knew Evan or were moved by his humanity, please check out his cause on my page documenting Cambodia's Hope. Those kids are deserving of more devout workers like Evan, so if you are looking for a way to impact something wonderful with your time or funds, this would be the place and the cause. And if you do decide to become a volunteer for Palm Tree, I'd love to pass on the tips I remember from Evan that will make your experience complete.

The Transition to Useful: Day 187

IMG_0385

As often as one would see a road sign or a mailbox on the highway in America, in Cambodia, one sees the reoccurrence of signage displaying political loyalty: Cambodian People's Party, Funcinpec, and oodles others adorning the mouths of people's driveways. Besides these brilliant blue beacons, all the world is green. Families construct roadside eateries and offer a good meal to any motorist en route. On this stretch of road connecting Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, the world looks to be a cross-pollination between tropical farm villages and elegant stretches of undisturbed patty fields. The TV on board the vocal little bus resonated melodious Khmer tunes along with karaoke music videos, which everybody seemed to love. I couldn't bother looking much at the screen with such a wonderland going by. It was a beautiful ride, aside from the sporadic, nonsensical horn usage, but I happily sat back and crunched on over-flavored Pringles and roadside spiral pineapple, enjoying strong tastes for the first time since the wicked gastro-spell.

Upon reaching the capital of Cambodia, I sat waiting in the misty spray of the open-air bus station. For the first time in seemingly ages, I was expecting someone. The relentless taxi drivers attempted to snatch me up for business and take me to a location I had vague and confusing directions to; however, I trusted the warnings of volunteer coordinator, Jennifer, and stayed put until they eventually came to find me.

DSC_0583

Evan, Zan, a Palm Tree worker, and a Palm Tree child (both with names I'd rather not butcher by wrongfully spelling here) found me negotiating with a motor bike driver, and I was relieved to see my name printed on a sheet in their hands and hear the American twang in their voices. We rode to the orphanage and exchanged the initial conversation points (I being incredibly excited to be around people who spoke English and they looking forward to a new volunteer to enlighten the dynamic) before finally rolling up to the salmon-colored walls of the oasis.

The immediate hugs upon reaching the Palm Tree Orphanage warmed more than just my arms and legs. That kind of human contact was something my body and mind felt deprived of, without me being consciously aware of it. This establishment is often visited by Americans and Western volunteers, and the kids have learned what to expect from some of these visits. Some bring mad amounts of gifts to be distributed to those they connect with most. Others are there for the long haul to make a real impact in their lives, and vice versa. I came to make some friends, get a feel for the place (Palm Tree and Cambodia), and offer up my skills and services for the greatest amount of good. It was interesting to see how my relationships with the kids evolved after that first meeting.

I don’t believe in traveling the world to kiss babies. And I don’t immediately pity and coddle kids just because they are kids or because they are “less fortunate” than I. When I meet someone, I hold them to the same standards as I do any new acquaintance; if they have a good soul, they are a part of my circle. And even if they hide their character behind real angst, the gut instinct detects the good nature that allows humans to connect beyond language and cultural barriers.

Upon getting to my beautiful shared room with a bed and AC, there was an immediate concern to wash some clothing, seeing as I had absolutely no items ready for wear that wouldn't require a Hazmat crew to unfold. The ladies at the orphanage insisted that I fill a laundry basket and let them do the work. I refuted it a little before realizing it would probably be offensive to do it myself when they offered.

Our first meal in the little pagoda was a chance for Evan and Zan (real name Susannah, but none of the kids could swing that name around regularly) to explain how this place works. Out of the corner of my eye, I checked out the kids as they simultaneously gave me the once over. There was a definite dynamic and strong, preexisting relationships between the orphanage, the kids, and the American vagabonds, and I had to figure out how I would mesh into it without disturbing the "chi".

That night, as the sun set hard over the city, a busload of SASers pulled up to the gates. The fall voyage of Semester at Sea had docked in Saigon, Vietnam that week, and a select few students made the jaunt to Cambodia on a school-sponsored trip to see Angkor and the Palm Tree. My voyage (Spring 2007) was the first to frequent Palm Tree as an experience, which is how I came to find out about this place, and the odd sense of deja vu that swept over me upon seeing the next generation of globetrotters was more like time-travel than anything else. As most of the students came charging into the mob of children blowing kazoos and spraying silly string, one girl approached me as I stood to the side, under an overhang out of the rain, and asked if this was my orphanage. I laughed and told her I got here about four hours before she did. "I'm just getting into the swing here."

"You look so familiar! Have you been on Semester at Sea before?" "Yeah, Spring 2007. It's so weird to see you guys coming through here; I was you over a year ago!" "I SAW YOUR VIDEOS! I knew I wanted to do Semester at Sea a year before we left, and I did intense YouTube research on all the ports. I watched all your videos and remember you had two good friends: a really cute boy and a really tall girl." "Ha, wow, I just traveled with them in June in Europe! That's Alexis and Garrett. This is so odd that you know who the are..."

DSC_0568

It's encounters like this, and the experience of actually going around the Earth's circumference ever so slowly, that constantly and continually inspire me to say, "It really is a freaking small world."

Upon day one, my purpose at Palm Tree was tested. The volunteer setup is completely based around what you want and are willing to do by your own initiative. I began by just hanging out with some kids and becoming a part of their dynamic. I sprawled across a table and started coloring something that would get them interested in me, but when my buddy, Sal, tested me in an effort to apprehend the community crayons for himself, I had to take the first-day-babysitter stance and show them I saw past the cute eyes and teardrops. I knew he was aiming to see how far he could go with my naivety to get what he wanted. I stood firm, and he wandered around the grounds crying to everyone that he “really loved crayons.” Later that evening before bed, he emerged from the depths of his dorm to sit by me, timidly before snuggling up to my side. He was my boy for the rest of the stay.

Scars and quiet faces. Burn marks and troubled pasts. One would never know what happened to these kids before they came to Palm Tree unless one of the administrators opened up the filing cabinet. These children don’t exude pity or anguish. They fall down, scrap their knees and get back up to laugh some more. They crawl up your leg as if you were a tree in order to give you the biggest hug and kiss they can muster. They play in the monsoon rains with their bikes, metal lids, and each other, and even though their diets don't consist of protein shakes or much calorie-packed sustenance, the energy levels never die from 5am when they rise to 9pm when their final giggles disappear in the air of Phnom Penh.

My arrival coincided with a major switch in the academic regimen, one that made me do an Austin Powers ankle-flicking jump when I realized the massive teaching manual I lugged around the world would come to good use. Cambodian children attend half-day government school, where they wear uniforms and speak in their local language of Khmer. The lucky kids at Palm Tree are also provided supplemental education for the other half of the day, where they attend classes on the grounds with teachers employed by the foundation.

These classes, once conducted in Khmer, were now being changed to an American school system and taught in English. Middle/high school textbooks printed in Kansas and the Great Plains were photocopied and dispersed to the children, the younger ones receiving the earlier chapters with the older students only getting the latter chapters of the book, without the introductions to vocabulary they didn't know. The teachers also understandably had a rough transition ahead of them, now challenged to teach subjects like math and history in a language they may or may not be fluent in. Evan, Zan, and I spent our days trying to offer as much support as we could possible give.

On the first day of the new system, Evan and I walked into a classroom filled with kids and lacking a teacher for that session. Seeing that their schedule said “Chemistry” and the textbooks went far above their heads, we created a dynamic lesson off the cuff by pouring water on the floor, knocking everything solid in the room, and squeezing ice cubes until they melted on their hands. While I tried to draw a propane tank on the whiteboard, Evan ran out to buy supplies on the street: powder for orange drink, a chunk of ice, a balloon, water bottles, and other teaching essentials.

By the end of the class, the kids learned that chemistry was about liquids, solids, and gases, and Evan and I were pooped, yet invigorated by the idea that we taught kids about science in a language they didn’t know. Those little successes every day, every hour made me feel so alive and needed in this world. I attended every class I could, eight a day, until the kids went on vacation.

Angkor Thoughts Anchor Awe: Day 180

Angkor Wat Temple Hallway

My hair fluttered in the wind on the back of the hired tuk-tuk. Driving twelve kilometers into the Angkor jungles, the amazing Cambodian air was cool and luscious, yet upon stopping it instantly created a "stick" factor that made me look freshly emerged from a pool. I even wore my Bayern Munchen soccer jersey in order to avoid the unfriendly cling and sag of wet cotton. I loved it. My driver friend and I were on a quest to see massive, ancient temples and wander the jungles littered with hidden landmines. I didn’t care how terrible my entry photo looked on my ticket stub or that I had a "moistache". The earth was red, the leaves were electric, and stone towers were on the horizon. Every explorer wishes to discover amazing locations themselves without the help of a guide book or treading an already "beaten path." But the reality is that we often travel because we've heard things from previous travelers and want to see for ourselves the wonder they witnessed upon discovery. The real trick is trying to blind yourself to the ambiance created by word of mouth and imagine that first moment of awe that shakes the timeless traveler to the core.

There are many UNESCO World Heritage sites and major city landmarks that receive a lot of hype, yet never surpass their reputation, in my eyes, when experienced in person. I was let down by such structures as the Eiffel Tower, the London Bridge, the main tourist drag of the Great Wall (until I illegally branched off and went along the crumbles), the "romantic" canals and piazzas of Venice, the Forbidden City, and more.

But not the Angkor temples.

Virtuosity. The human capacity for perfection. We as people are obsessed with seeing, feeling, hearing and tasting the best accomplishments of mankind. It's one of the main pulls on us to look elsewhere from our home bases to find something better or different than what we know. Child prodigies in music, gorgeous cathedrals in Italy, or practiced chefs that write the book on their specialty, we know how to measure the rest in a genre if we know what to compare it with. And when one dips their senses into an ambiance orchestrated by many virtuosos simultaneously, enlightenment is almost within reach.

"Fly on little wing." Jimi sang my favorite melody through the buds in my ears, as I placed my bottom atop a mound of elephant-lain stones. Pulling out my journal, I jotted the things that elevated my spirits to the status of "inspired."

Some time in the early 1000s, the people in this part of the world wrangled wild elephants into hauling massive chunks of the Earth's crust together and chiseled their mark with great cultural and artistic pride, displaying a skill level hardly matched one thousand years later. The expanse is vast; the design incredible. Even the bite of the slow "cattle herd" atmosphere isn't strong enough to deter from Angkor Wat's isolated magnitude.

I was in the presence of greatness, evident by sight and the tactile touch of its elephant skin-like surface. The dampening rain or the dew-filled air revealed colors reminiscent of a riverbed cross-section: murky olive greens, smears of light rust, cold tint-less gray, thin browns and streaked tan. The stones were earth-toned rainbows, and between the stone corridors and colonnades wove the solemn monks, decorating the steaming enterprise like half-melted popsicles.

Like mountains, these elaborate religious complexes take what mankind and Mother Nature dish out, and they come out more resilient on the other end. I saw the main temple of Angkor Wat as having a face, one so wrinkled, jaded and too old to even roll its eyes at the shutter-happy, grouping tourists in matching hats.

And when all the tourists got in close to squint and contemplate a bundle of Angkor-inspired questions, I thought to myself, "Are we all trying to look like we discern what we see?" Have we all read the history and the books on ancient architecture? Have we all decided to pretend like we look amused, even though the humidity is directing us to take the obligatory shots and evacuate ASAP? There's a reason we all trek out into the personally unknown to see for ourselves the things of this physical world.

Why do I do it? Understanding others and the path of humanity helps me understand myself and the next inch of my path. Some times I'm barely aware of where I am, but one look sends my internal thoughts a-spinning.

Those who were able to delight in the wonders of Cambodia while on Semester at Sea all brought home a t-shirt from the roads of Angkor that I envied. I left my earbuds in, sunk my hands in my pockets, and moseyed the stretch of vendors outside Angkor Wat to peruse their goods in search of such a find. One woman sitting in a lone chair called out to me saying she liked my style, maybe not so much my clothing choices but my nature as I strolled the local "strip mall," and we began chatting. I told her friend I wanted to buy some t-shirts in bulk for a good price and proceeded to get 8 shirts for roughly $10, while showing off our grins to each other and enjoying the game of the haggle. I had a little posse of women in my periphery all there to giggle at something or offer their own brand of souvenir. I took one up on a sweaty bottle of water and walked away content with all my purchases.

The relentless saleschildren tried to coax me into other painting stands, but only one man summoned real appreciation and praise. I found a guy that not only took his art seriously but was selling the work of his master, both artists finally breaking the molds of the mass-produced Angkor artwork. With all the cash I had left, I invested in the master and had the piece quickly rolled for transport to avoid the heavy showers that soon lacquered my hair to my face.

Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and a jungle filled with rock piles; I wandered like I was a very damp Lara Croft in the very structures that inspired the movie's plotline and destination. I stepped from stone to stone to the grand pathway in front of a monkey temple and time traveled to the moments when the buildings' grandeur was at their pinnacle.

While my toes baked in my cracking flip-flops, I was mesmerized by the ringing I couldn't place. Looking around for a row of monks with little clinking bells, I thought I was a little bit crazy for hearing things so foreign in the middle of nature. After asking my driver, busy chowing at his favorite open air restaurant, what they were, he enlightened me by spelling out the word he had trouble pronouncing, "C-I-C-A-D-A-S."

I joined my driver for lunch of Khmer soup at the restaurant/trivia zone for the wandering saleskids. "What is the capital of Madagascar? Do you know the population of your own country? If I know, then you buy something from me!" Many of us were made fools of based on the knowledge we lacked in our own world geography and by children who were skipping school in order to profit from these impromptu quizzes. I sat in the back, very torn by how I felt about these kids and their daily routine, hoping this wasn't evidence of their necessity-imposed priorities but that they just didn't have school in the afternoons.

When my stomach churned, letting me know it would soon be quite aggravated, I climbed on top of a pile that marked the site of a dilapidated temple and sat for one last experience before I bid the jungle farewell. It was atop this mound that I finally could form the descriptions I was feeling of a place so enlightened. I began to sing under my breath the song I paired with this leg of the journey in a video: Lauryn Hill's "Miseducation". The cicadas provided the starting note fittingly in the key of "C".

The driver and I burned diesel as we flew out of the jungle. He offered me the name of his brother in Phnom Penh if I ever needed a ride anywhere, and I thanked him for the comfort he provided every time I turned to the parked taxis in search of my kind chauffeur and saw his easy smile.

That was all I wanted to see. That's the only other thing I wanted to do in this country besides hang out with some kids. I booked a bus for the next morning, recovered in my room and took to an empty Thai restaurant for some grade A service and tasty fare. The boys served every glass or dish with an outstretched right hand and a gesture of respect with the left, presenting me with two extra treats I didn't even order in the name of hospitality. When a personal fan materialized to waft a calming breeze in my direction, my mind solidified, "Siem Reap is stellar, clean and homey, from the initial breath to the ride out of town."

Soulja Boy in Cambodi'ya: Day 180

I sat watching a Champions League soccer game on the restaurant's TV, dangling my flip flop from a shaking foot and hoping a Cambodian beer was in my immediate future. No one waited on me, and I look around to see that every frat boy backpacker had been served and content for seemingly hours. After waiting about five minutes, the slate of my mind was wiped clean, and I stood up rather robot-like and walked towards the street, much like Forrest Gump before his cross-country running spree. I said to myself, "I sure hope this city is safe."

I walked with a notebook in hand, clasping it nonchalantly, yet tight enough to keep my dollar bills and Cambodian riel lodged within the pages. Taking a left, I passed by some roadside eateries still blazing their lamps for business. I held my pant legs above my ankles to avoid the slowly disappearing rain rivers that earlier washed a layer of sand across the pavement. I couldn't get over the purity of the air. I felt comfortable, instantly at home.

Walking by many restaurants and bars, I found an illuminated chalk sign that said: Happy Hour 5pm - 10pm. My kind of business. I barely looked both ways to cross the street and landed in the doorway of my new favorite establishment. I quickly ordered a pint of Angkor for less than a dollar, and the ecstatic young barkeep ran across the street to fetch the brew. I guess this bar wasn't stocked with the local beer of choice. Odd.

When I first walked in, the young man at the counter smiled without hesitation and showed me to the closest chair to the street for public viewing. He muted the Arsenal game and turned on his mix CD of popular American hip-hop. Soulja Boy's unmistakable "YOUUUUU" resonated throughout the bar. One look at his face, and you knew he was deejaying to impress. I felt incredibly compelled to stand up and teach him the dance, a bit of a cultural exchange, if you will; however, something compelled me to stay seated and continue to laugh to myself, writing down the things I was experiencing while sipping on the frosty mug.

The restaurant across the street closed up, and workers flocked to the sounds of Usher and Lil Wayne coming from our watering hole. A young woman sat alone on a barstool, sipping her drink with a smile plastered on her face. Being in Cambodia as a newbie, I immediately believed she was there to get free drinks, make a new friend, and cash out in the morning after making a load from a local or foreign businessman. Chances are she was a neighborhood teenager in need of a wet whistle, and I'll stick with that interpretation until I reach cold cut proof of the other.

I bade my new friends adieu and returned to my $10 a night luxury suite for some light-hearted merriment. Cambodian TV is an insomniac's paradise. Never have I laughed so hard at the tube than when I delighted in the fashion, karaoke, and Thai soap opera channels at the Green Lantern Guesthouse. There is great fascination in those parts with watching uneventful music videos about a boy and a girl longing for each other and singing along to it, karaoke-style. It's entertainment for the worldwide masses. I burst into laughter (audible from two rooms away, at least) at the melodrama of the soap operas I couldn't even understand. And fashion TV transported me from my guesthouse in Cambodia to a sorority common room or a Californian cocktail bar.

Lying there on my stomach with a pillow propping my gaze and a remote poised, the experience seemed a somewhat lazy, albeit fulfilling, approach to the act of cultural osmosis. The programs' hilarity and fuzzy reception were constant reminders that values, geography, technology, tastes, and desires can and do space worlds apart, meanwhile giving travelers a reason to keep going. What is mainstream at home is a delightful import elsewhere, and those treasured pastimes of distant lands are our special windows to other worlds with a dash of foreign charm.

Anyone coming to the United States looking for culture will either be smacked by it or have to whip out a magnifying glass to find it, but as a techno-centric society, all a traveler would have to do to see our values and humor would be to turn on the TV. Does that mean my experience in a different country could be enlightened by observing their local tube offerings? And at a time when so much is accessible from a simple hotel room or a satellite receiver, the question of why one should go and spend and weather and endure on location never ceases to probe.

As evident by my ramble, it can be very hard to describe even the most subtle realities of traveling abroad to those who are back in the solid mindset of home and the familiar. The nomad's world is an academic one, and with every hour comes a challenge to the things already known or believed. There is no rest for the mind and its running list of values, which is why one becomes wiser and fulfilled but less happy and wearier while wandering without fail for months on end.

I fell asleep to the sounds of a downpour outside my open window. The world was being flushed clean. Cambodia was a clean pipe when I awoke the next morning.

Luxu-Reverse Culture Shock: Also Day 179

Individual TVs with touch screen features, jam-packed with the latest Hollywood hits. A Thai meal paired with real silverware, a cloth napkin matching the pattern of the place mat, and true customer satisfaction. I just described the experience of flying with an Indian airline. Surprised? My eyes were slathered with awe once I left the Kolkata airport, having not seen high quality anything since coffee hour in Qatar. I flew Jet Airways. My standards for air travel are now exponentially higher. I wandered the new Bangkok airport. I now know the super-human extent of modern architecture. I walked onto the tarmac at the Siem Reap airport in Cambodia. I could smell rain and the pure air of a tropical haven. I finally remembered what air could smell like. I was officially out of India.

Rain. Rain! Warm rain that recalls the vast memories of beach vacations on Caribbean islands. I looked for the ocean, knowing we were hundreds of miles from one. It was astonishing, the amount of water the air could hold, and all of it was fresh and without evidence of trash or dung-fueled bonfires. Though I've never used an oxygen tank, I imagine the sensation is something like what I felt in my lungs as I descended the stairs of the plane: wet velvet coating the tubes and filling all alveoli with down feathers, without the supposed suffocation side-effects.

I smiled as my shoestrings licked the tropical rain puddles. The sounds of the engine were muted by the winds. My country count ticker clicked: 39.

Life returned to being slow and understandable. It was without any trouble at all that I found a taxi driver whom would not only charge a reasonable cost but didn't exude a shady air, openly chatted about Khmer culture, and drove me around town in search of a suitable guesthouse within my limited budget.

Five star hotels rocketed out of the earth on all sides, and my eyes flickered with the light of a dreamer. This place was nice. This place was clean! I would have gladly walked barefoot or had dinner on the curb of the main thoroughfare. Rith, my new friend, laughed and continued to navigate the flooded streets without a blink, follow the rules of the road, and go the speed limit. Heck, there were speed limits again!

Rith (which is pronounced in no way like it appears) took care to inquire at each guesthouse for vacancies and keep looking when the inn turned me away. Once an open room revealed itself, he remained on the ground level to make sure I was satisfied then gave me his card for future service and parted into the night. The glistening teeth of his smile as he left reminded me; the unprovoked smiles from Africa were back. The Midwestern girl in my nomadic shell rejoiced.

There was a moment before I left my room in Darjeeling, when my bag was packed and strapped to my resting frame, that I took a deep breath and realized the transit days ahead of me. I knew I wouldn't be comfortable until my room in Siem Reap materialized and my proximity offered chances for Angkor temple explorations. Flopping my bag onto the floor and landing on one of my two queen sized beds covered in comfortable bedding, that moment reoccurred to me. A deep sigh left my unburdened being, signifying the other bookend to the journey between. I was finally put.