Khmer New Year (Choul Chhnang Thmei)

It's a week before the biggest annual event of the Khmer New Year. Every single baraing (foreigner) I knew already left the country and there are few people at the popular expat bars. My street is lined with huge speakers, stacked one on top of the other, and every night traditional Khmer shrieking pierces the air at full blast. Female vocals have a high nasally pitch to them so thanks to the concrete makeup of structures, the screeching amplifies and reverberates superbly, while the accompanying bass pounds to the core beyond salvation of earplugs. People are on the streets boppin' to the racket.OK so it's one thing to have disagreeable tunes steadily assailing your nerves. Your frazzled system adjusts and the assault can mitigate to white … [Read more...]

About fieldwork: "and oh, the places you’ll go!"

I'm more often than not in the provinces for one of my bigger projects, an STI (sexually transmitted infections) survey*. I am the only foreigner, and no one on my survey teams or the provincial offices that I interact with for days on end is competent enough in English that every utterance does not need to be repeated multiple times, loud and punctuated by wild gesturing. Even my translator needs much explaining. This can be draining...Although communication difficulties are a given, that daily reserve of energy sometimes isn't enough to stay afloat deep waters of frustration. Especially when you are hot, tired, dehydrated, waiting to finish the day's work, and you catch one of your lab techs taking ice out of the cold chain for his drink. … [Read more...]

Cambodia: To temple To Temple (Angkor Wat)

Despite previous hysterics I've decided there's an alluring charm about this unyielding landscape. It's a tough adjustment, still is. One thing about traveling/living abroad that is nice in the short term is that you're constantly engaged, stimulated, surrounded by people. But for the long haul it's a revolving door of expats-- they're just passing through and do not stay in your life. Absence of the friendly face that knows, understands, or plain amuses you is draining. So I was much excited about the prospect of a friend of a friend coming into the country to see Angkor, though I knew little about this boy beyond his kind streak of saving your wits and handing them back to you when you've lost it in horrible places like POIPET. Happily-- … [Read more...]

Cambodia: “Logic” in My New Life (or Lack Thereof)

(Note regarding last post: I admit naive existence by my reaction to Poipet, of all border towns, and am duly humbled and impressed by y'all's courage under fire. I remain in anticipation of genuine notoriety ahead!)Lunch was a hearty bowl of steaming soup. I dug in. . . . Uh-huh, I don't eat that {{taking out a pig knuckle}} . . . Mmm, chicken feet {{chuck}}. . . Hadn't had innards in a while {{chuck}}. . . What-is--??--{{scrutinizing from different angles. . . chuck}} . . . By the time I was ready to start there were a few noodles left in my bowl and four dogs waiting expectantly at my feet. Meals are a Fear Factor challenge without the prizes. The psychology part can be overcome, it boils down to digestive prowess—and a good medical … [Read more...]

Cambodia: Poipet Border Crossing

First impression via point of entry is a curious introduction to a country. Express arrival through sterile gateways is had at the airport, with greeting that is composed and targeted. Would you like a Starbucks au lait, a shuttle to our white beach resorts, wine and dine at our five star establishments. How modern we are, let us show you (can you tell what parts of the world my travels take me to). The overland route goes through back doors, where a country is less prepared to receive guests, exposing social ills and systemic inadequacies, or perhaps better displaying an old world charm and raw beauty. Given time and energy, I attempt this passage. And then there was Poipet. The train ride from Bangkok to the border town of Aranyaprathet … [Read more...]

Thailand: Embrace the Chaos (Bangkok)

I was standing at a busy intersection waiting amid a large crowd of pedestrians to cross the street, when someone pinched my butt. I glared heavenwards at the asinine behavior before turning slowly around. And looked up. And up. There was a tree behind me. And it honked. Right in the middle of the Bangkok congestion, in rush hour, an elephant is standing behind me waiting to cross the street. Where else would you see this!! Alright, ok, it's still a novel appeal to me. I walked next to the massive creature for a few blocks, touching his trunk, his leg, a stupid smile on my face.Thailand is the only SE Asian country to have escaped the good fortune of Western colonization, a subject of much debate as to why (that was sarcasm). Farming … [Read more...]

Thailand: After the Tsunami (Phuket)

White beaches. Emerald bays. Tranquility on a gentle breeze and the soft lap of water at your toes. The brilliant backdrop of a setting sun. Troubles reduce to inconsequence when Mother Earth bows kindly down, harnessing all of creation's beauty, and places gently at your feet such romance. It is betrayal of the highest order to feel less than awed.Phi Phi Island welcomed guests back for the first time last Tuesday since it was tragically robbed of its patrons a month ago. The tropical paradise, two hours off the coast of Phuket by boat, is alloted but a kindly dot on the map of Thailand to acknowledge its presence. But since the filming of Leonardo di Caprio's "The Beach" on location, an atmosphere of mass tourism emerged. Thousands of … [Read more...]

Thailand: One Night in Bangkok

How good it feels to be alive tonightThe moon is shining in the skyReminding me of so many other nightsBut they're not like tonight –s.w.It is lovely here, though in the first hours outside it did not take long for me to lose voice from pollution assaulting my vocal tracts. Happily my body is well on its way acclimating to undesirable environmental contaminations and I no longer manifest short term effects...I don't normally do massages cuz I'm ticklish, but after the 28hour trip my entire left side was stuck in a knot from being curled up in a ball on those horrible small seats. So I went for a Thai massage. Do you know, they BEAT you vigorously with their fists, feet, elbows, and knees, it is not relaxing at all. In fact I think I forgot … [Read more...]