A Gentle Reminder (Part Two)

18 12 2017

(Continued…)

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The first temple that we visited was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was a simple, neighborhood temple, one of dozens in the area. It wasn’t for tourists, and there were no signs in English, but the intensely brilliant colors and gold leaf coating the building drew us in. There were no monks there at the time, but there was a large tree trunk wrapped in giant swaths of colored fabric, and the base of the trunk was protected by a short wall, painted with colorful depictions of religious characters. It was topped with burning incense, candles, and several imperfect, white lotus blossoms that looked like they had fallen from a nearby tree after a squirrel took a bite. It was stunning, and yet completely commonplace.

The next temple we visited was a true destination- the Golden Temple. It was a breathtakingly beautiful complex with layers of intrigue. We slowly meandered up a steep set of stairs lined with little huts selling trinkets and items for offering to Buddha. At the very top, the temple unveiled itself, with four distinctly sculpted walls framing in the courtyard with ancient stories. I frequently stopped to admire the ornate architectural details and the gilded sculptures. And, yes, I DID bang the gong that hung from its own pagoda- it was taller than me!

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There was a large area in the center for honoring Buddha, and rows of people seated on the cobblestone floor, praying. I watched Bethany make her offering and receive her blessing. I was nervous, because I am not Buddhist, and I didn’t want to offend. It reminded me of attending a Catholic mass as a 12 year old, with my best friend, and how disappointed I was when they told me I wasn’t allowed to take communion like everyone else because I was not baptized. As I watched the elderly monk lean forward and grasp her two hands in his, a smile never left his peaceful face, and I knew that, even if I faltered with the customs, my heart would be received with love.

images (2)As soon as the monk finished tying the knot on my wrist, he paused, closed his eyes one last time, and placed his palm over my pulse. Seconds later, we exchanged bows, and I got up to leave him seated on the stone. The monk’s presence was palpable. He filled the courtyard with a sense of love and calm, and when he directed that energy into me, I could genuinely feel it. The string on my wrist served as a simple reminder of this love and kindness that we all aspire to be vessels for.

By the time we made it to Cambodia, my wrist was graced with multiple strings of various colors, each one carrying not only a blessing, but a memory. It was not until Cambodia, however, that my heart filled with the most memorable encounter, with a most amazing monk.

~~~

424389_412929122123051_1929217999_nThey say that you can get ‘templed out’ in Asia. That was not the case for this grrrl! Having studied many of these ancient temples in architectural history classes over a decade earlier, it was a dream come true to get to see them in real life. Such is the case for Angkor Wat and Angkor Tom, the two most well-known temple ruins in Cambodia. (You’ll recognize them from Tomb Raiders and Indiana Jones movies). Little did I know, these are just two of dozens of temple ruins in the area! It was a feat to see as many as we could in just 3 days, without becoming so utterly exhausted and overheated that the adventure becomes a chore.

312484_412884435460853_1548089458_nWhile on a 2-day ‘slowboat’ down the Mekong River just a week earlier, another couple, traveling generally the opposite direction as us, had told us about their strategy for experiencing Siem Riep. Get up early, hire a tuk-tuk for the day, explore the temples, drink water and snack until the afternoon heat becomes unbearable, then go back to town for  good lunch with A/C, then go sit in the pool to relax and recover from the heat of the day. For just $24 a day, we stayed in a stunning 5 star hotel with an infinite pool, and did just that!

On our very last day, we had worked our way out to the far flung, less visited temple ruins. There was one, the story goes, that was actually designed by a woman. Unlike the more popular destination temples, which are being constantly maintained and rebuilt, these ones were truly crumbling into history. Walking through the temple, it felt like being on a disaster recover team. Every time I ducked under a threshold into a new space, I was in awe at how these massive and mesmerizingly beautiful columns were simply strewn about, fallen and broken. It seemed as if a herd of behemoth brontosauruses had been chased through here, massive tails thrashing about, toppling over everything in their path. The rooms with fully intact columns were far more rare here, yet even the scene of crumbling disaster was something to behold. The voluptuous female figures carved into the stone now rested horizontally, after a few thousand years of standing in perfection.

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As we reached the heart of the temple, we ascended to the top, climbing over stubborn weeds and ancient steps worn down from time. I stepped into a dark tower, following the trail of sandalwood whispering with the breeze. There, half in shadow, half in light, was a figure seated on the stone floor, leaning onto one extended arm. Wrapped in robes, the bright light reflected off the dingy white stones onto her dark, shaved head. Her face was as wrinkled as the ocean, and her eyes shined like stars. She must have been in her 80s or 90s, but her energy hit me like a heavyweight champion. Never had I felt such a powerful force emanating from a person! She was… indescribably awesome. The scene burned into my mind, and I was so thrilled to find this woman. It felt like our entire journey led us here.

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As we boarded the plane in Thailand, I looked down at my wrist. The strings were powerful, but that last one was simply amazing.

~~~

One year ago, it felt like our country was crumbling. I started to wonder if, someday, thousands of years from now, they will uncover us deep in the jungle, and wonder what happened to our civilization. What led to their demise?

15697343_1397671346982152_6921785271375302890_nI was devastated and depressed, and the timing could not have been better for the trip we had planned to go to Sri Lanka. There, after wrapping up my conference, we immersed ourselves into the Sri Lankan culture and wilderness. It was there that I got up at 1am to hike the pilgrimage to the top of Sri Pada, to be at the temple on top of the world and watch the sun rise.

Today, one year later, I look down at the white string tied to my wrist, and I can remind myself that the sun always rises. There will always be a tomorrow. There is always hope.

IMG_4736 (1).JPGThis blessing may bring me luck, or it may not. But it serves its purpose. I am reminded daily that life is too short to focus on the negative. I need not want for anything. I am truly, completely blessed, and I work to keep reminding myself to share my love and light with others who may need it.

 

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Packing Pointers for Lightweights

18 02 2016

oversized-baggage-cartIf you are like me, and you love to travel, you also love things that make traveling easier, right? Well, today, I’m gonna let you in on a few of my favorite packing secrets!

When it comes time to pack for an upcoming trip, I am always ready. I love being organized almost as much as I love being efficient. Yep, I’m that grrrl who invested $349 in the ultra lightweight tent because it only weighed 3 lbs. 7 oz. and I could set it up in less than 2 1/2 minutes. So, when it comes to packing, I’m always thinking about ‘weighs’ to minimize what I have to carry, and reduce the weight (especially when backpacking). (Did you see what I did there?)

One thing that is hard to skimp out on is clothing. If you’re hiking alone in the woods, wearing the same stinky shirt 3 days in a row is fine (unless the bears disagree). However, when I’m traveling to present at a sustainability conference in Croatia or Sao Paulo, I expect to be able to look (and smell) presentable. So, what’s a grrrl to do to look good without carrying 56 pounds of baggage? Pack SMARTER!

 

Nummer Eins (#1) – Layers

1282063_408_mainOkay, so you’re going on a cruise and, although you hope to be spending most of your time in a swimsuit, you also know that there will be some rainshowers and some brisk ocean winds at night. This doesn’t mean you need to pack a parka. Being smart about your layers can allow you to be prepared for the extreme weather without packing your bag to the extreme.

shoppingFind a lightweight, waterproof windbreaker that is big enough to fit over a couple of other layers with room to move comfortably. Better yet, find one that comes with its own stuff sack, so it all but disappears when you don’t need it, and is easy to throw in your daypack- just in case.

Next, forgo that cozy-yet-bulky sweater and go for a super warm undershirt, something like UnderArmour, a very thin, tight fitting underlayer that you can wear under just about any of your favorite shirts. I start sweating if I even look at my UnderArmour, so , thankfully, it also wicks moisture away from your skin!

 

Numero Dos (#2) – Versatility

swim-n-sport-convertible-dress_185162If you have ever watched a late-night infomercial about the new and improved kitchen gadget cuts tomatoes, sharpens itself, disinfects your cutting board, and comes with a GPS tracker, you know that sometimes versatility can get a little weird… but hear me out here. When it comes to clothing- especially women’s clothing- you can easily get creative and make multiple fresh outfits by using one article of clothing in new ways.

For example, there are a number of delightful dresses out there that can also double as a skirt, or a scarf, or a wrap, etc. As long as you don’t pick the one with very distinctive pineapple print, nobody will know that you just got 5 days out of one item! (NOTE: Some of these so-called convertible dresses can be cheaply made, so buyer beware. You don’t want it to convert to a strapless because the straps fell off!)

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Personally, I go for the pants that fold up into capris, and then zip off the legs completely for cute shorts. These are perfect if you plan to visit religious temples where covering up is required to enter, or if you plan to be out all day and know that you will get warm later. Just zip off the pant legs and you can either roll them up with a hair tie and stick them in your purse, or tie them to the back of your pack when on the go.

 

Numéro trois (#3) – Super Underwear

2241-2462_4437_grYour life will never be the same after this one. Imagine only packing TWO PAIRS of underwear for your 4 week trip of a lifetime. Seriously. I’m sure there are lots of brands out there, but I am a diehard advocate of Exofficio. I first learned about them when they were listed on clearance at steepandcheap.com. They claimed to be moisture-wicking, fast-drying, and comfortable. They weren’t much to look at, but I was looking for functionality, not sexuality. So, before my month-long trek through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, I decided to take a risk and bought them online. They were 60% off, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose.

I. LOVE. THEM.

2241-1406_3430_grNow, there are all sorts of cute options too! Want to feel sexy and lacy, while also being able to wash, dry, and put them back on the next morning? Done. I can literally travel the world with just two pairs of underwear now! Every night I simply use soap or shampoo to wash them in the sink, wring them out, and hang them up overnight. By morning, they are fresh and ready to go!

While hiking in Red River Gorge, KY last fall, I totally forgot to wash my undies before falling asleep. So, in the morning, I did the evening routine, with one major change, and was able to wear them again in less than two hours. What’s the trick? After wringing them out, I wrapped them inside my towel, pressing on the bundle so that the towel absorbed most of the leftover moisture. After 2-3 minutes, you then unwrap the undies (which will be just barely damp), then air dry as usual. This has literally saved my arse! I call them my “Super Underwear!”

Now, I know, some grrrls love to stick to all natural fabrics. It’s true that the magic of Super Underwear occurs using a blend of 93% Nylon / 7% Spandex. But have you ever put on soggy cotton undies? Gross. Plus, unless you are buying 100% organic cotton, you are supporting one of the worst industries as far as damaging the environment goes.

Still not sure? Don’t just take my word for it. These were also voted among the top ten ‘Best Gift for Adventurers’ as chosen by readers of USA TODAY and 10Best.

Number Four (#4) – Compression

You know those cheap plastic zippered bags that sets of sheets come in? For years, I saved those, bound and determined to keep them out of the landfill and put them to good use. I store shoes in them, I pack clothing in them. They are a great way to get organized for free! how-to-reuse-stuff-bedding-bagsIf all you are looking for is a way to organize, and not compress, this is a great (free) way to reuse something. Just don’t be sad when the corner of the plastic tears out. No lifetime guarantee on those suckers.

However, after years of trying to find cheaper alternatives, I finally caved and spent the dough on the fancy compression packs that I used to scoff at.

“Thirty bucks for a scrap of tent fabric and a couple of straps? No thanks!”

If you’re an athlete, you’ve heard of compression clothing. Well, travelers should also know how to compress their ordinary clothing for much different reasons.

compression-sacksWhen backpacking, there are compression sacks or bags, which allow you to reduce the volume of your gear in a number of handy designs. I love these, but they are not exactly helpful for keeping you looking wrinkle free. Lightweight, durable, and functional, I am starting to see the value in them. The bags are ideal for stuffing into a pack.

eagle-creek-pack-it-specter-compression-setNow there are compression cubes, which allow you to roll your linens, stuff them, and then compress them. The rectilinear, yet soft design, allows them to maximize space in your suitcase. The volume reduction won’t be as good as with the bags, but it is way easier to simply unzip and pull out the one faoprite shirt you love, instead of pawing through the bag searching for it in the wad of clothing.

Voila! You just saved enough room in your suitcase to be able to bring home a souvenir gong to hang in your living room!

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Going Shoeless in Laos

23 11 2014

734808_409663145782982_653643432_nAfter a full day of traveling on the slow boat down the Mekong River, our group of 100 locals and adventurous visitors stopped for the night at a small Laotian village called Pak Bang. It was dusk when we arrived, and we quickly found our way up the steep hill, past the men and women holding signs for rooms, to a small inn where we had a room waiting for us (at the steep price of $8). We were hungry, and ready for food, but wanted to explore the tiny village with what little light we had left.

398036_409663169116313_790757319_nAs we got checked in to our room, the English-speaking grandson of the owner told us that we would get a discount off dinner if we chose to dine at their restaurant as well. The village only had one road, about a mile long in total. After a short walk through the village to examine our other options, we decided this was the wisest choice. At least we knew we could easily translate “fish sauce” to avoid an unpleasant meal.

We walked back to the inn and followed signs for the restaurant around the sandy courtyard. We saw a wide open doorway, bathed in warm yellow light from inside, with a pile of shoes just outside the door. I paused, momentarily confused. Was this the owner’s room? 1748_409662782449685_1220354557_nI peered inside and saw that the space opened up to the river on the other side, and was filled with tables and chairs. In all the places we had traveled in Asia, we were very accustomed to taking off our shoes before entering a Buddhist temple, but this was the first time we had seen shoes outside a regular business like this. “So, no shoes in the restaurant?” I asked Bethany. She shrugged her shoulders and we leaned down to untie our laces.

Could you imagine going to a church on Sunday and everyone taking off their shoes? This is exactly what we discovered in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. While I have always believed in taking off shoes in the home, it never occurred to me that this would apply to other buildings as well. Temples, I also quickly understood. But restaurants? Shops? I was very surprised. We learned to simply remove our shoes whenever we saw other shoes sitting outside.

A Long History of Shoelessness

Many other cultures, far older than my own, have had this policy as a social norm since shoes were invented. Modern day countries such as Japan, Russia, Korea, Turkey, Thailand, India, Scandinavian, and European countries like Germany have the custom of removing shoes in homes. This is also the case in most Middle East countries and some African countries.

shoe sign3It is absolutely mandatory to take off ones outside shoes in most Asian homes, and even in some public places and business establishments – like traditional restaurants, inns and hotels, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and grade schools and kindergartens.

In Japanese architecture, homes are designed to have an area near the entrance called a genkan, which is one level lower than the rest of the house. Here, you remove your outside shoes and place them so the toes are facing outwards towards the door. You then are usually supplied with a pair of slippers, though socks are also fine in their own house or at a friend’s house.

734282_409663845782912_1649442926_nToilet Slippers?

When we were visiting the famous White Temple in northern Thailand, there was a long line of toilets outside, each with a door onto the sidewalk. At the front of the line, was a large bank of black rubber sandals. Although I did not understand, I watched as each person before me removed their shoes and donned the slippers to enter the toilet room. I suspect this was more to keep my shoes clean, rather than to keep the toilet room clean. Once it was my turn, I saw that they were squat toilets (no seat, just a ceramic base to stand on while you squat) this made some sense to me. Apparently, some inns or restaurants also have separate slippers just for the toilet room, which you are supposed to change into before entering, although this practice is slowly disappearing.

The Role of Shoes

bare feetIn Mesopotamia, (c. 1600-1200 BC) a type of soft shoes were worn by the mountain people who lived on the border of Iran. The soft shoe was made of wraparound leather, similar to a moccasin. Shoes were invented to protect our feet from the elements. A nice perk was that it meant that your feet stayed cleaner, and as dirt floors became outdated, you actually could keep your indoor floor clean!

The health benefits of removing shoes in modern society are pretty clear and numerous:

  • EPA conducted a “door mat study” showing that 60% less lead dust and other chemicals were brought into the home by removing shoes and using a front door mat. There was also a reduction in allergens and bacteria tracked into the home.
  • Shoes pick up and carry into your home pesticides, fertilizers, traces of gas fumes, industrial pollution, and animal waste.
  • Bacteria brought in from shoes can cause stomach and lung infections, especially in the young, sick, and elderly.

shoes mudBeyond health, there are many other reasons why shoes come off:

  • Your feet can breathe, relax, and return to their natural state. This is healthier for your feet and more comfortable.
  • You create a more relaxed, informal atmosphere in your home.
  • You have to sweep and dust your home less.
  • Psychologically, this act of removing shoes separates the home from the rest of the world, and can be an important ritual for brushing off the worries of your work day.

With all these good reason for removing shoes, it made me wonder. Why doesn’t everybody do this?

The American Way?

shoe benchWhen friends come over for to my home for the first time, sometimes they pick up on the cues (the row of shoes by the door, the bench to sit on, the cubbies of slippers), but sometimes they don’t notice. I wait until they’ve fully entered my home and we given our greetings, then I politely ask, “Would you mind taking off your shoes?” Most of the time, people look down and realize their oversight, and often apologize, as if they’ve offended me in some way.

Occasionally, however, I can see that someone is uncomfortable doing so, and when they respond, “I’d rather not,” I simply let them do what is most comfortable for them. I may not know why, but it’s not my place to push. My reasons for removing shoes are mostly for comfort, cleanliness, and to prevent scratches on my nice wood floors.

Why is it that we Americans have gotten away from this predominant cultural norm? Do we see wearing shoes as a necessary part of being presentable, like wearing shirts and pants? Is going barefoot akin to walking around shirtless, or walking around with your fly unzipped? Is it simply too informal? Does it come from the south, where there is a stereotype about southerners that involves not wearing shoes and/or a shirt equating to being a “hillbilly” or a “redneck?” Signs on stores that say “No shoes, no shirt, no service” may help reinforce this idea.

sock monkery slippersThere may be concerns about embarrassment as well. Some people may have fears of foot odors, or exposing their ugly feet. I have definitely found myself regretting my choice of socks on occasion, when I realized as I was removing my shoes that my thin socks had sprung a hole.

There may also be more practical concerns. Perhaps wearing shoes prevents elderly people from falling and breaking a hip. Or, also in the south, Cowboy boots don’t have laces, straps or buckles. They aren’t the easiest thing to get off if you’re not a limber person, and if we didn’t have a bench to sit down on, it would be quite challenging to remove.authentic_womens_cowboy_boots-e1358885688446

I’ve been in people’s homes where the floors were so dirty or messy, I was actually afraid that walking around sock-footed might result in a wet sock, or a stabbed sole. Here in the north, winters can be very cold, and in many homes the floors can be downright chilly! I’ve learned to bring my own slippers to visit friend’s homes, in case my feet get cold.
Regardless of the reasons, I doubt that we are so different from the rest of the world- our problems SO unique- that we could not adopt this norm. Just remember what your grama told you- never leave the house without clean underwear- or clean socks- because you never know where the day will take you!





Swapping Countries- Leaving our Thai son for Thailand.

24 05 2013

It was bittersweet when we met Lori and Elizabeth for dinner. This was the night that they would take our son. Though he had only been living with us for 3 months, he was as much a part of our family as our beloved animals, whom we were also worrying about leaving behind. Veerephat (Bank), was willing to go live with these two new moms, because we were preparing to embark on a journey back to his homeland, Thailand.

We had been planning this trip for some time now, almost longer than the actual wedding, and he was the final piece to the puzzle. Having Bank come into our lives allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of Thai culture. Seeing his reactions in broken English, gave us clues as to how real or serious certain lapses were.

Like the time he was seated and I walked by, giving him a familial tousle of his hair without even thinking about it. He immediately flinched like a battered child, as though the innocent touch was a sad reminder that he wasn’t good enough. To our knowledge, this was not the case, but in Thai culture it is incredibly disrespectful to touch anyone on their head- even a child. Once I realized what I had done, I apologized deeply, and explained the meaning behind it in US culture, but have been sure to never make that mistake again.laos kids

We needed time to pack and mentally prepare for our journey, without worrying about homework and school lunches, so Bank left our home a week early. This also gave us time to answer any questions and help with the transition, though it went smoothly despite our availability. I think Bank was a little bit sad that we were going to his home country, though he was to stay here in the U.S. Although he loves living here, in America, he does miss home a bit, occasionally.

As for us, we were not even going to make it to his part of the country. We never saw a beach the entire time we were in Asia. We were bound for Northern Thailand, Laos, and Siem Reap in Cambodia. The rest would have to wait for another time.

laos pak bang shorelaos pak bangThe entire time we were gone- over three weeks total- we were reminded of Bank. He taught us so much about not only Thai culture, but things that translated to Laotian and Cambodian as well. We felt like we adapted seamlessly into southeast Asia, and there was no culture shock at all. I resisted the desire to use chopsticks unless I found some off pocket where locals were using them (often transplants from Vietnam). We removed our shoes before entering a restaurant in the small village of Pak Bang in Laos. We never raised our voices, even if we were angry or suspected we were being scammed. We learned to tell locals that their woven fabrics are “beautiful” in Laos’ native tongue.

When our trip was coming to an end, I wasn’t sure if our son would even be interested in coming back to live with us. After all, we sent him to live with another couple in a household that has a warm wood-burning stove, and where they cook meat in their house. Surely, he would beg us to stay rather than reluctantly coming back to our cold, vegetarian household. The other ladies even lived closer to school so he could walk or bike less in the snow.

One day, as we were relishing in our final week in Asia, I got a message from Bank while connected to the internet. He asked, “When you come home? Do you think I can come back stay with you again? Will you still want me? I miss you.” Bethany and I looked at each other and I actually felt my eyes swell with tears. We love our boy, and we felt honestly surprised that he missed us, and thrilled that he was as excited to see us as we were to share all of our stories with him. We counted the days to our return, in between treats like freshly scraped coconut ice cream and chilled glasses of red wine.laos chilled red wine





Begging and Tipping

2 03 2013



One of the fascinating things about much of Southeast Asia was the way that they approached tourism. For the first couple weeks we traveled through a dozen town and cities across two countries, and primarily found the same thing. They didn’t care.

It wasn’t that tourism was not a large part of their economy. They just didn’t act like it. I never felt any high pressure sales pitches to get me to buy some piece of junk knockoff made in China. Sure, the larger towns all had their night markets, and the bigger it is the more likely that there is a section for locals and a section for foreigners.  There were always plenty of cheap Chinese factory made knick knacks that were for sale on the blanket right next to the little old lady hand stitching pillow cases. However, when negotiating with either type of vendor, they were much less likely to try to bargain with you by convincing you to buy three instead of just one, or to haggle hard with you. They were much more likely to simply let you walk away. There’s this fascinating difference there, called ‘saving face.’Image

An important part of Thai and Laos culture is one’s ability to maintain a calm demeanor. This means that you will likely never witness a local yelling, or raising their voice excitedly, or even showing excessive enthusiasm. If you elevate a conversation by losing your temper, you will deeply embarrass them and disgrace their honor. Ultimately, this means that they are less passionate, and therefore less aggressive when it comes to getting a few bucks from tourists.

As we wandered the streets, there were a few people that we would see who clearly could have used a few more meals a week, or some fresh clothes, but not once were we asked by them to help them out. It made me wonder, “Why not?”

At first, in Chiang Mai, I suspected that the city had a public ordinance that heavily punished beggars, for fear that it would scare away the tourist dollars. Some cities in America have had a similar approach in the past. As we ventured further afield into smaller and smaller villages, I still could not find anyone asking for anything from me. I even noticed that I saw fewer people who looked in need. I began looking for this, intrigued by their absence.

What I came to conclude is that it was not a matter of public policy- a heavy handed law- but more of a social policy. They take care of their own. It is even more evident in the smaller villages. No family would ever go hungry there, unless the whole town was suffering. They simply could not let that happen. These people are very loyal and proud. They would be far more likely to receive an uninvited contribution of rice during hard times than to be forced to shame themselves by asking foreigners for a hand out.ImageImage

The interesting thing is that there is also a correlation between this lack of beggars and tipping. In all of Thailand and Laos, tipping is not customary. There are some European-influenced, high class restaurants in the biggest cities, like Bangkok, where they will impose foreign customs, and add a tip to your bill, but this is not the norm. It wasn’t until our journey took us down to Siem Reap in Cambodia that we first experienced the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction.

Upon arrival there, some 17 days into our trip, we were culture shocked. The streets were filled with panhandlers, scammers, and aggressive hockers. You were bombarded every 10 steps or less, and it quickly created a sense of dread when you thought about walking somewhere. The ATMS spit out U.S. Dollars only, and everything was priced in that foreign currency. The people there all spoke remarkable English, and they were suave sales men and women… and kids. And despite the dollar menu pricing, they gave out change in Riel, so you were likely to give at least $1 for a tip. Additionally, they expected tips, which was a surprise to us.

When we went to see the sacred sights of Angkor with our newly purchased 3-day pass, our revelling was interrupted by even more persistent adults and kids trying to sell us anything and everything. They ALL spoke English, and verbally assaulted you nonstop until you either paid them for something, or another victim came closer. They must have been forbidden from actually entering the temples (though a few snuck in), but the second you crossed the wall of the temple, you were bum rushed.

The worst was the kids. First, one little 6 year old girl came running up to us and asked me, “Lady, you buy my bracelet?” all sweet and innocent. I didn’t know any better at the time, so I looked into her face and smiled, and said, “No thank you.” Then, seeing that I was giving her my attention, four other kids came rushing up to take advantage of a “Day Oner.” “Lady, just one dollar for four of them!” we were then persuaded. I looked at Bethany before responding, and without speaking, we agreed that it was not a good idea to buy from children, despite how sweet and desperate they seemed. Then, we realized, they wouldn’t take no for an answer. We continue walking, and the swarm followed us. Each of the children trying to convince us to buy “just one” of something, pleading with us, and causing us to start to fear getting pick pocketed. Once we would shake them off, the swarm buzzed back to the temple wall to await the next sucker.

The only way to get rid of them was to completely ignore the children. You couldn’t look at them, you couldn’t talk to them. Any recognition whatsoever simply implied that there was a chance you would buy something, and they would walk with you for 100 yards if that was what it took to make the sale. It was heartbreaking.

In Cambodia, tourists are viewed as walking dollar bills. They are quickly assessed, suavely convinced, and thoroughly sucked dry. It was an awful feeling to be participating in a culture where they are that desperate, because it means that children and adults are being exploited to make those sales, and probably only get a few riel out of every dollar. We tried to do what was right, and we only shopped at local stores that were connected to some sort of humanitarian campaign. We only bought handmade items from artisans who were legitimately trying to make a living, often after losing limbs in landmine accidents. And we never bought from children. There is a local NGO with an ad campaign that explains, “Let Adults Earn, So Kids Can Learn.”Image