Category Archives: Uncategorized

Siem Reap, Cambodia: A Love Story

Throughout my travels I have discovered that it isn’t just people that have souls anymore…places do too. The various countries, cities, villages and towns that I have encountered these past couple of years have their own character; their own voice and I have truly enjoyed meeting each and every one of them. IMG_7276.JPGHowever, there are certain places in which a connection is instantaneously made…just as there is with the various people that come in and out of our lives.   Some we only remember on occasion, a memory triggered by a casual conversation or revisiting certain places; however, others we think of daily and we have a strong desire to keep them close as long as we can. I have met a soul mate in Siem Reap, Cambodia and my experience there has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I will not be able to articulate my feelings or my experience in perfect detail so bear with me as I fumble my way through.

Some might say, IMG_7270.JPG“Yes, Angkor Wat is beautiful, isn’t it?” But in all honesty, it wasn’t the magnificence and grandeur of this UNESCO site that stole my heart. It was the people. For a country still raw with its too recent history of war, genocide, bloodshed and chaos, the people are the warmest, kindest, most hospitable people you will ever meet. They live a simple life albeit one of corruption and poverty, hard work and adversity, yet their smiles are the friendliest, most sincere I have ever seen. I loved everyone I met…even the Khmer ladies running their shops relentlessly asking me to buy their goods. “You buy from me pretty lady. What you like? We have something for you. What color you like? You buy from me and I give you special price only for yoooouuuuu.” Despite the continuous rant, I never actually felt a lot of pressure to buy; no one physically pulling me into their shop as I have experienced in other places.  After a while it was pretty easy to ignore and I actually welcomed the constant stream of various voices as Mom and I shopped our way through the streets and markets. 

DSC_0366

IMG_7277

DSC_0951

Meet Son.  

IMG_7274-0

He was our tuk-tuk driver during our stay in Siem Reap and my absolute favorite person I met on this adventure.  My apologies for the faceless picture as this, regrettably, is all I took despite the lasting impression he left on me. He has the warmest eyes and the most genuine smile with a just a hint of shyness to it.  Each morning he greeted us with a “hello” that seemed to really say “it’s good to see you again.” Maybe it was the generous tips I gave him after each ride (shhhh, don’t tell Mom), but I think he was genuinely pleased to see us just as we were to see him. One morning I woke extra early to venture through one of the temples on my own before the crowds and the heat arrived. When I stepped out of the hotel, Son was already waiting for me and greeted me with his sweet smile. It was an overcast morning and a gentle rain fell as we cruised through town and then into the forested area of the ruins.   As early as it was, the streets were already bustling with the daily activities of its inhabitants and I watched it all from the carriage of the tuk-tuk knowing I was in safe hands with Son at the wheel. We parked just outside the temple I was visiting that morning. Son told me he’d be there waiting for me when I returned. I told him I’d be a couple of hours and he gave an all-knowing nod as if he already knew this was a special place that would need time to explore.  I took my time wandering through, mesmerized and in awe of the magnificence of it all and relishing in the quiet as only a few other visitors had arrived at that point. When the crowds started to arrive it was my cue to head back.  I’d had my time and slightly regretted not waking just a bit earlier to have more of it to myself. Oh we’ll, I can’t be too greedy.

I found my way back to where Son had dropped me off. Quickly scanning the area,  a slight worry crept in as I didn’t see him straight away. Several tuk-tuk drivers called to me and I just shook my head knowing that I would find Son soon enough. Gone was the quiet, empty open area I knew from arrival and in its place was the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists milling about; shopping, selling fruits and other goods.  Luckily, it didn’t take too long to spot him.

IMG_7278-0
Not Son, but a similar picture…

He sat tucked away in the shade, sitting in the carriage of his tuk-tuk with his bare feet propped up and his arms lazily crossed across his chest.  He hadn’t seen me yet and in that moment I paused and simply watched him.  A gentle smile was penciled on his face.  His gaze was towards the temple, but I could tell  he wasn’t really looking at it; just lost in his own thoughts. Maybe he was thinking of how amazing the morning weather was as the heat and humidity had not crept in just yet or maybe he was thinking of the pretty girl he had his eye on and how he planned to get her attention the next time they met. Whatever it was, he was at peace and it warmed my heart to see him that way.  The moment didn’t last long as he noticed me standing there and quickly slipped his feet back in his shoes and jumped out of the carriage.  I wanted nothing more than to just join him that way…to sit with him in that peaceful state in the back of his tuk-tuk and talk casually about what had been on his mind when I so rudely interrupted him. I also wish I had snapped a picture as I don’t feel my words can adequately describe the moment, but as it is, I didn’t. The picture is in my mind and will be with me always. I don’t know anything about Son’s life, but can presume that it can’t be too easy on a daily basis, but whatever was on his mind, he was able to leave the harshness of the real world behind him…. even if for just a moment.

In the short time we were in Siem Reap, we learned of several NGO organizations that are working hard to empower the people of Cambodia. One of these was the Phare Circus. This organization trains young kids and provides them with skills and jobs. Not only is this a fantastic organization, but the show was amazing! Mom and I were on pins and needles as these youngsters performed some incredible acrobatic feats. I can’t recommend this enough (check out www.pharecambodiancircus.org to learn more!).IMG_7422.JPGIMG_7429.JPG

I also had a wonderful time spending money at Claycult Beads. This organization provides jobs for many Cambodian women as they do every step of the process, literally every step. And the beads…oh my…absolutely beautiful! The young guy helping us actually had to take me to an ATM…on his scooter (you’ve seen my video of the traffic, right?)! The owner/founder is Australian and will have some of the beadwork up on etsy soon.IMG_6791

From the hotel staff to the children on the street, Cambodians are innately hospitable and kind people.  I fell in love with almost every person I met and will remember them always. 

unnamed (1)
How many Cambodians does it take to find the bead shop?
DSC_0035
Mau, our chef.
unnamed
Our guide…he didn’t talk much, but sure was a cutie!

Onto Ankor Wat…

IMG_7296.JPG

The entire park is quite massive (about 400 square kilomteres) and the various temples range from 600 to 1300 years old. They are the remains of the different capitols of the Khmer Empire and the area was the center of the Khmer kingdom for several centuries. Mom and I really only had two days to explore the park, but I think you could spend a couple of weeks and still not see it all. We even read that they are still uncovering historic sites and will for years to come. The main temple, Angkor Wat, is massive and was built to honor the Hindu God, Vishnu…although you can see evidence of changes that were made to make it a Buddhist temple somewhere in the 14th or 15th century. A moat and an exterior wall surround its impressive entrance and its walls are covered with various reliefs and carvings that all have some meaning.   Although this wasn’t my favorite temple, it was definitely the most popular and the luxuries that it once provided are still very evident.

IMG_7293-0

IMG_7452.JPG

Everyone has heard of Tomb Raider. I am not ashamed to admit that I have not seen the movie…although I might now just because of visiting Ta Prohm where it was filmed. This temple is actually in shambles because of the species of trees that inhabit the area. Although it makes for an awesome atmosphere with the trees growing out of the temple itself, the conservation of the temple is a controversial one as these trees are actually destroying the temple. This site was incredibly beautiful and I actually liked that it was left in the same condition in which it was found. Of course, this temple and all of Angkor Wat became much more popular after the movie.

IMG_7368.JPGIMG_7395.JPGIMG_7391

My favorite was Bayon Temple. It was built as a Buddhist temple around 1200AD. This temple is supposed to represent the intersection of heaven and earth. There are 54 towers thought to represent the 54 days of the lunar calendar and each tower has four faces that symbolize the four states of Buddhism; charity, compassion, sympathy and equanimity. This was the temple in which I explored on my own. Its architecture has a sense of mystery, power and tranquility all blended together. I loved it.IMG_7524.JPG

IMG_7506.JPG IMG_6641

Cambodia definitely left its mark on my heart. I can’t wait to go back…and maybe someday I will call it my home away from home.

IMG_7541.JPG

 DSC_0777IMG_6797

To see the other 300+ pics from Siem Reap, CLICK HERE

Advertisements

Life in Slow Motion

Image

I recently purchased a subscription to iMatch.  Basically, you pay a yearly fee to listen to all of your music on iTunes on any device.  Considering that I’ve had several computers in the past few years, this was a great option for me as I am iTunes illiterate and do not know how to sync all of my devices.  Anyway….short story made long, I am happier than a puppy with two peters to be able to listen to all of my tunes…most of which I haven’t heard since last June when I said good-bye to America’s Finest City.  I am currently listening to David Gray’s album “Life in Slow Motion”.  I know this means nothing to you, but have you ever had a flood of emotions inundate you when you listen to a particular song?  I’m sure you have, but this album really pulled on my nostalgic heartstrings as it was a constant in my (then) cd player when I first moved to San Diego.  It seriously seems like forever ago when I packed up and headed south…what a tough transition that was for me.  When I think back I can recall spending hours on the phone with family and friends because I felt so incredibly disconnected and lonely.  It was a miserable first year and as much as I ended up loving San Diego and my newfound family there, I’m not sure if I’d want to go through that again.

But I took the chance.

Listening to the melancholy tone of David’s voice, I am swept back to that moment in time and am so grateful that this transition has been a million times easier. I just can’t help but to wonder why?  I am, after all, 6,000 miles away versus 600.  Does the actual distance even matter?  Will that first step always hold the crown for the hardest part of this journey? I hope so.  Being so far away isn’t easy by any means.  I miss everyone more than I could ever describe, but this transition has been so different.  I am lost in my own mind most of the time as I take in my new surroundings, wrap my head around a new and very different culture, nurture new friendships and try not to let the pressures of my new job consume me.   I’ve been here almost nine months and I think that the fog that I have been trudging through is finally beginning to clear.  Plus, I have my main man here now and my new house is finally a place that I can call home so the transition phase is slowly coming to an end. I look forward to the next phase as I feel that I will finally be able to form a clear perspective of all this newness.

I know I am way behind on writing and this isn’t one of the topics on my list, but with my moment of nostalgia came a compulsion to write.  Coming soon:

Kuala Lumpur

Image

Taipei

Image

and Hanami (cherry blossoms!).

Image

Love to you all and I miss your faces like crazy!

XOXOXOX

K

Year of the Snake

2013_snake

My apologies to all of my dedicated readers (Mom)…it has been quite a while since I’ve given an update on my Japanese adventure.  Well, just to put it out there; I’m alive, I’m well and I still love the journey I am on.

IMG_4235
Love my sister!

I was fortunate enough to start off the Year of the Snake with my favorite woman in the world, my Mama-san.  We arrived in Tokyo on the last day of 2012 with a bundle of luggage and one unhappy Bassett Hound.  We all made it to our new home safely which qualifies the journey as a success, but I can honestly say that I would never do that to him (or myself) again.  Stressful is an understatement!  First of all, Laura, Mom, Rufus and I all spent the night in “The City by the Bay” since we were flying out of SFO.

Gotta love self-timer photos!  Overlooking Fisherman's Wharf...although you can't really tell :)
Gotta love self-timer photos! Overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf…although you can’t really tell 🙂
IMG_4224
Love the streets of San Francisco

On the morning of our flight we miscalculated our departure time by about 40 minutes, which put us in quite a flurry from the get-go.  Then we couldn’t find the damn on-ramp for the freeway we needed.  We could see it and we drove under it 10 times, but we couldn’t figure out how the hell to actually get on the damn thing.  Imagine three “somewhat” controlling females trying to navigate in unknown territory with one about to have a full blown panic attack….it wasn’t pretty.  Finally, our collaborative efforts figured it out and we were able to exhale.  Upon arrival at the airport the lovely All Nippon Airlines staff were waiting patiently for us as we bombarded our way through the front doors with all of our baggage and a rather large dog kennel in tow. Phew.  Paperwork was in order and all that was left was to actually relinquish responsibility of my boo bear to people I didn’t know.  That was tough.  I won’t mention that my sister kept the van parked in the drop-off zone and was “this” close to being arrested as a terrorist…oops…I just did.  Sorry, Laura, I threw you under the bus!  Despite the stress of getting him here; the endless paperwork, cost and traumatic toll, I am so happy to have him here.  I finally feel at home.

IMG_0892
On our daily walk through the cemetery. He’s so handsome!
IMG_0872
He’s even meeting friends!
IMG_0804
Ummmm…I think he has adjusted well.
IMG_0599
Local Temple. Two minutes from my house.

New Year’s was an interesting experience.  Mom and I went to a colleague’s home for some drinks, snacks and catching up.  People were looking forward to meeting Mom and they knew how excited I was to have her here.  Right before midnight we walked over to the local temple where many of the neighborhood residents, including quite a few ASIJ teachers, gathered to “ring” in the New Year….literally.

Cathy ringing the bell
Cathy ringing the bell

A Japanese custom is to ring the bell at midnight on New Year’s to bring luck, or something like that.  I’ve actually already forgotten the true significance of it.  Like many other traditions, it’s really just an excuse to come together.  As we stood in line, a bonfire roared on the grounds of the temple and a hot beverage of some sort was served.  It’s one of the things I love so much about this journey; not always knowing exactly why you are doing what you’re doing, but enjoying the experience nonetheless.

IMG_0604

IMG_0607
Mom looking too cute in her hot pink beanie and scarf.

Mom took residence here for about five weeks…and I loved it.  Seriously, I’m not just saying that because she is probably my only reader…I truly enjoyed having her here.  First of all, she is the easiest houseguest because she is just as happy staying in and watching a movie as getting out and seeing something new.  That was great for me because as a “new” teacher, I find that I am very busy and overwhelmed pretty much all the time, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about not making sure every moment was filled with seeing something new.  We still managed to do an awful lot in the time that she was here.

DSCN2375
Takeshita Street…home of the Harajuku girls. One of Mom’s favorite spots.
DSCN2385
Lots of sales going on. I’m not sure who actually buys this stuff!
DSCN2401
Mom cleansing before entering the temple.
DSCN2411
Harajuku girls in costume. They were flattered when Mom complemented them 🙂
DSCN2440
View from Tokyo Metropolitan Building. The looming tower is the Skytree Tower.
DSCN2448
Fuji-san’s shadow in the horizon.
DSCN2457
Shinjuku Station; the busiest station in the world.
DSCN2470
Outside of Asakusa Station. Asahi headquarters (the golden turd) and Skytree.
IMG_0662
Temple in Asakusa.
IMG_0674
Mom had a persistent cough…she went loca with the face mask. Most Japanese wear these when they are sick so they don’t spread their germs.
IMG_0689
Shibuya!! Home of the famous Shibuya crossing!
IMG_4271
Kamakura. I was ecstatic to discover that the ocean is just about an hour away!
IMG_4287
The Big Buddha in Kamakura.
IMG_4378
Tunnel of Lights in …somewhere in Japan. It was a great weekend, but too frickin cold to be outside!
IMG_4406
The pink tunnel!
DSCN2531
Lunch in Kamakura. Food was horrible, but the view was worth it.
DSCN2600
Mt Fuji
DSCN2770
Harajuku again…
DSCN2771
I think I’ll get Mom a pair of these for Christmas.
DSCN2799
Tea time at the architectural museum.
DSCN2825
uh-oh! Watch out Japan!
DSCN2853
Tokyo Museum of Art…El Greco exhibit.
DSCN2884
Conveyor belt sushi! So fun!
DSCN2895
Korean BBQ
DSCN2904
Homemade Soba noodles.
IMG_0783
Tokyo Cruise to Obaiba (man-made island).
IMG_0794
Silly game center in Odaiba.
IMG_0799
Great view of Rainbow Bridge.
DSCN2998
Odaiba has a Statue of Liberty…not sure why.
DSCN3013
Plastic sushi
DSCN2476
More plastic food.

I miss you, Mom, and if you and Foxy want to come and stay permanently, I would welcome you with open arms!  I also have a lovely backyard that Foxy would eventually learn to call home.

Aijou Getsu ni Nihon

Image

Every year it never fails; the dreaded Valentine’s Day holiday rears its pink ugly face to remind me of how utterly single I am. Even in Japan I am surrounded by chocolates and flowers and hearts and pink and…puke. It’s actually worse here because Valentine’s Day is the day in which the females give gifts to the males. Then in March, on White Day, the males reciprocate by giving females an even better gift than the one they received on Valentine’s Day. So those of us in singledome get to be reminded twice. Yay. I simply flip VD the bird in which it replies, “You wish!” Well, yes. Yes, I do wish…and that is why I despise you. Asshole.

This year, however, I do consider myself to be in a relationship. Not the conventional type in which boy meets girl and they go on dates and then have “the talk” to become exclusive (or not) and yadda, yadda, yadda. No, this relationship isn’t exactly like that, but it does exhibit many of the nuances of a new relationship. There is awkwardness and uncertainty; we circle each other constantly, eyes scanning up and down then back up again trying to get a “feel” for each other, but we haven’t actually touched yet. We’ve talked, but neither one of us has opened up completely to show our true selves; only a glimpse as we aren’t quite ready for vulnerability just yet. We are also intrigued and excited as we explore one another and envision the possibilities of what could be. ImageYes, my relationship with Japan is one in which we are currently walking together, but very soon we will be facing that fork in the road in which we will continue to walk together on the same path side by side, or we will choose to go down differing paths, albeit in the same wood for quite some time. My hope is that we will continue together, hand in hand, for the duration of my time here. However, there are certain barriers that must be broken down and this will take quite a degree of open-mindedness and perspective on both parts, but mainly from me, as I am simply a guest. Don’t get me wrong, Japan is interested, but it knows that there are many more “geijins” in the sea if things don’t work out with me.

Each day is a new day. Some are wonderful and exhilarating…others are confusing and discouraging. All in all it is an amazing adventure…one that I will share in more detail soon. Until then, Happy Day of Love to everyone…for that is something I feel every day of the year. Image

Lost in Translation

***Part of my delay with getting these blogs updated is that I’m technologically inept when it comes to this site I am using!  Sorry about the pictures…they are all mixed up and kinda all over the place, but hopefully you can still enjoy.  I’ll get better, I promise 🙂

Brrrr!  As I pedaled home tonight in the pouring rain having forgotten my rain jacket, for the first time since I arrived in Japan, I was cold….and it was FABULOUS!  The heavy humidity and the daily deluge of sweat constantly gushing from my pores was enough to turn me into a hot, sweaty monstrous biatch. I have never welcomed the turning of the season as much as I am right now.  The mornings and evenings have a cool crisp to the air, but the afternoon sunlight warms everything up enough to be “just right”.  There is some subtle evidence in the foliage as a few leaves are just starting to turn; the rest will follow suit soon.  Many people have told me that the fall season lasts for quite a while here and that the real cold doesn’t hit until we return from Christmas holiday.  This is great because it allows me a couple more months to explore and actually experience a season change…it’s been seven years for me!

It’s been a long time since I have written and I have many adventures to share; some close to home and others a decent trek away.  I’ll share as much as I can, but others may have to wait until next time.  I know, I know…if I updated more often then I wouldn’t have so much to share.  Stop lecturing me! J

Mt. Mitake

This is a lovely hiking area about 2 hours directly west from where I am.  Of course it took me about 2.5 hours because I hopped on the slow train instead of the rapid.  I still haven’t quite figured that all out yet.  I’m lucky enough if I get on the train going in the right direction.  The morning somehow flew right by and I didn’t actually leave my place until noon; like that’s a surprise, right?  As I mentioned in my last blog, this was my first real outing on my own.  I have to admit that I was quite nervous; especially after two hours on the train and then second-guessing if I was on the right one!  Others who had hiked Mt. Mitake before had told me to just follow all the people (Japanese really enjoy hiking and nature), but since I had such a late start the train was rather empty.  The scenery on the train was beautiful.  My first glimpse of Japan’s undeveloped nature and it was nothing short of breathtaking.  The mountains are covered in deep green forest and they are massive and expansive.   This is the Japan that everyone raves about and I started to feel giddy about exploring and simply getting out of the congestion that is Tokyo.  Seeing the untouched mountainsides also made me understand why the people here value nature so much; not only is it beautiful, but you can escape your busy life in just a couple of hours and feel like you are in a completely different world.

Getting to the mountain posed some challenges, as I had to catch a bus and then a cable car to get to the start of the hiking trail.  Well, let me be honest; I could have skipped the cable car and hiked my way up, but I didn’t want to.  The bus was easy to find and so was the cable car.  The cable car literally went straight up and I couldn’t have been happier with my decision to take it rather than climb the steep first leg of the mountain.  As soon as you reach the top, you are immediately swept away by the views.  The sprawl of mountains and valleys continued as far as the eye could see.  If it didn’t take so long to get to it would be my place to escape from it all on a regular basis.

The hike itself was not very strenuous and since I started from the top my trek was mostly downhill.  The colors were so vibrant…the greens literally looked as if they were glowing.  I wish the pictures could show this.  I reached the Rock Garden, which is simply an open area with a stream and rocks of all shapes and sizes; most covered in moss.  Because of the dense foliage, the overall light seemed dim, but was illuminated by the fluorescent green tones of the moss.  I knew it was getting late and I would lose all light pretty soon, but I was determined to make it to the waterfall.  I could hear it and knew it couldn’t be too far, but every time I came around a bend it wasn’t there.  I finally decided to turn around.  At this point I wasn’t sure how long I had been hiking and since my return trip would be uphill I figured it would take a bit longer than coming down.  I have never booked it so fast in my life.  Sweat dripped from my face and my quads were on fire, but I had to get out of there before the sun went down.

I made it to the shrine before it became dark and luckily for me the rest of the trail to the cable car was lit so I could finally relax.  On the way back home I was tired, sweaty (probably stunk too) and my stomach was yelling at me, but all I could think about was how excited I was that I finally trekked out on my own.  I did it!  I didn’t get lost and I finally got to see the beautiful side of Japan.  The experience was empowering and I was now equipped with the knowledge that I can do this.  I can make a life for myself here and truly enjoy it.  Yay!

Shrine

At the entrance to the shrine…kinda creepy

Uh-which way??

Getting deeper into the forest

Mushrooms…I didn’t try them

Rock Garden

The moss is fluorescent!

The greens were so vibrant

Love it!

Rock Garden

hehe…self-timers rock!

Signs to the waterfalls (never made it)

Grass growing on the tree branches

Steps on the trail

View from the trail

Uh-mazing

View