china, cosy cold, comrads, cats, calm and my eventual return to cambodia

after a brief stint with my buddy Bon in Ho Chi Minh City….

i spent the first half of my trip with cammie (a friend from jewell, my alma mater) who is teaching in Hangzhou, near shanghai on the east coast) we had an incredibly GOOD time, me her, her beautiful friend jackie and their grumpy, plump cat Xiau Fu. ) :*)  we spent christmas and new years together, i took a few day trips to some tiny, lovely villages, a tea plantation, a tea house, night markets…. ate the famous “stinky tofu,” and “pillow noodles,” chicken hearts and everything else…shared a quick weekend in shanghai together….  after about a week i  bid them farewell and went off into the China wilds on my own.  i took a sleeper train to the town of guilin, which i shared with 6 other lovely non-english


santa cat 🙂

speaking souls. i witnessed some incredible scenery there– the longshen mountain rice terraces carved in the tops on hills for as far as the eye can see, the tribal minority women with their long long hair sweeping the gound as they walk , the li river with its jutting, tall and skinny green mountain tops.  i got to drive my first real moto around rural village footpaths with a few friendly germans and a chinese guide. saw the crooked grandmothers, the cocky chickens, the dusty paths, the yelping and laughing children….. and all along the way always learning to be brave and ask questions– an important thing to do when most people you run into do not speak english.  dsc02121makes for an incredible set of charades.   :*)

I then flew to Beijing, and let me emphasize, EVERYWHERE i went Chinese people just went out of their way in simple, kind gestures, walks, accompaniments, phone calls– you name it– to help this little lost white girl.  it was an incredible lesson in letting others serve you, letting yourself let them, and being constantly reminded and amazed of the goodness of strangers (this has a limit of course, but the vast majority of strangers were so kind to me and so helpful, even when i didn’t say anything.  i guess looking lost can have its dsc02181advantages, ha).  but when you are traveling alone, in a very foreign place, the little things begin to make the most difference.  and most of the people who helped me couldn’t speak any english.

but beijing was beautiful, GRAND, full of history, temples, majong players, frisky older people playing cards, dancing in the cold, and laughing a lot.  i got lost every day, i watched the twirling, bright kites flying in tianamen square, i wore every single piece of clothing i owned, I CLIMBED THE GREAT WALL, and i witnessed the rather strange and very waxy version of mao in his mausoleum, filing past with hundreds of chinese visitors laying down their yellow carnations and probably also wondering why his face looks so orange and glowing….(or at least that’s what i was thinking…) china is so modern, yet strangely caught between worlds.  there these social and political growing pains that are clearing burst in condradiction against each other everywhere.  it’s so complicated…and very interesting to learn about.

dsc01840my next to last stop was hong kong, like a dense asian nyc, like one big shopping district, comfortingly grimy, colorful, modern but gritty. i saw the skyline, road the famous victoria tower tram, hopped the star ferry and made friends with a french photographer.  we absconded from the chaos of kowloon and downtown, opting for a short ferry ride to an outlying island where mountain meets blue ocean with cold breeze, lazy bicyclists, and a Trappist monestary in the distance. We hiked across the mountain island to the monastary before i headed back to honk kong to catch my plane.  it was rejeuvenating and a great reminder of the PEACE i wish to maintain in my life as i continue with this grand experiment of living and working in Cambodia.

so i flew back to PP, eventually, and just as i was coming through the dingy metal gate to our apartment, my flatmate alison and a friend  were also returning from a weekend trip, so we all put down our bags and went to get cheap massages. this, i decided, is one of my informal new years resolutions– keep the stress in check and take advantage of the cheap massages everywhere around here, lofty, yes, i know. this one will be VERY challenging to fulfill, haha.  dad, i’dsc02508ll have to send you the rest of  my goals and roles on a later date….. but i think stephen covey would be proud, no?  sharpen that saw! 🙂

***(for those of you who don’t know, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” book on tape was an integral part of our childhood, especially on long road trips across Kansas with a grumpy, captive audience i.e. picture a 9 year old me and  my sisters….  We like to lovingly  refer to it as a kind of torture, but I admit, maybe it was for the better… but dont’ tell my dad i told you though, ha).

but it was indeed a great trip. towards the end i was trying to get myself in gear for returning to the craziness of work and life back here—  to keep my perspective and breathe a little deeper… so it worked out beautifully when i spent that last day in hong kong hiking on the island with my  friendly photographer.  as we hiked up and around the small mountain island to the trappist monestary, dipping our feet in the cold water and sitting in silence at the tiny, light-filled chapel, i was reminded of the goodness  of beauty, truth and mystery (as my sister laura reminds me too).  it was beautiful, and so good for me to remember the value of stillness and self-preservation as a necessary element to balance and well-being. so  i hope you all can find some peaceful retreats, even if just for a half hour, in bits of your day today.


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