CULTURE SHOCK

Fooled you, I will bet you thought it was when I arrived in Southeast Asia. Sure, that had its own newness factor, but that wasn’t the shock.

All through Thailand and Cambodia, in multiple airports large and small, we queued and queued and queued. And while you might see frustration on a random face, people stood quietly. And politely. And generally without complaint. If you smiled at someone they smiled back.

My favorite queue was for an airport ladies room where I was engaged in a spirited conversation by a lovely Thai woman. We were, it turned out, the same age, both freshly retired, both traveling to similar places for similar reasons. Yes, it was a pretty long wait. She apparently decided I needed to go more and graciously told me to go first!

All through Thailand and Cambodia, even in the poorest neighborhoods, I found the people to be almost unfailingly humble, smiling, polite. And it was an extraordinary pleasure. In Thailand there is a word that doesn’t really have its own meaning, it is just an”politeness” you add to everything you say. Even if you can’t remember the word for thank you, adding a “kah” to your English “thank you” brought a smile and a return “kah”. And in Cambodia it is the cultural norm to SMILE.

On my return to the states I entered the U.S. at Atlanta where I had to go through passport control/immigration. As might be expected in one of the busiest airports in the world, it was crowded. Airport staff were working hard to control the flow of people and the lines were long. The airport staff looked like dogs that had been beaten, for some good reason. People in line were swearing, yelling, complaining in an amazing show of discourtesy and arrogance.

There is the culture shock, returning to America. We are one of, if not the, youngest developed country in the world. In France people experience individual arrogance from, for example, shopkeepers who don’t like your French accent or non French. But people bring their babies to street protests. It has been many years since I was in Germany (I will be there soon and will update) but my experience was one of politeness notwithstanding that German tourists on holiday can be a bit much. Overall we seem to be the brashest, most arrogant and rudest people I have experienced. How sad is that? And it is only getting worse. I was shocked.

CAMBODIA

Cambodia took my heart in ways I can barely understand let alone properly articulate. And I will probably write much more about this entire life changing trip. But I wanted to write this before the rawness of these particular feelings begins to fade away.

Our tuk tuk rattled away from the New Hope Cambodia NGO free school with the children’s voices still ringing with I’ll Be Seeing You in my head. I could still feel the love in their hugs and hands as we said until we meet again. They have so little but have so much gratitude for the little we could do for them.

And I cried at the killing fields and at the Khmer/Kamai museum that gave the history of the genocide that was inflicted on the people by the Khmer Rouge. A country of eight million reduced by two million and a million more in the aftermath. A city, Phnom Penh, of over a million reduced to forty thousand in three days. And at the displays showing the twenty five or so million tons of U.S. Ordinance dropped on Cambodia during the Vietnam war.

Cambodia leads the world (and there are fifty nine other affected countries) in land mines and in the number of amputees. They are clearing them but it is slow and many people, including many children are still very much at risk. There are a huge number of minefields and additional unexploded ordinance littering the country.

Cambodia is an ancient country that is only twenty years old. It is reinventing itself in every way. There are virtually no natural resources and they are dependent on volunteers and NGO’s for practically everything. Nothing is wasted, everything can be used. If you walk and drink a water or a soda, hand the can to a mother sitting by the street, it is money for her. She won’t ask for it but will take it with thanks.

We had the privilege of seeing not only the beauty of places like Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and ton le sap, but also the lives of the real people, their real lives. I never heard a single person complain. Children in dirty hand me down clothes gave me their precious candy to share. Everywhere people were gracious and friendly.

My words cannot describe the beauty of a people determined to rebuild a place they clearly love. Every project or destination has a greater purpose – to educate the children and sustain the community beyond the scope of the project or attraction. In a country whose recent history is soaked in a river of blood and death they say only: that is the past, we only look for solutions for the future.

As our plane rose from Siem Riep airport, I again inexplicably had tears in my eyes. On the outside it is in many ways not a beautiful place but it’s spirit is one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. Until we meet again.

Really?

So, the trip of a lifetime started oddly. All day I filled the time with trivial household tasks as I was, I think, very prepared to leave and mentally already gone. Finally time to go to the airport I loaded up and we rolled.

I had this plan that once arrived in Atlanta, with a long layover until my flight to South Korea, I would proceed to Councourse A and have dinner at P.F.Changs. I timed my daytime meals around this plan. HAH! My flight to Atlanta ended up delayed almost three hours. First an inbound flight delayed for weather in Texas, then a complete ground stop in Atlanta. Uncertain as to when I would actually arrive in Atlanta and with dropping blood sugar, I was reduced to a sandwich and chips in Daytona. Anticlimactic to say the least.

So here I am in the ATL waiting for my 15 hour flight to Inchon, to be followed by 4 hours to Bangkok. A year ago it seemed cool to be able to say “I am going to Thailand when I retire.” Today while ironing a shirt it seemed surreal and almost unbelievable that I am actually doing this.

I have taught myself a few basic words of the Thai language. I have Baht in my wallet and intra Southeast Asia flights and guesthouse reservations. And oh my God, I am actually going to Thailand and Cambodia by myself. Meeting people to be sure, but traveling alone.

For the last three years I have been adventuring about the United States, learning to be happy alone, learning to adventure alone. So I have been practicing for this moment, becoming ready to completely step out of my homeself comfort zone and do what I have always wanted to do. See new places, meet new people, live.

Thi di doy (loosely phonetic). Goodby

Head to Heart – A Journey

I find myself oddly anxious and stressed out and have yet to get to the bottom of the matter. I have been single for almost 3 years after a lengthy marriage, I am recently retired, I am headed for the trip of a lifetime. Yet I can’t quite quiet my insides.

I am learning how to live on a once a month paycheck and budget accordingly. I am learning how to live with less of what is not important and more of what is. I am learning that I don’t have to get up at 6 in the morning, I can get up when my body decides it wants to.

I find myself thinking I have to do all those things I put off until retirement and then realizing – I don’t have to work tomorrow. I have, however, been weirdly busy. I will have to do some kind of meaningful work if I wish to do the things I wish to do. But I have opportunities for that. I have to make sure that my “self” doesn’t get lost in struggling for that.

I am so lucky, I have music to make, friends to see, food to eat, a home I love. There are so many blessings in my life that I can’t figure out what I am worried about. In my head I know I will be fine, it hasn’t quite cleared my throat chakra and moved into my heart yet. A dear friend once told me my problem is exactly that pesky chakra, that I am blocked there – too much in my head, not enough in my heart.

So, as I write this, I think the journey is from head to heart. From thinking to being. From knowing to feeling. What do I really want? Friends, travel, good food, music, books, a soft bed and love. I have them all, not always in the form I wished for, but I have them all. How lucky is that.

Nature and Love

February 8, 2019

There is something starkly beautiful about a New England winter. For some reason I find myself here almost every year at this time or at least in some wintery place. But the gray landscape lends itself to introspection. At least here on this mountaintop, I am isolated with just two of my immediate family, my mother and brother. And so, often, I am alone with my thoughts. Since I don’t ski, or snowshoe, it is just me and the fire and watching the snow melt on this strange day.

I will hardly be the first person to say that your family is who they are and sometimes you love them in spite of yourself and in spite of themselves. I was told recently to remember that there is family you choose and family you don’t choose. And you love them differently. And sometimes, there is the family that chooses you.

Over time, people have come into my life that I love very much. I did not know that I could love as much as I do. I did not know how much I would value the love and friendship of the women in my life. And I did not know how much I would value and be touched by the people I have known the longest and who I see the least .

When I was young, all I understood of love was sex and marriage. As an aside, marriage has not worked out well for me. But marriage gave me my son, from whom I have learned a very different kind of love; The kind for which you would throw yourself in front of a moving train.

It is always interesting to me the extent to which nature, the weather, the scenery affects my mood and feelings. Sometimes it affects my optimism. Sometimes it is all about memory. When I come to this place it is full of memories of people, events and love past. And it is full of the present – thoughtful, joyful, difficult.

It has taken these years of living to begin to understand the nature of love for me. And it is all of the above, thoughtful, joyful, difficult, memorable. How happy I am that I have begun to understand the difference between need, want and love.