Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cambodia 2012 - Arrival

What a day...oh goodness, what a day. It was one bumpy ride (literally...turbulence for 7 hours), but after everything I finally made it safe and sound to my guesthouse in Cambodia. I feel so tired, but that good kind of tired. That kind of tired that you feel when you know you did a lot for a day.

My day really started when I touched down in Guangzhou, China. The flight from Incheon was a turbulent one the entire way there. Luckily, I spent the night in the airport sauna, which means I spent very little time sleeping and a ton of time in the hot tub. I would do it again...for 30,000won, it was a pretty good deal and insanely convenient. I was relaxed, but tired, so I was effectively knocked out the entire flight.

Upon landing in China, I realized something really spectacular....I was in China! Well, kinda. I usually count a country when I get a stamp in my passport. And, since Chinese Customs literally forces you to exit and re-enter the airport, I got said stamp in my passport. I'll come back, for sure. But as far as I'm concerned, I've stepped foot in China.

Seriously Coke...just pay me already
After getting harassed for the hard drives I was carrying in my bag, I was craving some grub and decided to hit up one of the airport cafes and relax a little before my flight. I sat down near the window and, according to tradition, drank a local Coca Cola.

As I was eating my food, I noticed near the counter I could see the Chinese waitresses giggling and pointing at me. Now, knowing that I would never ever see these people again, I seized the moment when I was paying my check to ask them what was so funny. All 5 of them pointed at me and said "Harry Potter?". Yea...and I thought my dashing good looks were finally going to pay off. I brushed it off with a smile and chatted with them a bit before I went to my gate. Turns out, they were pretty cool, and I made a couple new friends just by smiling. It's that easy.

You can also make new friends by just chatting with someone you think might understand English, and as I was waiting by my gate I started talking to this Canadian guy across the aisle from me. In between talking about Hockey, Tim Tebow, and how much we missed Mexican food, I found out a great deal about his life and what he was doing with it.

He is an English teacher like me, and has been teaching English in Korea for 7 years. That's a long time, but after hearing his reasons behind it I started to actually appreciate what he was doing. He's been around the world countless times, and he calls Korea 'home'. I couldn't help but feel that Korea could be home for me too. It's a wonderful country with amazing people. I feel safe and secure. People are happy, and so am I. It's something rare when you find that in the USA. Also, he was working at a University. He was designing his own curriculum, working 8 months out of the year and traveling for the other 4. It was something I could see myself doing...but more on that later.

The flight into Cambodia was much smoother, and I spent the flight reading the first 6 Chapters of The Hunger Games. Stepping off the plane in Cambodia was very reminiscent of my time in Africa. The runway was dark. We were walking on the tarmac to a little building that was hosting only one other flight. Getting my Visa consisted of me submitting my yearbook picture and paying a man $20, which he put into a suitcase. They spit you out a Visa, and just like that you can enter the country.

In Paul we trust...
I was picked up by my Tuk Tuk driver for the week, Paul. He works with the Bloom Guesthouse, and basically if I need to get anywhere while I'm here, I can just give him a  call. Rides are about $1 around town, and $5 to Angkor Wat. Basically, Paul is my new best friend this week.

He greeted me with a smile that you can only find in Southeast Asia, and 5 minutes later I was on the road speeding through the streets of Siem Reap.

The 20 minute ride to the guesthouse was a stark reminder of where I was. I was in one of the poorest countries in the world, and everywhere you looked you could see the economic inequality. Across the street from these massive hotels would be people living in tiny huts or sleeping in a hammock draped in their grocery store. It's about 80 degrees outside and humid, so many people are just kicking it on the streets.

Come on Coke Sponsorship!!!!
At first glance, this could frighten most people...especially when traveling alone. But those fears went away once you heard that everyone was laughing. People were riding on bikes and joking around. Kids were playing in the streets. I drove by one girl with an Angry Birds T-shirt hitting one of her friends with a soccer ball while her parents were playing volleyball in the dark. Everywhere I looked people were enjoying themselves rather simply....at 9pm at night.

Paul took me down some crazy side road and, eventually, I arrived here at the Bloom Guesthouse. This place is gorgeous! My room is something you'd find at a 5 star hotel, and the reception was awesome. The lady running the place greeted me with a traditional Cambodian scarf and proceeded to sit me down, feed me, and help me plan my Angkor Wat tour and my time working with some of the children in Siem Reap. She felt like a surrogate mother, and after such an exhausting day like this it felt good to come to a place that I could call 'home'.

This week should be pretty exciting. For now, though, I'm going to kickback and enjoy my 2nd Coke of the day. Traditions...you know how it is.

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