Wednesday, April 09, 2008

With wishes for a friend

I have been at my current job for a year, and while it has its ups and downs and I'm not sure how long I will stay, I will never regret joining the company because of two wonderful friends I have made there, S and T. All three of us joined at the same time, and we hit it off immediately. We support each other, cheer each other up, and encourage each other to take on new challenges. It feels as though we have known each other for years. We are truly great friends.

Today one of those friends (T) got some bad news.

I wasn't at my desk when it happened, but apparently this morning T was suddenly unable to see out of one eye and felt nauseous and collapsed. S (who sits closeby) rushed to her desk and called an ambulance. T was rushed to the hospital, the right side of her body numb, and vomiting and unable to see the whole trip. S went with her and called T's family.

This evening T's mother called to let us know that T would not be staying overnight in the hospital. However, an MRI showed a brain tumor...

A brain tumor?! How is this possible???? T is still in her 30s and one of the most genki and healthy people I know.

T is going to have more tests done on Friday to determine if the tumor is malignant or not. While it is of course too early to know what is going to happen, S and I are shocked.

My birthday is coming up and R keeps asking me what I want. I couldn't decide on anything, but after today I know the only thing I want: for T to get well.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Cambodia, day three highlights

Our third day in Cambodia started leisurely. We got up and enjoyed breakfast at the hotel (included in our package) and then hung out at the pool!

Besides for the two obnoxious old men there, we had fun just hanging out and swimming.

After lounging at the pool, we headed for Tonle Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia. It was about a 30 minute drive out of the city on extremely bumpy, dusty roads. I'm glad we were in a car and not a tuk-tuk like most of the other tourists we saw on the way!

Tonle Sap has a floating village with over 5000 people living on the lake. Most of them make their living from fishing, but I imagine most of them are extremely poor.

The lake is fairly popular with tourists (though there weren't nearly as many as at the other sites in Siem Reap), so boats with villagers selling drinks and souvenirs pull up next to the tourist boats and try to pressure them to buy something. This was a boat that was just leaving ours. Notice that the little girl has a snake around her neck! She wanted people to give her money for taking pictures. The little boy rowing the boat was old enough to be in school and it was a weekday...

The lake also has a place with crocodiles!

It was hard to capture it on camera, but the lake was a really beautiful place.

On the road back to the city we passed numerous houses. This was a typical one (albeit a nicer one), and I think it speaks for itself. Cambodia is not a wealthy country. In fact, according to JICA, 80% of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

We then went to the Old Market in Siem Reap (forgot to take any pictures!) and then headed to dinner. We decided to splurge at a really nice place, but even then it was only $11 a person for a full-course meal, including this amazing fruit salad.

Unfortunately that was our last day, and after dinner we headed to the airport. We had an uneventful flight to Seoul, but the Seoul airport was freezing and the five hours we had to wait in the Seoul airport (from 4:30am to 9:30am...that's what you get for buying a cheap ticket!) were very, very cold.
My impressions of Cambodia: some of the friendliest people I have ever encountered, fabulous food, unforgettable sights, and a reminder that there is so much in this world is that is unfair. I would love to go back, and next time maybe for a short-term volunteer opportunity instead of just sightseeing.
It was hard to go back to work after this vacation...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cambodia, day two highlights

Day two started with breakfast at the hotel, and then it was off to see more sights!

We spent most of the day on the outskirts of Siem Reap. This was a scene from the road out of the city after we got past Angkor Wat. Buses, donkeys, elephants, bicycles, etc... you see anything and everything on Cambodian roads.

We then climbed Pre Rup, a temple older than Angkor Wat. It was still early in the day and the climb up the temple felt great in the sun.

Next was a visit to Banteay Samre, a temple built almost like a smaller-scale Angkor Wat. This was a fun place to explore, but what I remember most is the little girl outside the gates trying to sell scarves. She couldn't have been more than seven, but her smile and her enthusiasm were signs of natural-born charm that set her apart from all the other kids we saw in Cambodia peddling stuff to tourists. I wound up buying a scarf from her for a dollar, though I later wondered if I should have just given her a dollar and told her to go to school. Dilemma.

Last on the itinerary for the morning was Banteay Srei. This was an amazing place because of the beautiful, intricate carvings that cover it. Hard to believe these carvings have been around more than one thousand years.

It was then back to the city (Siem Reap) for lunch. We had amok fish, a steamed fish dish that is at nearly every restaurant in Cambodia. We were lazy so we ate at the restaurant in the hotel, which was quite overpriced. But even at ridiculous hotel prices, we had fish, curry, rice, and drinks for $8 a person.

After lunch we spent some time at the pool, and then headed into the city for shopping and to search for a restaurant for dinner! We got there in a tuk-tuk, a motorcycle-powered rickshaw. This was the view from the back. Unfortunately this picture doesn't capture the crazy traffic that we were in the middle of...lane lines that are more suggestions that rules, horns blaring, dust, people crossing the street right in front of cars....I LOVED it!!

As we headed into town in our tuk-tuk and watched the sun go down over Siem Reap, I almost felt like bursting with joy. I had *finally* made it to Cambodia, a place I had been wanting to visit for so long. There I was with R on a warm night, enjoying ourselves immensely and amazed at the youthfulness and energy of this country that had undergone such a remarkable transformation. I felt extremely lucky to be there, and more than that, unbelievably happy.

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