A Brief Reflection on 2014

I still love fireworks. Watching the International Fireworks Festival in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 2014.

I still love fireworks. Watching the International Fireworks Festival in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 2014.

I’m so glad this year is over.

No matter how lovely it has been to spend the last six weeks of it traveling.

My year can be described, in one word, as heartbreaking. I lost people important to me. My former company suffered a setback, and I lost the pull that drew me to South Korea, lost the opportunity to do something groundbreaking with extraordinary people. I worked myself to the point of such illness that I had to be hospitalized—twice.

That being said, 2014 was not a total write-off. I can speak of places I’ve been; beautiful-souled people who have changed me for the better; a reintroduction to the eternal value of “choosing kind” (to borrow R. J. Palacio’s words).

But the most important thing I’ve learned that it is never out of my control to change my circumstances when they are draining me body and soul. I’ve decided that despite all signs that point to a multitude of things trapping me—trapping everyone in society—to a certain way of life, to certain attitudes, it is I who will choose who or what gets to entrap me.

It is funny when you realize how few of the limitations in your life are actually insurmountable. How funny to understand that my cynicism and romanticism can coexist, for the better.

Yes, surprisingly, 2014 has given me a sense of optimism and goodwill that I haven’t felt since I was 16 and shouted from a mountaintop in Nova Scotia to clouds so close they gave me wings.

Now bring it on, 2015. I’ll show you what I have to offer.

Swinging from a vine in a cave in Kampot, Cambodia!

Swinging from a vine in a cave in Kampot, Cambodia!

Koh Rong: Cambodia’s Island Paradise Found

I felt like I had come to a place that instantly understood me when I stepped off the speed ferry and onto the beach at Koh Rong, one of the several dozen islands off the coast of southern Cambodia. I tore off my flip-flops, eager to feel warm sand beneath my toes, as I gazed upon this sight:

Step off the ferry at Koh Touch--and into paradise.

Step off the ferry at Koh Touch–and into paradise.

Magnificent. I couldn’t wait to get in that water. But first was the matter of finding a place to stay. Having had trouble finding listings for accommodation online, I decided to take the plunge in my heretofore booked-before-arrival strategy and instead take the 8:30 ferry from Sihanoukville, which would give me first dibs on available accommodation. Continue reading

Merry Christmas From On the Road

I’m writing this on the 4000 Islands in southern Laos. It must be one of those backpacking catch-22s that where there’s fast Wi-Fi, you’ll be too busy doing non-computery things, and where things are a little slower and you actually want to be reliably connected, the Internet is for shit. That, plus a little…encounter that I might write about presently, explains the delay in uploading blog posts about my travels.

Christmas screeched up on me this year. There has been a decided lack of three things in my life that I associate with the advent of this holiday: cold weather, friends and family, and Christmas songs and decorations everywhere. In all likelihood this day will be much like others for me, and so I leave you with this picture of my relaxation buddy and I:

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She found me yesterday as I lunched overlooking the Mekong River. The island has lots of endearing stray animals, but for some reason all the cats here are born with stubby tails or no tail at all. Stray cats always drive home the realization that my cats have all been outrageously fat. I mean, look at this:

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And this:

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Happy Holidays! Until next time.

Why Sihanoukville Was Not For Me

Sihanoukville: blissful idleness, or something more sinister going on?

Sihanoukville: blissful idleness, or something more heinous going on?

“Hey! Hey hey! Hey you!”

The voice jerked me out of my contemplation of the emerald waters as I walked along Serendipity Beach the afternoon I arrived in Sihanoukville. A shirtless, dreadlocked guy was standing in front of me, arms open as if for a hug.

This was my introduction to the seasonal “workers” at JJ’s, a bar/club whose fixture on Sihanoukville’s backpacker party circuit I had read about long before I stumbled upon it that afternoon. I put “workers” in quotation marks because it was hard to tell which of the several dozen tanned, fit, young white people there were actually working there and which were just “hanging out.” Continue reading

The Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Museum

Inevitably, one of your days in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, will be spent learning about the Khmer Rouge genocide of the Cambodian people that occurred between 1975 and 1979. On April 17, 1975, the communist Khmer Rouge, led by the deranged despot Pol Pot (are there any Communist leaders that are not deranged and despotic?), took over the country, and in a matter of days turned everything upside down.

One of the most chilling aspects of Khmer Rouge’s history is their establishment of over 300 secret “killing fields” scattered throughout Cambodia. If you knew about the killing fields, you were either in the Khmer Rouge’s inner circle, or you were minutes away from your death by blunt force trauma to the head (the Khmer Rouge did not waste expensive bullets on killing enemies of the state). While exact numbers are unknown, it is reasonable to estimate that two million people–approximately one-fourth to one-third of the Cambodian population–perished at the hands of the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities.

These numbers are staggering, but difficult to fathom when they appear merely on paper or on the screen. That’s when a tuk-tuk tour of the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum comes in. Continue reading