Friday, August 28, 2009

Crossing the Mekong: My Excellent Summer Adventure

From the moment we left Chicago, our trip was packed with new and unexpected adventures. I was somewhat prepared for my first trip to Asia via prior reading, videos, and conversations, but the preview simply touched the surface of what we experienced. Our first stop, Hong Kong provided a night-time view of a crystal fairyland nestled among the mountains and proved to be only the first stop on an incredible eight day journey through crowded, litter-strewn streets, peaceful country sides, dimly lit markets, ancient temples, monuments to the martyrs of genocide and meandering rivers.

When people ask, “What was your favorite thing?”, so many pictures are etched in my mind like the city scenes of thousand of motorbikes; mile after mile of dwellings where generations of families sold their wares to passers-by from a storefront and lived in the back of the simple dwelling; a new definition of open-air dining where families squatted around a small grill awaiting the next meal; the ever-present vendors who urged, “buy something from me madam”. There were parks, monuments, buildings, and temples that serve as reminders of the ingenuity of ancient civilizations. The beautiful countryside dotted with rice patties, water buffalo, and gently rolling hills offered yet another, more tranquil scene. But if I had to choose, I’d say it was the quiet dignity, resolute manner, and spirit of the Cambodian people that left the greatest impression.

Our Cambodian guide, Rith, modeled the strength of his people. He shared the story of an idyllic childhood that changed so drastically with the reign of the Khmer Rouge who attempted to wipe out the population of educated Cambodians. After walking the Killing Fields, hearing the stories, and giving silent homage to those who had died there during the years of terror under the Khmer Rouge, I wondered how Rith could still possess such a positive attitude and outlook on life. It appeared that his Hindu faith based in forgiveness and looking toward the future was the source of his strength.
This positive attitude was also seen in the children we met. From the moment we arrived at the Bright Future Kids Home, we were bombarded with smiles and youthful giggles. The afternoon flew by as they sang songs; we shared games and visited with the children who called BFKH their home. There was no doubt that they were eager to discover as much as they could about us and practice their English speaking skills. As students, they were exceptional. Two fifteen year old boys shared their dreams for the future and the plans they’d mapped out to get there. Their focus and dedication to learning were inspiring. The talented students of the Sangkhum School demonstrated their talents in an awe inspiring presentation of Cambodian music and dance. Years of practice had resulted in their ability to expertly perform the music and dances of their ancestors and would eventually enable them to live independently.

While our trip provided the opportunity to learn so much about the people of Cambodia, their culture and history, I feel like there is another chapter to be written. I’d like to return and volunteer at BKFH and help the students there to achieve their dreams. With that in mind, I’ve added yet another item to my “bucket list” and plan to work diligently to see that the wish is realized.

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