Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Languages of Angkor

It's my last day in Siem Reap, the last day of my 3-week journey through Northern Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

The Pre Rup temple of Angkor Wat was a magnet for tourists to sit and enjoy the sunset over the other temples. I loved hearing so many languages around me all at once... Japanese, German, French, Korean, Spanish... it was like a little section of the world had all come together to watch the sunset over Cambodia for just one evening together.

I couldn't stop thinking about the shared experience of sunset, among all our different grammars and lifestyles. What brought us all to this temple, on this day?

As sure as the sun dipping into the west for another night, we all scattered back to the different places we call home to share our memories of Angkor in our own words.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How I Pay For Travels

One of my subscribers recently asked me a question:

"How do you get the money for all your trips???"

The simple answer is that I save my money.

But there is a more complex answer which involves the way I have chosen to live my life. I want to live a life full of travel, full of experience, full of exploration.

My mother has a small Mary Engelbreit drawing in the kitchen which reads "Bloom where you're planted". Even as a little kid I thought it was weird. Why would I want to stay in my hometown when the whole world is waiting?

In high school, I decided to work a part time job and save all my money in order to "backpack Europe" after university. I actually ended up working 3 part time jobs, (at Dairy Queen, a local stationery store, and a local hotel), and I saved almost all the money that I earned. By the time I graduated high school, I had saved quite a bit.

I also had part time jobs throughout university as well in order to keep saving for my proverbial Europe trip. Lucky enough to have parents who graciously paid for my tuition, the money I earned during university paid for my rent, textbooks, food, and the occasional flight home. I was still completely set on saving for my trip though, so I rarely went shopping, and went out for dinner only as a treat.

As graduation came closer and closer, so did the trip. I got scared, wondering if I could really backpack alone in Europe for a few months. I hesitated to book my ticket.

One fateful night, with graduation only weeks away, my first-year roommate came over for a celebratory dinner. We laughed, we remembered, we ate, and we drank. After a bottle of red wine and too much cheese to mention, she leaned in close and asked me "Kerri, what do you want?" I answered straight back: "I want to go to Europe." I booked a one-way flight to London England that night, under the influence of wine and my own desire.

Once I booked my ticket, everything started aligning. I became friends with Brenna, who was also planning a solo trip around Europe. We sat in coffee shops together with maps and guidebooks, trying to navigate a new world of train rides and dorm beds.

Those four months I spent traveling Europe alone will always be some of my most precious travel memories. I did it. And I did it all by myself - with my own money, at my own pace, with my own will.

In my final year of university, I had dreamed of living and working in South Korea, and made it a reality when I moved there in September 2006. I saved most of the money I earned there and spent it on trips through China and Vietnam.

After that job, I realized living in Asia and working as an English teacher would be the best way to make enough money to continuously explore the world. And that's truthfully what I've been doing ever since. 2012 marks my fourth year living and working in South Korea.

So, to answer the original question, it's not just trying to get money for trips. Rather, the need for travel is so deep within me, I can't help but put the money I earn towards plane tickets to new destinations. Where else would my money be as well spent?

You don't have to have the money to travel, you just need the will.

Friday, February 17, 2012

That Canadian Girl Who Had Her Ear Ripped Off By an Elephant

After an amazing morning feeding sugarcane and bananas to elephants at Baan Chang Elephant Sanctuary, I was getting to feel like a bit of an elephant whisperer. If I could tell myself then that only minutes later I'd be dealing with an injury which would fester for the next 3 weeks of my travels, I think I might have done things a little differently.

In the morning training we learned how to control the elephants with commands, preparing us for an afternoon walk through the jungle. Can't you see what an elephant whisperer I was?

At lunch time, the elephants ate huge piles of bamboo as we feasted on rice and vegetables. After lunch, sitting in a hammock observing the elephants wasn't enough for me, so I approached them get a closer look and take some photos.

I took a few photos of a baby elephant from a distance, and then took a few steps closer to one of the fully grown adults. To my surprise, the adult elephant stuck its trunk out towards me. With my guide's words in mind "don't touch elephants without a mahout", I considered the outstretched trunk a friendly gesture from the elephant, and reached out my open hand in return.

One of the last photos before the incident. Someone get this woman away from the elephants.

The elephant quickly wrapped its trunk around my wrist and pulled me down to the ground in one swift motion. At the mercy of this giant creature, all I could think was I'm being squished by an elephant right now, nothing feels broken, keep breathing. Mahouts were yelling, sounds around me were forming, and after about 10 seconds of my face in the dirt, the elephant let go and I ran away.

The mahouts asked me if I was okay, and I said I was. I felt so lucky that I hadn't broken any bones or gotten any injuries. Then I look down and realized I was bleeding.

Somehow between the elephant pulling me down and pushing on me with its trunk, I managed to nearly rip my ear off from behind. I had to leave the camp right then and go to the hospital to get stitches. Disappointing, really, since we were going to ride the elephants through the jungle and give them baths in the lake.

Arriving at the hospital covered in dust, dirt, and mud with a bleeding ear, the first question was "what happened?" followed by giggles when I started explaining, "I was with an elephant...". The staff at the hospital see lots of foreigners coming in with motorbike accidents, but maybe accidents with elephants are a little more rare.

I was told my wound was "too dirty" to be stitched right away in emergency, and that I would have to stay in hospital. While I was sitting there trying to digest it all, an employee of the sanctuary had a talk with me.

He told me "Elephants are just like people. They have personalities and fears. That elephant doesn't know you, doesn't know your smell. Please don't think you did something wrong. It's just a miscommunication. You can have a great time with elephants again after you heal. Don't think negatively about elephants, because it isn't your fault or the elephant's fault. You just misunderstood each other."

And he's right: the mahouts who train the elephants spend 1-2 years working with one elephant in order to develop the rapport and trust that is necessary for them to be comfortable around strangers.
I thanked him for his words. They almost made me cry in that little hospital bed.

After a long afternoon of waiting and bed swapping, I was taken into the operating room, and my wound was cleaned and sewn up with 13 stitches.

Post-surgery and simply feeling awfully confused about the whole day.

Spending a long night in the Thai hospital was hard with the icy cool sting of the antibiotic IV in the back of my hand.

In the morning, my doctor told me I could "maybe go" if the stitches were holding well. He deemed everything okay and told me to return every day for the next week before having the stitches removed.

"I'm not going to be here..."

"Where are you going? Bangkok?"


Over the next week, I had my ear checked in so many hospitals by so many doctors I can't even name them. The first memorable hospital visit was in Luang Prabang, where the nurse took out my stitches and proceded to pull a stone out of my ear, and calling the wound "very dirty". She told me I needed to go to a different hospital to check my ear. And so comes the hospital visit in the famous tubing city of Vang Vieng. When the nurse took off the bandage, she gasped, and asked me where I had this done. She deemed the Chiang Mai hospital "very bad", and told me my ear needed to be re-stitched right there and then. My heart sank, as I thought I was getting near the end of this travel nightmare.
With a re-stitched ear and a new sense of frustration, I was close to calling an end to my travels and simply flying home to Korea to get my ear checked out by a hospital there.

However, the traveler in me decided to stick it out, and I spent the next week traveling in Cambodia. I kept my ear dry and clean, and I was very cautious not to get it wet.

When I did finally get back to Korea, ten days after my second round of stitches, I went to the first clinic I came across to have the stitches removed. I went to a random clinic in the middle of Seoul, of which I knew nothing. When I came out of the elevator and went to open the door of the clinic, I found the most full circle crazy trick of the universe; just to top off the absolute madness that had been my elephant ear:

Their logo was a flippin elephant. I just had to laugh.

The Korean doctor was the first one not to gasp when he saw my ear. He asked me where I had had the stitches done and why they were so uneven, and then he took them out without much fuss. "Don't I need to keep it dry? Don't you need to bandage it?" He nonchalantly told me the new skin was forming underneath, and that I just needed to take it easy.

If only I could have told the elephant that.

Three weeks later, my sister called to tell me that 2 of her friends who had just returned from a trip to an elephant park in Thailand had heard a story of a Canadian girl who had gotten her ear ripped off by an elephant.

I guess all legends have their origins.


Watch the video I made from my Thai hospital bed.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...