Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tea With Cu and Niu Le

The most fabulous thing ever happened today, I had been searching and searching and searching for the big book exchange store I had seen when I first arrived to Hoi An... and had no such luck in the morning. Then, when I was riding my bike around town in the evening, I finally found it and screeched my bike to a stop! I walked inside the store and there were two older men sitting there drinking some tea (perhaps it was poppy tea?!)... but with how much they were laughing together and then joking with me... I asked them if they were drinking alcohol. I had yet to see the Vietnamese go crazy like that... it was amazing, these men had the happiest eyes and they were filled with joy. They offered me some tea, and I got to drink some tea and search through books at the same time.. how relaxing! Once I found a good book, I started chatting with the two jolly gentleman again and they invited me to sit down and drink some more!

Cu owned the bookstore, and he didn't speak too much English.. but he knew quite a few Korean words! And Niu Le's English was quite good.. although it should be, because he pulled out his license to prove he was 74 and it was from Washington state ( he lives in America permanently and is a citizen.. but comes to visit his extended family every now and then in Vietnam )!! So we had some lengthy discussions about the Vietnam War.. he was a pilot at the time and when the North won, he had to go to prison or aka 're-education camp' for 6 years. He said that it was the worst time of his life, and while he was there his mom died and life was horrible. When he left, the USA offered all of the Vietnamese who had been in the camps for a certain amount of years the option to move to America and become a citizen. After mentioning the word 'freedom' about 87.7 times within the 30 minute conversation... I hardly had to ask 'why' he wanted to move to the states.. and why he wouldn't want to stay in his homeland even though the war was over.. but I did!

I really really REALLY need to learn a lot more about the Vietnam War.. I feel like there is so much I don't understand, and every different thing I hear here vs. what I've read or what I remember learning in school is just confusing the heck out of me! So after I asked him why he didn't want to stay here, he said that if he stayed in Vietnam he probably wouldn't have a job.. if he moved his family to America he probably would have a job and FREEDOM. I realize now how much I take my 'freedom' for granted.. although I do still think that America uses the term far too often and I think there are many things that we aren't allowed to do which doesn't seem very 'free'... I fully understood his point. He continued this part of the conversation for about 15 minutes, about how in Vietnam the police tell you to go inside, you put your head down and go inside, the police tell you to go outside, you go outside... you tell no one you do not like the government, because even nowadays they'll put you in jail. I found this hard to believe, because besides all of the propaganda signs and the communist symbols you see everywhere.. it seems like quite a normal country. I don't feel like there is a crazy military/police presence here either.

But our conversation was just filled with laughs, and these guys were just so... JOLLY... I think they were jollier than St. Nick himself! I'm taking baby steps to the countryside I feel like.. I definitely think it's true that you don't really LOVE Vietnam until you're out in the middle of nowhere with the locals there (and I've heard that more than once!).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Phnom Penh Whirlwind Tour: Part 2

After seeing the plight of the Khmer people's history... it was time to take a deep breath, suck it up and see what Phnom Penh had to offer.

Movie: Tuk-Tuk Ride Through Phnom Penh

Mr. Tuktuk driver took me to the Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Poung).. named this because in the 1980's it housed the most Russian goods of all of Cambodia. This place is supposed to be the mecca of shopping in Cambodia/Phnom Penh.. and because I was only on day 1 on my trip, I hardcore tried to hold myself back or else I'd be holding everything the market sold on my back for the next 3 weeks. I honestly didn't see toooo much that I really wanted... I bought some totally random things, like a Cambodian puppet.. purse, pants, shirt and a small painting. I had lunch in the market (LOVE lunches in markets) and it was SOOO amazing... I just sat down, and pointed to the guy next to me's food (and really everyone else around me.. they only offered one thing I believe) and once the moments of utter ecstasy were gone, I asked what the name of the dish was.. the only answer I got was 'chicken' with a really big grin! :) Yum Yum, I'm down with that.. although I'm STILL curious about the real name!

I was a bit pooped, and the Royal Palace was closed for a quick siesta mid-day.. so Mr. Tuktuk driver drove me back to the hostel. Where I rested for a fiesty 10 minutes.. and out the door I went. Where to? To the Central Market.. I bought nothing here! :::And the angels sing::: but it was a wicked awesome building and a really cool vibe. They sold absolutely everything there!!

Then, I wandered the streets next to the riverside, which was lovely. So much culture, so many things to look at, so much people watching to do!!! Loved it! The riverside though was definitely very super touristy! All of the restaurants/and bars had one person's name written on it "Bob the 60 Year Old Sex Tourist". That I think has been the grossest thing for me about SE Asia... I didn't pay attention to it as much when I was in Thailand (although that is the big daddy of sex tourism).. but here.. O M G.. it's ridiculous.. all you see is these old grosse guys walking around with young Cambodian girls or sitting at a bar talking to some young Cambodian girls.. and you know EXACTLY what's up.. it's quite revolting, and sad. A guy later told me that he was curious and asked a girl how much she charged.. a wopping $5/hour.. so so so so SO so so so sad! Goodness, I hate it!

Anyways, I visited a really cool Buddhist temple that housed a lot of the monks in the city. Then I found the Royal Palace.. which was definitely over priced (about $6 I think) where everyone had to be 'properly' clothed in shorts that cover the knee and a t-shirt or something that covers the shoulders. And those who didn't wear the correct thing, had the choice of walking back in the BLISTERING heat to change or buy a $3 plain white t-shirt, absurd! It was definitely very pretty, and if you haven't seen very many Asian temples or things like that, you'd be super interested.. but I kinda feel like it was a waste of money!!

After all of this, this mama got blisters on her feet.. darn Rainbows.. I don't know why you keep doing this to me!?!?! I dodged traffic a couple of times (one time absolutely getting scared out my whits.. I got half way, and had to run back.. I f-r-e-a-k-e-d out!! Now, I'm much better. But then, I just wasn't quite prepared for the craziness that is traffic there... .there were 2 police officers that were totally watching me freak out as well and they just chuckled.. I stood there for a hot minute analyzing my situation.. and tried to go at it a different way (finally noticing a stoplight.. even thought he stoplight had nothing to do with pedestrians crossing.. I soon found out)... I managed.. and hobbled around trying to find some yummy food to eat for dinner.. I was staaarving at this point!

I spotted a night market which looked promising.. they normally are.. but it was so late I think that most of the Khmer restaurants had closed/turned into pure bars.. the night market was playing some sweet Daddy Yankee music.. which made me crave Mexican.. and I'm fully ashamed.. and I have to admit it here.. I ate at Viva.. a Mexican Restaurant with $1 margheritas and $3 enchiladas. I. Couldn't. Resist. Don't forget I live in Korea.. so it's not like I can just go back home and eat the stuff.. and I know I'm making excuses and I should have been eating Cambodian food.. but OMG was it cheap and DELICIOUS! And LIMES... ::sigh::... LIMES... that is what I miss most!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Backpacker Feet

My feet are officially starting to turn darker... not thanks to the sun... but mostly thanks to the well trodden soil that gets wedged between my toes from excessive flip-flop usage.

My first night I got to my dorm room in Phnom Penh, I looked at the girl in the bed next to mine's feet... they were dirty, and brown, and... AMAZING!!! I was filled with jealousy, because I was on the first day of my 'tourist' 3-week excursion through Cambodia/Vietnam and she was probably on her 4th month+of backpacking... I fell asleep wishing my feet would soon be as disgusting and un-sexy as hers... wishes soon become possibilities.

Hello feet... you don't look too pretty on day 7... hallelujah.
Night night for now. Off to the Mekong Delta in the AM... will add pictures to my blog.. AND fully update my blog soon... hopefully!!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Phnom Penh Whirlwind Tour: Part 1

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (February 12, 2012)

So, I only gave myself one day in Phnom Penh, and I could have stayed a few more.. but Siem Reap is definitely where Cambodian heaven was for me. I covered pretty much all of the main tourist destinations in Phnom Penh in less than 24 hours... you could do it too!

First up: The depressing part of the day...

First, I hired a tuktuk driver to haul me around in the morning.. he got paid a hefty $12, which is apparently the norm.. but compared to the prices for them in Siem Reap and how long you actually have them for there, it was quite expensive. I went to S21 Prison (also called, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum).. and wow, so very emotional! This prison was once an old high school in the center of Phnom Penh.. when the Khmer Rouge shoo-ed everyone out of the city and sent them to work on rice fields and digging ditches in the far reaches of Cambodia.. they would send (normally) officials who were suspected of spying or going against the leadership of the KR to the prison. Here, they would be tortured, beaten, starved, and sometimes they would die... but if they were planning on killing them.. they sent them to the Killing Fields from the prison.

The prison is now a museum, where there are huuuunnndddrreeeeddssss of pictures of the people that had been imprisoned there. The Khmer Rouge documented EVERYTHING they did... they took pictures of every prisoner, had their names and information written down on lists, they would triple check their identity before killing them and then document their death (to ensure that no one had escaped). Because they did this, the new Cambodian government were able to have documentation of all of the war crimes and arrest the leaders (many years later.. unfortunately.. and they're STILL on trial.. or dead.. or have alzheimers). The museum also showed the methods of torture, the cells were still in tact, and some of them were so tiny.. it's unimaginable.. the chains were still bolted to the floor that kept the prisoners in their cells and everything (as well as dried blood on the old metal beds).

There is a small cemetery in the first courtyard of the prison and it contains 13 tombs... these were from 13 bodies (1 woman) that had been found once the Khmer Rouge were overtaken.. they were found dead in the prison after the guards had fled. It is a very eerie site, yet there are beautiful trees and flowers growing around it which gives it a very calming effect.

Movie: Inside S-21

Movie: Outside of S-21
Next up on my morning of depression.. were the Killing Fields (also called, Choeung Ek). For $5 I was given an entrance ticket and an audio tour, which was actually very informative and nice.. oh, and did I mention, depressing?!

Killing Fields:
When you first walk into the Killing Fields, you notice how beautiful the place is.. literally.. when you think of the words "Killing Fields".. beautiful is not a word that comes to mind. Then the audio tour starts, and you don't think about the word beautiful any more!!! There is a huge pagoda that houses about 10,000 skulls/bones .. which you see .. all of them .. it is probably one of the craziest things I've ever seen in my life. These people were probably all innocent, they probably lived great lives until the last few years of their lives which were killed with torture and famine and pain. I can't even imagine what the people Cambodian people I have walked past or bought food from or bought water from remember from their childhood or 20s/30s... to think that all of this just happened in this lifetime is unimaginable. After the pagoda, you see the burial holes where thousands of people were killed one at a time, marked off the list and left to decay.. teeth and pieces of clothing can still be found as you walk around because of the rains.

There is a tree in the very middle, dubbed "The Magic Tree" by the Buddhist monks who used to live in the area.. however, this tree lost all of its magic I believe. The Khmer used to hang a loud speaker onto it (they chose this tree because it echoed the sound very well) and play music in order to drown out the screams of the people dying. One thing that I didn't mention... is that they didn't shoot their victims (that would be wasting money.. on bullets) they would hit them over the head with something (sometimes they found holes in their skulls because they would use axe picks) or they would slice their throats using the jagged bark part of a certain palm tree. This didn't always kill them, so they would throw them into the hole and then cover them with DEET (< maybe not DEET.. I forget though, some sort of bug killer or something) to decompose the bodies quicker so they wouldn't smell so bad.

Some memorable quotes from the audio tour:

A Pol Pot Slogan:
"Better to kill an innocent by mistake, than to spare an enemy by mistake."

"I never lost hope, and I never dreamt of dying under the Khmer Rouge."
"I will never forget his (her infant) death, even if I try to."

Tour Info:
"You'll see bones and teeth on the surface, it's as if the spirits of the victims will not lie still."

The little bird house looking things that you see around Cambodia are homes to the spirits who have no where to go.

From Mardi Gras to Cambodia in 24 Hours

Dudes... the first 24 hours of my 3 week holiday to South East Asia were ridiculous. I, Paula Ferguson, vow to never ever do what I did to myself again.

The Vagina Monologues girls put on a Mardi Gras Party to fund raise money for the Jeonju Women's Association and the women of Haiti... well.. let's just say that party happened to be the night before I left for Cambodia! Selling jello shots and mac & cheese and jumbalaya... turned into joining in on the fun, drinking the $5 Jeonju Hurricanes ($1 of each went to the charity)... and well... I'll let you imagine what could possibly happen from there.

I had to get on the bus at 4AM.. I changed in the bar, Chelsea took my other clothes home, and off I went to the bus station. Four hours later, I arrived at the airport.. and you could have found me sleeping on a bench or in the bathroom, one of the two... it wasn't pretty, I'll promise you that.

I got on the phone with Chelsea as I was waiting in line to get my ticket at 12PM.. the conversation went something like this:

Chelsea: "Hhheelloooo?" (obviously still sleeping)

Me: "Cheeelllsseeeaaa!"

Chelsea: "Paaauuullaaa!"

Me: "I'm so tempted to just ask for a refund.. I don't even know if I feel like attempting security!"

Chelsea: "Paula! You have to get on that plane!"

Me: "This is a horrrible start to a vacation!"

Chelsea: "Paula! Do not make me come to Seoul and but your booty on that plane! You ARE going to Cambodia and Vietnam! Go now!"

Me: "Fine! I'll call you later!"

Now THAT is what friends are for! I followed her every word.. and got my booty on that plane.. after sleeping on a few more benches.. and running to the bathroom a few more times.

H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E! I learned a life lesson! And as I can make light of it now.. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.. and I will never ever make such horrible decisions again.

That is my confession of the day.

So, once I got on the plane.. I made friends with the old Korean man next to me that still smelled of Kimchi.. I promise he was as dissatisfied with the Chinese food served on the flight (I took China Southern Airlines to Guangzou, and then transfered for Phnom Penh) as I was. Then, he switched seats with the waegookin (foreigner) next to him so that we could talk and become BFFs. This only happened after I had taken my final nap and ate my recovery food... successfully!

The waegookin was super nice, and he was headed to Thailand.. we chatted it up for a while about teaching in Korea and other random things.. just in time to land in Guangzou where I would FREEZE my butt off in their non-heated communist airport.

AAGGGHHH, I literally wanted to scream in that airport. For one thing, the transfers section of the airport is super tiny, and there was really no where to shop or look around. If I wanted to go to the bathroom, I had to walk DOWNSTAIRS.. THROUGH a smoking section that had no walls, it was literally just downstairs.. and then I could use the freezing cold bathrooms as well. I had read online that this particular airport wasn't heated (Beijing apparently isn't either).. but tooootally didn't believe it when I read it... errrrrrrnt, WRONG-O Paula! And instead of a 1.5 Hour layover.. next time I have a ... wait for it.. FIVE hour layover!!! I'm rolling right now just thinking about it.

Once landing in Phnom Penh, I waited around and tried to find my tuktuk driver who was supposed to pick me up and take me to my hotel (wouldn't normally do that, but I wasn't getting in until 10PM+)... he definitely wasn't there.. and I definitely didn't know what to do because I didn't want to get charged by my hotel plus a new tuktuk driver.. but after about 20 minutes of me meandering around, I found my name scribbled upon a piece of paper.. and he took me to my new home for the next 2 nights!

I stayed at Encounters (also called Nomads) Hostel for 2 nights, and although it was a bed on the floor... aweessooommmeee sleeps! :)


My hardcore awesome students came to party with their teacher.. thank goodness I teach University now :)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lasers and Razors and Koreans.. OH MY!

It's official!! I have better than 20/20 vision without my glasses OR contacts.. and it's only getting better at each check-up!!

I received my Custom-Q LASIK (Custom-Q is an add on that helped prevent me from seeing halos and starbursts at night time when looking at bright lights post-surgery) from EyeMedi Laser Center in Seoul, Korea. The Doctor's name was Dr. Kim Jong-Min.. he was very nice and the staff at EyeMedi are AMAZING!!! They were always helpful, kind and informative... awesome service and highly recommended!!

The surgery wasn't a walk in the park.. but I managed to not be blind.. or become an Alien, so all is well in Southern Korea!

After a few months of being super anxious about having to wait until December 17th to have my surgery, the day finally came! I was ecstatic.. I was so excited, I just wanted to get rid of my contacts and glasses forever! Although, in all honesty, I was a bit sad to say goodbye to my glasses when I recycled them at the eye center (Although I'm sure they'll be going to a great new home!! I've just had them for the past 8 years.. we became pretty close!)

So the day came.. December 17th.. I took a bus to Seoul with my co-worker, Rachel (we were both scheduled for the same day, just slightly different surgeries) and her friend that came to help her.. and Bruce met me at the eye center pre-surgery so he could be my seeing eye dog and take care of me for the day/night!! SO sweet of him, he did a great job! But he seriously almost made me pee my pants when he messaged me days beforehand and asked if he should make a shirt that says guide dog!!! I seriously about lost it, I realized that's probably what he would pretty much be!

When I arrived, we were given an orientation about how to take care of our eyes the 2 weeks following the surgery.. super important stuff.. and lots of details to remember, but luckily they had papers that described everything pretty thoroughly (we just had to be sure to pay attention at the time, because it was unsure how easy it would be for us to see post-surgery!). Then, we went back out to the waiting room for a little bit to wait for our turn at getting our eyes sliced!

The strange thing was that even though this was my first surgery.. I wasn't nervous at all really! I was just anxious to get it over with. But I had talked to a few friends about the surgery, and they went through the main steps without a lot of detail and all seemed super-duper simple!!

We were both taken back to a small room with comfy arm chairs and Rachel went first to the surgery room. The freaky thing, was that I could watch her surgery through a huge window, and I could watch video of her eye ball being fooled with... I decided I couldn't keep watching and went back to the little room where they put a bunch of eye drops in my eyes and asked me to close my eyes until Rachel was finished (less than 10 minutes).

As the nurse was putting the many drops in my eyes, it didn't seem like she had put some of them in my left eye very well.. and I didn't know whether to say anything or not.. I didn't know if having too many of something would be a bad thing.. so I didn't mention it. And I made myself forget about it... now I'm just sitting there tapping my toes waiting for my turn on the table!!!

*****Note: If you're about to get LASIK.. maybe you shouldn't read this! :) But maybe you should.. because I wish I had known these things before I was on the table, experiencing it first hand!******

The Surgery:
I was taken to the surgery room just minutes after Rachel was finished. I didn't have to change clothes or anything, but I did have a robe sort of thing on and no shoes on. Then, I was told to lay down on the table (dun dun duuun).. and they put a blanket thing over my head that only had a hole in it for one eye.. they used hook things to keep my eyes open (this was one of the most awkward parts).. that's when I started clutching the table.

...I was told before the surgery had begun to concentrate on looking straight the entire time, and if something happens and my eye moves then the lasers will follow it.. BUT it was very important for me to look straight when the razor is cutting the flap in my eye. HOWEVER, they kind of failed to really mention how blind we would be during this process (although, I suppose blind means blind, eh?!)...

I'm thinking at the moment (pre-flushing and razor) "WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING PAULA??!?! Your eyes were useful before this surgery, are you sure you don't want to back out and just go back to the comfort of your glasses?! ARE YOU CRAZY! What are you doing?!?" Deep breath. "Okay, no.. of course you can do this. You got this. You won't have to wear contacts ever again! K.. I'm ready." I just continued with a mix of holding my breath and deep breaths.. but of course, mainly holding my breath.

The first thing the surgeon did, was flush my eye out with some sort of water solution. Then he puts this round machine looking thing onto my eye.. this is when you go blind.. HOW THE HECK ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW IF YOU'RE STILL LOOKING STRAIGHT?!?!? My other eye was covered with a blanket, and after what felt like a couple of minutes (but it wasn't, it was less) I became unsure if I was still looking straight (sounds easier said than done).. so this is when I began to get super anxious and nervous that the wrong part of my eyeball was probably getting sliced open. Also, when it was cutting my eye, I felt a lot of pressure on my eye... thus clutching the table even harder, and trying to sink my head as far into the table as possible, without totally botching the surgery. The surgeon didn't say anything during it, so I guessed everything went well when the machine came off of my eye.

Then the lasers start.. they weren't bad at all.. super easy to be sure you look straight. Apparently some people can actually smell their eye burning.. I don't think I did, I was still in a bit of shock.

Now, it's time for the flap to be "squeegeed" (that's how my friend described it).. I thought a machine was going to be doing it.. boy was I wrong, I see my Doctor's hand holding some sort of squeegee instrument thing, and he himself is flattening my flap back onto my eye... all I could think .. was OMG, Faith didn't mention this, is the machine broken?! Am I in a redneck clinic?!.. and I guess it was my naivety in thinking that a machine did absolutely everything.. I was even wondering what the point of having 'a Doctor' was pre-surgery.. because anytime you talk about LASIK, you're always talking about the 'machine's' role.. not what the doctor does exactly.

But after, to my relief, my right eye was finished. ... Now, the left eye.. and I'm DONE! Thank God, I was so ready to run out of that room screaming.

The procedure was the exact same for the left eye. However, I SWEAR that I could feel the razor SO much more than the right eye (and of course.. I'm thinking, O M G this is going to be one of those surgeries where the patient can feel the entire process, ALL because the nurse didn't put my eye drops in the correct way) I was trying to practically sink my head through the table and onto the floor.. it wasn't super painful, but it wasn't painless either. Then for the laser, no problem, and the squeegee, no problem. They put a few drops in each eye. And I believe I'm done.

The nurses tell me I can get up, and they sort of help me. I'm able to see things with a bit of a haze. And they play the 'typical' Korean congratulations song (A.) I'm thinking, is this seriously happening?! B.) My kinder-gardeners sang this last year C.) In America, this would be deemed SO unprofessional D.) I hope my doctor REALLY knew what he was doing) and Cathy (the foreign liaison that has been with me through every step of the process and every appointment) says "Well... why aren't you ecstatic?! Can't you see?!"... and I kind of just shook my head yes, and said "Uhuh!" trying to make my voice sound positive. Even though I felt like I was part of a sci-fi movie and I was awake as they were turning my body into an alien.

I'm taken back to the tiny comfy room, and have to close my eyes for about 10-15 minutes without opening them. I'm just trying to concentrate on breathing at this point in time. When I was taken back to Bruce.. I was still in a bit of shock, but able to pose for pictures. I just couldn't really speak too much, without really thinking about it.

It was such a crazy experience!

Before going home, I was handed my glasses and they told me congratulations. I then had my photo-op and said farewell to my glasses into the recycling bin!! WeeHoo!! FREEDOM!!

I was told to go home immediately and take a nap for 4 hours so that I keep my eyes closed during prime healing time (and while I'm sleeping, I don't have to put the drops in). Bruce took me back to his place on the subway, it took 45 minutes I think .. we had to stop walking every 15 minutes to put eye drops in my eyes (every 15 minutes for normal eye drops, every half an hour for the other anti-inflammatory & antibiotic ones). He did a great job of guiding me when I decided to close my eyes for a bit while walking, since I'm pretty sure the doctor didn't have a 45 minute subway ride in mind when he knew I was headed to rest.

I had huge Britney Spears glasses and a hat on for the next week.. everywhere I went, even when I was inside most of the time to protect my eyes from the lights. Bruce was sure to make fun of me for my Britney-esque attire, it was pretty hilarious.

When we got back to his apartment, I rested for 4 hours, then we ordered some delivery McDonalds (AWESOME!).

The next day, I had to go for a check-up and have my protective plastic lenses removed out of my eyes (they help keep the flap protected during the first 24 hours)... I was fully able to see everything around me and I had about 20/20 vision the day after! Bruce and I decided to do a bit of gallivanting around the city and ended up at the huge Co-Ex Mall, and we visited an awesome temple that is in the middle of the city!! It was so exciting using my new eyes to see the gorgeous temple THE DAY AFTER SURGERY!!!

By then, the shock had worn off, but I still couldn't believe I did that... and I can't believe how startling it was for me!

I took the bus back to Jeonju that night and returned to Seoul 2 weeks later, then 1 month later. Now my eyes are off the charts amazing, and they have healed wonderfully the doctor said.
I rarely use eye drops now (some people end up having to use them every day of their lives because of dryness issues.. you never know what can happen during or post-surgery that can cause complications like that... the doctor/Cathy also REALLY stressed that the next few weeks of care and drops were crucial to the final product of my eyes), and I haven't experienced any difficulties or problems!

WOOOOOO!!!! The surgery only cost me about $1,100 and SO well worth it!!!