Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Singapore, Part 2

I'm headed to Singapore at 5am tomorrow, well that's when I'm leaving the homestay, to officially get my work visa! Throughout the past few months I've learned a lot about the process (ie, the necessity of getting a multiple exit and re-entry stamp so I can go home for Christmas :) and whatnot) and honestly it's gotten me thinking a lot about international labor law. In fact, all of international law is rather interesting (albeit rather new) and I've become even more impressed with its immense complexities. I would weigh in more heavily on the topic, but I'm still pretty knocked out from whatever I had over the past 7 to 9 days. Fortunately, it looks like the worst is over and also for those who also have Facebook, I just uploaded the "Best Of" pictures from Vietnam and Cambodia, though I have yet to add any from Angkor Wat since that was a separate folder of close to 300 pictures itself. I think they will be a "Best of Angkor Wat" coming soon. Below is one of my favorites:
This is the top of the gate into Angkor Thom. Words honestly cannot describe.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I spent the weekend trying to recover from a pretty nasty cold. As a part of my resting, I saw both "The Pelican Brief" and "Serpico." I'd seen selections from both movies before, but they really are very good. Thank goodness for $0.70 movies allowing me to witness their full genius. Hoping tomorrow we'll be good to go because I have an "animation" project on tap for my 9th graders this week that should be a lot of fun!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Images: Rural Cambodia

Back to School

Today was the first day back. It wasn't bad because Wednesdays are pretty easy on my schedule, but during the last few days of vacation I was feeling a little stuffy. Consequently, as soon as school was over today, I went immediately home and have been resting up and am getting ready to power out some hardcore sleep tonight. Back to the journal from vacation (I was going old school and writing my thoughts and observations in a real journal - like the crazy kind made from paper! - because I wasn't sure when I'd have internet and be able to upload things here)

This is from Thursday, 16 September 2010:

"Upon visiting Ta Prohm (pictured below), I could imagine what it must have been like for

Mouhot to have come across Angkor Wat in the midst of the rainforest. It eerily spoke of an ancient golden age, but also of nature's ability to perpetually create unparalleled beauty; sunsets, mountain vistas, or trees intertwined in temples. Visiting a place like Angkor highlights the fact we view our surroundings in snapshots. We can take Angkor at its present state, or we can delve into the history of the Khmer for greater understanding. However, we can forget to do similar analyses with the places we've made familiar; i.e. knowing New York now compared with where it was in the 70s and 80s, or before September 11th, or during the time of the Lenape when bears lived in Manhattan."

And from Friday, 17 September 2010:

"Leaving Siam Reap is bittersweet. The people have been incredible, the scenery has been breath-taking, and the prices hard to beat, but I'm excited to return to Jakarta because for as much as I've learned about these cultures over the past few weeks, I want to learn that much more about where I'm living and have similar conversations that I've had throughout my trip. One thing that has struck me has been Cambodians impression of the French. During my conversations with the high schoolers and other locals, they will always ask me if I've been to France, when I intend on going, and what I want to see when I'm there. I suppose the actions of the American during the Vietnam War and dealing with the horror of Pol Pot would help restore these relationships sooner, but it was something I wasn't expecting."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Images of Angkor

The two pictures above are of the Main Gate into Angkor Thom.
Some structures in Angkor Thom

The following pictures are of Temple Bayon:

The following images are of Ta Prohm:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

NYT: Exercise makes us smarter

Vindication for cross country :)! Interestingly, time spent exerting the same amount of energy with a Wii didn't produce similar results. I wonder if this is coupled with the necessity of the brain to have down time...

On Tuesday, I spent the day at Angkor Wat. I wanted a day to roam around and take my time exploring the magnificent site. Throughout the day I interacted with numerous tourists, and was impressed with the variety of fellow tourists, along with native Cambodian guide's ability to converse in their language. I heard Cambodian guides giving tours in English, Spanish, French, German, and Japanese. Additionally, it's extremely impressive that the sandstone that was used to create Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom (the city accompanying the temple) was carted in from quarries 60 km away! Unfortunately, since these structures were made of sandstone (not the most durable of stones...), the sites were not in the best condition and many were under rehabilitation (or as John likes to say of the buildings in NYC surrounded by scaffolding, being "exfoliated" :) lol) Here are some of my favorite pictures from the day:

Introduction to Cambodia

Benches along the riverside in Siam Reap. Such a tranquil spot to read, or be interrupted :)
The designated "drop-off" spot with my tuk tuk driver. Also, on the left is one of the main markets in Siam Reap.

While driving between Phnom Penh and Siam Reap (I've officially seen four different spellings for that city, and so if it varies at all, please forgive me but needless to say highlights the difficulties in translating Khmer), our bus was stopped by water buffalo crossing the road. Throughout my travels I've realized how much I enjoy overland travel specifically for instances such as this. Along the road, you're bound to encounter so many more stories, rather than skipping over them to get to your destination. Also, prompted by the tales of Lincoln riding the legal circuit in rural Illinois, I'm inspired to road trip throughout America more to better seek out the "soul" of the country throughout meeting people from as varied of backgrounds as possible. Anyway, there is no picture of the water buffalo, but if happens on the return trip I'll do all that I can. Also, throughout the bus trip, I was struck by the inherent beauty in rice patties. This was first noticed while running with Pete in Bali, but it's a little different when rice patties are meticulously planned in concert with one another as far as the eye can see on either side of the road.

Anyway, throughout my time in Cambodia, I've been exceedingly impressed with the people of Cambodia. They have been extremely hospitable, earnest, and genuine. (Despite the incessant tuk tuk drivers) A couple times I've gone to the riverside to read, and high school students have politely interrupted me and asked if they could practice their English with me. Given such self-confidence, openness, and dedication to their study of the language, I always acquiesce, which has given me a better understanding of the culture. One thing that has continually been pressed upon me is the sense of duty to fellow man exhibited by Cambodians. They seem truly interested in bettering one another together and leaving no children left behind (sorry, couldn't resist that pun)

In addition to high school students, I was politely interrupted by Tola and Jothan who work for an orphanage/school about 40 km outside of Siam Reap. I was impressed that they didn't immediately go to their pitch, but we talked about one anther's lives for about twenty minutes to half an hour, they then showed me pictures of the school and the children while explaining the work they do for another fifteen minutes or so, and only after all of this, did they timidly ask for any kind of donation. I truly enjoyed our conversation and was extremely impressed with their honesty and diligence, especially when I was able to access the website of their school on my smartphone:

Me, Tola, and Jothan

Last initial impression of Cambodia, I'm sincerely intrigued by their interest in volleyball. I've seen volleyball courts throughout Siam Reap, along roads in the countryside, and in Phnom Penh. I'm a big fan of volleyball, but I was not expecting this would be the sport of choice over here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Traveling from Vietnam to Cambodia

I was shocked at the differences between Vietnam and Cambodia. Growing up in America, we were told of the evils and inefficiencies of communism (inefficiencies I certainly believe, especially having prior experience working in a position where incentives were quite skewed), but upon crossing the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, it became hard to justify communism can't do good things for its people. (just fyi, Vietnam is still considered communist while Cambodia is considered a constitutional monarchy - the latter I didn't know until getting here and according to the Washington Consensus, Cambodia has the foundation for a much stronger economy than Vietnam...oh how little economists (and I put myself in that category here too) really know...)

First of all, I was surprised at the rural differences between these two countries. It seemed like there were more deciduous trees and, in general, a more "temperate" climate in Vietnam than Cambodia. This flies in the face of all the movies we've seen about the area (ok, Tropic Thunder isn't meant to be an accurate representation, but you know...) Additionally, in Vietnam, the highway to the border was wide, very well paved (puts PA to shame lol), and seemed very unlike the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City. Conversely, in Cambodia, the road was paved, but narrower, noticeably rougher, there were a few sections that were under construction (thus had to drive on an unpaved road), and in one section we had to take a ferry rather than drive over a bridge.

Also, after crossing the border, there was a noticeable shift in the standard of living for those in rural Vietnam and rural Cambodia. Without going into too many gory details, it's heartbreaking to see why Cambodia is listed as the 8th "least developed" country (according to the IMF).

The trip from Ho Chi Minh to Siam Riep ended up taking a total of 13 hours by bus. We changed buses and had a half hour break in Phnom Penh, but it was quite the trip.

Overall, this trip has helped me appreciate Indonesia in a whole new way. I don't really know Indonesia outside of Jakarta (though Alison's place in Bali was pretty sweet) and so those two things are synonymous to me right now, and while this is an inappropriate comparison, it's all I can really think of now. Having seen Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh as well as what supports them, it seems like they are at the development stage behind Jakarta. Consequently, seeing the "roots" have helped me appreciate the incredible gains thus far and while there is still a long way to go and a lot of questions to answer, what country isn't facing those (hello some of America's problems regarding long-term sustainability of Social Security, how to deal with Chinese growth and infringement on IP, whether or not we should burn Korans in Florida...oh friends in America, I can't believe that was actually a story, cable news why do you give crazy people platforms from which to create international crises?!?)

This was a market near Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City. Pretty crazy inside, but it looks pretty cool!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bule Bakar di Angkor; Travels in Vietnam Part II

As I sit in a coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City, I'm struck by the overwhelming number of stories around me; of how and why foreign nationals are here, of whether or not the native Vietnamese are originally from Saigon or if they've moved in from the country-side (and if so, why?), and what the Vietnamese think of the transition going on in their city? The answers to these questions are all fascinating to me and it helps ground me in the sense that everyone's story has equal importance and equal weight. Throughout the law school application process I've been focused on stories that would satisfy an admissions committee, but those stories are no more important than the woman bringing me my Vietnamese coffee (and by the way, Vietnamese iced coffee is really good).
Throughout dinner various American pop songs played, and it struck me that culture is our major export. Between music, fashion, movies and consumption, we've got the market cornered in a way China will never be able to replace :-p. Seriously though, hearing "Empire State of Mind" while eating my Bun Bo Nam Bo was a little much to handle :).
I also took a day tour of Ho Chi Minh City (it was only $4 and I figured a great way to meet other tourists along with the city) During the tour I got to see a good amount of the city and I also met a retired couple from California (they were surprised another American was on the tour), an elderly couple vacationing from Jakarta (it was fun to talk about the city with other who are intimate with the city and its history), and a young Filipino couple who are airline attendants for Qatar airways. It was a fun day and well worth the exorbitant expense ;)

In general, I am concerned about how my time in Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia is changing my perception and attitude towards service. At Thelma's, I am blessed to have Ida who cleans my room, makes my bed, and does my laundry. Also, when at a fast food, or any, restaurant, patrons are not expected to clean up after themselves. It still makes me feel really weird to get up from my table without taking my tray over to the garbage, but as soon as I move to get up, employees stream over. Lastly, there is not much of a tradition of tipping, and so I have become accustomed to giving exact amounts. While all of this has been a nice luxury, it is not the reality of the world I want to live in. I guess just something I'll have to be cognizant of when I get home.
Lastly, throughout the first part of my trip I completed "Team of Rivals" about the history of Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. It was a fascinating read and I completely recommend it to everyone. Even though I knew Lincoln was going to be assassinated, reading it and the circumstances around it (initially the plot was to kill his VP Andrew Johnson and the Secretary of State William Henry Seward as well, but Seward's assailant failed and Johnson's thought better of it) nearly brought me to tears because of the way in which I reconnected with Lincoln. Yes, Washington, Jefferson, Kennedy and Roosevelt did amazing things for our country, but I think they pale in comparison to not only what Lincoln did, but the person who he was while doing it all. (Sorry, couldn't go a post without nerding out :) lol)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Out of Vietnam

Now that I am settled in a very nice homestay in Siam Riep, Cambodia, I finally have consistent internet access! That being said, I'm meeting my tuk-tuk (see picture below)driver shortly to go out to Angkor Wat, so I'm going to try and detail my trip thus far in installments.

Part 1: Initial impression of Vietnam
Even more than in Indonesia, the dollar is king in both Vietnam and Cambodia. Many places list their prices in dollars, not the local currency. Furthermore, the exchange rate to the Vietnamese Dong (such a great name for a currency) is about $1 = 19,800 VND. This is absolutely mind-blowing to me...
Throughout the trip, I wanted to experience the local cuisine. While my system has had two and a half months training on an Indonesian diet, I'm still a little concerned how things are going to pan out, but so far so good. Also, I've really enjoyed the different dishes I've had thus far: Bun Bo Nam Bo (stir-fried beef, veggies, and sweet sauce - Vietnamese), Com Chien Thom (Pineapple Fried Rice - Vietnamese), and Lok Lak (cooked veggies, rice, and chicken marinated in a tradition Khmer sauce - Cambodian) have been my favorites thus far.
Landing in Vietnam reminded me of when I landed in Jakarta in February. Landing by yourself in a place you've never been before can be a rather intimidating experience and all the more so when you don't know any of the language. I've been spoiled by knowing enough Bhasa to get by and understand some of the things being said around me, but it's hard to solely rely on natives knowing English. That being said, I've been impressed with the number of people who have a pretty good grasp of English, especially in Cambodia, and their willingness to come up and talk with me. While I realize I'm probably being "used" by some people to practice their English with a native speaker, I've enjoyed the conversations and especially the Cambodians have struck me as being extremely earnest.
Lastly (for part 1), thank goodness for Jessica Hores. She was my high school girlfriend who first introduced me to sushi and spent a great deal of time teaching me how to use chopsticks properly. I've never felt completely adept with them, but there have been three meals where alternatives were not available and my ability to eat the meal is solely due to her dedication to teaching me about 8 years ago. So Jessica, thank you lol.
I hope everyone is doing well!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Vietnam and Cambodia

This weekend has been extremely busy with creating plans for the trip to Vietnam and Cambodia as well as making up SAT tutoring sessions lost due to the Singapore trip and all of that craziness. Anyway, I have no idea whether or not Vietnam or Cambodia will a) have internet or b) if they will block blogger or gmail or other sites along those lines. Consequently, if you don't hear from me for a few weeks, be not concerned.

As of now, our game plan is to fly into Ho Chi Minh City and spend a couple of days seeing the sites and whatnot. Then we're going to take a bus up to Phnom Penh and check out some stuff around there. From Phnom Penh, we'll head up to Siam Reap (and the general Angkor Wat area) for about five days and from there, who knows where we'll go (I mean, eventually making it back to Ho Chi Minh by the 19th so we can fly back to Jakarta, but we're trying not to be married to plans so that we can just take things as they come and be more relaxed about our vacation)

Lastly, here are some of the promised pictures of Singapore:
This was my bathroom at the hotel. I especially like how the shower was integrated into the toilet area and with tile everywhere simply encouraged getting the bathroom completely soaked while "showering" (without hot water I might add)This is a typical city street view of Singapore. I love the contrast between clearly defined infrastructure that puts cities in the United States to shame compared with the overcrowded, motorcycle filled, polluted streets of Jakarta. Typical development (also the architecture of the sky scrapers reminded me of Miami)On the left is an area that contains a lot of small restaurants, and I just loved the view of it as you looked down the road and saw the palm trees and city scape.

Friday, September 3, 2010

First Day of NCAA Football

We won't have any pictures of Singapore yet because I'm still at school, but I couldn't contain my excitement at the start of a new NCAA Football season! Additionally, I got to spend homeroom this morning describing the basic rules and strategy of American football to the 9th graders as well as explaining to them why I prefer NCAA football to the NFL. On the opening Thursday night, there were two important things of note.

1) Utah solidified the fact the Mountain West Conference should have the automatic bid to the BCS, not the Big East. Yes, I realize much of the country has already realized this, but this was a very difficult admission for someone growing up in "Big East country." Utah clearly out-played (as much as I could see from observing the typed play-by-play on my computer screen during free periods today :) lol) Pittsburgh and this wouldn't be as critical except that Utah is projected to finish 3rd in the MWC while Pitt is the predominant favorite to take the Big East. Yes, this might acknowledge that this may be the year for UConn or that Utah is better than anticipated, but it is a clear loss for the Big East as a conference (with Rutgers needing a dominant second half to truly put away Norfolk State...)

2) Despite resistance from Ab (he's a Clemson alum), South Carolina might be for real this year. I'm always a fan of a re-building project and maybe this season was the product of five years under 'the head ball coach.'

Ok, ridiculousness of NCAA football aside, tonight Ab and I are looking to hang out for a bit with Mike and his girlfriend before they leave in the morning for the Philippines. I'm looking forward to finally meeting Mike's gf (who was apparently in the same MSW class as Miranda Struck, a high school friend) I hope everyone is doing well and Singapore pictures will be posted soon. Regarding the trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, Ab and I are leaving on Monday afternoon and will be in Vietnam sometime Monday night. From there we've deliberately not made plans other than being in the town outside of Angkor Wat for four days at the beginning of next week. We've done a decent amount of research so we have a number of options, but we want to stay pretty free from schedules and itineraries so that we can enjoy our time and see what we want to see when we want to see it. I have no idea whether or not I'll have a) internet access in Vietnam and Cambodia or b) if either of those countries have blocked blogger, but if there aren't any new posts, it'll be due to one of those two reasons.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I apologize for the relative "silence" the past few days, but I left for Singapore for a few days right after school on Tuesday and have been without the internet (well...I just didn't want to pay the ridiculous hotel wi-fi fee simply on principle :-p)

Anyway, even though I've only been here for two days (this post is hastily be written from the Singapore Airport before it times me out), I am incredibly impressed with the city. There is a reason it's public administration has been rated the best in the world. My limited experience with Singapore left me feeling like it was a merger of New York City and Miami, but cleaner and more...disciplined. While disciplined might be a nice way of putting their control over minutia (ie no gum chewing, no smoking, no littering) but aside from the gum chewing, many municipalities also have these laws, they're just enforced in Singapore because they figured out what all teachers know, the little things add up and matter a lot (let a kid get away with not following one procedure and the next thing you know he's throwing his pencil out the window - or maybe that was just Alex... :) anyway...)

Anyway, I'm excited to post the picture of my hotel bathroom on the next post when I get home. It was an ... efficient... use of space :)