Stairs at Sea Level to Stairs on the Top of the World.

 

Salamat, Sooasday, Sawadi Ka, Sabai Dee, Xin Cao, Namaste, Hello

 

Bali was ocean, rain, friends, incense, temples, garbage, and stairs. Lombok was motorbikes, shells, beaches, Christmas, New Years, call to prayer, and Rupiah. Malaysia was friends, fun, love, Ringgit, and home. Cambodia was temples, Riel, silk screening, school, beautiful, and people. Thailand was family, friends, food, Baht, elephants, dogs, shopping, pancakes, and iced tea. Laos was zip lining, tree houses, movies, bookstore, Kip, waterfall, rest. Vietnam was cold, crazy, traffic, big, small, Dong, caves, markets, beach, bikes, fun. Nepal was beautiful, kind, lovely, kids, hiking, teahouses, Dal Baht, sick, hail, orphanage, henna, Rupee, loss.

I feel blessed for the privilege of taking this trip. South East Asia was more than I ever imagined. I learned and experienced diverse cultures, food, and animals. I got blessed by a Buddhist monk in Cambodia, I learned how to make Som Tam from a Thai grandmother, I walked through the jungle to find three old lady elephants, I zip lined to tree houses, I crossed a street in Hanoi, and I trekked in Nepal. I have seen and done incredible things. I am forever grateful.

Bali, Lombok, Cambodia, Thailand, and Nepal taught me to be kind and loving to all people, no matter your beliefs. Malaysia, Bali, Laos, and Vietnam taught me that friends are a treasure, and they make an experience one hundred times better than it already is. Seven countries in South East Asia taught me that language is important, and is so much fun to learn. My trip to South East Asia changed the way I see the world around me.

 

Terima Kasih, Akun, Kop Kun Ka, Kop Jai, Cam On, Dhanyabad, Thank You

Back-Strap Weave

Mone means pillow in Lao language. We met our friend Mone, who is not in fact a pillow, but a twenty-eightish year old woman from southern Laos. She is only four-foot eight, and can sit with her legs flat-out in front of her for hours.

The day started when dad got us up early to rent bicycles and bike to the other side of the river and through villages and that kind of thing. However, after four different unsuccessful bike shops, and the bright, hot sun on our shoulders (which had not been sun screened that morning) we admitted defeat and sat in the shade with a sandwich and a smoothie. Mom suggested that we split up: Porter and dad go do whatever, and she and I go check out a weaving class she had looked up. To get there, we had to cross the bamboo bridge. A really scary bridge over the river made out of bamboo that creaked and popped, and pretty much made us feel like we would fall through at any moment.

On the other side of the river we passed a homemade jewelry shop, and followed signs to The Weaving Sisters weaving class. We walked into the workshop to see beautiful table runners and tapestries hanging on the walls. We called out “Hello? Hello?” and Mone walked in from the back. Upon seeing our sweaty faces, she offered us a glass of cold water. As mom and I admired her weaving, Mone talked to us about weaving, where she was from in the south of Lao, and her family. Almost immediately I knew I liked her. It certainly helped that I was a whole head taller than her too!!! Then mom started asking questions about the weaving class. How much it was, how long it took, if she had any openings. She told us all about it, and mom and I thought we might enjoy weaving, despite the slightly spendy price. We asked if we could do a class right then, and I could tell Mone was a little taken aback, but she agreed and said to come back in about forty-five minutes so she could set up. Mom however, told Mone that our guesthouse was not very close and it was hot outside, and asked if we could stay instead to help her set up. Mone obliged, and we picked the colors we wanted for the headbands she would teach us to weave. After that we watched as she strung hundreds of little threads on a big loom. Then she proceeded to show us how to weave on a back-strap loom.

The loom is set up on your body like so: a strap across your back (obviously) that connects to the loom itself. The thread stretched out across the span of your legs, with your feet pressed up against a stick at the end. It looks incredibly complicated at first, there are so many bamboo sticks, and you have to move this one at a certain point, apply pressure with your feet here, relax them there, lift this up, slide that. Mone is a great teacher, though, and after a while, we got into the rhythm of weaving, and started enjoying it immensely. About halfway through, my lower back started to hurt from sitting up against the wall for two hours. When we were almost finished, Mone came out with a plate of fresh mango slices, which made me like her even more. By the end of the day, I could actually sit down with my legs out in front of me and touch my toes! I have never been able to do that before. When we were finished, the headbands looked amazing. I could not believe that I had made that. With the leftover tassels, Mone rolled them on her leg in a certain way, then tied a knot, so there were braid-like tassels on both ends of the headband.

This was an amazing experience, and I am so glad that we did it. Throughout the four or so hours of weaving, Mone was great company, and I loved talking to her. After we were finished, Mone’s friend came in. Her name was Nikki, and she was really nice. Apparently she worked at the jewelry shop we had passed earlier. Nikki said the something that made my day:

Mom asked her how old I looked. Nikki replied “Well, her face looks young, but because she is so tall, I would say about fourteen.” Mom and I cracked up.

I was so glad, that a boring day filled with hot sun and bike shops galore, had turned into the awesome day complete with weaving, shade and a short new friend.

IMG_0580

Note from dad:  When Amy and Mia returned, they were so enamored with their experience, and with Mone, that we all went back for a visit the next day.  Also, Mone had conducted the entire class on faith that Amy would pay the next day.  So, we returned to meet her, and to pay.  Mia described her very well, I won’t add any more except a few more photos:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

BEES-Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary

An elephant’s skin is tough. Wrinkled. Hairy. Yet soft. Grey from the years of dust bathing. Warm. The tip of the trunk is wet, soft, and pink. It reaches out toward me, searching, sniffing, snuffling for the sweet treat I am holding. Thong Dee’s trunk grabs all five figs from my hands and shoots them into her mouth. Before her tongue can even make jam out of the fruits, her trunk is already waving about, sniffing my hands for more. I feel blessed, and honored to be sharing this moment with someone so magnificent.dsc_0220

Elephants worldwide are abused, bullied, misunderstood. According to Dictionary.com, the definition of “Sanctuary” is “a tract of land where birds and wildlife, especially those hunted for sport, can breed and take refuge in safety from hunters.” The key word here is refuge. Elephants all over are being poached for the ivory in their tusks (more often, it’s the African elephants being poached, as female Asian elephants do not have tusks. However, they might have what are called tushes, which are like little tusk nubs. Male Asian elephants don’t always have tusks, and if they do, they are much shorter and smaller than the African ones).

Asian elephants, even without tusks, are still under threat. They are more often used for logging, circuses, zoos, riding, and tourist attractions, because Asian elephants are more tolerant, and more likely to accept training and humans.  I can sort of understand why we want to interact with them; they are beautiful, majestic animals that have quickly developed a place in my heart.  What people don’t understand is that this is breaking them. Riding elephants is bad for their backs. Carol Buckley from ‘The Elephant Sanctuary’ in USA explains Instead of smooth, round spinal disks, elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. These bony protrusions and the tissue protecting them are vulnerable to weight and pressure coming from above.”  On the other hand, horses are not hurt by human riding unless mistreated. According to Wikipedia, “Integral to the back structure is the rib cage, which also provides support to the horse and rider. A complex design of bone, muscle, tendons and ligaments all work together to allow a horse to support the weight of a rider.”

Image result for elephant spine    Image result for horse spine

Riding on a platform chair on their back hurts elephants’ spines. Riding bare neck is better, but still, if you were a wild animal and you got taken from your mother at a young age, then trained to kneel, let an obnoxious stranger climb onto your back, and then go on a trek through the jungle, would you like that? In logging, the poor animals have to walk, working long hours, with very little rest. People can’t use whips on elephants because their hide is too thick, so they use a piece of rope, with a hook on the end to force them to do what they want.Image result for elephant loggingImage result for elephant riding platform  Image result for elephant riding bareback                      In the circus, they are forced to do tricks, and must live on concrete, or in a very small enclosure. The same goes with zoos. Elephants are in the same enclosure day, after day, after day. In the wild, elephants move from location to different location, following their matriarch in the search for fresh water and food. Therefore, the Asian population is dwindling faster than their African counterparts. In the past hundred years alone, we have lost ninety percent of the Asian elephant population. There is a campaign started to save the elephants, and “sanctuaries” are advertising no riding, no chains, no hooks. Image result for chained elephantsSome are better than others, but the elephants are still mostly forced to do the same thing twice a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year, and this is why you should do really good research before choosing your elephant sanctuary. This is also why I am writing a recommendation for BEES.

Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary has three elephants. Mae Kam was their first ever. She is somewhere in her fifties, and doesn’t really like to be around humans. That makes sense, given her past. She was a logging elephant, before it was banned, for 50 years. Then she got transferred to trekking. She was not happy, and became very distressed after her second calf got bitten by a cobra and died. She could not work, as she started throwing tourists off her back, and was sold to BEES. The full story is on their website. I will put the link below. Mae Jumpee is their second elephant. She is around 73, and also started in the logging industry. She worked with tourists for a very long time, and has had 11 calves. That is a lot. (did you know that elephants are pregnant for twenty-two months?) Mae Jumpee (they just call her Jumpee) and Mae Kam are best friends.

The last elephant at the sanctuary is named Mae Thong Dee. (Mae just means Miss or Mrs. In Thai language. At BEES she is just Thong Dee.) Thong Dee is around 76 years old, and approaching the end of her life. She only has one tooth left, and in the wild would have starved to death. She came to BEES after logging and then 30 years with a kind-hearted man who rescued her from that. Thong Dee’s best friend was Boon Yueng. They were inseparable. Boon Yueng however, died in July 2015. Thong Dee is left devastated and alone from her friend’s death, and mentally and physically scarred from her days in the logging and tourist industries. Despite the scars, Thong Dee is the sweetest thing. She is lonely sometimes still, but that makes her crave the company of people even more. She was a lovely animal to be around, and I miss her with all of my heart.

BEES is a true elephant sanctuary. They allow the elephants to go where they like during the day, only followed by their mahouts. A mahout is a person who works with an elephant. The mahouts are only making sure these lovely animals don’t get hurt. One of the days we were at BEES, Burm took us on a walk through the forest to find the elephants. We got to see them eating in their natural habitat, and being happy in their nice, relaxed, retirement home. We stayed for four days, but I could have stayed four weeks! They had twelve rescue dogs on site with them, and it was lovely being able to pet, and cuddle dogs without being afraid of rabies. They also had around 10 cats, although we only saw like five.

Burm made excellent meals for us, and it is a really fun place to be. The elephants come back from the forest on their own—like I said, they are not forced to do anything—for dinner. Sometimes we made a salad for Thong Dee (remember she only has one tooth left) and sometimes we chopped up sugar cane (the elephants love it), or we washed pumpkins. Now, I am not talking about jack-o-lantern pumpkins, I am talking about smallish pumpkins that taste (when cooked) like pumpkin pie. I am not kidding. No wonder the elephants love them so much. Diana (or Di, who works at the sanctuary) says that if the elephants like it, we should too. Thong Dee’s pumpkins and sugar cane must be chopped into fourths or halves, but Mae Kam can eat a whole stock of sugar cane as tall as me! She can put a whole pumpkin in her mouth, and squish it with her tongue! And that’s not even close to what her trunk can do.

It was amazing, being so close to these animals. It was remarkable, feeding Jumpee pumpkin halves, stroking Thong Dee’s trunk. Although I felt amazed, and loved every minute of it, the reason I could stroke Thong Dee, I could feed Jumpee, the reason I couldn’t feed or stroke Mae Kam, was all because of what we (humans) did to them. We broke them. But this is why I love BEES. They are giving elephants a chance to retire, and hopefully die happy in the place that they were free again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

BEES website link:

Bees Elephant Sanctuary  (https://www.bees-elesanctuary.org)

Green Umbrella School

My dad has already written about this. Or at least written an email. The school is in partnership with an NGO called Green Umbrella. It is run by a Buddhist monk named Sokrath. He is very caring. On a walk through the village, he stopped and bought little cracker snacks for the children.

img_9333
Everyone knows how to flex
The first day we dropped our stuff at the boarding house we were staying at, then went to the school. As soon as we got out of the car, we heard

“Helloooo, Helloooo”

We looked up to see all the kids on their way back to their classrooms after lunch, for a nap time. They all looked so cute in their little green and black uniforms, smiling, and waving. After a quick tour of all the buildings (kindergarten and English in one, then 2nd, 3rd, and library in the other. There was a football (soccer) pitch, and a playground. For the 4th graders, they had an outdoor classroom because they were only there for the morning. After that they went to the public school.), we had lunch with the other staff members. It was really wonderful to arrive at this school not sure what to expect, then get such a warm welcome from the students, sit down to a beautiful lunch, then go and play with the kids.

Every day was just about the same. We got up early, and had a tuk-tuk ride to breakfast. The same place we had dinner, and just about the same foods too. Not exactly my cup of tea. Which is kind of a weird saying for me, because I don’t really like tea either. Anyways, I don’t like savory breakfast, so I brought some strawberry biscuits that we had bought before we came. The family lived right by the restauraunt, which is more like some tables, plastic chairs, and a big kitchen and home behind. It is true that grandmas around the world are the same. This one was worried I wasn’t eating enough, so she went inside and got me a loaf of bread. It was very kind. She didn’t speak any English, but every day she came by and either got me more bread, or just smiled and hugged my head.

img_9353
Grandmas around the world are the same. This grandma was concerned Mia was not eating
When we got to the school I would head immediately to the kindergarteners who had English first thing, dad would go to the 4th grade science class, and mom and Porter went back and forth. On our first day, I learned how to count with the kinders. I can count all the way to 29 in Cambodian language. I love Khmer. It’s such a beautiful language. It is very throaty and guttural, which means it is hard to learn. For instance, the word for beautiful is sart, pronounced saa. Wait, there’s more. You need to say it thinking about the correct spelling, otherwise you say it wrong. If you say it incorrect, it means turtle farts. Just kidding. It is not a very beautiful word, on the other hand, the Indonesian beautiful, cantik, is.

During recess Porter raced the boys to the footballs, then out onto the field. On the playground, I taught some girls, kinders and 1st grade, clapping games. Another day mom and I started a game of duck, duck, goose. It was so great watching the squeals, and the smiles, and the laughing, as they called out dok, dok, dok, goo!!! Then they would race around the circle, laughing, and yelling. The last day we were there, I came up with the idea to lift and swing the kinders off the slide onto the ground with a whoop. They absolutely loved it. Soon they were lining up on the slide for their turn. Later, my arms were so sore I could barely move them.

img_9280

I probably shouldn’t have favorites, but I had 7. I don’t know all their names, so there are only 4 real ones.

  1. Mesa. She was my absolute favorite. She had curly hair and the cutest smile. She made the class laugh a lot. This is when I wish I could understand Khmer.
  2. Sokchan. He is mom’s favorite. He has the chubbiest cheeks, and a cuter smile even than Mesa.
  3. Efor. She was more quiet, but I loved her. She kept saying my name to get my attention. AAAHHHHH!
  4. Piscey. She was the smallest, and an equal smile to Sokchan on the cuteness scale.
  5. Piggy. I only call her that because she wore pigtails a lot. She loved my hand clap games.
  6. Damion. He looks like a Damion to me. He was the “bad boy” didn’t smile a lot, made some jokes, and I could tell that when he got older he would be very handsome.
  7. Thomas. On our first day, he was wearing a Thomas the train outfit instead of the uniform. He was just really cute.

Mesa reminded me most of myself. She was really stubborn, and kind of wanted me all to herself. All the kids were excited about visiters, and liked having us there. I don’t think that we made much of an impact on them, but they did on us. This school will stay forever in my memory, and my heart.

I miss Cambodia. I miss the way the girls fought to hold my hands at the school, I miss the language, and I miss the people. They were all so kind, loving, and giving. Everyone should be like that. Next time when you are complaining to your parents about how slow your iPhone 4 is, or when you don’t want to go to school or work in the morning, think about Sokrath. Think about how he started a school from scratch, how he buys the village children treats, and think about all those people, all those kids, who don’t have a job, who don’t go to school. Who later on will not have job because of no or little education. Think about that.

img_9297

 

I am not supposed to put pictures of the kids on here, so if you want more pictures, send me an email and I’ll send you more. mialou272@gmail.com

 

Silk Screening

In Siem Reap it was the choice between making five ceramics each using a pottery wheel and taking one home, or printing a design on t-shirts. We were a little worried about the ceramics making it all the way back home, but it’s all about the experience, isn’t it? Mom wasn’t completely sure what the silk screening was like, so on the way to the Angkor Thom, we stopped by. The people were so nice, and helped as much as they could with our design picking. Dad had the idea of making team shirts, with our Four4Four logo on them. Porter and I thought we should also have a design on them, and I of course wanted an elephant. Porter wanted the design he will pick if he ever gets a tattoo. A stick man backpacker.Mom and dad both liked the elephant design I had found, but it was way to complicated, because someone had to draw it on the computer. So they showed us a different elephant design that they had done before, and we all liked it. The problem was though, Porter still wanted the backpacker. I came up with the brilliant solution, if I do say so myself, and we decided to have the elephant on the front of a black t-shirt, and on the back our Four4Four logo inside a box, and underneath we put the stick man. Under the box was Cheeseburgers in Asia, because that is also part of our logo. Dad likes it so much, he is thinking of adding the backpacker onto our logo on the blog.

The next day, dad, Porter and I went back. Mom couldn’t come because she was sick. we think it was food poisoning. At the silk screening place, they took out our t-shirts, which we had fit to our sizes the previous day, and we picked our colors. I thought even though everything else was the same, we should have different colors.

img_9176

I picked turquoise, Porter chose green, and dad, brown. we had to guess for mom, but she loved the white grey I picked for her. Then they showed us how to scrape the paint on to the stencil, and from there to the shirt. It was really fun, and you really had to put some muscle into it. Between the scrapings, they dried the shirt with a heat gun. they did this three or four times. After that, they took the shirt and compressed it in this other thing. then we did the back. It was a very unique experience, and we all love the way our shirts came out.

dsc_0364

Goodbye Wander

Wander has had a very fun time in Indonesia. He really loved Christmas, where he got to hang out with all the other cool toys people got. New Years however, was a little too loud for his big sensitive ears. Now, as I said, Wander really liked it in Indonesia, but he missed Rudy, poor guy. So, we sent him home with the Gray family, full of memories to share.