Cambodia blog- an initial downer

When you first arrive in Phenom Phen, Cambodia,  the chaos on the streets is breath taking.

There are no stop signs, rarely a traffic signal, at even the busiest widest streets and intersections. Anyone can go at any time and everyone does. At busy intersections, there can be a gridlock for a few seconds until someone decides on the flow. There is order in the chaos and everyone seems to know how to do it. Very few people walk anywhere or bicycle. Motorbikes are the preferred mode of travel.

There can be up to a family of five on one bike, tiny children, no helmets, even saw a mother nursing with her baby sprawled across her lap. Never mind the noise and chaos around. Walking across these streets is unnerving.
A policeman saw Todd and I hesitating and led us across to help us. You walk slowly and the vehicles and bikes part like the Red Sea. It is quite remarkable.

The Cambodian people are very friendly and quick to smile. That was good to see, especially when I learned that we trashed this place and people along with the Vietnamese. I did not know that the north Vietnamese and the Viet Cong used neighboring Cambodia territory in the battle so we heavily bombed it killing an enormousness amount of people and destroying their villages.

The Cambodians were so devastated after the Vietnam war that they were quick to allow a new Cambodian power who promised to make the country great again. Pol Pot had a vision to move all of the people out of Phenom Phen and other cities out to the countryside and create an agrarian, peasant-dominated cooperative. With very low morale, the Cambodians cooperated. The plan was to get rid of the intellectuals even wearing glasses and speaking another language was reason enough to be eliminated. And so back in the 1970’s, when I was in college and hiking the AT, mass extermination was occurring in Cambodia and I was clueless.

Like the time we were visiting Poland and felt the need to visit Auschwitz, we also felt the need to visit Cambodia’s Killing Fields and the school that was turned into a torture chamber. The Killing Fields were bad enough with the Killing Tree where babies were hung and bludgeoned to death while their mothers were forced to watch. When they found the place there were bits of brain matter and blood all over the tree. Then the mounded fields where the bodies were buried, dug up now and grass grown over. But the memorial stupa housing the skulls was terrible. How man can do these atrocious things to their people was mind boggling.

When our tuk tuk driver took us on to the Tuol Sleng Museum, the high school that was turned into a detention prison and torture chamber, we were not prepared for what we viewed. Photograph after photograph of tortured prisoners covered the walls as well as the methods used to create pain and death. For the first time I saw what a water board bed looked like too and how this type of torture was used by our own people in Git Bay prison. It did not make me proud.

We had to stop viewing and leave because we felt as if we were about to throw up.

We came to SE Asia partially to get away from American politics and take a break, but this was a harsh reminder of what can happen, right in my lifetime, when leaders believe they or a certain group of people are better and more deserving than others. This warped sense of entitlement can occur when people are weak and are looking for a new way. It made us even more fearful for what is a potential in our country, of all places. We must learn from history whether it is Nazi Germany, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge , or Rwanda. It can happen and it did when evil people get into power.

So this was our introduction to our month long trip to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Burma. I am sure I will not have a happy day when we visit sites/museums in Hanoi.

Just as we do not believe in traveling to a developing country and staying in an insulated all inclusive so as not to experience the reality of their poor lifestyle, nor do we believe we should visit a country like Cambodia and Vietnam and not pay our respects of the hardship and pain that went before us. All is a part of our world history

I promise to be more “up” in my next series of blogs. And the happy resilient people in this part of the world is incredibly heartening. So full of smiles and welcomes they even know how to take turns and flow in traffic while being polite, without the need for traffic signals .

We have a lot to learn. I do not believe road rage or even any rage exists here and the Cambodians have legitimate reason to feel that way.

An Easy Way to a Happy Heart

The air smelled like vanilla, as I was rode my bike on the Hamburg bike trail this evening. I suddenly thought of Ponderosa pines and the smell of the High Sierra forest and all my happy miles hiking out west came flooding back. I knew there were no Ponderosa pines nearby, had no idea where that smell came from, but for a few happy miles I was lost in memories of the western mountains.

Smells can do that to you, bring you right back to a place you had not thought about nor physically visited for half a lifetime and you can experience a sharp spasm of pleasure. Hay-scented ferns do that to me, reminding me of my summers at my father’s hunting camp in Potter County, as we trail rode the mini bike through the forest, waist-high in ferns, our feet and pedals slicing them off at their necks and filling the air with their sweet scent.

Somewhere in my 40’s I decided I was old enough to treat myself to good perfume. I never knew what to put on my Christmas list for my in-laws as I usually take care of all my needs throughout the year as they arise. (Underwear was NOT going on. My own mother used to buy it for me at Christmas- why does a mother do that?). “Happy Heart” perfume by Clinique was my first. Many times I would wear it over the years and people, both men and women would ask, “What are you wearing, that smells so good!” I suddenly found myself making other people happy besides myself, just from a little spray behind the ears and wrists.

When we were in San Antonio, I met my niece Janelle and she smelled like something out of this world. It was really heavenly. I could have walked around town with my nose in her neck all day and been perfectly happy. It was called “Angel.” The next time I was in a large airport killing time, I checked out the perfumes in duty- free and saw that Angel costs  $90. I did not feel like I deserved that. Then I found it for $35 in NYC at a perfume shop and purchased it. Then I found it in Zimbabwe for $15. I knew there had to be something wrong with it- synthetic, mixed with water but for $15, I couldn’t go wrong. The other week I was at Dan’s Camera getting my camera cleaned and the clerk immediately says to me as soon as I walk up to the desk, “Oh my , you have Angel on , that smells so good.” And I told her about my $15 deal. She said, “That’s the real deal, I’d know that smell anywhere.”

Wearing perfume has absolutely nothing to do with the opposite sex- I don’t wear it for my husband, I don’t wear it to attract other men, I wear it for me. Because it really makes me happy to smell it. It is an easy thing to do. And in reality, as I have seen, it can add to another’s day just as much, like a big smile.

On the return ride this evening, I rounded a corner and there was that vanilla smell again. A quarter-mile later, I passed a woman whom I had passed on my outbound ride. Could it be her perfume trailing behind her for a 1/4 mile, filling the forest with its delicious molecules? I yelled to her in passing, “Do you have vanilla perfume on?” “Yes!” she replied. “It smells soooo good, ” I complimented her.

And as I rode on, I began to think that we women often tend to not take care of ourselves as we should. We certainly don’t have to wait for our man to buy us perfume. We can do that ourselves- we deserve it. Next time you are in duty-free, ask those clerks to turn you onto to something heavenly and go around sniffing little cards of scents and your wrists, and make yourself happy and buy some perfume. And if you need some rationalization, know that you are in essence making the world a happier place just by wearing it. We can all use happier hearts.

PS- I was riding my bike very fast tonight (see my blog- “I Wanna be a Bicycle Racer”) and thinking about writing this blog in my head at the same time, when all of a sudden, I came up on two women and their dog. As I was heading to the left to go around them, another couple was suddenly coming at me head on. I slammed on the brakes, hit the women and her dog, wiped out the other oncoming woman and wrecked in the grass. Everyone was okay. The price of a blog… I think I’ll wear my helmet next time!

The Real Gift of Spring Gobbler Hunting

A version of this story appeared in the Pennsylvania Game News Magazine, April 2011…/index.php?startid=2

My friend, Hoppy May, has a 140 yard long wooden suspension bridge that leads to his home on the far bank of the First Fork. The cabin nestles in a cleft of the mountains, just upstream from where the First Fork topples into the Sinemahoning. Thirteen miles farther downstream, it dumps into the West Branch of the Susquehanna.

To reach Hoppy’s, you leave your car on the far side by the road and carry your belongings across the bridge, gripping the steel cables. Instead of swinging, the bridge undulates, in waves, with each step. Long minutes after you’ve reached solid ground, your legs feel as though they are still bouncing. This crossing is a rite of passage into Hoppy’s wild life, his sanctuary. Continue reading