Enter South East Asia, Exit Fear

Mid November, 2016 I was in Valencia, Spain eating paella by the sea shore. Now, as of January, 2017 I am 12,700 km to the east having a bite taken out of me by monkeys in Ubud, Indonesia.

How did the roles reverse? Where did the in-betweens go? Did I savor them all to myself like a greedy six year old with a pack of Oreos? Did my self-guided miss-steps lead me to the twilight zone where I popped out on another continent? No, no. I’ve hit the lottery… in life. I consider myself extremely fortunate because I know exactly what I want to be upon growing up.

People often ask, “why do you want to be a writer?” The answer is simple. There is NOTHING else I can picture myself doing that would bring me more happiness. Even if my yellow brick road to becoming a writing wiz is paved with odd jobs, hardships, fools gold, and foil-wrapped chocolate coins, that is okay with me.

When I start writing the words come out in droves, rivaling the rains of a September hurricane. Swell! But as the Grateful Dead said, “every silver lining has a touch of grey.” Like a storm drain, my thoughts run off in different directions. Dam! Once I put on my thinking cap on, it morphs into a mad hat that takes me down a rabbit hole of imagination and hare-brained google searches. I often feel like my mind has four TVs on at once, watching and reacting to all of them. I try to turn three off, but you know kids and their technology…

Take your protein pills, put your helmet on, and prepare for some intergalactic turbulence because I am a major space cadet today. Prepare to puddle jump over continents, boomerang across time zones, and sway along hemispheres. I will try not to give y’all whip lash, but buckle up it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Fun fact, I am the lead character starring in the on-going movie that is my life. Like Jerry of Seinfeld,* I am a fictional character of myself. When I think about my memories, world views, writing method, etc. my inner voice asks as a monologue “answering questions”  as if I am having a conversation with late night talk show host. I’ve been doing this since I was old enough to zone out while driving.

Riding the wavelength that my life is a movie, a favorite of mine is Point Break. Basically one of the single greatest things to come out of the nineties… right up there with me of course. A quick plot summary: Patrick Swayze and a band of SoCal surfers rob banks masked as US presidents. They do so in (executive) order to fund worldly, winter time travels to far out tropical locations. Aka live the endless summer.

I may be a renegade, but I haven’t become a bank robber yet… mostly because I am not a crook.

College ruled, but after graduating I made like a leaf and loosely planned my eight month itinerary. Although, “My Back Pages” were mostly blank, I knew one thing for certain, I was going to live the endless summer. I’m happy to say the sun has set on my dream many, many, many times.

We could all day any day, But before I let that happen I’ll dance my life away

Y’all know, day destroys the night… and night divides the day, buuut just how did I break on through to the other side? Trust me there is much Morrison to this story than just Jimmying the lock.

We chased our pleasures here, dug our treasures there (Koh Rong, Cambodia)

 

This past year I had a lot to be thankful about. My parents traded turkey and stuffing for tapas and sangria to spend the week of Thanksgiving with me in Spain. The day before they arrived I emailed a slew of workaway opportunities in Cambodia and Laos. In my emails I stated I could work between November 28th and February. On Thanksgiving day I received a follow up email from Artshram, a workaway based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The email read, “we would love to have you stay Nov 28-Dec 2 confirm and we will send you more details.” As my parents were on the brink of bed the following conversation ensued:

Me: “Hey can I have my passport?”

Mom: “Why?”

Me: “I think I might buy a plane ticket to Cambodia.”

Mom: “Oh okay.”

So much for sweet dreams right? Actually I have to hand it to my parents they have adjusted quite well to my “flying by the seat of my shorts fashion.” I tailored this expression because I actually do a little research before jetting off to a new location.

My friend Sombath, the maverick I explored Madrid with, is from Cambodia. She told me the Khmer people are incredibly friendly. However, being a poor nation still healing from genocidal wounds inflicted by Pol Pot in the late 70’s, in Cambodia petty crime is a huge issue. For example, don’t walk around phone in hand, eyes glued to google maps, because someone on a motor bike will grab it. Overall there is no need to worry, just always be aware of your surroundings. I kept her words in mind as a googled, “single female traveling Cambodia” and other key phrases.

The vast majority of personal accounts agreed not to be weary about traveling through Cambodia as a single female. However, one girl wrote she was robbed and nearly raped by her tuk tuk driver coming from the airport. Later while traveling to Siem Reap the bus flipped over and first responders were less than satisfactory. I pondered her experiences and admittedly I had the thought, “why did I think it would it be a good idea to visit SE Asia for the first time by myself!?”

As my finger hovered over, “confirm airline ticket” I had a second thought, “no matter where I begin in Asia I will have a feeling of apprehension. Just rip off the band aid off.” Without stopping to give my second thought some thought, I clicked confirm and emailed the workaway, “I’m in!”

I came to find out that “band aid” was a much larger than I thought.

As I continue to ramble down the road, I’m realizing (being told) I’m not like everyone else. Who knew? And I thought everyone traveling was a pittakionophobic who couldn’t wink…

Time out: No that mass conglomeration of letters is not a spelling error (for once.) Gather round because I have a confession; Hi, my name is Rita, and I’m afraid of stickers. Yes stickers. It is time to peel back the sheet and shed some light on this phobia. For as long as I can remember stickers have given me intense anxiety, especially the ones on fruit. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but for me an apple a day might just push me into therapy. There are untold hundreds (probably not thousands just hundreds) of others out there like me.

http://www.peterfieldhypnotherapy.co.uk/fear-of-stickers-afraid-of-labels-stickers-phobia.html

In preschool when all of the other half pints would happily plaster stickers on their clothes, arms, faces (mine contorts into an accurate impression of The Scream just thinking about this) I refused. My teacher actually made me a special book that she would put all my good job and gold star stickers in because I wouldn’t touch them. To anyone afraid of heights, clowns, dogs, etc consider yourselves lucky. Y’all can easily stick together and your irrational fears aren’t thought of as fictional. I’m currently sitting in a cafe, but can’t turn left. Why? Unlike Derek Zoolander, I am an ambi-turner. But! There is a half peeled sticker loosely adhered to the table next to me. If I look at for too long (mere seconds) I will come unglued because this struggle is actually real.

Nobody believes this bizarre aversion at first. My Dutch boys learned my claim of suffering from pittakionophobia is not a tacky cry for attention. Let’s say (non-hypothetically) I am laying in a hammock, reading, calmly minding my own business, and someone puts a sticker on my arm. Immediately I will; jump up, hyperventilate, and frantically wave my arms in a spirit fingers-like fashion that puts the whole Bring It On squad to shame. This is followed by crouching and dry heaving in a corner if I can’t shake it off swift enough.

So now that y’all know my deepest, darkest fear, I believe I speak for everyone when I say, okayyyy…

Reason number two I’m not normal, I can’t wink. What can I say, my 20/20 sea greens are a match set. I attribute the sole reason I’m single to the fact that I can’t wink at a guy across the bar… Because I’m sure it has nothing to do with any of my other oddities. On a totally unrelated side note to any possible suitors reading this, a stroll down the produce aisle is not my ideal first date.

Finally, reason number three, and the point of this self-deprecating diatribe: Cambodia is not the jumping in point where people typically begin their Asian travels. I’ve learned most people start in Bangkok, travel through Thailand, slow boat over to Laos, then make their way through Vietnam, and finally to Cambodia. (Like I said I am a fan of non-linear plots, probably because I have a problem getting straight to the point.)

Seasoned SE Asian wanderers and Phnom Penh expats have told me, ” this is your first time traveling alone, and in Asia, and you started in Cambodia!? Wow you’re brave.” Well kiddos I didn’t realize I was being brave. If anything I was going on a blind faith, but that was it.

Fun tid bit of information that will be news to my parents. As I entered the Madrid airport on Sunday morning, I actually had no idea where I was going once I got to Cambodia. At that point my workaway hosts had not emailed me back with the details, more specifically an address. I sent a follow up email along the lines of, “heyyy don’t know if y’all got my last email, but I bought a plane ticket sooo I’m on the way. See ya in 36 hours.” I checked hostel world, saw Phnom Penh was teeming with places for me to lay my head, and reasoned if I still haven’t heard back by the time I landed in Cambodia, I would just go to a hostel.

I concede, most people would probably like to have a firm destination before entering a new continent, but where’s the fun in that?

Trust your feet, 9 steps out of 10 they will lead you down the path you need to walk (Sihanoukville, Cambodia)

 

By the time I landed in Istanbul I received an email saying, “sorry for the late reply, at a music festival and here is the address.” Like the beginning of the Immigrant Song, the piercing thought, “Ahhh, ahh…” “I think I’m going to like this place” was planted in my mind.

I entered Madrid-Barajas with two bags. 36 hours later I exited Phnom Penh International with four; Bernice, my front pack, and one under each eye, but finally Rita was a free soul once again. Upon stepping through the automatic door, I was greeted by a rush of warm night air and a hoard of drivers shouting, “Taxi? Taxi? Bus? Tuk tuk? Taxi? Tuk tuk?” I was snapped awake. In a holey moment over over-whelmtion, I decided to use the bathroom. After a few deep breaths, I regained confidence, put on my “I know what I’m doing face,” and left the bathroom. A second round of cab-calling ensued and a calmly strode past the horde and found a tuk tuk driver that felt right with my gut instinct.

I hopped in a tuk tuk** and I was off, that first ride dazzled my senses. The city seemed to run on a splendid kinetic energy. Motorbikes, cars, and tuk tuks buzzed past. I could feel my eyes widening trying to take it all in, every road side food stand, parks done up with neon lights, grand monuments… all marked this tremendous moment in my life. Like a small child who wakes before the rest of the house on Christmas morning, I simply could not wait to see what this country had in store for me.

Some of the young faces of Cambodia

 

Halfway to Cambodia I finally knew where I was going, but with any geographical relocation, I had no idea what to expect. I walked in Artshram’s front door, right into a meeting. As it turns out, that music festival was an event organized by Artsharm. As I sat there listening to talk about the festival they put on, my mind was singing, “wow through all the good times, bad times I am so thankful the culmination of my life has led me here.” I am a firm believer that some things are just meant to be because there was a communication breakdown, in my initial email. My hosts thought I was already in Cambodia and that I could only work between Nov 28th and Dec 2nd which was why I was invited to stay those days. It came as a surprise when I said that I had just arrived (less than fresh) from Madrid.

All the billboards say, “Welcome to the Kingdom of Wonder.” For me, Cambodia was nothing short of wonderful due in large part to my welcome. Artshram served as a collaborative art space to share, create, and inspire through means of art, music, food, dance, yoga, meditation and more. And inspired I was. Under refurbished wine bottle lights, I was able to uncork my creativity, and allow the poetic ramblings swirling in my mind to pour out.

In addition to giving me a place to rest my head, these kind souls opened my mind to the possibility of living in another country. I was introduced to a community of artists and free spirits with travelers hearts who aren’t just breezing through town. Instead they are all living, working, thriving, giving back to a community all while still rejoicing in the beauty of life. The Artshram community offered me a more solid footing to begin my path through Asia than any hostel ever could. More importantly they planted the idea that I too could live and work somewhere in the eastern hemisphere while I relentlessly climb the latter to the stars in my aim to be a writer. I saw the next rung I wanted to climb on after these eight months.

This experience taught me facing uncertainty is a given in life. However, with an open mind, a little gumption, a little more research, and swallowing the fear can bring amazing opportunities in life.

A few of the beautiful works of art found at Artshram

 

 

*I realize a lot of this was a post about nothing so cheers to being meta

**Tuk Tuk it’s like a cross between a cab and a street legal golf cart and the cheapest way to get around Cambodia

TBV Travel Tips

1. You do “need to know” where you are going before you get to another country. When flying internationally you will get an arrival card to fill out on the plane. One question will ask for the address of where you will be staying. If you haven’t booked any accommodation yet do not worry.  Write down the name and address of a potential hostel to pass through emigration, then figure out where you are staying later.

2. Speaking of arrival cards they normally ask your occupation. Unfortunately “world traveler” isn’t considered an occupation. Do as I do and (blissfully) write, “unemployed.”

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