Wandering the trails behind Nanzen-ji in Kyoto. These blurry images do not do justice to how gorgeous it was!
Hi all, I have received a formal request for another blog post from my grandmother, so here it is! I am writing now from Phung Nha, Vietnam. This is the location of a national park that contains the world’s biggest cave! I am staying out in the countryside at a homestay-style place. I’m travelling Vietnam from south to north, so I started in Saigon, where I visited war memorial stuff and also met up with a friend of a friend from home, which was really nice. Then I went to Dalat, then Hoi An, and now I am here. I wish I had more time for Vietnam, and also that I was doing it when I had more energy, because I have been really exhausted, but being in the country right now helps. Hoi An is a cute town, but it feels like a major magnet for 18-year-old British kids on their gap years who just want to party. After a very late night at a silly backpacker club there, I realized that I am done with that at this point, so it is was such a relief to come out here. Tonight I am headed to Hanoi, but I am going to try to remember to sleep, take care of myself, etc.
Yesterday I cycled to Phung Nha cave, which is pretty commercial, It’s all flooded, so you go through in a boat, which I shared with a big group of Vietnamese people who work together, and their families. They were so enthused to have me with them, and there was one 14-year-old girl who spoke pretty good english, and her parents kept pressuring her to talk to me even though she was shy, which was really cute! Today I am motorbiking to some more remote caves with a couple guys from the homestay, then on to Hanoi. In one week I fly to Thailand for my meditation retreat, and in three weeks I fly home. Hard to believe!
So today I went to Angkor Wat (first day on my 3-day pass — I’ll post photos and write about it after it’s all done) and I was at Ta Prohm which is the temple famous for being overgrown with plants and there are huge trees growing out of the walls and it’s really amazing! Anyway I was sitting in this little alcove looking at one of the trees and this straight European couple with DSLRs (uh-oh, amirite) walked in and the guy literally said “EVERYBODY CLEAR OUT! We need to take a picture!” And he actually shooed me out of there so he could take a picture of the girl he was with standing in the spot where I had been sitting.
Yes, it was annoying. And yes, I completely ignored him when he said thank you to me on his way out. But that is not why I am writing this post. It got me thinking — what the hell is up with this picture-taking tourist culture? First of all, it’s like it doesn’t “count” that you’ve been somewhere unless there were photos. But not just that — at natural or historic sites, your picture can’t have any other people in it. It has to look like you were the ONLY ONE THERE, even though this is a lie. And theoretically the picture is supposed to capture the experience so you can remember it or whatever, but it’s really staged. I spent a lot of the day sitting and sketching, and in so many spots, a group of people would swarm around, immediately start snapping photos, and then move on the second they were done. I am not going to pretend that I am not sometimes also guilty of this, and I also can get obsessed with documenting experiences with photos. (And with having my experiences reflected in social media — which is why I’m glad I don’t have an iPhone. Your camera is connected to your hand is connected to your Facebook page.) But seriously, I think we would all do better to slow down, and take the photo after you’ve had the experience, instead of making the photo itself the experience.
Also, I’ve started a new project of taking pictures of other tourists taking pictures of each other. So watch out.
Well, I am most definitely not in Tokyo anymore! I arrived in Cambodia on Saturday and spent two nights/one day in Phnom Penh and am now in Kratie, a small town along the Mekong. I spent my day in Phnom Penh visiting S-21, a Khmer Rouge prison, and the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. I learned a LOT about the Khmer Rouge regime, most of which was pretty harrowing. I am pretty sure I was never taught about it in school, and I definitely recommend reading up if you don’t know about it. The craziest thing to me is that it happened in the 70’s, which is so recent, and anyone over the age of 40 remembers it. Anyway, I knew I wanted to do that stuff (ahem, historical tourism), but Phnom Penh is a big ole dusty noisy city, and after having an amazing but tiring time in Tokyo, I just really couldn’t be bothered exploring a big sprawling city much more, especially as I am really budgeting my time now.
So I took a 6 1/2 hour bus ride to Kratie, where there is exactly one attraction: DOLPHINS. Fresh-water dolphins, in the Mekong river! It is definitely a small town with not too much going on, but, damn, it’s dolphins! I went this morning with two Canadian girls I met to go see them in a boat and it was so lovely and beautiful and cool. The river was so beautiful and we would just hear little puffs and then see a dolphins back gliding along, sometimes in groups. Then I got back into town at 11 am, and had…nothing to do. (I couldn’t get a bus to Siem Reap until tomorrow morning.) I wound up renting a bike and riding along the Mekong for an hour to get to the rapids where you could swim, which was actually really cool! There are all these docks with hammocks you can rent, and it was all locals swimming and hanging out. The rapids were super-strong, so I only dipped in for a couple minutes, while clutching the side of the dock, but it was still refreshing and a beautiful bike ride too. Sometime it pays to stick around.
On another note, one of the aspects of Southeast Asia I missed most while in Japan was the fruit. And how every beverage is made with sweetened condensed milk, which I at first thought was kind of gross but have really come around to. Today I consumed two mango shakes (made with condensed milk), two mangoes and two glasses of ice coffee with condensed milk. That’s a lot of mango. And a lot of sweetened condensed milk. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Moral of the story: stuff in Cambodia is cheap.
PS: I will post pictures soon, but right now I am lazy and want to go have dinner.
A lady at the sento (public bath, possibly fed by hot springs) near my hostel in Tokyo just tried to convert me to Christianity, I think? Or testify to me? Or something? I sat down in the bath and she introduced herself (Sidenote: people do not chat at the sento, in my experience. They sit in hot water, stare into middle distance, and maybe splash themselves a little). Then she started telling me about the time she visited America. And then suddenly she was talking about Jesus? And how the prophecies of the Bible are coming true and so she’s pretty sure the Christians will soon be transported to heaven. She asked if I had hear the message of the lord. I awkwardly told her I was Jewish. She told me how much she respects Abraham. I told her I was getting warm and had to leave. What the hell are you supposed to do in that situation? Anyway, it was so bizarre that I had to blog about it. I will write more about my other experiences in Japan soon!
Wandering the trails behind Nanzen-ji in Kyoto. These blurry images do not do justice to how gorgeous it was!
At a bamboo grove in Kyoto. If I can’t hang out with LL, I can always chill with her best friend, plants
So happy to be reunited. (Sorry Rach if you don’t like this picture, but I do and it’s MY BLOG)
Hi all, I just realized today that it’s been a really long time since I last blogged, and a lot has changed! I’m writing currently from Kyoto, Japan. Tomorrow morning I am leaving for Hiroshima. I arrived in Japan a week ago — the main reason I chose to come here (so far from the rest of my route) is because my good friend Rachel is studying in Tokyo. I thought that halfway through my travels it would be good to see an old friend, and I was definitely right. Japan feels worlds away from SE Asia, and I’m still finding it a bit bizarre and disorienting being here, but GOD what a beautiful, interesting, complex country. I spent my first five days in Tokyo, seeing different neighborhoods and hanging with Rachel and her friends. A few highlights were visiting an onsen (public baths fed by a hot-spring), walking around the crazy streets of Harajuku, and coincidentally being in Tokyo for Rainbow Pride! (I don’t know why they call it this instead of Gay Pride, but they do.) The biggest highlight of all, of course, was just hanging out with Rachel. After months of constantly meeting new people and having the same get-to-know-you chats again and again, just chilling with someone who knows me was a huge relief. I really love Tokyo — I’m excited to go back for another five days at the end of this week. It’s a place that really sweeps you away. One aspect of Tokyo that it’s impossible not to notice is the fashion. Girls there put a LOT of effort into getting dressed, and they all fall into certain categories of looks — friends all dress similarly. Because I’m a backpacker, I don’t have a lot of clothing options (especially for cool weather), and my first days in Tokyo I felt really self-conscious about my appearance. After a few days, and some commiseration with Rachel, I decided, screw it. The moment I land in Cambodia I won’t care anymore, so I’m not going to care here — I’ll just enjoy the fashion parade and let my hiking boots tell the world I’m a backpacker (a term that all Japanese people seem to know and respond positively to).
When I booked my ticket, I did not know that I would be in Japan for Golden Week. Golden Week is a special holiday week that many (most?) people have off from work and school, and it’s happening right now. What this means for me is that TONS of Japanese people are traveling right now, and all the tourist sights are really busy. So are the hostels, and consequently I don’t have a bed this Friday night in Hiroshima. (Don’t worry, Mom and Dad. There are plenty of establishments, such as karaoke places and manga/internet cafes, that are open all night here and I will just find somewhere to hang out until 6 AM, when I will head to Osaka. This will be perfectly safe.)
The past few days I have been trooping around Kyoto, visiting shrines and temples, and thinking a lot about tourism. When I was in Chiang Mai, I found a copy of a book called Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. She’s a This American Life contributor who I love, so I read it. The book is about a tour she did of sites related to the assassinations of presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, and it centers around the idea of historical tourism. For anyone who spent their childhood school breaks trooping around Gettysburg, I definitely recommend it. (Side-note for Oberlin students: were your parents excited that their child enrolled in a college near the James Garfield Memorial in Cleveland? No? Just my dad? Okay, cool.) Anyway, ever since then I’ve been thinking about different types of tourism. In Myanmar, the majority of other visitors at sites I visited (such as temples) were Burmese. In Japan, the majority of other visitors (at least during Golden Week) are Japanese. However, the ways that the citizens of these countries visit sites is very different. The majority of Myanmar is devoutly Buddhist, and the Burmese make pilgrimages to payas (temples) to pray. Often I would be at a temple and a pick-up truck full of families would roll up. They would unload, pray for like twenty minutes, and then pile back in and drive away. I would be walking around, just looking at the temple. In Japan, you are more likely to see Japanese people snapping pictures on their iPhones — it seems to me that they are visiting temples mainly as historical sites that are important to national identity. However, there is a somewhat religious aspect to their visits. People engage in rituals such as washing their hands at a well, throwing a 5-yen coin into the merit box and praying for a few moments. I too have been doing these rituals at temples, though I never prayed at Buddhist temples in Myanmar. I suppose this is because I view myself as more similar to the Japanese tourists, and therefore imitate their behavior. I haven’t really come to any conclusions about these different types of tourism, just some open-ended thoughts.
A few more notes — I have been feeling a little homesick here in Japan! I think this is for a few reasons. First of all, I got food poisoning on the beach in Thailand right before I came here, and my digestive system, though much better than before, is still not running smoothly, so I feel a bit crappy. Also, I feel much closer to home here than I did in SE Asia, so I think in a weird way that makes me miss home more. And finally, I am over halfway through my travels, and honestly I’m starting to get worn out! Because of this, I am trying to recharge my batteries here — take it kind of slow, sleep a decent amount most nights — so that I will be ready to rock in Cambodia and Vietnam. Okay, that’s all — picture time now, and then I’m going to bed in order to get ready for some real historical tourism tomorrow in Hiroshima.