As I travel, one of my goals is to meet people. (Now when I say meet people, I mean dive into their worlds as much as I can.) It is my goal to share some of the characters whose paths I cross on my journey.
PERSONS 9, 10, 11, & 12
Unlike many women her age, Doris did not choose a quiet little place in which to enjoy retirement. Instead, she moved half way across the world just outside of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. Though she started as a cook, at the suggestion of a few foreigners already serving in the community and upon meeting a local educator, Doris found herself vice president of an NGO designed to help the children of Cambodia. The NGO works in cooperation with a school she runs with a small local staff. Her school is still small, but has recently been approved as a legitimate English School by the Cambodian government. Development For the Future of Cambodian Children is the name of the school where Doris spends her time providing a kind of English Education called “Total Physical Response.” With this active teaching style in mind, Doris has written a 3-level curriculum to teach Cambodian children from the ages 5-13 how to begin learning English.
“Touch the door.” Doris says. The student thinks for awhile. “Touch the door,” he says, walking to the door and touching it. “Write your name,” she says. The student repeats the instruction and writes his name on the dry-erase board.
Doris is also using this method to learn the Cambodian language as well. One of her employees reads instructions in Khmer (the language of Cambodia) and she promptly responds.
For the most part, this has been Doris’s life for the last ten years. When asked if it was hard to adjust to Cambodia or if it was hard to leave the U.S., Doris doesn’t bite. With the help of her employees, she has made Cambodia her home and it is a place she enjoys. She hops on the back of a motorcycle just like the locals.
Before joining with Doris to help DFCC come to be, Sophy was a motorcylce taxi driver. Doris saw something in Sophy that went beyond an ability to maneuver a motorcycle through Cambodia’s hectic traffic. She saw a teacher and a helper so she invited him to try something new.
Sophy has indeed become Doris’s right hand man. He is a man whose quiet dedication and skill with the children has contributed immensely to the success of DFCC. Not only is Sophy (pronounced so-pee) the president of the NGO, he is also a teacher, an assistant, and a translator. His job entails quite a variety of tasks. He often accompanies Doris to town, serving as her translator and assistant for the errands she runs between classes to take care of this and that before returning for the evening sessions at the school. Back at the classroom, his translation is sometimes used at the beginning of a class when concepts are first being introduced. For the most part however, he teaches in English.
Sophy has a gentle way of speaking that somehow commands the attention of the small group of children. The children are comfortable with him and it is clear that he cares deeply for them, patting the younger ones on the head to applaud a correct answer.
While Sophy and Doris are taking care of things around town, preparing for other projects or other classes, Vanak holds down the fort at the school. Like Sophy, Vanak has a talent for interacting with the students, though in a completely different way. While Sophy has a gentle technique, Vanak is almost playfully energetic. He is the first to recognize when a kid is goofing off, and when he bumps a shoulder to give a subtle “shhh,” the children listen. In some ways, he knows how to speak the language of children, knowing when to act in fun and knowing when to offer an authoritative voice of discipline.
Watching him work with the children is like watching an older brother guiding the younger siblings he loves. His teaching style is energetic and he can often make the children laugh. With this natural talent for understanding kids, he offers a lot to DFCC.
Before working with DFCC, Vanak spent 4 years as a Buddhist monk. The time spent following a strictly disciplined lifestyle of studious silence was largely encouraged by his parents, and he remarks that the monk’s lifestyle was not always fun. Like the other staff members at DFCC, he has since become Christian, joining a small Church in Phnom Penh.
SokLeap, Sophy’s younger sister, is in charge of the youngest students at DFCC. She teaches them numbers, the alphabet, and a basic introduction to the total physical response instructions. Her own English is still developing, so rather than teaching the older children, she often participates in the upper level classes, sitting alongside them as a fellow student.
In addition to teaching and studying, there are a lot of things that SokLeap helps with behind-the-scenes. For instance, she cooks meals for the staff and goes to the market to gather ingredients for the next day’s meals. She is talented both with the young children as well as in the kitchen.
Together, these four people create a wonderful team. The school makes a wonderful place to visit, and the staff and children alike are eager to welcome guests or volunteers into their fun.
PERSONS 7 & 8
GOLF & NUI
Drew and I met Golf and Nui on the last of many bus rides during our visa-run from Thailand to Burma. While we were crossing the border for the entry stamp that would approve another fifteen days in Thailand, Golf was simply taking his girlfriend Nui across the border where DVD’s are especially cheap. It was a date and not all that abnormal of an activity for the young couple.
Golf was eager to tell us that his current city, Chiang Rai, was home to the most beautiful University in all of Thailand, and that this was his University. Golf himself was from the big city: Bangkok, and had come to Chiang Rai for University. Nui on the other hand had spent her whole life in Chiang Rai. Brief travels had brought her to Bangkok and various other Thai cities, but Chiang Rai is, for the most part, all she knows.
When Drew and I realized that we had missed the last bus back to our rental in Chiang Mai, Golf and Nui were eager to show us the way to their apartment where there was a guest room we could rent at a reasonable price for our unexpected night in Chiang Rai. On top of this, they took us to a restaurant down the street and we shared a spread of local delicacies I had never tried before. Both Golf and Nui had fairly developed English skills, so we talked easily about their country’s cultures. Nui talked with me about her interest in travel and her appreciation for her hometown, but it was evident that far above these interests was an interest to be in harmony with her boyfriend Golf. Many of my questions about Nui were met with a sweet and shy smile and a reference to Golf and what he may see in the future for them. She adored him and it was sweet to see.
When we returned from our meal, we discovered that Chiang Rai actually has a local language, or rather a local dialect of its’ own. The apartment receptionist was a man with a richly darkened skin and the look on his weathered face of years spent working hard. He quietly wove a handmade fishing net as we talked in the lobby. When I asked about what he was making, Nui was the only one present who could speak with him- a man who spoke only the local dialect.
Though the visa-run experience is a draining and tiresome task, it was made memorable by the blessing of these two and their friendly eagerness in teaching us about their country, culture, and language. When we woke the next morning, they too rose and walked in the early morning sunlight to send us off at the bus station.
PERSONS 5 & 6
DAVE & MICHELLE
Dave and Michelle feel like home. On days when I deeply missed having someone to chat over breakfast with they provided just that. Drew and I (and our friend Seth, who was traveling with us for a brief 10 days) first met Dave and Michelle just a few days after Christmas in Cafe Mimosa off the busy tourist street in Yangshuo, China. The little cafe happened to be one of the few places around with a bit of heat and the cold rain had driven us all into a state of hibernation-like hiding.
As we found on that first day and continue to find when we reunite with them, conversations with Dave and Michelle are always full of fascinating stories and just-plain-helpful wisdom! They give each new travel destination the attention of true adventurers, cycling and trekking literally all over the world. There aren’t many people who enjoy retirement by selling their things and calling the great wide world their home, but Dave & Michelle have done that and have done so with open eyes for learning and respecting the cultures they confront.
On their blog, they offer some wisdom in saying, “I consider tourist/travelers ambassadors for their countries. We travel with humility and respect. And in our small way spreading good will, tolerance and understanding for our differences, knowing that in the end, the people on earth are more alike than different.”
I have definitely experienced this good well and understanding first hand. Hence the original statement: Dave and Michelle feel like home. Friends to keep back and be ourselves with.
They are currently enjoying all there is to see in South East Asia. When Drew asked them what their next time commitment was, they thought for awhile before realizing that they have a totally flexible schedule until their next bike trip in April of 2013. This trip, the Donauradweg, follows alongside the Danube river for 2875 kilometers from Donaueschingen Germany to the Black Sea.
Read more about their adventures at http://blog.travelpod.com/members/michellendave.
Darshani lives on a little side-street in Negombo, Sri Lanka where the sand is golden on the nearby beach. The alley seems quiet at first, but it is lined with friends and family members. “That’s my cousin.” Darshani says. “That’s my aunt. And that’s my aunt too.” Everyone is family, it seems.
Darshani is the only daughter in her household. Her older brother and father spend their days out in the blue waters fishing while she stays at home to tend her own work of sewing and house-work.
Though only 18 years old, I see something spectacularly fearless in Darshani. I say this because when Drew and I happened down her dusty little side-street in search of a local spot to find an affordable meal she saw our need as an opportunity to serve and to make friends out of strangers. “Come eat at my house! Come! Follow me please.” It’s not that I’ve never met someone who’s invited me over before. But Darshani’s eagerness to invite us in without knowing a thing about us impacted me. I half expected to enter a house that doubled as a restaurant. We followed her through a little gate. It was not a restaurant. She was not harvesting customers. She was spontaneously and earnestly inviting us to eat at her house. The rest of her family invited us in just as eagerly as she had. “Five minutes, ok?” she said, then hurried off to the kitchen to join her mother in preparing our meal.
The meal was perfect. We hadn’t eaten much of anything the whole day and the plate of noodles Darshani handed us was hot and filling. We chatted as we ate. Family members drifted in and out of the open-air living room, wandering in from the alley just outside to join the conversation. We learned about the fisherman’s strike, fishing, and the Cathedral that stood proudly tall in the center of town and called them to Mass several times a week. All the while, Darshani paid close attention to how she could continue to serve, offering water and juice and anything she could.
After the meal, I asked if we could see the Cathedral. Darshani eagerly pulled me into her room and helped to prepare me for prayer at the Cathedral in town. She handed me a shirt saying “I just bought this, but now I give it to you. This is my gift to you.” I didn’t know what to say to this generosity. With it she gave me a pair of sleek, black jeans which I must admit I needed quite badly. There were huge holes ripped into my own tattering jeans. I tried to refuse her gifts: to let her keep her brand new clothes, until I realized how much joy this warm-hearted young woman finds in giving. I was speachless at the thought of such unconditional kindness. Who was I to her but a stranger? Instead she treated me as a sister. This thought was like a storm tearing down the bricks of a Western wall: a wall that sanctioned off safely private and unshared spaces. She was fearlessly open. Void of the walls we build to protect ourselves in the Western world.
She decorated me in make-up and perfume and held my arm as we walked down town to the Cathedral.
When we left her house that evening, I knew I had interacted with someone truly beautiful and I wanted a piece of that too. I wanted to be more like Darshani. I still think of Darshani, my sister, and find myself wanting to keep tearing down walls that keep me from giving and serving as she did that day.
Drew and I first met Johnny when he gave us a lift to Amed in Bali. We had been walking for quite some time, (partially for adventure’s sake and partially because of Bali’s lack of a bus system). Johnny pulled over in the rental jeep he was sharing with a Chinese woman and said “Hey, I am a traveler too. I can give you a ride.” This was act of kindness number one.
Conversation revealed that he was a Chinese-Malaysian with near-flawless English. His enthusiastic extraversion and the bandana tied casually around his forehead made Johnny an obvious backpacker-type and gave him a youthful look. He told us a bit about himself, mentioning that he was a single father of three girls, all around my age. Until their mention, I had guessed Johnny to be no older than 40. “52” he said, to my surprise. At first I didn’t believe him. Suddenly his energy and sense of adventure seemed all the more intriguing.
We had no idea how much a part of our travels Johnny would become after that moment. Sure enough, despite a flight he had scheduled for Vietnam that evening, he decided to ditch his evening plans, reschedule his flight, and (with the permission of the traveler he’d rented the car with), take us all the way to our destination. This was his second act of overwhelming generosity. We thanked him gratefully.
We arrived in Amed during a downpour. Right before dashing out into the rain, Johnny handed me his business card with an invitation for us to contact him when we reached Malaysia. Yes, it would be the very day he was flying back from Vietnam AND the eve of the biggest Chinese holiday of the year, but we were welcome to stay a few days, he said.
The night we flew into Kuala Lumpur, Johnny left the family celebrations early to come pick us up. We were flight-weary and very grateful for the friendliness of his family when they welcomed us in to join their Chinese New Year celebrations. The next day Johnny had just as much energy showing us around his hometown as he had appeared to have in our brief encounter in Bali. While the rest of his family celebrated the Chinese New Year at the beach, Johnny opted to take us site-seeing instead. In just a few hours, he took us on a rainforest hike at “FRIM,” took us to the Batu Caves, and took us to see the Kuala Lumpur twin towers. “You’re wearing us out!” we told him. We could barely keep up with this energetic man, twice our age.
On our last full day in Kuala Lumpur Johnny approached us with an idea. “You know I got to thinking, why don’t I travel with you guys for a bit?” Johnny said. Johnny had already shown us such kindness; we were happy to let him join our travels. Not to mention,Johnny’s job is quite flexible so extending his travels was not a big issue. Unsure of how long we’d be traveling together but happy to continue the friendship on the road, we headed out the next day.
As we traveled to the Malaysian island of Langkawi, Johnny seemed to enjoy serving as a sort of tour guide, explaining all of the little things we didn’t understand about what we were seeing. We stopped to swim at the base of a waterfall after a hike one day. We let the jungle grow dark around us as we soaked ourselves in the refreshingly cool water. Johnny explained that he and his friends try to climb as far up the waterfalls as they can. The next day he demonstrated this on another waterfall and it started a bit of a game between the guys at the waterfall’s pool. Johnny was often the first to suggest a swim at the base of a cascade of water. We talked and laughed and the days went by easily.
After three days in Langkawi, Johnny joined us on a ferry to Thailand. Thailand was not the extension of vacation that Johnny had pictured, i’m afraid. We started out in Phuket where I got food poisoning almost right away. Drew was spending quite a bit of time online booking flights for other people. While Johnny is certainly an independent person, he is extraverted enough it seems to prefer companions for his adventures. Despite my not being well-enough to provide the best of company, Johnny and I had some one on one time for the first time.
With Drew elsewhere, the topic of conversation seemed to change. I couldn’t tell if he was confiding in me or trying to get a reaction from me, but the story he shared from his recent past was not one I was comfortable with. “Is this guy hitting on me?” I wondered. I realized that Johnny was not the simple extraverted character I had placed in my mind. In the span of one conversation, Johnny’s youthful energy seemed less and less innocent and I began to wonder if I was naive to think that all people let their more wild ambitions die away with their twenty-something youth. It was suddenly obvious that this man, who had felt very much like a friend over this last week, was still somewhat a stranger who had just met me two and a half weeks ago. How quickly I had assumed I knew this man. Yes, I know Johnny to an extent. But that is all.
I have no idea what Johnny really thinks of me or to what level he respects Drew and my marriage, but suddenly that felt like a reason to be cautious.
Johnny continued to be generous to both of us, paying more than his share for the expenses we split. He is undoubtedly a kind man. Even so…it was beginning to feel inappropriate for the two of us to be spending so little time as “the Macombers” and so much time as a trio. Especially with our comfort levels now changed. We carried out the remainder of the trip that had already been arranged, booked and paid for.
Eventually Johnny became bored I think, or perhaps he caught on to there being some kind of change in the dynamics of our trio. In any case, he decided to travel with someone else. Everyone gave a cordial goodbye and we waved him on with the usual salutations passed between travelers who’ve shared a bit of road together. I don’t know what the state of our friendship was when he left.
I am a naive and over-trusting girl who prefers to believe the best about people. I don’t want to judge people or offend them or any such uncomfortable encounter. But I am realizing that caution may be a necessity in this kind of travel.
Made was born in a small villiage 10 km outside of Amed, he was raised in a poor family. At an early age he began traveling to the coastal town of Amed to learn how to fish. By the time he finished secondary school at the age of 17, he left his home in the hills and moved down to the sea in Amed to dive into work as a fisherman.
Now, as a 34 year-old man, he has many jobs to fit into his 24 hour day. He rises at 5 a.m. and takes to the sea nearly every morning to complete his duty as a fisherman. He returns by 8 or 9 in the morning to tend to this “Hoky Homestay and Warung” where he is the head inn-keeper as well as the master-chef for the delicious items on his warung’s menu. He is a father of three well-behaved boys, one of whom just celebrated his first birthday. He is a husband of 13 years and a friend to nearly everyone in the small town of Amed. His one employee, the 21 year-old Wayan, is treated just like family, as are the countless other friends who stop by to hang out and lend a hand. If Made is busy in the kitchen when a customer arrives, whatever friend happens to have swung by hops right out of his or her chair and begins acting as waiter or waitress. Everyone in Amed seems to agree: Made and his family are wonderful people.
Made is also dedicated Hindu. Three times a day his wife or his employee take a tray of palm-leaf baskets filled with flowers and rice to several locations around their business. They sit them on the ground or on little raised platforms along with incense and a sprinkle of water. Sometimes they will also sit a small glass of coffee or a cracker beside the little palm-leaf basket. Every fifteen days Made dresses in his white shirt, head-scarf and sarong and takes his family to one of two temples: the temple of his extended family or the temple of his wife’s, alternating each 15 days. At the temple, he joins with family members to pray. There was something inspiring in being able to join him to one of the ceremonies and pray. It is perhaps one of the beautiful things about prayer: it embodies everyone and ignores differences. It is people reaching to God. It is beautiful and unifying in a way.
“Hoky.” The word means “lucky” in Balinese.
Drew and I met Made when we stumbled upon his restaurant on our first perhaps most torrentially rainy evening in Amed. When we decided that his home-stay would be a wonderful place to spend our week and a half in Amed, he quickly showed us more generosity than either of us could have expected. He is our host. We are his guests. This is true at every hotel, hostel, or bed and breakfast where you spend your money and your time, but never has anyone fulfilled that role as lovingly and genuinely as Made and his family.
“You are more than friends: like family.” He tells us.
I don’t know why he has decided to show us such overwhelming kindness. He could certainly give us much less and still fulfill his duty to us as manager of the establishment we’ve chosen for our accommodation. The room comes with breakfast and promises to be clean. Indeed it is, and indeed we wake each morning to egg jaffels or banana pancakes. But beyond that, Made has let us into his world; showed us Amed as he sees it; taken us along for the routines of his week. Let us see the sunrise over the sea.
Made’s loving nature makes him wonderful at each of his many jobs.
While here in China, I have had the privilege of attending an intimate meeting of people in fellowship and celebration of faith. We met in a tiny room equipped with song books and Chinese bibles. This meeting impacted me more than anything in China has so far. I have grown up in the church my whole life, so the buzz words of church have come to normalize in my mind, and sometimes I forget the powerful meaning behind the words. Sometimes I forget the wonder of the gospel: I forget how much it should blow my mind to be forgiven and loved by Love Himself…
The people at this meeting have not forgotten. The message is still blowing their minds, and they are talking out and discussing the concepts I’ve known seemingly forever, as new concepts.
The man I want to include as Person One on my list of one hundred people I met is someone I met at a meeting such as the one I’ve described above.
Lee is a young man; a preacher. He grew up in a poor family of farmers in a province in Southern China. He spent much of his childhood helping his parents with the farm, but was eager to leave when it came time to choose a University. When I asked him about it, he said that he simply wanted to see someplace new. Though he has had the rare privilege of seeing the U.S in recent years, at the time of his University years, he represented a typical young Chinese boy who had not been far from his own home.
He studied Chemistry at University. “Did you like it?” I asked.
“No,” he replied, laughing. As is the case for many youth in China, he studied the subject that his years in school and the results of the Chinese college entrance exam (the Gao Kao) pointed to as his strongest subject. While he didn’t care much for chemistry, he did have a fascination in learning English.
This interest in English led him to where he is now. Every day he walked to the library to study English books to improve his English. Each day, he passed a foreign woman walking her dog. One day she approached him, suggesting that she had an idea that might help him to learn English more quickly. She invited him to a meeting she described as a “religious study.” He asked her what she meant. When she said that they discussed “God,” Lee understood exactly what she was talking about. Growing up, his parents had attended Christian meetings, but he had accepted the opinion of his teachers in school: that God didn’t exist. Despite his original skepticism, Lee decided to attend the meetings. Before long, he was impressed by the kindness of the woman with the dog. She provided a way for Lee to stay in school by offering him a job walking her dog and cleaning her house once a week. Without the income from this work, Lee would not have been able to afford both school and food to live off of. Gradually, Lee himself began to believe. When the woman asked him to return after his school was done so that he could continue preaching and leading meetings, he said yes. Her kindness to him had impressed him. He wanted to return her favor. His friends were concerned, saying that he was throwing away his “golden years”, and he was preaching instead of spending his youth attaining a good job. But Lee chooses to have faith. It isn’t always easy, but Lee’s loyalty to God is obvious.
Lee’s story impacted me, not only because it brought to surface the sacrifice it can take for a Chinese person to preach. It also impacted me how influential the foreign woman’s kindness was in leading Lee to his faith. Kindness matters immensely. This is something I never want to forget.