Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Octopus, an opera house, and two beaches!

Today we also scuba dived and finished our open water diver certification. We went to the same place to dive (Bare Island). This time we saw a lot more stuff, including :

Port Jackson Shark

Tons of jellyfish, blue groups, starfish, and a lot of little fish. Today wasn't so tiring because it was a much shorter day, plus we weren't nearly as jetlagged. I was so excited to see both a shark and an octopus which were pretty much two of my goals in life.... Now just a sea turtle and a clown fish and I'll be the happiest scuba diver!

After diving, since we weren't that tired, we took a ferry out to Manly beach fro mthe Sydney Opera House. It was raining, but as soon as we got on the ferry the clouds opened up and we had some beautiful views of the Sydney Harbor.

Manly beach was pretty nice. It was very relaxing and had some great views. We had spinach and cheese filo pastries and mom got some fresh mango ice cream :)

We missed the ferry that we originally wanted to get, but that ended up working out for the best because the ferry we ended up on turned out to be during the sunset and we got some amazing pictures of the sunset and the opera house with burning orange clouds.

Mom and dad wanted to go to Bondi beach after this. It wasn't really that late but we were so worn out by this time. Scuba diving is very tiring! I never realized! Anyway, we grabbed food at Bondi beach. I got a straberry yoghurt smoothe and Sonali got fresh juice. Mom got chicken gyros and we all shared this for dinner and just walked around some.

Some people compare Manly beach and Bondi beach to eachother. Both of them are beautifulbeaches with very nice sand. They had small cafes and promenades nearby so they make great daytrips. Personally, I think Manly Beach better because it is kind of quirky and laid back. For example, while we were there there was a neon toga party going on. There were surfers and families too. Bondi beach was definitely a lot more touristy. The clubs were high class. I saw some people get turned away because they were wearing flipflops. There were also quite a few fast food places and chains instead of locally owned places.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Scuba Diving in Sydney!!

The hill!

Today, we woke up early to go scuba dive to be able to complete our open water check out dives so we can finally get our certification. We set them up at a dive shop that is somewhat far from our hotel, but with it being the weekend before Christmas, we took ewhat we could get.

The shop was called Snorkel Inn Dive Centre in Kogarah. We took the train to get there which was pretty cool. The people there were very nice and for the two days we had the same instructor, Lisa.

First, we did snorkeling for a bit. Then we did two dives. The first was pretty murky, but the second was much clearer. We saw some blue gropuers who were pretty cool because you can feed them and one even let us pet him. I don't know how I feel about feeding them though because she killed a sea urchin to do it, but there are so many around there that I think it's ok.

The dive site was at a place called Bare Island in La Perouse. Apprently, it was in the Tom Cruise film Mission Impossible 3. We had to get all of our gear on and walk quite a bit to where we were diving, which was pretty difficult especially when we had to climb back up the hill to the truck.

We were absolutely exhausted after diving and being jetlagged so Sonu and I came back and slept for 3 1/2 hours in the hotel room before mom and dad were able to drag us to Darlin Harbor. We were extremely hungry and sitll tired but we enjoyed ourselves. There were a lot of parties going on and the lights were really nice.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Arrived in Australia!

We arrived in Australia yesterday at around 10:30 am after a 5 hour flight to LA, 5 hour layover, and 15 hour flight to Australia. The second flight was somewhat frustrating because we were delayed 1 hour because it was raining so much in LA that the airplane couldn't backup.

After sleeping for 8-10 hours on the flight and watching the The Illusionist, we arrived in Sydney to long customs lines and disorienting exit lines. It was very frustrating and confusing...

We finally got to our hotel to freshen up. We were staying in an amazing hotel in downtown. We walked around and got tickets to see Billy Elliot that evening. Sonali and I split up from our mom and dad. We had tons of food at a Chinese restaurant that we found near the theater which happened to be in the middle of an awesome Asian town in Sydney (perfect for me!) Then feeling very jet-lagged, we rested in a park and slowly wandered around the city.

We went to see Billy Elliot which was a musical based off the movie. I think that it was great, but I don't know if I would see it again. It was a little too melodramatic for my taste I think but I would recommend people to go see it. I think part of the problem was also the fact that we were sooo tired and maybe didn't have much tolerance for a music on a day after traveling so far from the U.S.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Study Abroad Contest

At USI they had a study abroad contest for students who had studied abroad through programs accredited by the university. I was lucky enough to win first place with my picture called "Through Torrents" and receive an honorable mention for the picture "A Sense of Loss." I love all of the pictures that I entered, but I think the most important part to them is the essay talking about how they represent the influence that study abroad had on our lives.

“Through Torrents”

Picture Taken: in a small rural village outside of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia
Picture Taken on: June 28, 2007
I took this picture immediately after a sudden downpour began in Cambodia after spending the day in the famous Cambodian village.

Beyond discomfort and normal sleeping times, the Cambodian people are hard-workers. Misconstrued by their ubiquitous hammocks and propensity towards long conversations over karaoke machines, they have motivation and perseverance to surpass the boundaries lain in their path. They fight through torrential downpours and inadequate governance to meet goals to improve their future.
In cities, I met young people from the countryside who had left their homes in search of a better life. Be assured, they did not lose their roots, returning annually to aid their families in the rice harvest. They know that they must take advantage of their opportunities, many working jobs and attending school for an education unavailable to their parents. A large proportion of their paychecks are sacrificed and sent home to their families to put younger siblings through school and provide rice on the table.
I learned the value of a dollar in Cambodia. Thirty-five percent of Cambodians earn less than one dollar per day. They work hard and fight towards a better life. What place to do we have to complain of the difficulties of school? We must take advantage of our opportunities and bring the same fortune to those who must go without. I have learned to value my opportunities and make lemonade and take note not to complain of my sore hands while squeezing out the juice. Life takes hard work, and I remain eternally grateful for the fortuitous jump start that I was given.

“A Sense of Loss”

Picture Taken: Preah Khan Temple in the Angkorean Complex, Cambodia
Picture Taken on: June 30, 2007
I wanted to capture the destruction to the temples incurred by the Khmer Rouge soldiers during terrifying war years in Cambodia.

Culture teaches us about ourselves and our past, providing a foothold for the steps we will take in the future. The Cultural Revolution conducted by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia attempted to decimate the beautiful Angkorean legacy. Pillaging temples and desecrating statues, they left nothing in their wake. Without reservation, they hid tanks in these sacred walls and created fortresses upon their hills. AK-47 casings lay forgotten upon the holy paths to this day. Regardless, the Khmer people have taught me the value of culture. In process of rebuilding, they are gaining strength in their identity and self-worth, rebuilding the temples and praying at Angkor once again. The loss of their culture after the Khmer Rouge-proclaimed “Year Zero,” beginning a state with no past and eventually no future, has instilled a deep value of culture preserving it a they lost everything in the war.

Once you have lost something, you begin to value it. It is the same with when you see what other have lost, you begin to value the gifts that you have been given. I value both of my cultures and histories since studying abroad. I realized that they have shaped who I am and the person I wish to be. At the same time, I cannot forget the cultures of the countries that have taken me in while studying abroad, because they have made a permanent imprint upon my story that cannot be worn away.


Picture Taken: Wat Sampeau in Battambang, Cambodia
Picture Taken on: August 5, 2007
I took this picture of one of the children tour guides that took us up the steep mountain temple near Battambang, Cambodia.

Cambodian culture represents strength and love—the strength to move beyond the horrors of their past and love for the new generation. The haunting gleam of hope resides in their children’s eyes glistening in dusty villages and flooded rice fields. No matter the hardships faced, they persevere in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Savorng speaks a few words of English, using her gift as an unofficial temple guide at Wat Sampeau, because, here, children are the only guides to the top of this secluded temple. The children dream of becoming doctors and nurses or teachers and scientists, dreams beyond their raggedy clothes and small village, as they climb the moss-covered steps to pay their respects.
I, too, dream of becoming a doctor.
Her dreams and hope revitalized my own dreams of helping people around the world have access to a healthy and productive life that they deserve. Someday, I hope to help a child like Savorng transcend all obstacles to fulfill her goals that rests at the tips of her fingers, just barely out of her reach.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Goodbye Blessings

Professor Um made arrangements with the monastery for us to receive goodbye blessings on our last day of class from one of the monks there. It was very cool to be able to do something that like that.

It's unreal that we're leaving so soon. I really wish that we had more time here. I've had so much fun (despite being sick) and I wish that I would have had more of a chance to really experience it. I hope to come back someday and see more of Cambodia and the countries around here.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Buddhist Lent at Wat Dam Nak

Today was the first day of the Buddhist Lent (or Vassa). They were celebrating it at Wat Damnak right after class so we go the chance to participate in the ceremony. It was one of the best experiences from the entire trip!

Information from Wikipedia:
It is the traditional retreat during the rainy season that lasts for three lunar months approximately from July to October. During this time, the Buddhist monks remain in a single places, generally in their temples. In some monasteries, monks dedicate the Vassa to intensive meditation practice. During this time, many people give up certain thing for a more ascetic leaving style like alcohol, meat, or smoking and reinvigorate their spiritual training.. This is why it is commonly called "Buddhist Lent." The focus of celebration by the laity is the first day of vassa during which worshippers donate candles and other necessities to the temples for the monks since they are not supposed to leave during that time.

So the entire community gets together to bring the monks all of their necessities. They were prepared in these Easter basket style platters covered in the colorful cellophane. They had a huge variety of things in side of the platter with anything from soap, toothbrushes, pepsi, and even antibiotics. Everyone carried them three times around the wat saying "Ah kun" or thank you! The boys carried these huge yellow candles that you can normally seen in the place where the statues of Buddha are kept.

The monks were wearing their dress robes which has many more parts than what they wear everyday. Everyone was very dressed up and even the nuns were there sitting in long columns. We sat with people in the community but we didn't know what they were saying. I believe that they were reciting the five precepts of Buddhism in Khmer, but I guess I can't be sure!

1. Do not kill.

2. Do not steal.
3. Do not indulge in sexual misconduct.
4. Do not make false speech.

5. Do not take intoxicants.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I haven't been doing much of anything other than sleeping and eating once in a while lately. I'm still not feeling completely well. I guess one plus is that I can get out of going to classes ^_~ Hopefully I'll feel well enough to go to classes next week.

It's really a weird sensation though to be as tired as I feel. When I was in Phnom Penh, I couldn't even walk up the stairs without feeling absolutely winded and light-headed. Now, I just feel tired all the time. I can tell that I'm slowly recovering though.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

......Crazy...... Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh

So this has probably been one of the craziest weeks of my entire life.

July 13: We left early in the morning for a 10 hour (at least) bus ride to Sihanoukville (aka the beach). After getting there we were so happy to be there that we had a crazy night walking beach, watching fire spinners, and essentially throwing each other into the water. It is a night that I will NEVER forget and very wet. I had an amazing time!

July 14
: I went for a long 1 1/2 hour walk on the beach early in the morning because our guest house room was FREEZING and it woke me up. It was the coldest I've felt in a long time! Afterwards, we all decided that we were going to go to a secluded beach ... in a tuktuk. So there's 7 of us in the tuktuk on a very very muddy road. Of course the tuktuk gets stuck, lol! We hung out at the secluded beach just relaxing despite the overcast sky etc. That night we spent it at the Blue Dolphin a busy bar on the beach and had some interesting experiences.

July 15
: Got up early to get on the bus. We forgot someone's ticket so I offered to take the later bus with some other people. When I got a moto to take me to the ticket office, he definitely didn't speak English and took me on a very scary tour of Sihanoukville essentially because I had no idea where we were going. I yelled at him and made him take me back to the bus, where they told me that they were able to look up my ticket and let me on. Thank god! Made it to Phnom Penh for a river boat cruise + dinner at night.

July 16:
Various things around Phnom Penh including going to Wat Phnom and getting my fortune read nearby. We also talked to a couple of NGOs. That night we went to Suki Soup which is an awesome restaurant (there's on in Siem Reap too... explain more later) and went to karaoke that night. It was lots of fun.

July 17: We went to REYUM art school, which is a place where students who are talented in art have an opportunity to learn better skills to hopefully be able to turn that into a trade someday.

July 18: So this is where the crazy stuff starts. Essentially this morning... I felt really sick so I went to the international clinic where a couple days later and after being poked a lot, they tell me that I have dengue fever. So the rest of the week was a blur and got back to Siem Reap on July 23.

being sick sucks

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Here the counting system is based off of a somewhat base five system. It's very interesting to learn numbers and takes some getting used to! It's kind of fun, once you get the hang of it. Definitely, shopkeeprs are somewhat surprised when foreigners are able to count in their language.

1 - muy
2 - bpi
3 - bei
4 - buan
5 - bram
6 - bram muy
7 - bram bpi
8 - bram bei
9 - bram buan
10 - dop
11 - dop muy
and so on

Reamke (Ramayana)

Sorry that I have been posting in a while. I mentioned before that we have a ton of reading to do....

Today we had the honor of seeing a traditional shadow puppet performance of the Reamke (which is the Cambodian version of the Ramayana). The puppets are leather cutouts that represent different characters. It's kind of hard to explain unless you look at the photographs. The put up a huge white screen and started a blazing fire behind it. They also played traditional Cambodian music and explained the story in Khmer, which I obviously didn't understand. Luckily, I know the story of the Ramayana well enough to know what was going on.

Here are some pictures of it:

Rama and Sita (I'm pretty sure)

Young girl playing an instrument that I've never seen before.

Monday, July 9, 2007

I tried...

I tried ostrich, crocodile, kangaroo, and squid today at Cambodian BBQ...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Well classes are starting. Somewhat sad after all of the fun that we've been having in our adventures and hanging out during orientation week.
We take the classes from Monday through Thursday (w00! Fridays off!) at Wat Damnak (wat = pagoda) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It's a really beautiful place with trees and grass. They have a public library for people in the community, but mostly researchers and students use it. Also, the monks there run English classes for young students in the community who come at 6pm.
Anyway, I'm taking two classes: Nation-building after the Khmer Rouge Genocide (3 credits) and Cambodian History and Culture (3 credits). It's my first time taking a large block of liberal arts classes, so this will definitely be a new experience for me! I'm really interested in the topics that we're going to be covering, although the classes are definitely going to be a lot of work. We have a lot of reading to do for them, so I'll probably be spending a lot of time at the Blue Pumpkin (air-conditioned cafe in town). I'm also planning on taking Khmer language class in the morning. I think that it's worth getting up a little bit early for.

Our classroom from the outside

The library

In the classroom Thanks to Sandy for the pictures :D