Same same but different

I’ve split my travels into two posts because there’s no way I could try to convince you of loving South-East Asia whilst talking about New Zealand and Australia in one post. I’m still not convinced this will be enough but then you’re probably thinking it’s plenty, perhaps too much. Also, I keep being asked how my travels were- if you’re just being polite then I’m giving you a great verbal answer so far. If you’re actually interested… here are my travels! The long way around of saying I’ve survived new countries.

I am in love with South East Asia, I wish I could spend longer and see more than the tiny snippet of a bursting colourful taster so far experienced. When people come to my home town, I love to show them around and to get them to see why I love it the way I do- I’m no local to Asia but I want to show you around in the same way. Sadly, travelling is expensive so the crummy words of a fleeting tourist will have to make do.

There is so much life on the streets and so much chaos, it is impossible not to be bull dozed over by it; maybe literally by a scooter on the streets of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. From the crazy traffic that has no rules to the food stalls and people spilling on the streets. In the day, the people have somewhere to be, they don’t care if you are waiting to cross a road or get to the till, if they have the opportunity, they will take it and you are dumb not to (they think white people are stupid when they wait endlessly for someone to offer them something or ask if they need help)- this is the only way I understand the chaotic roads too. To cross, you literally need to say “ I might die crossing but if I don’t, I might die waiting in this spot forever”, neither are appealing so you learn to just cross.

The food. They have westernised food but I couldn’t work out if that was a treat to them in the way their food is to us or if it is purely for backpackers. It’s probably for the homesick backpacker because their food is so good; I tried to rank the countries in terms of best food, each place clambering and clawing over the next to stand out in my mind. None succeeded. However, two noticeable awards. The best curry award goes to Siem Reap, Cambodia (sorry dad) for the Khymer Chicken Curry and the best hot chocolate to Penang, Malaysia. Vietnam achieved getting me from nearly vomiting when eating mince (even those times it was sneaked into my meals…) to openly enjoying it and even choosing to order it again. I could live in Asia and eat curry every day, I’ll pass up a plain noodle dish, just don’t stop the curries coming!

I could go on about food for the whole post but that would just make me hungry and sad that I now have to go cook the food myself. And then wash up after. I miss Asia. On top of the food, shopping, cheapness, my travel buddy and I did venture into the world of history and culture. Penang has a particularly fun hunt around the city for the different art works depicting how life used to be or the history. If I say I went to Vietnam I think you can guess what history I learned: the Vietnam/American war. What stood out for me here was the warfare and how the Vietnamese differed greatly from the US in this. The US used bombs (more than the total of bombs in ww2), guns and Agent Orange (a horrible toxin that is still deforming generations today. It is horrifying to see how their lives are drastically being shaped by something they weren’t even alive to see). The Vietnamese had tunnels, 40*60cm (CM!!!) that they fit into and would live in. They had a huge underground system to avoid getting caught in all the wars previously. Their shoes were double ended so you couldn’t tell which way was the correct way in the tunnel and booby traps that ensnared their opposition in a spikey pit. Gruesome, but smart.

If I say I went to Cambodia, do you know what history I am referring? Do you know what the Khymer Rouge is? I had no idea. The overspill of US bombs into Cambodia opened the way for communism in a horrific for. Paul Pots and the rest of the Khymer Rouge wanted a pure, self-sustained Cambodia, telling the people of Phnom Penh that the capitol was about to be bombed and they needed to evacuate immediately with some unknowingly never to return. Everyone was forced into the countryside to work and uneducated girls and boys were taking from the countryside to be brainwashed into being guards. If you had an education, glasses or even soft hands you were taken to S-21, the prison in Phnom Penh. S-21 used to be a school and, after being a prison, is now a museum for the Khmyer Rouge. School equipment was turned into torture, classrooms into barbaric jail cells and barbed wire installed to prevent suicide: you only died after torture and when they wanted you to. They would force confessions out of you. One Kiwi was taken and tortured into a confession, using names such as he was working for Sgt Pepper of the KFC agency that only a westerner would understand the ridiculousness of what he was saying.

This next bit is about to get brutal as it is taking the prisoners to the Killing Fields and what happened there. They would drive the prisoners in vans, blindfolded, to this place, line them up in front of a ditch and bludgeon them to death to save on bullets. The anthem and propaganda was blaring throughout to cover the screams of dying men and women. There was a pit purely of women and children and on the tree bark, human hair and skull were found- this is where they swung a baby’s body down and crushingly into the tree before tossing them into the pit where their mother, after watching, would follow.

All of this happened from 1975 to 1979 and even after that the Khymer Rouge were recognised as the leaders of Cambodia by the westernised world, not believing the stories from the immigrants. That is 4 years to kill ¼ of your own country. They haven’t even found all of the skulls yet, not only that, they don’t fit into the monument dedicated to the lost souls.

Cambodia was the most shocking for me, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this brutality, never mind know the details. I don’t recall it ever being mentioned, even in passing, in school. It seems disrespectful to me that my country didn’t believe it at the time and is not even mentioning it now, almost like it is still ignoring it. Maybe that’s why I think it should be a big part of this blog.

Maybe this will never stick in your mind, maybe some have already stopped reading out of disinterest- I hope not.

I wrote the previous part before I ended in Singapore so that it would stick in my mind and I could accurately convey emotions so I will end with a short paragraph there, maybe to lighten your mood so that you’ll want to read my future posts. Singapore is awesome- people actually go to libraries in their breaks from uni/work to just read! The kids there genuinely work in a library! It always felt like a novelty to do that, like I was trying to be Hermione Granger or something. They have a LOT of food of nearly every kind. Including pig’s intestines and sea slugs- I will never forget that. It was great to see my friend who I met on his year abroad in Edinburgh (see, year abroad’s are great for everyone!) and it’s been a while. We got swallowed by a fake human in the Science Centre which is AWESOME, you are basically a gigantic kid again, going down slides, squeezing through air bags on a bouncy castle and jumping into gigantic brains which you are technically not meant to do… If you like shopping, good news! Singapore has a mall for every day of the week in which you can get lost, I speak from experience.

Overall, SE Asia is a pretty cool collection of countries with differing ways of life that all differ to my own. Seeing something completely new and unpredictable was amazing; there’s still a lot of British influence in Aus and NZ.

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