Tuesday, August 31, 2010

good morning, vietnam.

Some shots from our last days in 'Nam. As you can tell, I just really like saying,
"our days in 'Nam."

Heading home in Mui Ne

Hauling in the nets

Biking along the coast of the South China Sea, sweating against the breeze and finding neighborhoods where no other tourists seemed to have discovered. The adults all gave us sidelong glances, wondering what we were looking for in the small fishing town, but the toddlers and kids burst from excitement and yelled "HELLO! HELLO!" from the sidewalks.

I included this shot because right after I took it, a security guard grabbed my arm and growled at me "NO PHOTO OP HERE." The house behind this wall was really fancy... I wonder what famous person lives here?

Intense game of chess on the streets of Saigon

The streets are a constant, chaotic mess of motorbikes on all sides, none of which seem to obey a single traffic law. Upon sighting a driving school, my sister mused, "What do you think they actually do there?!"
Rollaway gas stations for tiny motorbike gas tanks! This same kid helped me the day before when I needed aspirin and he needed to practice his English. "If your head hurts, you should see a todoc!" he insisted. "A todoc!"
"I should see a doctor?" I asked, and his rubbed his head sheepishly.
"Yes, a doctor I meant!"

Friday, August 27, 2010

irish beers and fam time.

Just because we're not in Asia anymore doesn't mean we can't still play. Dad's got his girls back!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the kids are all right.

I've been very confused lately. We flew from Saigon at midnight last Wednesday, had a 12 hour layover in Seoul, a 10 hour flight to Seattle, and somehow landed at noon on the same day we left?! My body responded in what I thought was a charming manner: like I'd had an adrenaline injection right to the heart. I cooked a couple of dinners and baked cookies, went running, got beers with some friends, read a whole book, cleaned and unpacked, went back to work on Friday on 3 hours of sleep (waking up at 4 am makes you feel like a superstar CEO or something)... until the weekend, when I totally crashed and slept til 1 pm both days. I think I might be back on track now, but I don't want to count my chicks and whatnot.

The truth is, a lot of my busy-ness has been a thinly veiled effort to avoid processing some of the things we saw in Asia. I've been having a stare-down with my journal because I'm not interested in discussing child labor and war atrocities with it quite yet, and I can't really think of anything else to talk about because those things have consumed my mind the past few weeks.

It's cliche to talk about the grinding poverty in a place like Southeast Asia because it's kind of like, "Duh. Find a new soapbox." It's obviously one of the least developed areas of the world, so what can you say about it that's unique? I don't have a new angle on it, but I was just totally struck anew by how the poverty in any given place is made so much more vivid when it's being lived by children. A few mental images that stand out in my mind:
Hmong girl selling bracelets in Laos: "You can buy 5,000."

There's no escaping child labor in Cambodia.* If you're white, you'll get swarmed by men lounging on motorcycles calling out "tuk-tuk, ladyyy?" and kids selling copied books and dime-a-dozen bracelets. They're relentless, because poverty makes people relentless. So many parts of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were just cacophonies of garbage on stilts; huge teeming masses of people and stray dogs and dirt. There is a 15 km road from Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields, which is a chaotic study in development. As we scooted along in our tuk-tuk, a factory opened its doors for lunchtime and hundreds of face-masked young girls streamed out, having finished their morning stitching or gluing and preparing for an afternoon filled with more of the same. I wondered what they were making in the factory, what expensive items were being created cheaply so people like me can buy them for less. But I was soon distracted by a new olfactory assault, rising above the old fish and urine smells. We were driving over the river, into which was gushing forth a broad stream of aparently untreated sewage. On the shore, a garbage dump, on fire. And wandering amidst all of this, a shirtless 13 year old boy. What an apocalyptic scene this was, unpleasant for eyes and ears and heart. But our tuk-tuk zipped past all of this, leaving the tottering houses and shops on stilts above the river to fend for themselves.
"Being a baby is sooo BORING sometimes."

Later, after a long day scrambling up the wats, Amy and I set out with a mission to find margaritas at the Mexican restaurant in Siem Reap and ran into a couple of the same boys twice in a row, each time begging us to buy postcards from them. We chatted with them for a while and learned that Hou, age 14, and Phi, age 16, were a couple of the sweetest kiddos in the country. They had been selling bracelets all day without eating, so we took them to the restaurant with us and taught them the word "happy hour" and how to eat tacos. They had never had Mexican food before and Hou practically bathed in the salsa, he loved it so much. We asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up and Hou said "tuk-tuk driver!" while Phi chose, "teacher, and I want to start an orphanage as well." As we parted ways later, Hou said "thank you so, so much for dinner. Here is how we say it in Cambodia: Akhun, akhun, akhun." Later, they ran after us and pushed the little woven bracelets onto our wrists as a parting gift.

The next night, we saw them again. We had been drinking a bit of Angkor draft at dinner and feeling lighthearted, but that quickly faded as we wandered into a street food alley to buy the boys dinner again. We got swarmed by about a dozen other kids, and two girls holding a naked baby, begging for food and money. Fine, easy enough, we can buy noodles for ten kids and spend less than what we would have spent on a round of beers at home. The baby, though, was another issue. He slept peacefully throughout the turmoil, but his sisters gripped our hands with surprising tenacity and begged us for milk. Eventually they clung neatly to our torsos, all four limbs wrapped tightly around our waists, after they handed the dozing baby (who had long since learned to sleep amidst noise and motion) off to Amy. We had a 20-second span in which we thought, "OH MY GOSH, this is what Angelina Jolie felt like before she stole** Maddox!"
We eventually pried ourselves away from the group but felt silly as we walked away. So some kids got dinner-- big deal. What will they do for breakfast?

Today she may be a toothless Vietnamese girl, but she's leaving this one-horse town for Hollywood.

This brought us to the last, most disappointing thing we saw in Cambodia. Having made friends with another kid selling books, we bought "Buddhism Explained" from him one night in Phnom Penh. He rushed over to a middle aged man with a money basket on a bike to toss his cash in. Mom beckoned him back over to our table to ask what would happen to that money later. "That man buys my school uniform and pays my tuition and buys me dinner," our new friend insisted. Essentially the guy was a pimp reminiscent of the newspaper barons who were the source of the newsies strike (historical fact courtesy of Christian Bale). Shortly after, as we lingered over dinner, we heard a shouting match and saw another kid, whose block was being infringed upon by our friend and his pimp, trying to regain his book-selling territory. We watched wide-eyed as a grown man and a kid no more than ten fought loudly in the street, which ended with the man hitting the kid and throwing him to the ground. Wiping away furious tears, the kid regained his footing and kept screaming. All this, just so they can sell a few photocopied books for a couple bucks a pop. I am as speechless now as I was at that moment. What can you do, as a foreigner who doesn't speak the language, when you see such a thing happening? There really is no such thing as childhood when people fight as equals for the right to work.

*I've long since left behind the idea that it's terrible to let kids work. In most parts of the world, it's just a fact of life, and something that often provides education for them rather than preventing it. Although it's not ideal to let kids wander the streets at midnight trying to sell postcards, a better question than "how can we stop poor kids from working?" is "how can we make it safe and profitable for poor kids to work in order to attend school?"


Saturday, August 14, 2010

our days back in 'nam.

How we made it to this happy point, giddily frolicking by the South China Sea, was one of those travel days that really made us wish we weren't the hoi polloi and could travel by jet instead of with the riff-raff.
By the numbers:
Three (3): botched cab rides in which one of the parties left angry and/or shafted

Fourteen (14): hours on a bus getting from Phnom Penh to Saigon to Mui Ne, listening to terrible Vietnamese pop (which has replaced Bolivian pop in my mind as officially the worst music ever created)

One (1): French gentleman with overwhelming body odor on our bus
Hundreds (100s): minutes wasted at the Vietnam border, perhaps the world's most inefficient system EVER created for entering a Socialist Republic
Three (3): hostels attempted before landing in paradise
What up, Vietnam. Let's party. Also, I'm aware that I resemble Lieutenant Dan in this photo, but let me remind you what an adept swimmer he was, so it's not at all dangerous to jump in a pool in such a condition.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

love from angkor.

I'll let a recent email from Peter Fotheringham handle this post, because describing a wonder of the world like Angkor Wat seems to be beyond me at this moment. Here are his words and a few shots from the hundreds of phenomenal ones that basically took themselves:

"Visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples made me so happy to be a human being living in a time period where witnessing physical beauty is so accessible. Think about it, in the same year you witnessed Iguasso Falls and Angkor Wat. We are so lucky."

Saturday, August 07, 2010

malaria: like, totally the best diet everrrr

That's a joke I used to tell before I started getting cold sweats and throwing up my first day in Luang Prabang, Laos, at which point I examined the mosquito bite on my ankle, remembered that malaria has the potential to multiply in your body until your brain cells explode and kill you, and thought, "BALLS. Not funny anymore."

So in a futuristic and surprisingly Big Brother-esque maneuver, Laos takes your temperature at the airport with a little ray gun to make sure you aren't bringing the White Man's Burden of Smallpox back into their country. Since they let me in, I assumed I was a healthy individual. But I think we all know what assuming does, and I spent most of the time in that delightful country laying helplessly on my bed, sicker than I've been since Bolivia and watching the only two English channels I could find: BBC and CNN, who played the same 3 hour loop of depressing reports all day long ("everyone is dying in Pakistan because of flooding!! Everyone is dying in Russia because of fires!!", leading me to wonder if we could somehow meet in the middle here and solve everyone's problems). I felt supremely lame while Amy and Mom were gallivanting around, and forced myself to rally enough to ride a tuk-tuk an hour out of town and see a gorgeous waterfall. I'm not including shots of the waterfall because you know what they look like, but here are my dear family members wading through monsoon water to sit at a picnic table. They're so cute.
Later we rode a boat across the little Mekong tributary that runs through town and had dinner at a restaurant barely carved out of the palm tree jungle. We ate surrounded by crickets and geckos and stumbled through mud under a thunderstorm to paddle home.
And since street food is one of my most favorite things about traveling, here's Ames on the first night, selecting from a huge cart of the world's best noodle/tofu/veggie combinations on the side of the road. A dollar a plate, please. Don't mind if I do.
I still wasn't quite up to par on our last day in town, so as Ames and Mom did some intense hike to the top of a hill that probably would have seemed like an IronMan in my weakened state, I wandered around with my camera to see what I could find. I was rewarded when I came across the same man I'd seen a couple times before, who liked to kick aimlessly at the air and kind of lunge at passerby. "Ohhh, the town crazy," I thought affectionately, thinking of that guy in Seattle who lives on the corner of Boston and Lake Union who always yells about how Satan infects us through the radio. Luang Prabang's resident mentally ill person always seems to have a prop, though: sometimes a boulder, sometimes a full-blown Soviet Union flag. I didn't have the heart to tell him the Cold War was over, but I did enjoy wandering the market with him for a while.

If anyone cares, I don't actually have malaria I don't think, so we can still hang out safely without my body imploding and ruining the festivities. And I won't be doing anymore joking around about malaria being a good diet, I missed eating SO MUCH this last week. Still love you though, Laos!

Friday, August 06, 2010


Welcome to Laos, here are the ground rules:
No prostates.
No crambling.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


We spent our last day in Thailand trekking in the yungle outside of Chiang Mai: riding elephants, bamboo rafting, hiking through rice paddies and meeting old Karen people in a suspiciously touristy village.
But did I mention RIDING ELEPHANTS?! Because if I forgot, let me clarify: it was UN. REAL. Here's Mom, now known as the Elephant Whisperer because it appears to be a soul connection between these two.

Let it be known that if I could somehow work an elephant into my normal morning commute, I would be thrilled. My sister has requested that I not include here the shots of her gripping the side of the chair and looking less than thrilled "because we were sliding all around mud on the back of a FREAKING ELEPHANT" but I think she'd agree with me-- this was completely Jungle Booky mind-blowing.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

agape home.

Well, it's been about 8 months since I've sent out a plea for orphans, so I figured it was about time to call on your infinite kindness yet again.
We met Patty, who helps run the Agape Home AIDS orphanage, our first day at the Eubanks, and were immediately huge fans of hers. She has a peacefulness and a gentleness about her that is unique to find. We tracked her down at Agape Home before we left Thailand-- here she is, as documented by one of the kiddos who got their mitts on the camera:
Agape Home provides holistic care for AIDS orphans (85% of the kids there have also been diagnosed as HIV+), including antiretrovirals that have vastly extended their life expectancy, job training, foster homes in the surrounding area, and a beautiful facility for them to call home.

There is also a Mother and Baby Home designed to allow HIV+ mothers to stay with their kids. We became quite somber at the sight of a woman who appeared very, very old wandering slowly around the facility, pregnant and clearly in the late stages of AIDS. Patty later told us that she is only 16 years old, and that since moving to the center and receiving proper physical and spiritual care, she has visibly calmed down. It's a sobering sight that makes me so, so grateful for an ever-wider spectrum of blessings in my own life, and I only wish I could do more to help places like this. Donating will help them expand their foster care capacities and job training facilities, creating a sort of village of support for kids who are moving out of the home, as well as help continue to provide the advanced medications, healthy food, and clean living area that are so crucial for these kids.
Will you join me in sponsoring one of these sweet kids? It's easy even to make a one-time donation; I included the link on the righthand side there! Much like the project in Bolivia, it's really nice to know exactly where your money is going and how effective it will actually be.

I'll leave you with the parting shot I got on our way out-- a little sweetheart who rushed to the window to bid us adieu with a huge grin. Oh, my heart!