Angkor Wat

bus ride to siem reap & sunset at angkor wat

Thursday, January 20: In the morning, I take the 8:30 Mekong Express Bus ($11) to Siem Reap.  It’s a 6-hour ride, and luckily it has a bathroom on board!  I have never encountered an on-board bathroom on any bus since I’ve been in Asia, so I’m relieved I don’t have to worry about this issue!

the mekong express bus

the mekong express bus

My bus mate is Richard, a 69-year-old Australian who was once a medical lawyer, then a nurse, and later an English teacher in Cambodia. He’s lived here on and off for years and adores Cambodia and the people.  His wife Janet died of pancreatic cancer in 2009; they had been together for 5 years but only married right before she died, at her request.

auberge mont royal in siem reap

auberge mont royal in siem reap

Richard teaches me hello in Cambodian: sua s’dei (I hear it pronounced as sauce-a-day).  Goodbye is lia suhn haoy (He tells me it’s just lee-high) and thank you is aw-kohn.  He tells me that he has an apartment in Phnom Penh where he supports several Pakistani and Cambodian boys.  He has put several Cambodians through college.  He says he can afford it and he likes to know he’s helping to get some of them out of poverty.

tropical abundance at auberge mont royal

tropical abundance at auberge mont royal

Richard is a talker, so the 6 hour bus ride passes quickly. He tells me that one of the boys in the apartment is getting married.  His wife, he says, is very superstitious.  She thinks if she looks over the edge of a balcony, the building will collapse.  Recently, she found a lump in her breast.  When Richard insisted she go right away to see a doctor, she refused, saying that particular day wasn’t an auspicious one to see a doctor.

the lobby of the hotel

the lobby of the hotel

He tells how he just got a skin cancer removed from his forehead and now he’s numb on that side of his head.  He remembers that Janet used to stroke his head as he lay in her lap.  Ironically, Janet went and then the feeling in his head disappeared as well.

When I mention my upcoming trip to Kyoto in February, he tells me in great detail about a Japanese film called Departures that made him sob. He says it’s funny how a film made him cry yet he never got emotional over Janet’s death.  He celebrates her life and feels they had an amazing love that ebbed and flowed between them.  He says Janet was the kind of person who either loved you or hated you.  There was no in-between, no neutrality with her.

the pool :-)

the pool 🙂

As he flips through the newspaper, he reads me the local crime report which includes some burglaries and arson and destruction of property.  He says the police reports in Phnom Penh very often report decapitations among the locals.  He mentions that in Tunisia, protestors are demanding the ouster of the current government.

my room at auberge mont royal

my room at auberge mont royal

He then asks me, “What did you leave behind when you went to Korea?”  I tell him my story.  We continue to talk at some length about my life and people I know and about someone I’ve known and cared about for many years.  He asks many questions about this person, and says the person sounds like a high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer.  I am taken aback by this and find myself becoming defensive.  It just can’t be.  But as he continues to ask questions, I am shaken when I find myself answering in the affirmative to most of his questions.  Richard outlines the symptoms: awkward social interaction, stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests, no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language.  An AS person does not withdraw from other people and may approach them and engage in a long single-minded discussion of a topic, without recognizing the other person’s impatience, disinterest or desire to leave.  There is often a lack of social or emotional reciprocity.  The person may stick to inflexible routines or move in stereotyped or repetitive ways.  An AS person may have difficulty identifying and describing one’s emotions.

the tuk tuk driver who takes me to angkor wat at sunset

the tuk tuk driver who takes me to angkor wat at sunset

Richard goes on and on analyzing this person I have known for many years and I am flabbergasted.  Is he right?  I have to go home and look this up.  I wonder if it is true, if it has possibly never been diagnosed.  I wonder if it would have made any difference in my relationship with this person if it is in fact true and if I had known it from the beginning.  Would I have been able to live with it, adapting my behavior and my expectations to the syndrome?  I don’t know.  The conversation leaves me shaken, and wondering.  This is something I will have to explore.

getting into the tuk tuk to see angkor wat

getting into the tuk tuk to see angkor wat

Later, we finally arrive in Siem Reap, where a young Cambodian guy picks me up in a van to take me to my hotel, Auberge Mont Royal.  In the van I meet a Cambodian couple who left for Montreal on a study-scholarship in 1971, so they luckily missed the Khmer Rouge years.  The man tells me since I’m an English teacher I should apply at the J. Prescott Academy, a school for Cambodian children in Siem Reap.

walking across the moat to the outer gate of angkor wat

walking across the moat to the outer gate of angkor wat

I check into my lovely hotel, Auberge Mont Royal, on a little side street choked with dust, tuk tuks, and more concrete hole-in-the-wall businesses.  My hotel sits within a yellow gate behind which lush greenery abounds.  Across the street is the purple-painted Villa Siem Reap.  The rest of the street is lined with dumpy businesses, nice guesthouses like exclamation points in an otherwise unsightly landscape.

angkor wat decked out in green netting

angkor wat decked out in green netting

As part of the package I bought at this hotel, I get a tuk tuk ride to sunset at Angkor Wat.  My driver and I take off right away and he drops me across the 2.2-mile-long moat that circles the outer gate of the famous temple.  I walk across the moat and through this gate and there in front of me, across a wide expanse of lawn,  is Angkor Wat.  Immediately, I’m taken aback ~ and I have to say, disappointed.  All over the front of the facade is emerald-green netting, put up for renovation, I assume.  There is no way around it.  No way to take a picture without the ugly netting.  I walk up closer and find, despite the netting, the temple is still quite lovely because of the way the setting sun colors the stone.  It’s rich and golden-red, glowing.  I go inside the temple complex and look at all the beautiful carvings of apsara dancers and royal people and gods and battles and everyday life. Apsaras are beautiful, supernatural women. They are youthful and elegant, and proficient in the art of dancing.  A huge Buddha wrapped in an orange sash surrounded by gold glitz and glittery leaves, flower offerings before him, beams serenely down at me.

the buddha at angkor wat

the buddha at angkor wat

It’s stunning, the waning light on the temple.  I wander around the ancient stone buildings, fading to skeletons in their slow decay.  How many years before the temple turns to dust?  How many centuries, how many generations?  The power of nature is indefatigable.  It slowly erodes everything man puts in its midst.

Most people know about Angkor Wat, but here’s a tidbit of history.  It’s a temple complex built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century.  It was the state temple and capital city and was first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu; later it became Buddhist.  Apparently, it’s the world’s largest religious building.  It’s said the building of this temple was likely the cause of the demise of the Khmer empire.

in the interior courtyard of angkor wat

in the interior courtyard of angkor wat

I take my time wandering, captivated by the way the light attaches to the stone.   The tuk tuk driver has told me it will probably take me 1 1/2 hours, so I enjoy slowly.  I know I will get a proper tour tomorrow, with an English-speaking guide, so I simply enjoy the warmth, the sinking sun, the multitudes of carvings.

The front facade of Angkor Wat faces the west, so it’s impossible at sunset to get a picture with the sun behind it.  I sit on the front porch of the temple, or the balcony, with a smattering of other tourists and watch the sun set behind the outer gates surrounding the temple.  Sunrise would be better for photos here.  Still.  The color of the stone, the shadows cast, are gorgeous at this time of night.

people settling in to watch the sunset

people settling in to watch the sunset

Later, I go back to the hotel and lie on a lounge chair by the kidney-shaped pool and read my book.   Then I take a tuk tuk to dinner in downtown Siem Reap, a charming little area overflowing with massage parlors, Khmer and Indian restaurants, and shops selling all kinds of enticing things.

the sunset from angkor wat

the sunset from angkor wat

The Angkor Palm is a lovely colonial-type restaurant that spills out into the street.  I sit outdoors on the sidewalk so I can watch the people walk by.  I order the Angkor Palm Platter for One.  It’s a sampler of Khmer food: fresh spring roll, green mango salad with special smoked fish, local pork spareribs roasted with honey and spicy sauce, homemade green curry with chicken, cha’ta kuong or stir-fried morning-glory with oyster sauce, steamed rice, and a Khmer dessert of white pumpkin with a sugary sauce.  As usual, I have a glass of red wine.  It’s pleasant here on the street of this quaint town, sampling delectable food and watching the tourists and locals traipsing past.

the angkor palm in siem reap

the angkor palm in siem reap

After dinner, I wander through the night market where I’m temped to put my feet into a tank of fish that eat the dead skin off your feet.  “No piranhas!” a sign proclaims, but I have no idea what kind of fish they are.  There is stiff competition among the multitudes of fish tanks with perks promised on the signs: “$2.50 for 20 minutes!  Free Angkor beer or coke!” or “$3 for unlimited time!”  Yes, I think, I would like to spend an unlimited time sitting on the edge of a fish tank with my pants legs rolled up, having my feet nibbled on by fish.  After all, I probably have that much dead skin on them. 🙂

sampler for one at the angkor palm

sampler for one at the angkor palm

The night market blooms with colorful silk scarves, handbags, smiling Buddhas, wooden apsara dancers, T-shirts, pillows, tablecloths, glittery jewelry.  So many things to buy, but so little ability to carry them all home.  I gaze into big open-air rooms with teak lounge chairs where tourists are having hour-long foot massages for $3.  I come away with a handful of scarves for $4 each and a 3-piece Buddha plaque with gold flecks on it.  I love this kind of market, much like the Sunday market in Bangkok, with so many enticing things you could spend days there, lost in the glamour of it all.

the outer wall of angkor wat reflected in the moat

the outer wall of angkor wat reflected in the moat

I haven’t had a manicure or pedicure in my whole time in Korea (only a pedicure in Turkey this summer), so I get both in Siem Reap.  It’s lovely to sit and be pampered.  However, this one pales by comparison to ones I get in the U.S.  In the U.S., nail technicians apply a clear top coat to keep the polish from chipping.  As they don’t do that here, my fingernails chip by the end of the night!

looking across the moat at the sunset

looking across the moat at the sunset

One of the girls in the salon, a beautiful Cambodian with an asymmetrical bob, is happy to see me and asks if I’m from America.  I say yes.  She says with such a reverent tone in her voice: I love your country.  Your country and Canada are the best, because of the people I meet here.  They are so nice!  But, she says, the ones I don’t like are China, Japan and Korea.  Funny, I think, she doesn’t like the other Asian countries, of which Cambodia is one.

But. I must admit.  Cambodia is different.  I see it.  They’re definitely Asian, but they have a special culture, one distinguished in class from the others.  I need to work on describing the feeling I get when I’m here.  Cambodians are so gentle, so delicate yet sophisticated.  They’re classy, open, kind-hearted.  Lovely.  They’re like gold and emerald treasures along the rice paddies and papayas of the Mekong.  Butterflies.  Tinkling bells.  Hummingbirds. Gentle but exquisite in their speech, their music, their movements, and especially, in their hearts. I can’t help but wonder how did the Khmer Rouge ever take root here in this gentle country?  How could it have possibly happened?

the outer wall of angkor wat

the outer wall of angkor wat

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Categories: Angkor Wat, Asia, Auberge Mont Royal, Cambodia, Mekong Express Bus, Siem Reap, Travel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

imaginings of vietnam & cambodia ….

Here I am, Tuesday, January 11, 2011, sitting in Daegu, Korea and finalizing the details of my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.  I leave this Thursday, January 13;  my plane takes off at 2:15 pm from Incheon and arrives in Hanoi at 11:15 the same evening, after a 5 hour layover in Guangzhou, China.  As usual, I am stressed out, as I always am before I travel; thinking of all the details makes my head spin. In addition to the regular stress, something has happened to my back; I didn’t do a thing, just got out of my bed after a nap on Sunday, and voila, I couldn’t move!  Why is it that I always get sick or get some physical pain right before I leave for a vacation?  So, in addition to being stressed because there’s not enough time to get everything ready, now I have to take the time to visit the hospital for physical therapy on my back!

I’m excited, as I always am, to travel to an exotic land.  But, I’m also feeling a little melancholy about this trip, mainly because of the extensive reading I’ve been doing to prepare. Vietnam and Cambodia are countries that have suffered unbearable trauma, some of this trauma in years that fall within my own lifetime.  I am a child of the Vietnam War-era; though I was too young to know & understand everything that was going on at the time, I remember the frightening images of the war on T.V.  I remember the student protests on U.S. college campuses, especially the Kent State massacre.  It seemed to me that the world was a crazy and scary place in those years of my youth.  In later years, in one of my writing classes, I read a great short story by Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried;” it told about the things American soldiers in the Vietnam war carried with them and the meanings behind these things, which in essence told the greater stories of the soldiers’ lives and the horrendous war they were part of.

Vietnam

There is still a lot I don’t know about Vietnam and Cambodia, but in the last several months, I’ve tried to immerse myself in the culture from afar, reading novels, guidebooks, memoirs, historical books and watching movies.  Before I started my recent reading binge, I had seen one movie about Vietnam that evoked a peaceful and slow-paced culture.  The 2000 movie, Vertical Ray of the Sun, was about 3 sisters and their families and their loves.  The movie is full of lush greenery, drenching rains, romantic scenes.  This movie has colored my imaginings of Vietnam since I saw it nearly 10 years ago.  Of course, when I was younger, I also saw violent Vietnam war movies, such as the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Good Morning, Vietnam, Born on the Fourth of July and others.

My Korean friend Kim Dong Hee had seen the movies Indochine and The Scent of Green Papaya, so she was determined that I should see those movies.  One night we went to the DVD bang and watched the 1992 French film Indochine, with Catherine Deneuve and Vincent Perez.  Set in 1930s French Indochina, it tells the tale of a love triangle between a rubber plantation owner, her adopted daughter and a younger French navy lieutenant.  The rising Vietnamese nationalist movement is the backdrop of the movie.   It’s a great movie that gave me a feel for Vietnam under the French Protectorate.

In that same vein, I’m currently reading a book by Uyen Nicole Duong called Daughters of the River Huong, that tells of 4 generations of women in the same family, beginning with the story of the Mystique Concubine of the King at the time when the French were in charge in Vietnam; the love story continues through to the modern-day.  I adore this book so far and am getting a feel for the beauty and the mystique of Vietnamese culture.

On the other hand, I read Catfish and Mandala, a memoir by Andrew X. Pham, a Vietnamese-American guy who bicycled all around Vietnam to explore his heritage.  He and his family escaped Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975.  This book tells a true story of Vietnam from a victim’s perspective, with no gloss or glimmer.  The horrors visited upon families during the war are depicted here; when he returned to his home in 1989 for this trip, Vietnam was still a very poor country, rife with corruption and filth.  It’s a memorable and sometimes disturbing personal story of war and a search for roots and identity.  Some parts were difficult to read, but I’m glad I did, because I could really feel for Andrew’s struggles and the search for peace in his life.

When my son Alex came to visit in Korea, he brought me two movies, The Scent of Green Papaya and Three Seasons.  Finally, this past Friday night, Kim Dong Hee, who has been dying to see The Scent of Green Papaya for months, went with me to dinner at Little Italy across the road from my apartment.  We shared an entire bottle of wine and then took my DVD to 3 DVD bangs before we were able to find one that could play an American-made DVD.  We settled in to watch it.  It’s really a mood piece, depicting the simple daily lives of a Vietnamese family and a servant girl.  It has very little conversation and even less action.  After all the wine I drank, I’m sorry to say I fell asleep and missed parts of it!  Kim said it looked to her like I slept through the whole thing, but I think she’s mistaken because I remember a lot.   A lot of lush green leaves dripping with dew, green papayas, cooking, scrubbing of floors, and ants.  Taken from Wikipedia, here’s a plot description:

A young girl, Mui, becomes a servant for a rich family. The family consists of a frequently absent husband, a wife and two young boys. When the husband leaves, he takes all the household’s money. As Mui grows up, the family falls on hard times, and eventually she becomes a servant for a pianist who befriends the family. That man is engaged to be married, but he prefers playing the piano to spending time with his fiance. One night, after blowing off his fiance yet again, the pianist sleeps with Mui. The engagement is broken off. The pianist starts teaching Mui how to read and write. A pregnant Mui reads to her unborn child.

I read another book by Duong Thu Huong called Paradise of the Blind, the first Vietnamese novel published in the United States in 1988.  It is currently banned in Vietnam because of the political views expressed.  It tells the story of a girl whose family is torn apart by the Communist takeover, including the land reforms and the so-called Rectification of Errors.  The girl’s uncle is the primary culprit in the novel and is really the personification of the evils of Communism.  It’s a powerful book; it infuriated me to read it.

Last but not least, on Christmas Day, Myrna lent me her computer, since mine crashed two days before Christmas, and I watched the 1999 movie, Three Seasons, a movie that takes place in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, well after the war.  It tells intertwining tales of different Vietnamese characters in a changing Saigon, including that of an American ex-soldier who comes in search  of his lost daughter and a cyclo-driver who falls in love with a Vietnamese high-class call girl.  The movie may be somewhat romanticized but I found it also depicted the dark underbelly of the city, especially in the story of a little boy, Woody, who lived on the streets.  But the story was also a hopeful one, one that shows a Vietnam on the verge of a new life, caught up in modernization and globalization.

Finally, when I leave here on Thursday morning,  I will take along another book by Andrew X. Pham called The Eaves of Heaven, which I plan to read while I’m traveling, in between writing, seeing the sights, floating on a junk in Halong Bay, and eating some great Vietnamese food!

Cambodia

When I originally planned this trip, the only place I had in my imagination was Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap.  I had heard from various people that it could take 3 full days to see all the temple ruins, ruins that are engulfed by huge trees and their immense snake-like roots.  Pictures of this place have fired my imagination for years.  I really knew nothing about it except that it looked mysterious and beautiful.  Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century.   It was originally a Hindu temple, then Buddhist, and is now the world’s largest religious building.   Restoration of the temples started in the 20th century, but was interrupted by civil war and Khmer Rouge control of Cambodia during the 1970s;  amazingly little damage was done to the complex during this time of upheaval.

I’m embarrassed to say I really didn’t know anything at all about Cambodia.  I remember hearing of America’s bombing of Cambodia during the war, but I didn’t understand Cambodia’s involvement or why we were bombing them.  My first introduction to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge was through the non-fiction book called First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, written by Loung Ung, Cambodian author and survivor of the Pol Pot regime.  It’s an intense and highly disturbing account of her personal experience during the years of Khmer Rouge rule.  I was so shocked by this book, and especially shocked by my own ignorance of what happened during these years of the 1970s.  These horrors were happening in Cambodia shortly after I graduated from high school and during my college years, while I was partying and studying and enjoying life to the fullest.  How could I have been so blind to what was happening in the world at this time?  Loung Ung was a mere 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge emptied the entire city of Phnom Penh and sent everyone to the countryside to work in the fields.  She saw her parents and siblings die in the Killing Fields of Cambodia;  she saw horrors no child should ever see, suffering starvation and humiliation under this terrible regime.

Here is Loung Ung’s personal website: Loung Ung

In the midst of reading this book, I became intensely curious to know more and so I watched another horribly upsetting 1984 movie, The Killing Fields, which I had never seen before.  The film opens in 1973 in Phnom Penh when the Cambodian national army is fighting the Khmer Rouge.  The story follows three journalists, two of whom include Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg. Later the movie moves ahead to 1975, when the international embassies are being evacuated in anticipation of the Khmer Rouge invasion of the capital.  When the Khmer Rouge demands that all Cambodian citizens be turned over, the other journalists try desperately to forge a passport for Dith Pran, identifying him as a British journalist.  Their attempts fail, and Pran is turned over to the Khmer Rouge; he barely survives the next years under the horrible conditions as a captive of the totalitarian regime.  He endured four years of starvation and torture before Vietnam defeated the Khmer Rouge in 1978.  Dith Pran died at age 65 in 2008, years after he managed to escape from the Khmer Rouge death camps. He coined the phrase “killing fields” to refer to the clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered during his 40-mile escape. His three brothers and one sister were killed in Cambodia.

Finally, I read another book by Cambodian author Somaly Mam, called The Road of Lost Innocence.  Somaly herself was sold into sexual slavery at a young age and endured a horrible existence in the brothels of Phnom Penh.  She managed to escape with the help of a French humanitarian worker who became her husband.  She has worked tirelessly in her adult life to help other Cambodian girls who have been sold, often by their own parents, into sexual slavery, and she founded the organization AFESIP Cambodia (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations): AFESIP

Here is an article written by Mariane Pearl about Somaly Mam in the August 2006 issue of Glamour magazine:  Global Diary: Cambodia

All of these books about Cambodia were intensely disturbing and opened my eyes to a part of history I’m sad to say I knew nothing about.   With so much depth added to my body of understanding and knowledge, I actually became more curious about Cambodia and decided I wanted to explore Phnom Penh as well as Angkor Wat.  Thus I changed my plans to spend 5 1/2 days in Cambodia and 4 days in Vietnam, as opposed to splitting my time evenly as I first planned.

The last thing that happened very recently was the mass stampede at the Khmer Water Festival that killed over 300 people in Phnom Penh on November 22 of this year.  Apparently, according to a Cambodian journalist, the panic was caused by police firing a water cannon onto a bridge jammed with people.  He said police fired the canon to get people to move off the bridge when it started swaying, which caused a panic.

So much sadness in Cambodia and Vietnam.  I am hoping to find more optimistic places on my journey.  Hoping to believe in, to find evidence of, the resilience of the human spirit!

Here is my itinerary:

January 13-14 & January 17-18: Hanoi Ngoc Mai Hotel: Address: : 07-17 Cua Dong str., Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Dist, Hanoi, Vietnam

Tel: (84-4) 3923 1931/39231932 – 3828 6236/38282605
January 15-16: Indochina Junk on Halong Bay (The Dragon’s Pearl Junk): Indochina Junk

January 18-20: Villa Langka in Phnom Penh: Villa Langka

January 20-23: Auberge Mont Royal in Siem Reap: Auberge Mont Royal d’Angkor

Categories: Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Halong Bay, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

singapore: lectures at ISEAS, dolphin lagoon at underwater world & bicultural (mis)communication

Thursday, January 10:  This morning we have lectures with officials at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS).  According to the ISEAS website:  The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies is dedicated to the study of social, political and economic trends in the region.

Attending lectures at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

Attending lectures at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

The aim of the Institute is to nurture a scholarly community interested in the region and to engage in research within the fields of sociology, anthropology, political science, history and economics.

Luz and Johanna at ISEAS

Luz and Johanna at ISEAS

The intention is not only to stimulate research and debate within scholarly circles, but also to enhance public awareness and facilitate the search for viable solutions to the varied challenges confronting the region. ISEAS seeks to offer reflective analysis and critical investigations in the best traditions of scholarship.

Luz, me and Johanna at ISEAS

Luz, me and Johanna at ISEAS

After our lectures, we take the Singapore Cable Car from Mount Faber to Sentosa Island, which calls itself “Asia’s Favorite Playground.”  It has such attractions as Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, beaches, nature walks, spas and resorts, and Siloso Point.

At Mt. Faber Park, before getting on the Singapore Cable Car

At Mt. Faber Park, before getting on the Singapore Cable Car

Me at Mt. Faber Park

Me at Mt. Faber Park

Singapore Cable Car to Sentosa Island

Singapore Cable Car to Sentosa Island

On the Singapore Cable Car

On the Singapore Cable Car

View of Sentosa from the Singapore Cable Car

View of Sentosa from the Singapore Cable Car

Ryan in the Cable Car

Ryan in the Cable Car

At Siloso Point, we visit Underwater World and its Dolphin Lagoon.  We watch a dolphin show at the Dolphin Lagoon.

the Dolphin Show

the Dolphin Show

Spectators at Dolphin Lagoon

Spectators at Dolphin Lagoon

Dolphin Lagoon

Dolphin Lagoon

Dolphins at Dolphin Lagoon

Dolphins at Dolphin Lagoon

After the show we explore the rest of Underwater World, walking among leafy sea dragons and Medusa jellyfish.  Stingrays and 10 foot-long sharks swim around us as the travellator takes us through the Ocean Colony’s submerged glass tubes.

Fish at Underwater World

Fish at Underwater World

Crab at Underwater World

Crab at Underwater World

Me & a friend at Underwater World

Me & a friend at Underwater World

Luz, ??, and Johanna at Underwater World

Luz, ??, and Johanna at Underwater World

Sharks swim around us at Underwater World

Sharks swim around us at Underwater World

In the evening, we have a dinner meeting with the group.

Tendai and Professor Rajan

Tendai and Professor Rajan

Ryan, Johanna, ??, ?? and me at our last night's dinner

Ryan, Johanna, ??, ?? and me at our last night’s dinner

??, me, Joe, Johanna, and Tendai at our final dinner in Singapore

??, me, Joe, Johanna, and Tendai at our final dinner in Singapore

Bicultural (Mis)communication

After our group meeting, and following a day of text-messaging back and forth with Madan, I meet him for a “date.”  He meets me at the Great World Market Shopping Center.  We get in his royal blue Toyota van/car.  Royal blue seems to be quite the color for vehicles, especially taxis, in the city.  He drives me up to Mt. Faber to see the view, but I say, “We were just here today!” So he drives me to the waterfront, where we take a walk.

We have a long conversation.  He is Tamil.  His father owns a spice factory and helped him open two restaurants.  He is working on a business degree online through a London school. He’s not married and doesn’t have a girlfriend.  I tell him about my life (two marriages, three kids, why I left).  He says his older brother got married in an arranged marriage.  His older sister did too, to her mother’s brother (her uncle)!  Madan is emphatic that he does not want an arranged marriage.  He doesn’t want to be married at all because he doesn’t want someone to control him.  At that moment, he says, a wife would be calling him and asking him where he is.

We talk about how you can’t help who you like, how you can like someone without even knowing them.  He says sometimes he goes to church and sees a girl he’s attracted to.  It adds excitement to his life because he looks forward to seeing her in church every Sunday.

He keeps referring to American movies.  He asks me if I fear for my life because Americans carry guns and in the news, Americans are always killing each other.  He talks about Columbine and how students in American schools bring guns to school and shoot each other.  He thinks it odd Americans should be allowed to have guns.  I explain to him that we are a country of immigrants who came to America to escape oppressive governments and persecution.  Americans distrust government by nature and want to limit the power it has.  We believe in the right to bear arms – it’s a right conferred to us in our Constitution – in case we need to defend ourselves against a government gone awry.

Madan loves American movies, especially violent ones like The Terminator.  He loves Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He asks how Arnold is doing.  I say I think he’s doing fine, but that I don’t keep up much with California politics.  He discusses other American movies he loves.  Most are adventure/thriller/action movies.

He says that this is the first time he has ever interacted with an American.  Sometimes when he watches American movies, he has trouble understanding the actors, so he is happy that we are able to converse easily and he has no trouble understanding me.

He discusses the Asians in Singapore and says they are always seeking to marry a lighter skinned Asian than they are themselves.  It’s considered a move up the social ladder.  I ask him if he feels that way.  He says he thinks he will want to marry someone lighter skinned than he is, so his children will be lighter skinned.

I’m curious about why he had focused on me rather than Juliana in the restaurant the first day we met, since she is close to him in age and I am so much older.  I ask him if that was why he hardly spoke to Juliana, because she is dark-skinned.  He says, no, he has plenty of black and dark-skinned friends; this desire to be with a light-skinned person would only apply to marriage because of the children.

I continue to press him regarding his apparent interest in me.  He says that I sat directly across from him and I was talking and engaged with him.  Juliana had been largely silent.  I ask him why he had given us his card and taken our emails.  He says because someday he wants to come to America and have someone to visit!  It suddenly hits me, in an awkward moment of realization, that all he really wanted was to interact with an American.  And I, with my white/blonde hair, represent the quintessential American!  I tell him that he’d be surprised to know that Juliana is the truest of true Americans as she is Native American.  He thought she was East Indian!

It turns out he thought it quite odd that I had called him the evening after we met to apologize for not coming back to eat lunch at his restaurant.  I tell him Juliana was convinced that he was interested in me and persuaded me to call.  I admit I apologized because I couldn’t think of anything else to say!  He is very sweet; the realization hits us both at the same time that there has been a huge misunderstanding!  A quite funny cultural (mis)communication.

 
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Categories: Angkor Wat, Arlington, Asia, Dolphin Lagoon, George Mason University, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, International Commerce & Policy, ISEAS, School of Public Policy, Sentosa Island, Siloso Point, Singapore, Singapore Cable Car, Underwater World, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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