About a month ago, I signed up on couchsurfing.com. Jaime had recently moved to Edmonton and been hosted by a totally cool Canuck, so I thought I would try to do my karmic part and reciprocate. After all, I have this great big apartment with a whole empty room, complete with two large beds and a hot shower -- all to myself. Since my half-hearted attempts to find a real roommate had failed, I figured this was a way to fill my room, and possibly meet some nifty people along the way.
I've had a few requests, but the only person to actually make it all the way to my doorstep was Dorothee, a German cyclist who was in month 8 of a round-the-world trip. From her launch-point in Vienna, Dorothee traveled over 19,000 km through Eastern Europe along the Danube, through Russia, Mongolia, China, Vietnam and so on before she hit Kampong Cham.
I set Dorothee up with my buddy Vandong, a monk at Wat Nokor who founded a Buddhism and Development organization that teaches English and does small projects in the local community. She was looking for a temporary volunteer opportunity, and Vandong and the BSDA staff needed someone to help them design a lesson plan template for their English classes. This was Dorothee's first experience seeing any kind of education in Cambodia (or elsewhere on her travels) and she couldn't get over the shock of seeing the monks standing up in front of a class, reading a newspaper for an hour straight as the "lesson." Needless to say, she learned a lot in her short stint, and I'm sure the monks got something out of it as well.
I wasn't sure how much Dorothee had to tell and retell her story over the past 8 months, so I tried not to be too pushy, but after spending a couple of days together, I found out that biking along the Danube was gloriously beautiful, people were friendliest in Mongolia (yak's milk & cheese anyone?), and the Chinese police were the most suspicious.
The thing I enjoyed most about the whole experience was Dorothee's obvious enjoyment of life and her total independence. At 45, she had worked 17 years at her company, and had taken cycling vacations all over the globe. She wasn't married, had no kids, and seemed completely happy. Her enjoyment of life was obvious from her amazing stories and her cheerfulness. Everything about her just seemed so glowing and healthy. Though I couldn't (and wouldn't necessarily want to) live her life (19,000 km + is a bit much for me), I definitely aspire to be as completely fulfilled as Dorothee seemed by her life. I guess the thing to learn from her and her cycling adventure is how to enjoy the journey -- not just where you're trying to go, but also the sights, smells, and people you meet along the way.
After a couple of days with Dorothee, I had to head out for a trip to Singapore, but she stayed on in my house a couple of days to finish up her project. By now, I expect she's made it past Kratie and on up to Laos. She'll head from there through SE Asia to Australia and then across the US back to Europe. She's promised to write in Hawaii so we can try to meet up. If you sprechen Deutsch, you can check out Dorothee's progress here.