Friday, December 12, 2008

New Toilet Feelings

It's 4:50 am on December 12. I'm in a lovely hotel room at the oh-so-trendy Blue Lime in Phnom Penh and I can't sleep because I'm too hyped up about flying home today.

My mum calls me "new toilet girl" after a Chinese saying about the type of person who has to be the first to use the new latrine hole once it's been dug. As much as I want to be sad about leaving, my predominant feeling is excitement. Not excitement to leave, but a deep thrill thinking about moving on to WHAT'S NEXT.

Things I'll miss: #1 Getting to know Cambodians

Back in May, when the sun blared down and the water in the river was low, but rising, I took my new bike out for an afternoon over the bamboo bridge. The bridge is a seasonal feature of Kampong Cham. It's built at the beginning of the dry season each year, and each year, as the water level rises and the waters come, the bridge washes away and the island's residents have to fall back on the ferry to get themselves and their goods to market.

The island is an oasis. It is made of the fertile red soil for which Kampong Cham is famous. Outside practically every house are slender trees dripping with the weight of heavy pumelo orbs. Bananas are also in abundance, those tiny sweeter-than-sweet yellow fingers. The rice fields are a piercing green and even the cows are nobler than some in Cambodia. There's very little traffic other than a few motos here and there, but the island is mostly silent and idyllic.

That afternoon, I biked around the perimeter of the island, about 10 kilometers. The small space between my fender and tires grew thick with red mud and my feet and ankles were caked completely. Near the end of the trail, a boy came out, hands waving to stop me. "Where are you going? Where are you from? Are you alone?" And then finally, "Come in, come in, my family wants to meet you."

For the next two hours, I sat with Sophy and his family talking with them about their work out in the rice fields, but mostly answering questions in my broken Khmer about my own life, and life in America. They patted my stomach and and asked me if I could cut their hair short too. Sophy asked me about scholarships to study abroad and his aunties admonished me for riding all alone, for not wearing long sleeves, for not wearing earrings (because they would be so pretty!)

When I finally left, they made me promise to come back to visit. Sophy got my phone number and started sending me "i miss you" text messages every so often.

Despite some rough moments, I have found so much openness and compassion here in Cambodia.

At first I was tempted to accredit people's friendliness to curiousity. "What's up with the foreigner?" But then I see the way that people share babies in a crowded car, or the way that strangers talk like friends in the marketplace, and I see that this kind of personal connection is the norm in Cambodia.

I'm going to miss smiling at random people on the street. I'm going to miss calling people sister and uncle. I'm going to miss random belly pats and friendly advice from total strangers. I'm going to miss Cambodia.

Kids do the monkey dance at Wat Nokor

One of my good friends in Cambodia is Vandong the monk, a young, amazingly charismatic man who started an organization to help the most vulnerable people in his hometown of Kampong Seam.

Just a couple of years ago, BSDA was run on nothing but the strength of Vandong's goodwill and the free time of a couple of other monk volunteers. Now, thanks to his cult of personality, the organization has an office, a computer lab, English classes, two buildings for the children, a full stage for the kids' dancing performances, a car, a tuk-tuk, money for programs, and more volunteers.

Vandong is a go-getter. He sees something that needs doing and he finds a way. It's not always methodical, and not always perfect, but he works tirelessly and has an uncanny knack for drawing others to his cause. Vandong and I met soon after I came to Cambodia when he was leading a ceremonial New Year blessing of our office. The outgoing volunteers warned me that Vandong would find a way to "suck me in" to help with BSDA's programs, and they were right. There was just no refusing Vandong. I don't know if was the bright orange robe, or his dazzling smile that was more mesmerizing, but whatever it was, it drew me back to the BSDA offices week after week to help read over donor reports, write new grants, and lend Vandong a sympathetic ear.

When people came to Kampong Cham looking for volunteer opportunities, I sent them over to Vandong. Les Frenchies did a presentation for Vandong's staff about the medical effects of drugs for their drug rehabilitation program and my couchsurfer extraordinaire helped train the English teachers on making lesson plans.

BSDA runs a variety of programs, including life skills like sewing, mushroom growing and pig raising, drug rehabilitation programs, drug-use prevention, and some scholarships. But by far my favorite program is the program to teach Khmer music and dance to orphans and vulnerable children. The kids are practice with a professional teacher and perform for the community and occasionally for tourists. In the process, they gain confidence, self-esteem, and a foothold into the broader community.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Things I'll miss: #2 Cooking with friends

I love the way that my Cambodian friends seem to come together in a kitchen. Starting at the market around 7 am, watching them in action is like observing the industrious and mysterious workings of a beehive or colony of termites. First someone comes up with a plan. What will we make today? Once the plan is agreed, everyone spreads out in their own separate directions to the meat stalls, to the dry goods, to the green grocers to collect the requisite ingredients. It's not at all clear who's buying what or how much, but somehow, when we reconnoiter back at the house, all the ingredients are there in perfect ratio.

At this point, I pull out my pad and paper and start to take assiduous notes -- what's that vegetable? fry for how long? but can you substitute...? -- while the others are in a flurry of chopping, peeling and pounding all around me. As at the market, the flow is remarkable. At any one time, there can be 5 to 10 pairs of hands in the mix yet it seems like the old adage about "too many cooks" just doesn't hold true here. There are 4 dishes going on at once, and the person peeling the shallots seems to know just how many to do and where they all belong. Neighbors come and go, lending a hand, squatting to pound some fish, falling seamlessly into the action for a few minutes before heading home to cook their own meal. There's gossip, laughing, tasting, scolding, and then miraculously, there's lunch.

We spread a mat on the floor, dish out the rice, and partake. Generally the eating portion is done in a fraction of the time it takes to prepare -- no longer than 20 minutes, and then the dishes are swept away, the mat rolled, and each one to her house and a nap. The cooking is obviously the main event of our "small parties," the eating merely a polite afterthought.

I'm going to miss this camaraderie that came from chopping, frying, and learning alongside all my friends.

Things I'll miss: #3 Raja

My little kitty has new parents now. The lovely Muoy and her fiance John have adopted Raja and she left to live with them on Tuesday last week. It was a difficult transition, but Raja's beginning to settle into her new life now, eating and drinking and back to her usual playful antics.

Though I came my kitty in a manner somewhat against my will, I grew to love my feisty feline companion and miss her like the dickens already. My favorite thing was when she would crawl up on my while I was sleeping and fall asleep across my neck like a thick furry scarf.

Bye Raja!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Things I'll miss: #4 Going to the market

Market set-up in the wee hours of morning

Chicken lady

Beansprouts, tofu, and noodles

My home goods vendor

Marketing was scary at first in Kampong Cham. My first week in the city, I subsisted largely off of packs of dried ramen, not out of laziness, but because I couldn't muster the courage to get myself to the market. My first Saturday alone in my house, before I had my bicycle or motorcycle, I ventured out to catch a moto to the market. Would he understand where I wanted to go? How would I get back? Would I be cheated at the market? How would I endure the staring and the titters? I headed downstairs, out to the street, only to scamper back inside and boil some water for another noodle lunch.

Sunday was a little better. I managed to wave down a moto man outside my house and made it all the way to the market. That first day, I bought (what else?) some more dried noodles, some eggs and some vegetables before my courage gave out and I retreated back to home base to plan my next mission.

Each trip I became bolder. My Khmer lessons centered mostly around learning words for food and for bargaining and as my vocabulary improved, so did my confidence. By the first month, I was bargaining for meat, finding flour, picking out coconuts. When I got my moto, I learned where to park and how to pay the attendant. I came to recognize faces and became a regular at certain stalls. I had a place for housewares, for chicken, beef, pork, fish, eggs, tofu and beansprouts, veggies in the late afternoon.

Beside my staples, I was always discovering something new. The market had all kinds of treasures -- huge sacks of dried lentils, gooey, steaming coconut cakes, dried flattened bananas, sausages brought in from Siem Reap, dried fish in at least 30 different forms, stinky shrimp paste -- and these things changed month-to-month. You only had to seek out the fruit stalls to see the degree to which the market was ruled by the seasons. My first months were ruled by juicy yellow mangoes and rambutans. Then came the custard apples and famous bright red longans. Pumelos began to pop up with more frequency around July and pomegranates appeared soon thereafter, followed by tiny orange tangerines. Through it all, dragonfruit, bananas, and pineapple were mainstays.

Going to market was a ritual that made me feel part of the thrum of Cambodian life.

My eyes loomed large during my first visit to the Lucky Supermarket in Phnom Penh. Neatly packaged apples in styrofoam and plastic wrap, a-la Trader Joe's. Ice cream and yogurt and Prego pasta sauce and Cornflakes. Olive oil and Camembert and lunch meats, all within the confines of the one air-conditioned building. An entire chocolate section. Dark, light, hazelnuts and almonds. More than almost anything else in Phnom Penh, the supermarket was a place that brought me back to the Western world, with all its dazzling choice and convenience, and with all of its air-conditioned, odorless sterility.

And now I'm back to that world for good. Farmers markets are the closest I'm going to get to recreating the market experience, and they don't really come close.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Things I'll miss: #5 Clouds

In my opinion, Cambodia's landscape can get pretty boring. The majority of the country is flat as an ironing board (the coast and the Cardomom Mountains excepted). The rolling green rice paddies set before a background of tall palms, dotted with cows, and houses perched on stilts -- it can go on and on with little differentiation from Siem Reap to Battambang to Kampong Cham. The people are what give the country character -- the children flying kites or splashing in muddy orange waters, the motorcycle man carrying piglets to market, and the teens in uniform riding in a straight white and navy-blue line 20 km to school.

And then there's the clouds. The clouds redeem the countryside in their unrelentingly, always changing beauty. There are the crisp white cumulus that hang above the paddies, set against the swimming-pool blue skies. The fast-moving wisps that tear overhead before a storm, and the dark grey sheets that drape blanket-like foretelling lightening.

There are the shockingly vibrant clouds at sunrise over a Sra Srang pond in Siem Reap and the mellow pastels of sunset over the river in Kampong Cham.

I'm not sure what meteorological miracle produces the startling effects, but whenever I reached my threshold of plastic pollution or motodup catcalls, I knew I could rely on a view of the sky to calm my nerves and make me appreciate this country.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Things I'll miss: #6 Coffee and condensed milk and grilled pork and rice for breakfast

Rumdourl and I went out for our last breakfast together on Monday morning. Grilled pork and rice at the restaurant just beside my house. All those months living there, and I had never checked it out, mostly because in all the time I've walked or ridden my bike past by the place, I've never seen a single female sit down to eat. But Rumdourl assured me that this place was yummy, so we braved the testosterone and ordered our rice and my coffee.

Sure enough, there were more than the usual share of curious stares. Rumdourl knew half of the people there -- a fact that never fails to surprise me given that Kampong Cham isn't a tiny town (supposedly over 60,000 people) but that didn't stop them from ogling unabashedly and giggling in their somewhat disconcerting leering, but nervous sort of way.

But really, all this is beside the point of what I'm going to miss. Breakfast has always been one of my favorite meals and Cambodians are much the same. If we have an appointment in the field at 8, we arrange to leave at 6, to ensure ample time for a roadside stop for breakfast. And even if we're running late, everything can be postponed to accommodate an hour for a steaming bowl of kway teiouv noodles, khmer donuts with coffee or garlicky pork rice.

I'll miss the food itself -- rice, meat and pickled veg is pretty atypical as western breakfasts go -- but what I think I'll miss more is the mentality that prioritizes breakfast and body over productivity. Sure, it can be irritating when you're running late for a training, but I admire the peace and patience it takes to ignore (or at least postpone) so-called obligations to take care of primary functions first and foremost.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Things I'll miss: #7 Storms

Storm filling up the river in Mondulkiri

One night back in April, I woke up to bright flashing lights in the window behind my bed. Half awake I squinted my eyes out of the window, but the screen-obscured view did little to tell me if it was from ambulance lights (seemed unlikely) or a strobe, or aliens (my number on hypothesis in my semi-conscious state). Totally curious, I groped for my glasses, wrapped myself up in my bedsheet (more for a sense of security than to protect from cold) and headed out to my balcony. Outside the entire sky was flashing, lighting up a wall of dark grey clouds from behind every 10 seconds. My first view of sheet lightening.

Storms in Cambodia are gorgeous. You can't ignore the negative aspects - damage from flooding, downed power lines, the aftermath of pools of waters where mosquitos breed - but the storms are also part of the cycle that sustain a way of life. The rice crop, the fish yield, they all rely on the crazy wet season. It's lovely being inside in a Cambodian downpour. The metal roofs amplify the sound of the rain so you can't hear music from your laptop speakers, let alone hear yourself think.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Things I'll miss: #8 Pumelo, dragonfruit, and longans

Pumelos are my favorite fruit. Especially the small sweet, juice ones from Battambong that are slightly pink in color (opposed to the larger, drier variety from Kampong Cham that looks green and tastes better with chili and salt). You can get pumelos in California, sure. But there's something about buying it from a lady in pyjamas who peels off everything but the base, so that the white pumelo sits up jaunty-like in its bright green base, beckoning to you.

And then there's dragonfruit, which seems like it has to be cousin to the kiwi. I didn't understand the appeal at first -- its bright exterior seemed to belie its bland white insides -- but then I chilled it and started eating it for breakfast with yogurt and a little bit of mueslix and I was hooked.

And finally longans -- not those white things in syrup you find in cans at the 99 Ranch market -- but the real deal. Red and brown and bumpy with a ridiculously sweet and fragrant juicy inside. Perfect plump packages of goodness. YUM.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Things I'll miss: #9 Cows

Cows doing their cow thing on an island in the Mekong

Outside the door of the office, in the path of my bicycle on the way to work, on the side of the road, out near the river. The cows are everywhere and I'm going to miss them. When Jaime came to visit, he said the cows here seemed statelier than in the US. I have to attribute this in part to the fact that they are not bunched together in massive feedlots, giving off noxious methane fumes, but rather roam around picturesquely in 2s or 3s posing in front of beautiful pastoral views of rice paddies or rivers. Plus, I'm of the mind that many animals up close (because you get close when you're about to ram on with your bike) are rather noble.

There's a horse trail behind my house in Fullerton, and a few ostrich farms, but no cows as far as I know. So here's a parting moo to my bovine friends.


Some evenings, around 5, when the sun starts to wane and the light gets silky, I like to hop on my bike and meander around town.

I head down my road, past the moto drivers waiting for a fare, past the metalshop, the carwash, the linoleum store, the agriculture supply. At 5pm, the afternoon session of school has ended, work is out, and folks are pouring down the road towards noodle soup dinners and home. On the left, I ride by the woodcarving shop with a noodle table out front, Prasac Microfinance Bank, the Cambodia British Centre where kids on crisply pressed uniforms just coming from school lounge outside on their bicycles waiting for their English class, the newspaper stand with the colorful and uniformly garish fashion magazines. Then the new fancy cosmetics store where they've installed plastic bucket chairs theater-style like those in an airport terminal or DMV, and where, around this time, they pull out a TV on the cashier's counter and unlikely clientele (middle-aged men) will watch sports. I wonder if this element was planned, or just a bit of local color, and I wonder if they ask the men to buy some whitening face cream before they're allowed to slouch down to watch wrestling.

At the corner, there's the Bruins Blue-and-Yellow Hello cell-phone shop, which was constructed and opened since I moved to Kampong Cham. Here my street intersects with the "main drag," a boulevard that I've described before, which appears to harken back from the colonial era -- jaunty decorated lampposts, and nice benches. Later in the evening, there will be the heartbreaking scene of a malnourished teen and two or three kids taking turns sniffing glue from a paper sack. But now, there's just traffic and a man in a jogging uniform walking up and down pumping his arms to an imaginary beat.

Across the boulevard, I pass the Chinese School Market -- bustling in the late afternoon. In front of me, there's a man in garish camo pyjamas and a fisherman's hat with the drawstring strung tight across his neck. There are kids, kids, kids in their white oxford shirts and blue pants, sitting 3 to a moto, or riding on the back rack of the bicycle, some heading for home, but mostly for the riverside where they'll ride up and down in packs, laughing and flirting. There are ladies in Khmer pyjamas -- like the scrubs of nurses who work in a pediatrician's office -- shapeless uniforms with prints of teddy bears or bunnies or bright flowers. Market-going attire.

On the corner in front of the cellphone repair shop run by Rumdourl's brother is my pumelo lady. Perfect green orbs stacked neatly in a pyramid. I pass the meatball stands in front of the Vietnamese Clinic, pass the woman frying bananas in sesame batter, pass the sugarcane press. The men on motorcycle row call out "hello" as I go by, and then I'm passing the plaza with the painted-gold statue of Hanuman the monkey fighting his brother, and then I'm at the riverside.

The bridge is beautiful in the evening light, so I turn right and head down a ways and then stop to look out over the water. The water is way down in dry season and the pylons are bright orange on the bottom where the water used to be. Huge trucks with lumber from exhausted rubber trees and perhaps from as far up as Mondulkiri make their way over the bridge, passing lovers on motos heading the other direction towards the roadside stands where you can lie in hammocks drinking soursop juice and eating fresh cobs of sweet corn, either grilled or steamed.

A bit further down the riverside is a school. There's smoke billowing in the courtyard and spilling out to the street -- it smells sharp like plastic so I try not to breathe in too deeply and wonder how the kids can continue to run around and fly their kites in the middle of the cloud of fumes.

Riverside vendor with his kites and inflatables

I'm feeling especially alive, so I decide to take the path through the Cham village, where it's marketing time. No pigs here, only shiny beef and vegetables and sometimes a random goat. Then I'm past the ladies in their headscarves and the bearded men with turbans, past the huge Muslim Aid banner, and up next to the white mosque, with its silver tiled minarets that glow at this time of day.

A picturesque trash heap right before the Cham village

Kids play in the courtyard of the neighborhood mosque at twilight

I take the quick route back into town, by this time it's nearing dark so I make a careful circle at the roundabout and head up onto the bridge. It's tough going with no gears. The bridge is relatively steep, but I power on until what seems like the highest point, where I get off and survey the mighty Mekong. Across the river, you can still make out the outline of the signal tower. Then there are some disco lights, and behind, the "skyline" of Kampong Cham town. There's always a breeze up here, even on the warmest days and it's pretty much deserted, for which I can thank Cambodian superstition about the ghosts of frustrated lovers who jumped and now haunt the bridge.

The Kampong Cham skyline from the bridge

Riverside at night

Eventually, I head back down, coasting all the way back around the circle, down the street to the Starmart where I head in to pick up some vanilla yogurt -- which always comes with tiny plastic spoons.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Things I'll miss: #10 The Khmer Language

Consonant practice

I gave up my Khmer lessons back in September, but I still pick up new words every now and then, generally food-related, like how to ask for sticky rice at the market. I love surprising people by going beyond your usual "Hi, I'm from the USA. I like mangos." to asking about their family and their work and other advanced-beginning sorts of topics. Even when I tell people I've been here 9 months, they're still amazed that I've picked up enough Khmer to ask them the number and age of their children and explain what I'm doing in Cambodia. There's the joy of talking, and then there's the letters, which are so beautiful that just practicing them was like meditation. So many signs are in English here, but I'm delighted when lettering is in Khmer -- even though I can't understand it (I gave up before I made my way through all the vowels) it's pretty to look at.

It's going to be sad to go back to the States where only a small number of people even know what Khmer is. I will have to take some trips to Long Beach to practice.

10 days till takeoff: The goodbye bash

December 2, ten days until I take off to return to the US.

Yesterday on the first, I had a small going away party at my house -- one last hurrah before heading out of Kampong Cham. In all, around 25 friends and coworkers showed up, filling the living room and spilling out onto the balcony. I cooked Hainanese chicken rice, two kinds of curry and steamed fish, and most people chipped in food -- amok, fruits, plear threi, special soup, pork lime salad, tempura, strawberry jello. The pots and platters spilled off of the dinner table to the coffee table and the floor. I thought we would have too much food, but everyone did their part and by the end of the night I was astonished and impressed at the scraps and bones that remained.
The action

The bare bones

I wore my new Khmer outfit -- made by a local tailor to the pattern chosen by Sopheap and Somart. Even Vandong the monk came, though per his alimentary restrictions, all he had was a soybean drink.

Showing off my new outfit with the beautiful Muoy

A contingent over on the floor got their drink on, and finished 4 bottles of Randonal "power" wine, some ABC Stout, and about a dozen cans of grass jelly.

Somart, the party animal

Sarah drank her fair share of the Rum.
Rumdourl looks on, amused as usual

To honor my departure, everyone stayed later than usual. Somanee started the exodus around 8:30, and the rest followed soon after.

The girls out on the balcony.
L to R, Somart, Sok Pi, Sopheap, Van Dy, Sambath, and Muoy

By 8:45, Peace Corps Sarah and I were the only ones left. By then, magically, the leftovers were put away, the dishes were all cleared and washed, the floors mopped, and the furniture put back in its place.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Oh the crisp air of Chiang Mai

It's amazing what a difference climate makes.

I arrived in Chiang Mai around noon, off the overnight train from Bangkok. I was already elated, having actually made my train despite some serious difficulties, but stepping off the train into the crisp Northern air felt oh-so-good that I was grinning like a mad woman at all the vendors on the platform.

My ten-day jaunt to Chiang Mai happened back in mid-November. The trip kicked off the month-long countdown to my departure from Cambodia for California, and the cool dry weather was so similar to Orange County in autumn that it was impossible not to feel at home.

Upon my arrival, I took a winding route from the train station, across the entire town, through the bustling Wararot Market, where I picked up some coconut cream puffs -- soft crepe-like dough wrapped around neon green coco-cream filling, past a million wats, past a used bookstore where I happily overpaid for two paperbacks, past about 300 7-11s, and eventually all the way up Huay Keuw road to the hostel. The hostel was nestled in a small residential neighborhood aptly named Natawan Village. The houses were medium-sized brown and white cottage-y affairs that looked faintly pastoral with their thatched roofs and jaunty windows. The hostel drew your typical mix of young travelers, many single women on long-term trips, a few large groups of Irish and Scottish lads who had met up on their way, a Canadian couple, your requisite Germans, and me the only American for awhile. It was extremely clean and friendly, but definitely had a college vibe -- with photos plastered on the wall of nights out on the town and group trips to mountain lakes.

My first order of business was to hit up the local mall to pick up some toiletries and a scope out shoe stores to see about tevas for my trek near the end of the week. As I headed back into the village from my shopping expedition, the roti man had just set up his stall at the entrance to the neighborhood and he was making a first order for two teenage residents. I got to talking with them and they kindly ordered for me in Thai and then paid for my banana roti -- fried with an egg, and slathered in condensed milk and chocolate, with sugar on top.

Mm.. banana roti in the evening light

This perfect welcome boded well for the rest of my trip. That night, I went to a traditional khantoke dinner-dance show. The food was amazing -- and I was entertained not only by the dancers, but also by the very friendly couple behind me from New Jersey who only ate the fried chicken and white rice, so that they had to ask for refills five or six times during the show. The next day, I biked around town, checking out the major temples, taking photos and chatting with monks, and then spent 3.5 hours being scrubbed and rubbed and steamed until my skin glowed.

One of the hilltribe dances at the khantoke dinner.

Temple goodness

I spent one afternoon hopping from one trendy coffeeshop to the next on trendy Nimmanhaemin road. I swam 100 laps at a rooftop pool. I took a cooking class at an organic farm where I made friends with the instructor who shares my dream of someday opening her own food-related business.

Mont Blanc -- delicious coffee, yummy cakes and sweet atmosphere

Ingredients for Pad See Ew

Chiang Mai was the land of couples -- couples honeymooning, couples on year-long-round-the-world-jaunts, couples who just met, old couples, young couples, and me. Did it make me miss Jaime? Yes, like the Dickens. Did it curb my enjoyment of this beautiful town? Not a whit. (Well, maybe a whit, but not more than a smidge) This was especially apparent at the cooking course, where I was joined by a young clingy couple from Switzerland, a vibrant Danish pair, and a understate but sweet French duo from Brittany. Being without my other-half, I was paired by default with a huge, overbearing, somewhat racist Australian woman who couldn't stop talking if her life depended on it. In the course of a couple hours, I heard all about the negative qualities of her Laotian in-laws, the amazing abilities of her 3 long-distance swimmer kids, and the time her washing machine broke down and she went out that very day to buy a new one!

Some of my favorite moments on the trip included the twinkling night sky at the gorgeous Loy Krathong festival.

Loy Krathong on the river

Then there was the view from our hut during the overnight trek in Chiang Dao, the luscious green bamboo archways vaulting over our path, the cute little upside down bat in the limestone caverns.

Mist falling over the hills in the morning

There was cheering for the impromptu soccer match -- Lisu v. Lisu. And eating with bamboo chopsticks from bamboo boats carved from fresh green stalks by our guide Pol.

Our bamboo lunchware

Visiting the Sunday night market with all the amazing young artists and designers sitting on the sidewalk with their handpainted sneakers and trendy printed satchels and clever graphic tees.

Favorites from the Sunday Market

And motoing up the hill to see Wat Doi Suthep. The temple itself was overrun with tourists -- next time I'd go at dawn -- but the air on the ride up was crispy and fragrant so that you felt more alive afterwards than before.

For more photos, click here.