Siem Reap, 2013: Angkor National Museum

Day 2, 12.26.2013

sofitel angkor breakfastSofitel has the best breakfast buffets. That’s all I have to say. Highlights included amazing butter croissants (consistent with the perfect ones we found at Sofitel Wanda Beijing) and a fantastic assortment of fresh, local fruits. I had never seen fresh jackfruit cut open before! Nor have I ever tasted it. Now I’m in love with the stuff, but it is nigh impossible finding it on the East Coast.

sofitel angkor fruitJackfruit has a fascinating texture–crispy but also chewy at the same time (?). I would’ve unashamedly taken the entire platter had my mom not told me that eating too much will cause me to 上火 [shang huo]. In Chinese medicine, this indicates foods that are “inflammatory”, which personally means poor sleep and lots of acne for me.

Other fruits available were the largest green dates [奶棗 nai zao in Chinese] ever, sweet pineapple, red papaya, dragonfruit, and my favorite, mango. I could write a paragraph for each fruit, but I will refrain. I definitely recommend getting your hands on some fresh, green jujube if you ever come across it! Good ones are crisp like a Granny Smith apple without the tartness (just sweet), and the juice almost has a sort of milkiness to it. Hence the 奶 [nai or “milk”] part of its name in Chinese.

After a lazy breakfast, our tour group gathered and filed onto the bus to visit our first sight of the trip–the Angkor National Museum. Cambodia has over 2000 years of history, making it one of the oldest cultures in Southeast Asia. The written language of Cambodia originated from West India, Brahmi; it sounds like Sanskrit when spoken, which makes sense given that 95% of Cambodians practice Theravada Buddhism. Even more interestingly, Hindu and Cambodian can’t be read by the opposite party, but when read out loud, both Hindus and Cambodians can understand completely! Furthermore, most of Cambodian history is passed down through oral tradition. Not sure if that resulted from the fact that 60% of text on Cambodia’s history was written by China (and thereby heavily biased).

sofitel dining area

A taste of old-world luxury.

Our tour guide stopped us outside of the museum to point out the palm trees growing by the entrance. Sugar palms are the national tree of Cambodia and provides income to many Khmer. None of the tree is wasted: timber is used for construction and utensils; leaves are used for roofs, baskets, fans; branches can be used for fencing or thongs; and the juice and fruit are harvested for eating, cooking and making palm sugar.

IMG_0801The juices of the tree’s flowers are used for drinking, and any excess is brewed into sugar. Khmer unsurprisingly don’t use white sugar at all. Don’t blame them–palm sugar is much tastier!

Our tour guide, Steven, explained to us how the Khmer Rouge lay waste to the country during their rule. Over 3 million were murdered in the several-years’ reign, 1 million of which were Chinese. (Also interesting is that the name “Ong” comes from the Chinese surname “Wang”). Men and women who had undergone proper brainwashing would be separated into lines and whomever they stood across from was whom they were forced to marry. This was to ensure that brainwashing was passed down to their children.

Educated people were actively executed and institutions were torn down. It was really admirable how bubbly and enthusiastic, Steven was in spite of his family’s history with the Khmer Rouge. His aunt was a teacher and was thus sought out to be eliminated. However, none of her students nor her children were willing to rat her out in school, so the Khmer Rouge raided her home and killed all her children in front of her. One of the babies were thrown and smashed against the trees. Absolutely horrifying to listen to, to think about, to even begin to fathom. I forget how his aunt escaped, but I’m glad she was able to. And unfortunately, that’s the most helpful thing I can do or say.

driving through siem reapWhile it has one of the fastest growing economies today, Cambodians are struggling. The government is riddled with corruption and bribery. The longevity of an average Cambodia peaks around 60-65 years of age, due to the lack of education regarding hygiene and access to proper medical care. In fact, doctors kill more people than they save.  Land mines yet to be uncovered, dangerously pockmark the country. There is at least one land mine for every person in Cambodia, and many civilians die each year from mistakenly stepping on one.

The average Cambodian family has about 7-8 kids, to increase opportunities for income. A typical laborer makes around $60 USD/month. That’s about how much white-collar Americans spend on drinks on a thirsty Thursday night. Ironically, Cambodia used to be a very rich country because a ton of gold mines. This was heavily exploited by nearly every Western nation, as well as India and China, and left nothing for Cambodia. There is a rather dark joke in Chinese, that plays on Cambodia’s name in Chinese, 柬埔寨 [jian pu zai]. Instead of calling it 柬埔寨 [jian pu zai], Cambodia is instead nicknamed to 錢不在 [qian bu zai], or “no money here”, because all the gold was stolen.

siem reap streets

Waiting for the bus.

We began our museum tour with a statue of an Asura, a demon that represents the sinful nature of man. You’ll find as you explore the history and culture of Cambodia that much of it originates from Hinduism and Hindu culture. Many of the same gods such as Naga and Ganesh (to name a few) have a strong presence in the artworks we saw.



It was also empowering to learn that King Jayavarman II–who founded the Khmer Empire–delegated his kingdom to his two wives whenever he was away. Jayarajadevi and Indradevi implemented social systems that provided their people, both men and women alike, the right to education, property ownership, political power, and public healthcare. They distributed property to the poor, focused on developing public infrastructure, and both were actually professors who taught and educated Khmer women. In fact-checking my notes from my trip, I came across this detailed article on the contributions of Jayarajadevi and Indradevi (if you’d like to read more) here.

We also visited an exhibit that follows the journey of Siddhartha and his path to Enlightenment. If you’ve ever looked at a statue of Buddha, you’ll notice that the right hand always sits on top: this represents removal from temptation, as the left hand is considered “dirty” and the right “pure”. I’m not sure if this is why in Indian culture you only eat with your right hand? Anyone care to enlighten me 😛 ?


This beautiful sandstone piece has 1700 faeries carved into it, “cheerleaders of the deities”. Women were believed to have been borne from the sea: from the bursting bubbles of the foam and mist.

There’s also a popular statue of Siddhartha with Naga the serpent protectively wrapped around him. Naga shielded Siddhartha from the rains on his 47th of the 49 days he spend in meditation, out of respect and in return for Siddhartha protecting him from an eagle that was eating Naga’s 6 other heads in the early days of Siddhartha’s journey.

ganeshaThe last story from the day was about Ganesha: the god of fortune and money. There are many different takes on the mythology of Ganesha, but the one following is perhaps a Cambodian take on it. He ran from home as a child and brought demons back with him. His mother took him in, but kept him facing the front of the house to ward off the other demons coming towards them. His father mistook him as a demon and cut his head off. Out of devastation, the parents prayed to another god for help, who told them that Ganesha’s head must be replaced within 25 steps to live. On the 24th step, they found an elephant head. And that is why Ganesha has an elephant head.

Siem Reap, 2013: a first dinner

I started my series on Cambodia all the way back in January of this year, only to flip flop to writing about other trips. It’s always nagged at me how lonely my one post on Cambodia was–so now it’s finally time to revive this series!

Day 1: Arrival at the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra

sofitel roomThe Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra is a travel guide, textbook case of what you would imagine a luxury hotel in Southeast Asia to be like. It is, in the long line of luxury hotels off of Charles De Gaulle Road, a glorious bubble for the fortunate traveler to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the outside. There was none of that New York impatience: “is my room ready?”, “why is the line so long?” “when will my bags be brought in?”. No, this world moved at 0.6x fewer frames per second. French colonial elegance with Cambodian influence. A zephyr would peek under the legs of sheer, white curtains shyly covering poolside villas. The soft tinkling of a roneat ek–a xylophone used in Khmer classical music–danced through the air. Plump coconuts jostled jollily under the shade of glimmering, verdant fronds.

sofitel cookies

Complimentary butter cookies!

I could go on forever, but I won’t. There are more aspects of this day to fond over: dinner. After settling down, meandering through the grounds of the resort, our tour group reassembled in the lobby to head to dinner. We were shuttled down the main road through Siem Reap, Charles De Gaulle, for no more than 1/4-mile before our bus driver masterfully backed into the cozy parking lot of our restaurant. Stepping stones led the way over a small pond, past baby palms, into the warmly-lit accommodations.

As always, the carnivores and omnivores of our group were lovingly lavished with a banquet of fresh seafood plated in carved boats, and colorful arrays of satay and skewered meats. Not to say that we vegetarians were forgotten (completely)! My mom and I were treated to a few pretty tasty dishes that had surprisingly Chinese flavors, rather than Cambodian.

dinner day 1First up was a piping-hot vegetable soup with seaweed, cabbage, tomato, silken tofu, and deep-fried tofu skin. Perfect for the highly air-conditioned room we were sitting in.

Next up was deep-fried tofu strips stir-fried with bean sprouts and some sort of lily plant (?) that looked like chives or string beans. The veggies were fresh, crisp, and sweet like all vegetables should be. Not too oily either.

Dessert–which we unfortunately had to share with everyone else 😉 — was nom plai aiGlutinous rice balls filled with palm sugar and topped with copious amounts of shredded unsweetened coconut. Freshly-cut pineapple slices served on the side. Out of this world. I’ve had my fair share of glutinous rice balls [湯圓 tang yuan in Chinese], usually filled with black sesame paste, but there’s something special to be said about coconut. Anyway, I’ve linked to a recipe for nom plai ai above and may be trying it out soon myself.

I was also able to catch a glimpse of the Robam Preah Reach Trop, or Khmer classical dance, that was happening for those who decided to dine at the Sofitel. Such beauty in small movements.

khmer classical dance

Nürnberg: auf wiedersehen, Deustchland!

Day 23, 07.17.2009

off to frankfurt int'l

A solemn car ride to Frankfurt Int’l Airport

I wrote this journal entry at 4:40pm–a mere 7 hours and 20 minutes before my last day in Germany ends. It was indescribable how devastating the reality was that I was heading home. I woke up and went to school, like I had done for the past month. I met up with Abby, Kelvin, Jon, and Cory by the Schwarze Box, and all of us went up to the music room to rehearse for our performances. Not really having learned much from my choir days, I just sang a few practice songs to get warmed up. Sounded horrible.

Cory, Jon, and I decided to translate “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story into German, since that had been our group’s theme song (of sorts). I felt like I was coughing up legos or something, with all the long, German words to cram into the same rhythm. Cory and I kept messing up the same parts over and over. But probably an hour or so in, we actually sounded pretty decent. Jon was on piano, Cory sang alto and I soprano. Jon wanted the three of us to harmonize, which was hard to adjust to in such short notice. If there was anything I learned about myself from choir, was that I had no reason being in choir. Haha! No understanding of music theory/unable to follow harmonies.

Tschüß Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof! Goodbye, Nuremberg train station!

We went snooping around the music room and found a bass, violas, and a bunch of other cool instruments. Abby and Kelvin left to go swimming with the others sometime around noon. The acoustics in the room are amazing; granted, it is a music room, but we sounded so perfect in there. I really doubt the Schwarze Box, where we would be having our Abschiedsfest [“der Abschied” = a farewell, “das Fest” = celebration, “Abschiedsfest” = goodbye party], would have the same sound. We rehearsed for 4 hours, nonstop.

Amateur mistake. My throat was sore, strained, and scratchy. This did not bode well. Jon played a couple of Coldplay pieces, which was pretty on point, and A Whole New World, to which all three of us failed miserably to sing. None of us knew all the words. It went something like, “I can show you the wooooooorld~ nananana lalalala splendid!”.

Sometime in the middle of rehearsal the fire alarm went off. Everyone had to evacuate. It took about 20-30 minutes before we allowed to go back to the school. The music room was locked. So the three of us just sat on this huge pile of gym mats sitting outside the music room. We got bored, so we decided to go out and get some stuff from the supermarket. Cory got some goldfish (crackers) and Jon stole some gummy bears that were lying around on a chair at the school. They looked stale, but hey, free gummy bears [der Gummibären].

After returning to our gym mats, Jon got bored and started taking Cory’s goldfish and acting out scripts with them. Then, this woman with a ginormous growth on her body walked past. It was undeniably fascinating–all of us tried to avert our gaze from her to avoid awkward eye contact. Once she left Cory and Jon started cracking jokes about it. Really terrible jokes…(but also kind of funny). Hey, don’t judge us: you know you’d be staring too. Seriously, that growth was like the size of another, tiny human being. Cory called it a “twin”.

I think I climbed maybe 40 flights of stairs that day.


Ohmygod do I miss my host mother’s cooking. Best couscous salad ever.

I went home around 1:30pm and apparently Clara was looking for me. I had no idea they got off early today! She was home sometime around 12:00. I felt so bad about letting them worry. I had lugged several pounds of boba and milk tea from LA to Germany, specifically for the Abschiedsfest. Before we had left the US, our assignment was to bring something that represented “us”. This was mine. What I didn’t know was that you really didn’t have to bring anything to the Abschiedsfest because we were already expected to present. Well then–I guess I’ll just chug 7 pounds’ worth of boba and milk tea all by myself…no shame.

No way I was dragging all those goods through the airport again; I made about half of what I had and my host family promised to bring them when they went. I had no idea one small package of boba could make so much. It was almost enough to fill a 120 quart pot!

Clara and I had to leave early to the Schwarze Box to help set up. We had to carry out these giant folding tables and chairs from the basement of the school. Great arm work out. There wasn’t any tape at first, so we really had to improvise when we were trying to get the table covers to not fly off the table (it was windy). When the rest of the people in my group came, they were all neatly dressed in dress shirts and ties and sundresses with heels. I felt so under-dressed because all I had was a white shirt with a bit of collar, and jeans. Mir’s egal [“it’s all the same to me”]. I don’t own any dresses. Then Jon came in what looked like golf clothes and Cory just dressed as she usually did. Whew.

the best of the USAThe presentations started. Dan, Lorenzo, and Leo went first with a powerpoint called “The Best from the US”. There was a map of the US with stereotypes for each state; e.g., California was “Gays and Indian Casinos”; Wisconsin was “Cheese”; and Nevada was “Casinos, Booze, and Hookers”. It was awesome. Everyone was insulted equally–from the recently-deceased Michael Jackson (too soon) to Sarah Palin.

We were the second group to go. And it all went downhill from here. Cory came late and the rest of us were so busy helping to set up that we had no time to warm up or practice one last time. And my throat was still sore from morning rehearsals. But we were like “hell, let’s just get it over with”…so we did. It was horrifying how awful we sounded, but also damn freakin’ hilarious.

Our opening was to have Jon start out with a totally random piece, to which we would go along with until we’d “realize” that it was the wrong song, and then we’d go “JON?! WAS MACHST DU DENN?!” [what are you doing?]. Then he’d snap his fingers and shake his head and go “Ach Sheisse!” [ah, shoot!]. So over-the-top cheesy, but it worked like a charm. People were already laughing. Little did they know what they were in for…

We started singing “I Feel Pretty” and I gotta tell you, I was so off-key that I may as well just have let an elk bugle in my place. My voice had given out. Cory and I missed several notes, were out of sync, and our voices cracked. Like pre-pubescent boys, except we are not. Hell, I had no Idea why we bothered rehearsing at all. The “LALALALALALALALALALA”‘s and the “WER, WELCHE WO?” [which, what, where, who?] bits left all of us gasping for air because Jon angrily screamed them like we were a death metal band on Broadway, and it was pretty hysterical.

the stars of the show

The next platinum-record cover band right here.

Finally, Cory and I sang the last note of “I Feel Pretty” and we were expecting Jon to transition into the last few measures of “Defying Gravity”–as we had planned–but he didn’t. He just kept playing and Cory and I just stood there, nearly breathless from holding this super high note for what felt like a century. We tried to give him signals by waving our hands frantically; instead, he thought we wanted him to sing along too so he screeched like some owl-banshee-nails-on-chalk-board-thing. And that concluded our performance. The room collapsed into a paroxysm of laughter and everyone’s enjoyment was palpable. We got the loudest applause. 😛

Greylin, Meghan, Ellie and Joyce were next and they sang this German song called “Kuessen ist verboten” [kissing is forbidden] and they had small dance moves to go with it. It was really cute. Mariet and Meghan then played pieces on their flutes. They were both really good! Mariet later did a performance all by herself; she sang “For Good” to a powerpoint that she had made for her host family. It was really very sweet and nostalgic, despite the fact that all of this was happening in the “present” still.

After everyone had finished performing, we all went to get dinner! It was basically a pot luck full of amazing homemade food. Cory, Jon, and I, however, decided to grab a place to sit first so we went to the ping pong table. When we came back, almost everything was gone already. Astounding. I got some Kartoffelsalat, which I forever dream about, and some salad. For dessert I got some tiramisu, but there was a little bit too much alcohol in it for me, so I dumped it on Jon. He really enjoyed it and his eyes lit up when I told him there was alcohol in it. We’ve got a budding alcoholic here.


Our fearless and fabulous leaders with their Geschenke [presents]

All of us got together after most people were finished eating, and presented H. Birkelbach with this poster that we had bought: an enlarged photo of all of us on a jungle gym in Berlin. It was pretty cool. Then Lorenzo walked out with a towel over his waist…and dropped it. Underneath was this hideous pair of lime green pants that we had all signed earlier in the day. It was for H. Reynolds. Long story short, in the first week we were in Germany, we all passed this store called “Mister Lady” and H. Reynolds saw the pants and said “Now that just screams  I like men!” So we all decided to get him the pants because he knew he’d hate it/secretly love it. And he did. 🙂

Everyone packed up and cleaned everything; our host families went home. The rest of us, however, wanted to go to das DISKOTHEK. An absolute must in Germany. Jon, Cory, and Joyce forgot to bring their IDs with them, so Fabien’s (Cory’s host sister) mother had to “chaperone” them to get them into the disko. She did it on the condition that none of them could drink alcohol. Unsurprisingly, no one followed the rules, as was a silent rule in itself within our group. Fabien tried to stop them, but not really. Greylin was sneaking Jon her bottles that she couldn’t finish.

the diskothekThe disko itself was out of this world amazing. The theme of the month was classic rock. There was a huge electric guitar just hanging on the back wall. The music selection was fun–didn’t stick to just classic rock–and there was a good variety of genres. I sweated so much! The disko was empty at first, but by 10:30 it was packed with people, inside and out. We all shuffled out into the cool air for drinks by the bar. All 9 of us huddled together on a single sofa and just chatted. It was a great way to end the night. They played YMCA and Cory and I, like all cool kids do, did the dance.

Clara and I got home at 2am. Holy pardon-my-callousness-not-really-shit was I tired. The best kind of tired: nothing’s better than good company, good conversation, and epic proportions of fun.

my host fam and group

The amazing people of this month-long chronicle.

Bis später, Germany! Ich will dich vermissen, aber zweifellos, wird ich zurückkommen! So long, Germany! I will miss you, but without a doubt, I’ll be back! Thanks for the memories. ❤

Würzburg: a palace visit with wine

Day 22, 07.16.2015

Second to last full day in Germany. Was not looking forward to going back to the US at all. There was so much left to learn, to do, to see, and to eat.

view from the river cruise

View from our river cruise.

I woke up half an hour earlier than I needed to because I got the meeting time wrong. So unfortunate. I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof pretty early and wandered up and down the halls, soaking up all the last bits of German I could. Side: it really bothers me how seat covers are rarely used in Germany…do people just sit down with their bare bottoms? Do they not worry what may have splashed on or who may have thrown up/bled/stepped on it?!


The sun broke through!

We rode the train to Würzburg, which is a little over an hour of a ride. We played President and I absolutely demolished everyone. Everyone told me that they didn’t “get” my strategy and wondered if I even had any, but that’s the beauty of it: I don’t. I run with my gut and win. When we finally arrived in Würzburg, the first thing we did was go on a river cruise. It was a mostly cloudy day, but the lush waves of vineyards ripe with bounty could not be tempered.

potato pancakes with cream sauce

Genuinely salivating just looking at this photo.

After walking around a bit (and holding my pee for literally the longest time), we finally went to eat lunch. And I was finally able to relieve myself. There is hardly a better feeling in this world. I ordered a dish called Kartoffelkuchen [“potato pancakes”]. Like Jewish latkes. Shallow-fried, thin, crispy grated potatoes smashed into pancake form. Mine came with a gravy boat of Champignonsoße [“mushroom sauce”]. It was cream of mushroom soup, but more condensed and thick. I drowned my Kartoffelkuchen in it. Absolutely phenomenal: I’ve never forgotten this dish and reminisce every so often about it.

We played more cards as we ate. And for some reason, we all started speaking in random accents: from Russian to Australian to British. My friends approved of my (terrible) English accent, and one tried to take a video of me. Except I hate being photographed in any form. So. Awkward. None of the other three were able to finish their lunches, so they shared–more like dumped onto–food with Herr Reynolds and the Gastgeschwistern [“host siblings”]. Clara and Laura were like locusts and ravaged the leftovers. It was astounding.

white wine

Wurzburger white wine [der weiß Wein].

All aboard! We continued to sail down the river [der Fluß] to reach our next destination. Before we began boarding, there was a small window of 5 minutes’ time. So Jon bolted back to this ice cream shop we had walked past earlier, with a special of 6 scoops for €5. A fool’s errand. It was 15-20 minutes from the dock to that shop. We weren’t expecting him to make it back.

Just as we started boarding, the lunatic returned with 6 scoops of straight chocolate. No other flavors. The games of cards continued–this time accompanied with the classiness of white wine. I was not accustomed to the taste of any alcohol at this point, so I sort of gagged on it. It was cheap wine too; yet Würzburg is supposed to have some of the best wine in Europe. I ended up giving it to Clara. Jon and Cory finished their glasses. Jon looked like that red balloon on Airheads candy wrappers. Apparently he’s allergic to white wine, but not red wine.

residenz gardens

The gardens of the Residenz.

The Residenz was our last stop of the day and it was amazing. We all stopped to buy Spaghettieis on the way. I’m going to miss that stuff so much. Jon got an additional 5 scoops of straight up chocolate ice cream. A total of 11 scoops of chocolate ice cream in a single day. Gross.

walking through wurzburg

A relaxed stroll through the town before we realized we were late for the train.

Pictures weren’t allowed at the Residenz, which was a total bummer. There was a stunning fresco on the ceiling by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, called Apollo and the Continents. Pictures don’t do it justice–so much more expansive and vibrant in person. Every room in that museum is breahtaking. Nearly every inch of the palace is adorned with marble and gold; it sounds gaudy, but it was in fact very tasteful.

Each room had its own color theme. Even the details in the wooden floorboards were astounding: mosaics, except with wood, of complex geometrical shapes. One room contained the bed that Napoleon slept in. The signs clearly stated no touching was allowed, but my spiteful high school self wanted vengeance for not being able to take photos, so I touched Napoleon’s bed. Hah! Jon snuck in his camera by putting it in his pants pocket. We all had to check in our bags and jackets before entering the museum, and girl pants have the most impractical pockets. I had no chance. The guards would’ve seen me.

The Residenz

A shot of the Residenz, my delightful Spaghetti Eis, and cards on the train afterwards.

After maybe about 1-2 hours, we left the Residenz and collectively realized that we were really late for our train. There was so much adrenaline pumping through all of us as we booked it to the bus stop; ran to the next bus stop; jumped off the bus; sprinted through the city and across S-Bahn tracks; hurtled through the entirety of the Würzburg Hauptbahnhof; high-jumped two flights of stairs; and stumbled onto the platform, where they were just blowing the whistles for departure. I felt like I was some high-speed chase suspect. Totally deadbeat. But there was still energy to play more card games on the way home.

Finally made it home to Roßtal. It was such an exhausting day and the ratatouille that my host mother made was everything that I needed. Comfort food. Zucchini, tomato, and onions left to simmer for an hour or so in vegetable broth, cooked until tender. Served over rice. Mmmmm.


This was so good. My last homemade dinner [das Abendessen] in Germany.

As I rolled into bed, I was forcefully hit with the realization that my dreams lately had become so…boring. Sort of an odd thing to introspect on, but I’m used to incredibly wild, nonsensical dreams, every night–everything from being chased by the CIA to fighting dragons to running over alligators on the bayou with a car. Not even exaggerating–the mind is a mysterious jungle.

Point is, for the month that I was in Germany, most nights I had nary a dream, let alone a fantastical one. And what I realized was that my life in Germany was my fantastical dream. Sure, it wasn’t filled with fantasy or mythology and blockbuster-worthy adventure; but it was so much more exciting because it was so physically tangible how much my world had expanded and how much I had grown up.

Not even the conjures of my mind could compete with the wonder and technicolor that my life was. So to say that I was “not looking forward” to returning to the US is a severe understatement–I don’t even know if I can still properly express the emptiness that thought filled me with. It meant a return to the daily grind, the norm, the expected. I lulled myself to sleep with the bittersweet content of having known adventure, and then having to leave it behind.