Maria Holland

Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Elephant in the Road

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Hmm, I think I like jetlag!  On the way home from Asia it’s a justification for my laziness, and on the way over, it’s the only time in my entire life that I wake up early!

I got up at 6:30; I had woken up earlier but stayed in bed biding my time until breakfast was open.  The hotel provided rice, fried green vegetables, a dish with sprouts, egg pancake, fried eggs, bread, butter, pineapple, and OJ.  Not bad!  It was a lot like Chinese food but all-around less flavorful, like they don’t know about salt or something.

I spent the morning reading Harry Potter in my bed.  I bought my Chinese copy of the first book, reasoning that it’s the smallest book that I could read for an entire week and not finish.  I read about 10 pages (out of 200) on the plane over and another 10 this morning.  It’s going pretty well – I’ve learned a lot of new words by context (magical words like wand, robe, owl, etc.).  The hardest things are adverbs – “She said, tempestuously/viciously/amusedly/etc.” – but the story is easily understood without them.

We met downstairs at 10 and set out for our first real look at Cambodia.  Our hotel is right off a main road (Monivong) so we started there.  Our first task was to get a cellphone for Michelle.  The guy behind the counter knew some English, certainly enough to understand “SIM card” and tell us a price, but Michelle’s other questions proved too difficult.  On a whim, I went up and asked “你会说中文?” and he responded “会” – he spoke Chinese!  I was so excited to be useful.

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Questions answered, we bought a SIM card and continued on.  After a short walk, we came to the Central Market.  We walked through the food section first.  They had a lot of fruit that I missed from China – I was so excited to buy tiny oranges again!  The hygiene in the meat section was particularly disturbing, with feet on the cutting counters, for instance, but whatevs.

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From there, we walked across the street to the mall, where we continued our shopping and people-watching.  We went up to the top floor (of 6?) which offered both a panoramic view of the city and the opportunity to watch some teenage guys learning to rollerskate.

Maria - Phnom Penh Panorama

We had lunch at a pizza place in the mall.  David said that it was legitimately good pizza, but I think that outside of an Asian country it would be the rough equivalent of Mazzio’s.  Just not far enough removed from good Western food to lower my standards that much . . .

During lunch, I looked at the Khmer (Cambodian language) phrase book that I had bought at the market.  I was reminded of how difficult it can be to start a language, at that early point when even the Anglicized pronunciation is impossible.  Um, does anyone else know how to say “flour” in a sound London accent, or what “o” as in “corn” or “dawn” sounds like?

We stopped by the supermarket afterwards to buy provisions for the days in Svay Rieng when the food will [allegedly] be horrible.  I was way impressed with their selection, especially when compared to similar places in China.  They had so many spices!!  I would have killed for that last year . . . I also appreciated the surprisingly good selection of sparkling grape juice for our New Years celebration.

We tuk-tuk-ed back to the hotel to drop off our stuff, then took a tuk tuk tour around town.  Phnom Penh is beatiful!  There are ornate temple-shaped buildings everywhere, and the main thoroughfare is a beautiful green boulevard centered around the Independence Monument.

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(This was taken from a moving tuk tuk.  Can we take a moment to appreciate my new camera?!)

My favorite part was the riverfront, which was lined with flags from countries all over the world.

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Our tour ended at Wat Phnom, the main temple in Phnom Penh.  (By the way, Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious structure in the world, is not in Phnom Penh and thus we will not be seeing it.)

The temple was really beautiful and it was the Golden Hour (as the sun was setting) so we posed for a group photo.

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John and Rick took the opportunity to ride an elephant for $20.

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This turned out to mean a ride around the entire temple . . . in the street.  The elephant just merged into traffic with the cars and tuk tuks, no big deal.

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Back at the hotel, Kim and Rick and I got massages – one hour, $6.  It was not the best massage I’ve ever gotten, as it was slightly awkward, but I enjoyed watching the Asian music videos anyway.

For dinner, we walked to a Japanese restaurant on Monivong.  I had sushi and tempura – good, but really expensive ($13).  Michelle and Garret went to bed but the rest of us played Loaded Questions for a while.  Then David and John went to bed, leaving just us young’uns to greet the new year.

We retired to our room and played a game of Catan, which I won about 20 minutes before midnight.

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With the game over, we decided to turn on the TV and try to find a countdown of some sort.  We found a recording of fireworks from the hour before in Taipei and Hong Kong, but right before midnight they cut to commercial!  We frantically scanned through the available channels looking for something remotely festive, but ended up on a Danish news station as the clock struck 12:00.  It was moderately ridiculous . . .

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Happy New Year?

Adventuring Towards Phnom Penh!

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2010 at 11:37 pm

I had to wake up at 4 to be at the airport in time.  We got there nice and early because of the new screening system – the line was long but I moved through quickly and was not groped.  Victory!

The plane to LA was very full.  Apparently Wisconsin is playing TCU in the Rose Bowl (which, apparently, is in California.  Who knew??) so the plane was a sea of red.  I slept the entire time, which was 4 hours but felt like 40.

I hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan (well, fleece jacket).  It is my personal opinion that any dreams you have when landing at LAX are immediately killed by the oppressive grayness of the place.  I exited the gray building and walked through the gray drizzle into another gray building, where I got my next boarding passes and found my travel buddies! 

The travel team is 7 people, and we converged on LAX from 4 different airports on 5 different flights.  It was a miracle, but we all hooked up according to plan!  Besides me, we have:

  • Kim, a freshman ME poo girl
  • Rick, a sophomore EE
  • Michelle, our graduate student mentor
  • Garret, Michelle’s husband and a EE grad student
  • David, a pastor in Tulsa who is our contact with the new project site
  • John, a pastor in Tulsa who is traveling with our group on his own sort of assessment trip

[Side story: I texted everyone “Hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan” upon landing.  Michelle, who is old and was traveling with the other oldsters, told me that she was totally confused by this.  Kim, who is young and hip, responded correctly with the next line of the song – as did three other friends.  Even my dad replied with “Welcome to the land of fame excess, am I gonna fit in?” although I’m pretty sure he had to Google it.]

I got some food in the airport – breakfast, because LA insisted that it was still morning.  It was definitely afternoon where I had come from, but it was the middle of the night where I was headed so I just ate what they gave me.

The trans-Pacific flight was really empty – I had the emergency exit row to myself, so I basically had enough room to grow crops.  I am generally a huge critic of in-flight movies; you watch them because they’re there, not because they’re good.  But they actually had really good selection on this flight!  I think I watched 5 movies on the way over there – The Social Network, Wall Street Where Money Never Sleeps, Despicable Me, The Switch, and Step Up 3.  Okay, the last two were airplane-quality movies but Despicable Me was amazing! 

I slept the last two hours before we landed in Seoul.  We had a really short connection, so we literally ran through the airport and on to our next flight.  That one was much more crowded.  It was also the longest leg that I’ve ever flown within Asia – over 5 hours! 

We landed in Phnom Penh around 11 p.m. local time.  It was really humid there, which was a shock after seeing snow on the ground in Seoul!  I was really impressed with the airport – it was bright and pretty and easy to navigate with good [English] signage. 

Cambodia issues visas on invitation, so we filled out forms, handed over our passports, and then waited in line to pay and pick up our passports with visas.  There were about 8 workers sitting behind the visa desk, so it went pretty quickly.  John said that there would only be one guy working in the US, and I responded that in China there would be 8 guys but only one would be working.  What a pleasant welcome to Cambodia! 

Mades, our Cambodian contact, guide, and translator, met us at the airport and drove us to our hotel.  My first impressions so far:

  • It’s very clean – there is trash on the road but it’s all in very neat piles so I think it’s waiting to be picked up. 
  • The street food looks so tempting.  Why can’t I eat it?!?
  • Approximately 1/3 of the signs are in Chinese, but most of those are in English as well. 
  • Cambodians are quite dark skinned.  I love that they appear to be embracing that, as opposed to the irrational efforts that Chinese and Americans sometimes make to change the natural and logical color of their skin. 

Adventuring Towards: Cambodia

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I leave for Cambodia in a few hours.

Cambodia, not China. 

This is weird! 

I’m going as part of a SENEA assessment trip at our new project in Svay Rieng, Cambodia.  We’ll spend 7 or 8 days on the ground, getting to new the new project site at Multiple Blessings Orphanage.  The itinerary includes water testing, mapping, a survey of local shops, conversations with people at the orphanage . . . as well as visits to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, the Angkor Wat (largest religious structure in the world), and a celebration of the new year. 

Additionally, I must say that my company is pretty awesome.  There’s Michelle, our mentor, and her husband; plus Rick and Kim, the wonder kids and the freshman and sophomore future of SENEA.

I’m pretty pumped.

But yeah, it’s super weird.

It’s my first visit to a country whose language I don’t speak in over two years.

My first real visit to an Asian country besides China!

My first time traveling internationally without checked luggage.

My first time traveling without a computer in over three years.

It’s going to be interesting!


This trip is nearly a perfect repeat of my very first trip to China.  Rewind to the summer of 2007: It was an 8-day assessment trip.  There were three of us students and our mentor.  And we didn’t know a damned thing about China! 

Now to the present: I’ve been to China 4 times, spent more time there than in my parents’ home since starting college, and speak Chinese comfortably. 

Fast-forward three years: What will have happened?  Will Rick and Kim be as familiar with Cambodia as I am with China? 


I can’t decide which is weirder, the idea that I once knew as little about China as I now know about Cambodia, or the idea of SENEAsians someday having as much experience in Cambodia as I have had in China. 

What’s In Chinese Medicine?

In Uncategorized on December 25, 2010 at 11:19 pm

During my year in China, I had several encounters with TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine).  Funny thing  – no matter if it was prescribed for asthma, diarrhea, or an infection, it always smells the same.  I swear, I could smell TCM from a mile away!

It works sometimes, though.  It cleared up my infection and I didn’t die of diarrhea, so I really can’t be too harsh on it. 

But I did have one rather bad reaction to some traditional Chinese medicine.  As I wrote in my journal the day after the Chinese New Year last year:

I’m not feeling too great today.  I started shaking last night when I got home and it hasn’t gone away, almost 24 hours later.  It’s the kind of thing that feels like my entire body is vibrating.  It usually happens when I take my fast-acting inhaler too much, but I haven’t really been taking it that much recently, and not at all in the last 36 hours.  I’m not really sure what’s going on; the family gave me some Chinese medicine last night and I’m wondering if it had something in it – crack, possibly.  

Later, as a sort of control, I took a small amount of the medicine again and had the same, although slightly less intense, reaction. 

Now, months later, I think I finally understand.  A friend lent me a book when I got back to school, “Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter”.  Mere pages into it, I come across this:

For many centuries, ma huang was used by Chinese herbal doctors to treat asthma and general malaise.  Eventually, scientists working in the West identified and extracted the key component of the plant, ephedrine.  This was then imported back into China in its purified form and sold to pharmacies prescribing western medicine.

Ephedrine?  That sounds familiar, in the same way that MSG and ketamine sound familiar – not 100% sure what they are, but I was raised knowing they were bad.

According to Wikipedia:

Ephedrine is a sympathomimetic amine commonly used as a stimulant, appetite suppressant, concentration aid, decongestant, and to treat hypotension associated with anaesthesia.

Oh yeah, ephedrine was in all those weight-loss drugs that were banned.  It’s also similar (chemically and otherwise) to methamphetamines. 

Well, I figure that about explains the reaction, doesn’t it? 

The funny thing is, I don’t have any recollection of my asthma improving after I took it!