Taiwan - Taipei

Well...what a vastly different world this is.

Patrick and I arrived in Taipei yesterday afternoon. We had originally planned to fly here from Saigon, but flew from Bangkok instead. Somewhat regretably, we never made it to Vietnam and our stay in Cambodia was incredibly short. We sacrificed those places in order to stay a bit longer on Koh PhaNgan.

So...now that I am here, in a place that feels much more familiar in it's noises and big city atmosphere, I can finally sit back and contemplate all that I've seen in the last two months.

I feel like I have so much to say that has previously been ommitted from my entries in a desire to avoid the negative aspects of my travels. To be perfectly forthright...I read back on all that I've shared thus far, and I know that there is so much missing from those brief accounts. Some of them even seem a bit forced and flat affected.

Realizing this...I've decided to pen an entry of an entirely different kind.

When I boarded that plane on September 3rd, I had little idea what to expect. I knew that it would be 'life-changing'...but I could never have guessed just what that really meant.

First...I need to reitterate that I have, indeed, enjoyed the places I've been, and I could not have asked for a better travel companion. Only now do I realize how many levels of learning I was diving into when I began all of this.

I think it took me awhile to accept what I've been feeling. And, admittedly...Cambodia clarified things in a way that simply doesn't allow me to ignore it any longer.

I had hoped that I would learn wonderful things about the cultures that I visited, instead...I experienced little more than what they present for the tourists. Even beyond that...I've seen how disgustingly money-driven the entire world seems to be. Granted...I've only been to a very few countries, but what I've seen is depressing. The worst of it...the final sobering slap in the face for me, came the moment I crossed the border from Thailand into Cambodia.

It didn't take long to understand that these people are severely impoverished. Yet, unlike Laos, where they have virtually nothing but are forever smiling and friendly, these people seemed hopeless and bent on nothing but pulling dollars from our pockets. As I sat at the border crossing, waiting for my visa to be finalized, I noticed a young girl. She was perhaps nine or ten, beautiful but incredibly weary in her stature. Wrapped around her shoulder was a sturdy piece of fabric carrying a tiny sleeping baby. At first...this struck me as very sweet and I even snapped a few photos of her, but just a short while later...I encountered a similar child, even younger this time, also carrying a baby that could not have been more than four or five months old. Unlike the first girl, this child seemed completely ignorant of the infant that she carried. She approached us, just as numerous other tiny children did, all begging for money. I can't tell you how much my heart sank when I saw that poor infant, so lethargic, eyes rolling back in it's head, it's tiny arms flailing about as the older child walked from tourist to tourist begging for 'one dollar'. They all say the same thing as they follow you for what seems like forever. They repeat it endlessly, this constant background buzz of the nearly inarticulate plea...'onedollaronedollaronedollar'.

What I didn't know then, but I quickly discovered, is that they use their children in Cambodia. They send them out...hoping to capitalize on the 'cute' factor and banking on the probability that a foreigner is more likely to shell out cash to an obviously suffering child then to a grown man or woman. I've also recently learned that they actually drug their children so they can drag them around all day without them crying. Honestly...from what I saw...I believe it.

By the end of our one day at the Angkor Temples...Patrick and I had had enough. Everywhere you go, they want to sell you something and they are INCREDIBLY pushy about it. Little children swarm you at every corner carrying tiny buddha statues, postcards, bracelets...shoving them in your face and trying to force you to buy. Even when I honestly told them that I simply didn't have any money...they scowled at me, poked at my purse and said...'you have money in there'.

What disgusts me the most, is the fact that I know these children have parents some where who send them off to work like this EVERYDAY. And they all speak excellent english, because they learn it from the tourists.

It's really difficult for me to properly explain how deeply affected both Patrick and I were by what we experienced there and elsewhere. It just makes me incredibly sad that this is part of what I'm taking away from it.

I have to add that the Angkor temples were awe-inspiring, particularly Ta Prohm, the only one that has remained unrestored. But even my appreciation for that is tinged with disappointment.

Humans used to build incredibly beautiful things. Now...we just wrap fences around those things and charge a pretty penny to see them. The Angkor Temples are the pride of the country, but they are privately owned...so the profits don't even benifit the Cambodian people.

Again...I feel as though I'm reaching to portray things that I simply haven't the words for. I'm sure that...as the days pass, I'll find a better way to explain what it is that I'm feeling.

I can say that I have gained such an unforseen appreciation for what I have. After seeing the conditions these people live in....and the TRASH that is absolutely everywhere...I know that I really have nothing to complain about. I've had it easy. My minor setbacks in life don't even begin to compare to what these people face every day.

So...that's a start. I have so much more swirling about in my overwhelmed little head, but I have but a few hours left with Patrick and don't want to squander them venting through my fingertips.

I'll write again once I reach Tokyo sometime next week.