How to Torture a Traveler, Part 3

Because my luck is that bad.

I used to love traveling, like the specific act of travel. The thrill you get driving to the airport, successfully passing through security, watching people and trying to match them to their destination.

Well, no more!

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Super flattering, post-travel photo courtesy of my dad…

To be fair, I wasn’t as emotionally stable during this last leg between Siem Reap and Orlando as I normally am. I was lugging literally all of my belongings in two HUGE bags and had just said farewell to my best-est friends without knowing when I’d see them again. After checking in and finding a seat in Siem Reap’s ever changing international airport I opened up the farewell trinkets and letters my friends sent me off with. I was simultaneously laughing out loud and blubbering like a baby and boarded my first of many flights thoroughly emotionally drained.

On the bright side, I’ve traveled this route so frequently I am very familiar with all of the airports and know exactly where to go for food and the best nap locations. In Shanghai, I took up residence on a familiar row of seats, set an alarm and waited for the transit desk to open. Oh yea, it was 4 a.m.

Everything started out so well and I dared to dream that I may make it out of this travel experience sans extra (emotional) baggage. I was first in line through security and found an ideal napping space next to my gate and a handy water cooler, which I swear was clearly labeled “Drinking Water”. So I filled up my Nalgene, drank half of it, and settled in for sleep.

An hour or so later I woke up feeling, well, not so great. I was so tired from the previous red-eye plus having not actually slept the night before I departed, that I could hardly keep my eyes open. But I knew I had to wake up, something did not feel right.

My stomach rumbled. I located Starbucks and crossed my fingers that a hot cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin was all my wishy-washy belly wanted. I nibbled as much as I could handle and decided to try and sleep it off.

Barely able to rouse myself for my flight I zombie-trudged to the gate all the while willing myself to keep down the bits of blueberry I’d managed to consume. Nausea came in waves but I held it together like a master of mystery illness until I was all buckled in, ready as I ever would be for this 14+ hour flight.

Just as I began to believe I’d won my intestinal battle another wave washed over me.

“Nope!” I said to myself, less quietly than I had hoped, and reached for the sick bag.

My mind flashed back to the judging looks I had given the passengers on my previous hell-flight as they had emptied their stomachs all around me. Was this karma? Why does karma always pay me back for the bad things? What about the good things, Karma? Karma, why are you such a bitch?

Three bags later the flight attendants were getting a bit tired of my pleas for more ginger ale, especially since I kept getting weaker and had resorted to using the call button.

“Can I get some more sick bags?” I asked to blank expressions.

I mimed vomiting.

“Yes, here.” The attendant handed me a stack.

Eventually, the poison water (it had to have been the water) worked its way through my system and left me even more exhausted, but able to sleep/listen to Harry Potter for the rest of the flight.

Given my recent penance, I thought surely karma would leave me alone now.

While trudging through the Toronto airport, all of my belongings stacked precariously on one of those wheelie carts, I heard an ominous flap flop flap flop. I pulled out of pedestrian traffic as best I could and examined my shoes: my favorite, pseudo-Doc Martens purchased for $8 at a store selling second-hand clothing shipped from Japan, which had seen me through many a bartending shift and been a protective barrier against cockroaches and spiders alike. The sole of my left shoe hung limply away from where it was intended to be. I looked at my sock, visible through the gaping hole and tried to remember where I had packed my other shoes.

After rummaging through all of my bags I located a pair of moccasins (also purchased at the Japanese second-hand store) and lovingly placed my boots in the nearest bin.

“So long, my loves…” I whispered as I walked away.

Stripped down to my last layer after working up a sweat during Operation: Shoe Location, I lugged my bags towards my last customs check.

“You must be going somewhere warm, eh?” The agent asked, eyeing my tank top, which was obviously not suitable for the outside Toronto winter.

“Yes sir, I’m going home.”

20 Everyday, Expat Stresses Of 20-Something Female Life

I had a lot of fun writing my previous post outlining the struggles of being a 20-something living in Southeast Asia. Today I came across another fun article: 20 Everyday, First World Stresses Of 20-Something Female Life. So I give you:

20 Everyday, Expat Stresses Of 20-Something Female Life

1. To blow out or to work out…

Last time I attempted a ‘blow out’ my landlord’s mother freaked out about the sound. My landlord frantically knocked on my door, “Amanda! Are you ok? Is that your hair-drying machine? My mother didn’t know what it was!”

Wondering whether or not to exercise in my air/con-less apartment while it’s 95 degrees with 112% humidity is also an internal battle I fight daily.

2. Choosing what to eat for dinner

20-cent noodles. Every time. Extra MSG, please.

3. Responding to a flirty text message

Next time I receive one I’ll let you know.

4. Out-of-control hair

Come on, is there any other kind?

5. Periods.

The day you run out of the tampons you brought with you from the States is a dark, dark day. Not only will you have to spend a million dollars to get a brand you recognize (if you can find them) but you’ll get the third degree from every Cambodian woman in the store: “What are those for?” Followed by intense giggling.

6. Sexytime

Hahahahahahaha ………. ………. ………..

7. Whether this dress will go on sale because paying full price is a no-go

Paying full price is for the timid who don’t know how to bargain. $10 for that dress, you say? Bring. It. On.

8. Far too many after-work activities

This one is a bit legitimate. When town is only a 10-minute cycle ride away and it’s full of fancy hotels and restaurants putting on special deals every day of the week to attract tourists, not taking advantage is just dumb. Where else in the world can you waltz into a five-star hotel and not be told to hit the bricks?

9. Being alone… forever

Another valid fear. When I’m trying to save money I end up eating in a lot. By the time the weekend rolls around I can be pretty starved for human interaction.

10. There isn’t enough time to get everything done

This really isn’t a problem in Southeast Asia; everyone just kind of goes with the flow. Also, when your seasons consist of hot and dry and hot and wet, keeping track of passing time is difficult. What do you mean it’s July ALREADY!?

11. Friends getting married

No, I will not fork out $1,000+ to fly home for your wedding. #sorryimnotsorry

12. Work

Everyone stresses about work and money, no matter where they live.

13. Grooming

I don’t understand the question… I was my hair twice a week, isn’t that enough?

14. Overanalyzing

To buy a refrigerator or not? I could by cheese and not have to eat it all in one sitting! But my electric bill will go up. Cold water in the morning would be fantastic! How would I even get it home? Cheese. Would I really save money eating out? Cheese. I made it six months without one and did fine. I did eat an entire package of camembert and called it dinner. Twice.

15. Wondering if everyone just saw some booty

Have you ever tried to cycle in a skirt? At least you aren’t one of the table-dancing backpackers at Angkor What. Sometimes I think they honestly forgot to get dressed before going out in public. Poor things.

16. Just wanting to sit on the couch and watch “Orange Is the New Black”

 

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17. Errands

Oh look, it’s raining. I guess I’ll have to wait and buy toilet paper in November.

18. Social media

a.k.a. the only way to stay up-to-date on your friends’ lives back home.

19. Social life

Four vacancies are about to open up in our circle of friends. Please send your applications to stayinglongerthan6months@wecantemotionallyhandleitanymore.com

20. Health

Please don’t be dengue, please don’t be dengue, please don’t be dengue…

The Accident, Part One: That Sucks

As more time piles up since I lost (or won, not really sure how that works?) a game of chicken with a motorcycle it’s getting easier to laugh about it. I purposefully waited to write about the accident because I didn’t want to come across as anti-Cambodia or anything. It was also very difficult to type with a full-on arm cast…

The blindingly bright headlight rushed closer, brakes squealed followed by a sickening pop and crunch.

Just breath. I chanted to myself over and over while I crawled out from under my bicycle and towards the sidewalk. Mere hours before I was explaining to someone, “I’m just having one of those days when I can’t help but smile because I actually get to live here!” Now I was crouched on the curb cradling my hand gasping for breath. I may have screamed, I don’t really remember.

Immediately Ariel was by my side and just like in the movies a man rushed over stating, “I’m a doctor!” Still shaking from shock I told the man what happened:

“I think I hit my head but I don’t think I have a concussion. I’m coherent. I know who I am and what today is. I think I broke my hand.”

He felt around my skull and asked if there was any pain. Of course, as soon as he asked if I felt nauseated or had blurry vision I wanted to throw up and started to feel dizzy. As quickly as he had appeared he was gone.

In a matter of minutes Ariel had locked my mangled bike to hers and flagged down a tuk tuk to take us to Royal Angkor International Hospital. The rest of the evening passed in a shock-induced haze. The x-rays revealed a fractured thumb and every time someone walked into the treatment room they winced when they saw my face.

“It’s not that bad,” Ariel assured me.

I tried to lay as still as possible while the nurse cleaned up my cuts and scrapes and another medical team pulled my arm back and forth discussing in rapid Khmer the best way to immobilize it.

The whole hospital visit only lasted a couple of hours and before we knew it Ariel and I were back in the tuk tuk headed for her apartment. It was a restless night for both of us.

The next morning, both too physically and psychologically scarred to cycle anywhere, we wandered the city in search of distractions. I think we both almost fell asleep during our pedicures.

Watching people’s reaction to my road-rash face and arm in a sling became like a game. Some smiled sympathetically, others looked concerned. The best reaction though came from one of Ariel’s young students. We passed a group of them playing in a courtyard and they called us over to say hi. As soon as we walked one of the little boys immediately stopped his game and ran up to the gate. His face lit up and he pointed to his own casted-arm in a sling. “Same, same!” I smiled. He laughed then ran to rejoin his friends.

Most people we passed during our stroll asked me what had happened. After hearing about the accident they’d shake their heads and tell me how sorry they were that it happened. “Cambodians drive way too fast,” several told me.

While their sympathy was appreciated our waiter at the Blue Pumpkin really nailed it. “What happened?” he asked after delivering our enormous ice cream sundaes.

I gave him the short version: I was hit by a moto.

He sighed, “That sucks.”

Indeed.

Shout-outs:

I never would have made it with out my friend Ariel. She went above and beyond to take care of me and even took my bicycle to get fixed while I was at work!

Becca is my hospital hero! She came all the way down on a Saturday night to bring us a credit card and bestowed upon me her vast knowledge of the Royal Angkor International hospital system.

I definitely didn’t have any important papers with me at the time and Sarah and Jenna were my saviors sending me my insurance policy information. Another thanks to Sarah for going with me to my follow-up appointment!

I also don’t know what I would have done without Manin, who brought my passport all the way from the PEPY office and helped translate for the police officer AND went with us to the police station the next day to pick up our bicycles.

Many thanks to Sreyneang who is always looking out for my safety and looked really concerned when I told her I was thinking about cycling to dinner.

Pre-thank you to Dur who is going with me to the hospital tomorrow morning.

Many thanks to everyone for all of your prayers and support! It definitely could have been a lot worse.

Coming soon: How to stay positive when you find out you have to have surgery in Cambodia.

The Visa Debacle, Part Two: Walk the Line

I knew I should have slept more. Somehow I reasoned staying out late the night before wouldn’t be a problem since I was just going to be sitting on a bus and standing in lines. Wrong. Cycling towards the travel agency I tried my best to shake to cobwebs from my mind and managed to stop for a Blue Pumpkin croissant. If I was going to be sleep deprived I sure as hell wasn’t going to be hungry too.

My friend Mike was already sitting in front of the closed travel agency. Both a bit bleary-eyed we waited for, well, we weren’t really sure what we were waiting for… Shortly after 7:30 a.m. a tuk tuk screeched to a halt in front of us.

“Get in!” The driver waved.

Mike and I looked at each other, shrugged, and climbed into the back. Weaving through the early morning traffic the driver stopped in front of a mob of haggard travelers. We joined the weary hoard and waited for our next move. Around 9 a.m. our packed bus chugged towards Poi Pet and the Thai border, right on schedule.

I tried my best to sleep during the three and a half hour ride but the young, giant German backpacker next to me was having more luck. Gradually his large frame tilted closer and closer until he had practically taken up half of my seat as well as his own. A part of me wished he would fall asleep on me because then it would be less awkward if I fell asleep on him…

The bus rumbled to a stop and Mike and I climbed out, blinking in the bright sunlight. “I guess we should figure out where to go…” I mumbled.

“I was going to ask you that,” Mike stated.

We decided following the mass of backpackers was our best bet and joined the group lining up under the sign reading: Departures. My heart pounded faster the closer I got to the front and was practically beating out of my chest by the time my toes inched up to the bright red line painted on the floor.

Without saying a word I handed over my passport and waited.

“You overstay,” the immigration officer stated matter-of-factly.

“I know.” I was getting really tired of having it thrown in my face. I watched him add up the number of days. “Can I just pay the fine?” I asked pulling out a very large bill wondering if I would be morally against bribing if it came to that.

“Not here.” He pointed to another officer who quickly ushered my out of the line and across the street to the Arrivals building.

At this point I just wanted to put everything behind me. I slapped a smile on my face and nodded when this new officer reminded me again that I had overstayed.

“14 days,” he told me.

“Actually, it’s 16…”

He paused then smiled. “Yes, yes, 16 days.” He did some more calculations, “$70.”

“I think it’s $80.” I kicked myself a bit for correcting him but I didn’t want to take any chances, plus this officer was actually being nice to me. After handing over my money he pointed in the direction of the Thai border and told me to cross over then come back to pick up my new visa.

Exiting the building I scanned the crowd for Mike.

“I thought they’d taken you away,” he said after I spotted him.

Together we rejoined the backpack herd and worked our way through line after line. It didn’t take us long to work out a line-standing system. In each new building we split up to maximize the possibility we’d find the fastest line. Every time we approached a border control desk I held my breath until I heard the firm thunk, thunk, thunk of the officer’s stamp on my passport.

Shortly after 3 p.m. I reentered Cambodia as a legal resident, exhausted, hungry, cranky, but LEGAL!

While we were wandering about the shuttle bus station a man approached Mike about hiring a taxi to take us home.

“It’s only $5 more than a bus ticket and takes half the time,” he told us. We didn’t take much convincing.

Shortly after we followed a different man to a car, got in, and promptly fell asleep. Not even halfway through our journey I stirred long enough to realize we had stopped. Our driver was purchasing a sandwich at a roadside stall while the woman who had been in the front seat was passing around her baby.

Suddenly convinced we weren’t in a real taxi and that our border buddy just paid some guy to drive us to Siem Reap, I pretended to be asleep. Soon enough we were back on the road and I nodded off for real, lulled to sleep by the Cambodian pop music soundtrack.

About an hour later we bounced into town and merged into the city’s gridlock. After unsuccessfully trying to explain to our driver we weren’t staying in a hotel and needed him to drop us off where we left our bicycles he pulled over, opened the back door and motioned for us to get out. As I was trying to figure out where we were and determine if I could get us back on foot another man rushed over, exchanged some words with the not-taxi driver, and told us to follow him.

“I have tuk tuk,” he promised. By this point we were getting all too familiar with blindly following random strangers.

After we’d been handed off to the tuk tuk driver we again joined the traffic-clogged streets, only this time we maneuvered around cars and motos until the city center came into view.

As I mentioned in Part One, I don’t recommend letting your visa expire. I do, however, feel like my trip to Poi Pet was some kind of expat initiation.

Welcome to the club.

The Visa Debacle, Part One: Never Let Them See You Cry

No matter how tempting it may seem, never let your visa expire. I repeat: Don’t. Do. It.

You’ll just feel like doing a lot of this:

And this:

And end up doing more of this:

I watched the expiration date stamped in my passport barrel closer like growing wave, and for the past two (plus…) weeks I managed to push any concern to the back corners of my mind in hopes everything would just be o.k. Isn’t there a phrase: Everything is O.K. until it isn’t. This past week I figured out what “isn’t” is all about.

Having missed my first appointment at the airport a new one was finally scheduled for last Friday. With the instructions: Go to the airport and show them your paper, it was basically up to me to figure out what to do.

I knew I needed to get to the visa desk, a simple enough task except the visa desk is located at the arrivals gate and I wasn’t really “arriving”. Sreyneang, who graciously drove me to the airport, chatted with a security guard who then ushered me (and me alone) through a back door telling me to, “Go straight.” I weaved between travelers, fresh off the plane, quickly slid backwards through the passport control checkpoint, and got in line behind the visa desk.

What little confidence I had mustered shattered when I realized the immigration officer had no idea what I was talking about. He kept pushing back my paper and pointing at my expired stamp.

“You overstay!” He yelled at me.

“I know,” I tried to stay calm. “That’s why I’m here, to pick up my new visa.” I pushed my photocopied attestation paper back at him.

“No,” he stated, “The date is wrong. Your visa is expired.”

“Can I pay the fine and get a new tourist visa?” I asked, my voice starting to shake a bit. If I couldn’t get my business visa, maybe I could at least buy another 30 days.

“No. You have to go to the border.”

At this point, I just stared at him. “Can I call my boss and have him talk to you?” The officer nodded, but pushed me aside in the line.

As they say, if anything can go wrong it will. I think it’s a law or something… My phone was out of minutes. Just the other day I purchased more but hadn’t yet figured out how to reload them onto my phone. Let’s just say I was forced to figure it out really quickly…

The officer and Seak, the PEPY HR manager had a heated discussion for several minutes. Even though I couldn’t understand I knew it wasn’t going to be good.

“You’re going to have to go to the border.” Seak told me over the phone.

“Awesome.” I could feel the tears building up, an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction to situations in which I have absolutely no control. “But how am I going to get out of the airport?”

Surprisingly, no one seemed too concerned with this little detail.

“Can I get out of the airport?” I asked the (very) frustrated officer.

“Yes.”

“But my visa is expired… Will they let me into the country?”

“Yes.”

I took his word for it and cautiously approached the immigration officer working the passport check line. Handing over my passport I watched him flip to the telltale page stating I have been illegally living in his country for the past two weeks. He looked confused.

“I already stamp this.” He stated matter-of-factly. “You’re visa is expired.”

I was getting really tired of having that thrown in my face. “I know. That guy,” I pointed toward the visa desk, “Told me I could leave.”

“But your visa is expired. Which flight you come in on?”

“I didn’t come on a plane, someone let me in so I could get a new visa but they didn’t have it. I have to go to the border to get a new visa, but to go to the border I have to leave the airport.” Living the rest of my life like Tom Hanks in The Terminal was becoming an all-too-real possibility.

By this point another officer, this one in a more official looking uniform, had joined the discussion, snatching my passport from the man at the desk. After what felt like an eternity Mr. Snazzy Uniform added up the number of days I overstayed and told me how much I owed in fines. “You pay at the border.” He handed over my passport.

“So… I can leave…?”

“Yes.”

I think I literally bolted towards the door, determined to make it out before they changed their minds.

Stay tuned for Part Two: The Wanderer’s First Border Run!

P.S. For the record, I didn’t cry (at the airport…)