A Travellerspoint blog

Phnom Penh Killing Fields

one last hurrah in asia...

This, my friends, will be my very last post from Asia (even though I'm not there anymore). That's right, I've moved on to Mexico. And with another continent comes another blog. Check it: http://awsnapmexico.travellerspoint.com Familiar, eh?

For my last trip, I decided to continue through Cambodia, past Siem Reap and onto Phnom Penh. It seemed appropriate; I generally enjoyed Cambodia and felt an excitement about it that I hadn't felt about a country in a long time. So we hopped on the bus where we were the only foreigners, and in about 5 hours made it to the capital. I had bought a plane ticket to Bangkok for $100 and was all set to go.

Phnom Penh is a hustling, bustling city, with motos honking and vendors haggling; there is no stopping to think, there is only living in the moment. I loved it; in some ways, it reminded me of HCMC, but since I hadn't been traveling for a month, I could appreciate it more. We of course went to a hostel recommended by Lonely Planet right on Lake Boeng Kak. The price was right, so we dropped our bags and went to sit on the beautiful lake and watch the sunset with a couple of BeerLaos.

The second day we got right into the profound sadness that still surrounds much of Cambodia: we went to the Killing Fields outside of the city, at Choeung Ek. During the late 70's, the Khmer Rouge Communist regime, led by the dictator Pol Pot, killed some 200,000 Khmer people (some estimates put the toll up to the millions) for suspected connections with former governments, or any foreign person in any regard. They were taken to death camps such as these and tortured and eventually executed.

Choeung Ek is surprisingly a peaceful place today. Most of the old buildings have been torn down, with only signs written in Khmer and English to remind visitors. There is a commemorative stupa that holds the bones, skulls and clothes of the people who were killed there. The mass graves are now empty of course, having been disinterred over the years since the Khmer Rouge fell. The site was once an orchard and has regained some of that serenity. There is a school close by and you can hear the children playing during recess.

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The commemorative stupa, where a sign asks visitors to take a moment a silence for the men, women, and children who were killed there.

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The now-empty mass graves.

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One of the signs in Khmer, marking a spot where a building once stood.

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One of the trees around the grounds.

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Around the grounds, agriculture goes on.

When we left the Killing Fields, we thought it only proper to visit Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, a former high school that was used as a prison camp by the Khmer Rouge. Here, the "dissidents" (from other countries as well) were photographed and forced to write their life stories. They were imprisoned for potentially planning a coup against Pol Pot, or for merely being friends or family of these "dissidents." Forbidden to talk, they were held in individual cells as well as mass cells, shackled to the floor and not allowed to move. There were very strict rules and at the slightest hint of disobedience, prisoners were beaten. It is estimated that 17,000 prisoners were held there and out of those, only 12 survived.

Today, it is preserved almost exactly as it was found and is the "Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum."

It was extremely overwhelming to first go to Choeung Ek and then Tuol Sleng.

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The first thing you see when walking around is these tombs.

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One of the individual holding cells.

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The gallows, where prisoners were held upside down to torture information out of them.

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There are several rooms with boards full of pictures of the victims. The most heartbreaking were the ones who smiled for their pictures.

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These are busts of Pol Pot, preserved next to shackles.

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Visitors are encouraged to maintain the proper respect by not laughing or smiling.

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Many of the big rooms (once classrooms) were crudely sectioned off into individual cells, using wood or concrete as walls.

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Hastily-made corridors between rooms.

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There was barbed wire everywhere.

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It's impossible to walk these hallways and not feel the overwhelming sense of injustice and sorrow that Cambodians still carry with them today. It is important, however, to remember what happened (just as with any great tragedy of mankind) and to help the people mourn their loss.

Cambodia is a beautiful country and it's important to always keep in mind what the people have gone through in the past 30 years. To be understanding, empathetic, and always considerate is important while traveling through any country; I believe it is especially appreciated by a country that has suffered so much and yet goes on.

And on that note, I conclude my Asia blog...

Posted by lrbergen 23:19 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Ta Prohm

nature taking over!

One of the temples of Angkor Wat that I knew I HAD to experience was Ta Prohm. Famous for its infestation (a WONDERFUL infestation) of trees, Ta Prohm seems to be the temple that time forgot. Stones that used to be walls litter the ground in massive, dangerous piles. Trees seem to grow out of the walls. Ta Prohm's mystery was featured in the movie Tomb Raider and one can't help but feel a sense of eeriness while walking through the almost-always silent temple. Even after the exhausting visit to Angkor Wat, Kathryn and I KNEW that Ta Prohm was a must.

We were not disappointed.

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On our way there, our tuk-tuk driver had to dodge several cows.

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We passed some happy children. That's the thing about Cambodia: the classic Thai smile extends to the Cambodian people as well.

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This kid was having a good time.

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This cow was wandering through the market. No one seemed to care.

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The stones seem to be barely hanging on.

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Detail...some of this stuff was pretty well-preserved.

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Side shot of a tree reclaiming its place.

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The tree follows the path of the building.

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One of the walls' color after some time.

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A long shot of some ruins.

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These trees were really amazing.

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Really...you wouldn't want to climb through the rubble anyway.

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Fallen arches...a different kind.

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Impressive, eh?

Posted by lrbergen 18:16 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Angkor Wat!

the pinnacle of khmer culture

(This post is half old / half new...I started it in April...it is now mid-May. Forgive me, reader!)

As I might have mentioned before, being situated in Korea, one is positioned to see many other beautiful countries and sights. Some of these seem to be tourist traps (and I'm not naming any names), but some are so spectacular that they must be visited and never forgotten. Out of the things I've seen, this list includes the Great Wall in Beijing, the Golden Temple in Kyoto, the Alhambra in Granada, any Gaudi architecture in Barcelona, Halong Bay in Vietnam, and Hoi An (also in Vietnam).

And, as with any of these, I highly HIGHLY recommend going to see Angkor Wat of Siem Reap, Cambodia. With each of these sights or places, I have always felt a sense of awe. Angkor Wat was no different. And as with these other magnificent structures, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Welcome!

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The road to Siem Reap was long, bumpy, and dusty. This is what it looked like about everywhere...

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Some locals waiting around.

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Women sellers with their wares.

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The road to Angkor Wat.
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This was either a wedding party or a television show shoot. It was hard to tell.

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People lunching, horse tied up.

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Dust that plagues Siem Reap.

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Lots of balusters (columns) and bas-reliefs (stone wall etchings).

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In addition to the tourists, there were lots of Cambodian people.

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Before the Khmer Rouge took over, much of Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples were disassembled by foreign architects in order to preserve the structures and make them stronger. They were driven out of the country before they could finish. They had kept records of the location of each individual stone; these records were also destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. This is how many of the temples look...there are ruins all over the grounds.

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Some fellow tourists take a rest in the heat.

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Holy crap. Seriously? Ajummas? In Angkor Wat?! I could spot them a mile away.
I haven't seen as many signs in Korean outside of Korea as I did in Siem Reap. They were everywhere...I felt like I was in some sort of Twilight Zone...

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It was impossible to capture just how steep these steps were. Impossible!

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Some of the statues were amazingly well-preserved.

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These deities are still actively worshiped. In fact, Angkor Wat is still an active temple. Most of the deities are headless; during the Khmer Rouge period, thieves plundered the temples and removed the heads to sell them to foreign art collectors. Most of them have never been returned.

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All the good stuff all together.

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Groundskeepers taking a nap at the hottest part of the day. It was ridiculously hot...all of us stupid tourists were walking around in the sun. These guys were smart.

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A man leading his horse...but not to drink.

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After this, my travel companion and I went to have lunch and a hot-air balloon ride.
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A chick welcomes us.

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Some of the flowering trees.

With the visit to this temple, I saw a lifelong (well...not really lifelong...more like since-I'd-been-in-Korea-long) desire fulfilled. It was totally worth the $20.
Then we went to see Ta Prohm...coming up!

Posted by lrbergen 03:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Wat Phra Kaew

finally...some sights from bangkok

My first time in Thailand, I had literally one night in Bangkok.

This time I took at least a full day. Heeding the suggestion of the lovely Thai lady I met on the plane, I decided to go to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, considered the most sacred temple in Thailand. With this significance comes measures to keep it that way. One must wear long pants and have his or her shoulders covered properly, a fact I learned the hard way. There are long skirts and uniform-looking shirts for rent.

It is indeed impressive...there are mosaics made of mirrored glass adorning most buildings, gold sparkling stupas (also known as chedis). There are guardians and Thai mythological statues scattered throughout. There is even a scaled model of Angkor Wat. Most importantly, there is the Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade). It has a long history, originating in Cambodia, given as a gift to a Thai king, robbed by Burmese invaders, resurfaced in Thailand and moved from Thai city to Thai city, seized by the King of Siam, returned to Thailand, and is still claimed by many Laotians to have its proper place in Vientiane. It's actually quite tiny (between 60 and 75cm, or 23-29in) and hard to see...

Less talk, more pictures...
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And some pictures from around Bangkok....
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Posted by lrbergen 16:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

A Beginner's Guide to Getting Scammed

scammity-scam-scam!

There are all kinds of scams when you're traveling.

You get hassled to come look at your tuk-tuk driver's friend's tailor shop.
You spend all day on a trip that is made as uncomfortable as possible to ensure that you will stay at the "right" hotel.
And if you're naive, and you don't watch it, you will be overcharged like crazy.

That being said, I have never fallen prey to any MAJOR scamming. I'm almost positive that I've paid a bit too much for a bag, or a book, or even a bottle of water. A few cents here and there is no problem...traveling in Southeast Asia, I know that these people need the money more than I do.

To an extent.

Crossing the Thai border into Cambodia at PoiPet (from the Eastern island Koh Chang), we were overcharged for our bus (my companion paid 600Baht, I paid 700, and everyone coming from Bangkok, much farther away, was charged 400). When we reached Poi Pet, we were taken to a "travel agency" that was going to help us with our Cambodian visas. In every guidebook, from every traveler, we knew that the visa would cost $20USD. That's 600 Thai Baht. We started filling out the form and a woman told us that it would cost 2400 Baht each.

That's right...they wanted to charge us not double, not triple, but FOUR TIMES what it actually cost.

When we started questioning them, they made it very obvious that this was a scam and that the jig was up. The woman became very rude and muttered that we should have started the visa process 3 days ago in Bangkok...because without their help, that's how long it would take. "1...or...2...or 3 days." Another man actually raised his voice and started shouting. We continued to refuse to pay the inflated prices, and they continued to be nasty.

Eventually we made it to the "courtyard of shame," where there about 10 other people who were willing to take their chances at the border. We were branded with yellow stickers, while the "suckers", as I like to call them, were given pieces of red tape.

It all worked out in the end...we ended up paying 1000 Baht for the visas, but at least we were extorted by the Cambodian government who did it with a smile.
- AND we were on the same bus going over the same endless bumps and covered by the same dust from the road as the red-sticker suckers. We all spent the same 4 hours at the Thailand-Cambodia border. The road was terrible, but we made it Siem Reap...a little wiser, a little dirtier...but with 1400 extra Baht in our pockets toward the high Angkor Wat fee.

Which is totally worth it.

Posted by lrbergen 23:54 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

Leaving Korea

...does that mean i have to change the title of this blog?

-17 °C

Well, folks.

It's been 2 and a half LONG years in Korea, but I've made it.
Korea has always been a temporary place, and it's been hard to see people come and go. It was easy to get settled in, but with the knowledge that it couldn't be forever.

I've taught lots of kids, made lots of friends, drank lots of soju, gone to lots of countries, read lots of books, eaten LOTS of kimchi, and taken TONS of photos.
Now comes the time to move on to the next place. It's time for a new adventure. I don't doubt that I'll be back in Korea...just hopefully not for a few years. This country can get to a person, if one really allows it to happen.

It's time to post some photos.

Things I will NOT miss:

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Trudging to work via the subway EVERY MORNING during rush hour. It is so miserable.

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Dodging cars on the sidewalks. There are technically traffic laws, but they seem to be more guidelines than anything.

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The massive amounts of pollution; on the sidewalk, in the air...everywhere. It's especially bad during "Hwangsa" or the yellow dust storms that come from the Gobi desert, picking up heavy metals along the way.

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Beondaegi. Silkworm pupa. I don't encounter it on a day-to-day basis, but come on. I've eaten centipede and I won't even CONSIDER this.

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The same apartment buildings everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.

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Traffic. Traffic. Always with the traffic.

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Terrible fashion. But to be fair, I will also miss it. It's so absurd sometimes.

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Being attacked by Christian propaganda. If a stranger approaches you on the street, in the gym, or on the subway, it is either to practice English or get you to come to church. Even if you have a constant scowl on your face and headphones on. Agh.

I will not miss being stared at, though I will find it odd that everyone ignores me back in America. I will not miss being pushed around by old women and men, I will not miss the whiny girls, the crowds, the trash, how it's ok to spit in public but not blow your nose, being told to go home, being discouraged from speaking the little Korean I know, the pushy mothers.

I really could go on. It IS time to go home. So just to prove that it hasn't been ALL bad, here are:

The things I WILL miss:

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Insadong, where they have changing displays in the Andy Warhol factory. It's just a really nice area.

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Bundang in the spring. Since Korea doesn't get a lot of snow, there's no slush. It's beautiful.

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Even though they take it to the extreme sometimes, Koreans can unite like nobody's business.

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Konglish. Engrish. Call it what you will...it's funny and it's everywhere.

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Old fortresses everywhere.

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Riding my bike into Seoul and aside from the wandering children / ajummas / couples, being completely safe.

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Buddha's Birthday celebrations. We get a day off of work AND there's a really cool parade.

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Drinking outside. Legally. At a convenience store.

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Korean baseball games. Even though I really only went to one...

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Dogs dressed up. Ok, most of me feels bad about having to see a dog suffer this. I love dogs. I do. This is just absurd.

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Kimchi...kimchi mandu. Kimchi chigue. Kimchi fried rice. Kimchi, kimchi, kimchi.

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When it does snow, it looks really nice.

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Mandu ramen.

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Sam gyeop sal and kalbi.

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I will not miss the subway, but I will miss cheap access to reliable and efficient public transportation.

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Rafting weekends in Gangwon-do.

Proximity to lots of OTHER really awesome countries:
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Vietnam
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Japan
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Taiwan
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Thailand
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Singapore
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Indonesia
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China

And last, but certainly not least, my students:
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John K
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John C
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Clara
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Jennifer
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Pisces
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Kate
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Esther-pants
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Denny
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Sean

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I've taught them well.

I will of course miss my friends, but I know we'll meet again.
Don't know where, don't know when.
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day.
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do.

Compliments of the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash.

I (We) made it!

Tune in next time for my 2-week vacation to Thailand! Woohoo!

Posted by lrbergen 05:38 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

Tianamen Square and Forbidden City

one...last...post...!

Which brings us to the conclusion of the Beijing series of blogs.

Our first day/night, we walked from our hotel to Tianamen Square.
It is a little unsettling being there. There are guards everywhere, CCTV, and plainclothes policemen watching you at all times. I'm not sure what they're looking for, but I was warned that I should be...careful. Don't do anything suspicious. Taking pictures of the guards is out of the question. I was actually a bit scared to walk on the grass, even after I saw some Chinese dudes doing it. The kids running around and playing and laughing seemed to be tempting fate. While we were waiting for the flag-lowering ceremony, several guards stopped a Chinese man with a red book. They quickly gathered around him, while the 6 of us tried not to look...act casual.

The flag-lowering ceremony was pretty intense as well. About 30-40 guards march through the Gate of Heavenly Peace (the one with Chairman Mao's famous image) and across the street and stand at attention while the three guards at the flagpole lower the flag and one winds it around his hand with sharp, jerky movements. Just as we were walking away, someone jumped over the chain surrounding the flag and the guards swarmed. I have no idea what the man's intention was; all I knew was that he was in BIG trouble.
Being in Tianamen Square was an experience for sure.

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We had beautiful lighting.

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A boy and his kites.

Our last full day in Beijing, we went to the Forbidden City. I didn't / still don't know much about it, except that it was full of tons of artwork, the buildings have yellow tiles on the roof, and there is a Palace Museum. And well...you know...it used to be forbidden. The Palace Museum was unfortunately closed, but wouldn't you know it? A lot of the artwork from the Forbidden City is now housed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei...and I have seen it. Lucky me, huh? The buildings were beautiful...no matter how many palaces and Asian architecture I see, I don't really get sick of it.
Well...I guess after a couple hours, I was all palace-d out...and I don't think I'm alone on that.

(Note...I took a lot of pictures of doors. And tiles. And roofs. I picked the best ones...you can thank me later.)
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Hey. Look. Another door.

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And the standard:
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Mao and Me.

I really should have been packing...

Thanks for sticking it out!

Posted by lrbergen 06:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

More Around Beijing

more pictures! just what you needed! (oooh! and video!)

Oh! And I forgot to mention nearly the most important thing about our trip. The fact that we came to Beijing during Lunar New Year (often times called CHINESE New Year) played a big part in our experience. The streets seemed nearly deserted when we got there...there was hardly any traffic on our way to Badaling. There were hardly any people walking in the streets...it was a bit eerie, but a nice change of pace from the ever-hectic Seoul.

And one of the coolest experiences (in my opinion, of course) that we had while there were the never-ending fireworks. I mean, come on people! China INVENTED gunpowder! Chinese fireworks? Hello? New Year's Eve, when we walked out of our duck dinner, we kind of wandered aimlessly and were surprised to find ourselves in a virtual war zone. Fireworks to the left of me! Fireworks to the right of me! They were constant, they were loud, and at times I was pretty sure I was going to lose some important part of my body. They were happening on sidewalks, on the street...sometimes traffic had to halt due to some old Chinese man lighting a roman candle in the middle of the road. It was pretty great, actually.

Yuck...is that MY voice?

But they didn't stop there...they went on. And on. And on. At the precise moment of the New Year, the entire skyline was lit up with fireworks. It was...amazing. Fourth of July? Pssh....please! These people take their fireworks very seriously.

Sorry about the reflection...they woke me up and I didn't have enough sense to turn off the lights.

The second night, they petered out but didn't stop. By the time we were woken up at 5 am by fireworks in the parking lot, it just seemed annoying.

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Beijing Opera House at night

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The streets were littered with firework carnage.

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(Is this...safe?)

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Motorized ...rickshaw?

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Mmmm...Tsingtao....

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And...I think we'll do one more post about China. Shall we? Surely.

Posted by lrbergen 06:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

Around Beijing

the new, Olympic-friendly city

When I thought of Beijing, I thought of dirt, tacky souvenirs, and red and yellow EVERYWHERE. I was partially right with the color scheme, but everything else was way off.

The Lonely Planet guide suggested we hit the Souvenir Market for kitsch, such as Chairman Mao watches, or the Little Red Book, but upon closer inspection, the whole area was replaced with big buildings with shops such as Nike and Adidas.

Huh?! Communist China?!

As you looked around the city, there were more Western restaurants and shops than I had seen in Korea; Outback, Gucci, Hooters, Pizza Hut, the aforementioned Nike and Adidas, etc. I came to Beijing expecting the workers' paradise, with propaganda all around the city (my only other Communist country experience was Vietnam) but the reality was much different. All of the dirt, the tack, the feel of China has, I suppose, been disappearing for years. Of course, the Olympics have sped up this process quite a bit. It's all been swept under the rug for the benefit of the people who won't be boycotting the Olympics and will focus their attention on Beijing.

This isn't to say I didn't enjoy myself...at times, it's nice to travel to a place where it's not...hard. Taking a 15-hour night train from Hanoi to Danang while hungover and sharing the rattling compartment with a Russian family who speaks very little English? HARD. Taking a Greyhound bus nearly 36 hours from Indiana to Florida with what seems like half of the list of America's Most Wanted? HARD. Trying to enjoy your drink in an outdoor bar, but constantly having to pick up your feet so that they don't get in the way of the hordes of mice? Under the right conditions, not so bad, but still...HARD.

Beijing was not hard. The most difficult part was trying to get 6 people rounded up and on the way to the monuments (which by the way, Chantal...thanks AGAIN for doing all of that pretty much singlehandedly). Don't speak Chinese in Beijing? No problem. Many things are printed in English and there are handy guidebooks and cards with the Chinese characters in them. Don't have to take crowded public transportation because between 6 people, cabs seem to be the easiest way. I liked Beijing a lot more than I expected to, and the visit has sparked the desire to see MORE of China.

And of course, dear readers, what you've all been waiting for: pictures. These were taken around Beijing...well...obviously.

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To be continued with more pictures.

Posted by lrbergen 20:24 Archived in China Comments (0)

"Food" in Beijing

the stuff that "fear factor" is made of... (caution: vegetarians, proceed at your own risk)

I cannot believe some of the stuff I ate in Beijing's night market. Looking back, it seems like all the crunching, haggling, and gnawing was something out of someone else's travel stories. Maybe there was some sort of hallucinogenic chemical in some of this stuff, I don't know. I'm not sure of the chemistry behind the scorpions...

I consider myself quite an adventurer, and will do nearly anything once. Twice, if it doesn't kill me.
I traveled with a group this time, most of which were keen on trying the crazy stuff that China's food stalls have to offer.

So here's a hint if you want to try some of the crazy stuff seen here and other places:
**Don't do it alone.
It's all pretty safe...probably. If it isn't, your partner/group can catch you when you fall...or fall into seizures.
It's cheaper as well...
AND, going along with that last one, it is not likely that you will want to eat an ENTIRE starfish or all three scorpions by yourself. You save on money and guilt that you're throwing perfectly good food away. Kind of. I mean, there are starving people in Chin....ahem. Let's keep moving, shall we?

We started off with the chicken fetuses previously mentioned in the Great Wall post. Let's repost the picture for posterity, shall we?

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Poor chickens. They were so delicious.

The previous night, at our traditional Peking Duck dinner, we were served the entire duck's head, cut into two so that we may easily access the duck's brains. I tried it. It was not pleasant.

At one "regular" dinner, we ate jellyfish in a delicious salad with cilantro. It was tasty!

Then we set out for the "night market," or Bejing's new Olympics-friendly version of it anyway. No more dirty stalls with their tacky charm. Everyone was wearing a uniform and nametags. Bizarre.

We started out with starfish.
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Tasted like...fish.

We had five legs, so we gave one away to a set of curious Chinese ladies.
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I think they liked it.

From then on, things quickly escalated into the downright weird and creepy.

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This man was haggling with us for the price of bull penis. We paid the price and got meat that was tough, but cooked nicely so it was good.

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Selling testicles. We skipped this one. They looked too...juicy...

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The spread of all the bugs and squid and snake.

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Golden centipede.

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Eating centipede. One of many "proof" shots.

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Dragonflies. They tasted like really crispy chicken skin.

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Scorpions. They were crunchy and there wasn't a whole lot to them.

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The seahorses were ok...they tasted like fish, but were a bit too salty.

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At the end of the "street" there were these very aggressive fruit vendors, shouting any and everything to get you to buy their fruit.

So, let's recap the things I ate in China:
- Chicken fetus
- duck brain
- scorpion
- starfish
- seahorse
- dragonfly
- centipede
- jellyfish
- dog
- snake
- bull penis

China is full of awesome "normal" food, so one shouldn't be put off by this. You have to REALLY go looking for this place now that the Olympics are coming.

Beijing is delicious!

(PS - A side note, nothing to do with Beijing: last night in Seoul, Namdaemun (600-year-old structure, called Korea's great cultural treasure) was burnt down. It's a very sad time for the Korean people and for those of us living here. You can read more here.)

Posted by lrbergen 04:51 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Great Wall of China at Badaling

mission accomplished! (with video!)

It has always been a goal of mine to see the Great Wall...one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the only man-made structure visible from space...pretty impressive.

We hired drivers for 200RMB apiece (about $28USD) and rode about an hour and a half up to Badaling, the most visited portion of the Great Wall. We didn't know what to expect, but should have known that the Chinese New Year Holiday couldn't have stopped the swarms of Chinese people from visiting the structure that is the most famous of their country. They say that if you haven't visited the Great Wall, then you're not truly Chinese. They also say that once you climb the Great Wall, you become a Great Person.

They say a lot of things about the Great Wall, but the question in everybody's minds as we scaled up: are they true? Is it really as great as people say it is?

It is.

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Black bear native to these mountains.

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After some kissing noises, he looked up.

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Be careful...

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Yes. I am here.

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Lots to climb.

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Mountains in the background

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Myself, Chantal, and David were the half that kept going.

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Steeeep.

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B&W view of the mountains

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Grandpa / Grandson hiking team

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We made it...view from the top

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More than 1 billion Chinese people = traffic jam.

On the way down, we ran into what seemed to be the Chinese Von Trapp family singers...they would stop from time to time and sing a song in Chinese and do a little dance. It made the experience that much more enjoyable.

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Enjoying the view

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And a sweet baby in a red coat that was careening down the wall. Her parents were right behind her, but she was quite agile for a baby.

After a quick stop to the pay-bathrooms where I got to use a squatter toilet in front of all of the females that happened to be there, we stopped for a beer and a snack.

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This is what the bravest of us had: chicken fetuses. The way they cooked them and the spices they had on them made them quite delicious, actually. Who'd have thought?

Posted by lrbergen 17:56 Archived in China Comments (0)

We Interrupt These Singapore Photo Blogs...

for indonesia!!!!....ish....

-17 °C

I took the weekend off from Singapore to go to Pulau Bintan, an Indonesian island about 1.5 hours south. I was not incredibly impressed. Most of the island's property is owned by Singapore resorts...the remaining Indonesians living there have to gouge their prices in order to keep up. It's unfortunate, really...

I stayed on the east end of the island at a place that had huts for about $30SD, which is a LOT for what it is. The guidebook said that they would have been 70,000 Indonesian Rupiahs (about $7). Too many conversions going around in your head? Same here.
I stayed one night and left the next day as my budget was limited.

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All the money that I had on me...TOO MANY CONVERSIONS.
Indonesian Rupiah, Chinese RMB, Singapore Dollars, Korean Won, Yankee Dollars, and a full passport.

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One of the puppies that was roaming around the grounds.

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Palm trees...most of which had been knocked down.

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The beach along the East Coast.

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One of the staff and his baby.

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The hut I slept in.

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On the way back...free-range roosters.

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Street vendor

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Wash hanging out to dry.

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Goodbye, Pulau Bintan!

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On the way back to Singapore, coming into rain.

Short stay = short blog!

Posted by lrbergen 06:12 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Kong Meng San Hor Kark See Monastery

as intricate as its name suggests

I nearly wrote this Monastery off of my list...I've been to a lot of Asian countries that have a LOT of temples, either Shinto, Taoist, Hindu, or Buddhist, and pretty much everything else in between. I live in a country that has an equal number of Buddhist temples and Christian churches, so to go see yet ANOTHER temple with MORE Buddhist influence...well, I was less than enthused.

Keeping up with the rest of Singapore's spectacular diversity and unique ...everything, Kong Meng San Hor Kark See Monastery (which is MORE than a mouthful to say), close to Bishan park, is rich in its different styles of architecture and overall atmosphere (each temple had its own feel). Pristinely kept, it is a visual delight, with mosaics galore and different colors and styles everywhere.

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Colorful detail

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Temple flags

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One of the deities

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Temple flags closeup

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Floor detail

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Temple roof dragon

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I really liked the flags.

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Ceiling detail

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One of the temples

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Lawn full of little stone Buddhas

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Crematorium / statue

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Roof of one of the temples

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9,999 Buddhas

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+1 Buddha = Hall of 10,000 Buddhas

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Colorful mosaic

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Story mosaic detail

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Monastery where the monks live their day-to-day lives.

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More monastery

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Roof detail

There are a lot of pictures. A lot. More coming soon...keep bearing with me!

Posted by lrbergen 20:52 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

World of Color

...amidst the concrete

And yet another thing I absolutely loved about Singapore was the intense diversity (are we all sensing a trend here?) of the architecture.

Ever since being in Spain (in general) and Barcelona (in particular), inspired by the works of Gaudi (genius anyone?!), I have started paying attention to the concrete jungle; the buildings, the angles, the colors, the extraordinary and the mundane.

As the title suggests, Singaporean buildings are NOT just the gray drab monsters you see in most cities. Nope. There are buildings of every size, shape and color.

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Stay tuned for the next post!

Posted by lrbergen 03:23 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Signs, Signs

everywhere the signs

Singapore wants to protect you. Really, it does. Hence why there are signs EVERYWHERE, gently reminding you to be careful. Don't break the law by eating on the subway! Remain vigilant! Beware of pickpockets! Please remember to be polite, please?

Some were helpful, some were beautiful...some were just odd.

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Singapore is polite, even in their signage...

Posted by lrbergen 05:56 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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