Lessons in Love

Published March 30, 2012

Yesterday at Angkor Wat, we witnessed the definition of love.
To enter the highest level of the temple complex, you must cover your knees.  As we were in line to ascend, many were being pulled out of line for shorts that were too short, sarongs that showed a bit too much thigh, or other kneely infractions.  A couple in front of us were nabbed by the knee police.  The woman argued for a brief time but the rule was the rule and out of line they went. 
We finished our inspection of the top and when we came down, there was the same man, patiently waiting for his wife, with arms crossed and leaning against the wall of the temple.  Except there was something keenly different about him since last time we saw him.  He had given up his pants so that his wife could go to the top, calmly displaying his tighty whiteys in front of hundreds of people. 
Yesterday at Angkor Wat, we witnessed the definition of love…
Cambodia Guest Blogger,
Kevin Shertzer

Making New Friends at the Peace Works Travel Village


Santa Barbara students in Vietnam
Day 8 – Hanoi/Peace Works Travel Village

Today, our second full day in Hanoi, we ventured to the outskirts to visit the Peace Works Travel Village. As we were further informed by the headmaster through translation by our tour guide, Peace Works Travel Village is a completely free school for victims of Agent Orange. The school is funded half by the Vietnamese government and half by corporate and private donations. The school’s main purpose in educating these children is to teach them skills that will help them make a living in everyday life. They set up classes for the children that have less mental restrictions that can give them the future opportunity to provide for themselves, such as embroidery, sewing, and computer technology.

Walking around these classrooms and visiting the children while class was in session was really an amazing way to see the effects of the war and how often it is still present in the lives of these people. Many of the children are mute and deaf, while others have physical deformities, all of which limit their opportunities in the real world.

After a general tour and brief introductions to the children, we ate a brief lunch at the school before heading out to do some service to the garden areas. On a full stomach we weeded all the grass and plants from the vegetable gardens as well as some quick weeding in the back of the school where they raise pigs. Finally we got to the part we were all looking forward to the most: playing with the kids and and teaching them about the gifts we had brought for them. As we were previously informed, there are two different groups at the school that are both in about the same age range; the first one is for children with very little mental capacities, where they learn very basic things like how to tell time, and the second group is for the more advanced students who can learn basic math and geography. I went to visit the  more advanced children, where we presented the class with a digital camera, art supplies, and balls. I got to teach the children how to work the cameras and share the art supplies with them, but the biggest thing that made this experience so rich, but also very challenging, is that very few of the children have the ability to talk and none of them have any english at all.

It was definitely a challenge to communicate with the children, which was something I was concerned about on our ride to the village, but as it was happening it became apparent that there really wasn’t much that needed to be said. Just to be with the children and see how happy our simple and  small donation made a difference to them was quite touching. Making conversation with them was possible but not really necessary, just the fact that we were there was enough to make their day and everyone could see it.

I think I will take a lot from this experience because it was all so real and significant. It was almost as if  everything I had ever learned fell away and the reality of these people lives became my reality, as well making my own experiences and understandings that much more clear.
Excited to see you soon!


Summer Travel: Thailand Discovery

Published March 29, 2012

With lush rainforest, jungle-entwined mountains, legendary beaches and a wealth of culture and history, it is no wonder the Thai people are proud of their country and heritage. Taking the title, “land of the free,” Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that escaped western imperial rule, and its dynamic urban centers, beautiful countryside and smiling peoples are a testament to its prowess. This summer, journey with Peace Works Travel (PWT) on an adventure that takes you deep into the heart of Thailand. Filled with abundant opportunities for cultural exchange, volunteer projects and out-of-the-classroom learning; we ensure a unique experience that transcends ordinary tourism. 
Thailand Discovery: July 15-27, 2012
Live, learn, travel through Thailand
Starting in the steamy metropolis of Bangkok and ending on Phuket’s illustrious beaches, this 12-day itinerary takes students across Thailand, visiting the country’s highlights. Explore the floating market, visit the Tiger Temple, volunteer at two orphanages and kayak through arching sea caves. By combining key sites with volunteer projects and educational opportunities, we’ve handcrafted an adventure that promotes cross-cultural understanding while making a positive and lasting impact on the global community. 
  • Take a boat ride through the winding waterways of Bangkok’s floating markets and try out your best bargaining skills.
  • Explore the countryside on a mountain hike to visit hill tribe villages and learn about local culture.
  • Enjoy an elephant trek through Chiang Mai’s lofty jungles, then take a wet and wild ride down the river on a traditional bamboo raft.
  • Make new friends and help promote peace and healing on a volunteer project at Phuket’s Tsunami Orphanage.
  • Unwind on Thailand’s illustrious white-sand beaches. 
Activities & Lodging: 
  • Trekking, volunteer community service, urban exploration, boat trip, elephant ride & beach relaxation
  • 11 nights hotels & lodges
Sign up today! 

    Elephant Rides and Lessons in Living History


    Laguna Blanca School in Cambodia
    From the time we heard the plan for today, all anyone could talk about was the fact that we would be riding elephants. After what was comparatively a late start (we left the hotel at 7:30), we headed to the temples for the third time. We were soon on the elephants and bobbing peacefully along the road, blocking traffic. As it turns out, riding an elephant involves a consistent rocking motion that makes it hard to believe that people once used these animals to travel long distances. Our ride ended up being a regular trip to the zoo: we were treated to a wonderful view of monkeys and a wild pig. We got a chance to pet the elephants and feed them bananas, but sadly we were not allowed to bring them home with us. In spite of a little snot, we all enjoyed seeing the elephants. 
    Afterwards we set out to our final Cambodian temple. Misnamed “The Women’s Temple” due to its small size, unusually pretty color, and stunning detail, this was easily the smallest temple we visited. The carvings that graced all the temples were much deeper and more intense here. 
    After lunch came the real highlight of the day: The Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund. It was here that we met Bill and Jill, Americans who had moved to Cambodia specifically to work with this organization. They gave us a vary scary history lesson about Cambodia and the legacy of landmines. They told us about the landmines scattered all across the globe from as early as World War I. We also met the founder, Aki Ra, who had been a child soldier during the rein of the Khmer Rouge and had been forced to set landmines. After the rein of the Khmer Rouge ended, Aki Ra decided to dedicate his life to disabling landmines, including ones he himself had planted. His cited goal is to makes his country safe for his people, and he has no intention of stopping until that happens–well aware of the fact that he will be working for the rest of his life. 
    The Fund works both to inform and raise money. They send groups to villages to safely remove the landmines. In addition, the museum grounds house 37 children who were injured by landmines, have parents who are unable to care for them due to landmines, are otherwise orphaned, so poor their families cant feed them, have polio, or were victims of thalidomide or agent orange. These children are fed, clothed, housed and taught on site. They go to public school in the morning, do additional work including English in the afternoon and do chores. Because of Cambodian law, a person must begin school in first grade, regardless of their age. As a result, the high school English class we visited ranged in age from 15 to 22 years old. 
    Although they lead, what would be by our standards, impossible lives; these were some of the happiest kids we had ever met. They were thrilled to practice their English with us, and quickly pulled us into their games. Teams were created and volleyball, the most popular sport in Cambodia, was enjoyed by all who participated. Several of us were dragged into some traditional Khmer games. Their first game was played rather like horseshoes, except that 5 seeds (about two inches in diameter) were set up, the goal was to throw more seeds at the four outer seeds and knock them down without hitting the center seed. A team lined up behind each configuration and the losing team would be hit on the knee with two seeds by each member of the winning team, which was clearly the highlight of the game. After a game that was something like organized tag, we played a quick round of their version of duck duck goose, in which there was no true winner and the chaser’s only goal was to hit the chased with a cloth as many times as possible (we began to sense a theme). It was amazing to watch a girl with one arm, or a prosthetic leg participate in a game that involved running, but nobody seemed to mind and everyone had a great time.
    More to come soon,

    Historical Hanoi


    Santa Barbara students in Vietnam
    Day 7 – Hanoi
    This morning we woke up in Hanoi, after some failed wake up calls and early morning runs, we finally boarded the bus a little late and sleepy.
    We drove off past Hoan Kiem Lake where we saw the floating pagoda and the preserved 500 year old turtle, who’s 500 year old female mate still resides in that same lake. Our first stop was to Vietnams First University which was built in the 11th century. The architecture of the pagodas and the pools and flower structures were quite intricate.
    We had planned next to go to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. As it happens, today was a Vietnamese holiday, and the lines to the mausoleum looked a dozen blocks long and would have taken at least two hours to get through, so  instead we went on to the Hoa Lo Prison, more commonly referred to as the “Hanoi Hilton.” As in the mausoleum, we were surrounded by small children taking a field trip from school to see some of Vietnam’s most culturally significant landmarks.
    The prison, as the Vietnamese presented it, did indeed seem to have many of the luxuries as a hotel, but we had to keep in mind that we were in a place used by the government for the torture and imprisonment of American pilot– so the real treatment of the detainees (especially of the political prisoners) would most likely not be accurately shown. The propaganda was obvious in some parts, mostly with the pictures of Americans decorating a room with Christmas decorations and playing games like cards, chess, and volleyball.
    After the “Hanoi Hilton,” we stopped at the One Pillar Pagoda, the sole pagoda atop a traditional square koi pond, with the usual offerings of crackers, candies, and burning incense. Next we went back, but did get to witness the switching of the guards, which was a surprisingly formal affair, involving some extremely coordinated steps and gun routine. Despite his strong wishes for a humble burial and equally posthumous remembrance, the Vietnamese government erected a massive and elaborate tribute to him, and his name and face cover the entire city. Ho Chi Minh’s palace near the Mausoleum, bright yellow and a very beautiful building, was actually not used by him in his daily life, but only used for formal state affairs and to house visitors. We saw his “house on stilts,” where he lived until his death, the huge pond next to it, and more housing quarters. The grounds of the entire palace were very impressive and definitely fit for the king-like figure Ho Chi Minh represents for the Vietnamese people.
    After the mausoleum and lunch we went for a fun yet slightly terrifying pedi-cab ride, whizzing through afternoon traffic, and then out to the shopping streets. After some free time and dinner, everyone went in for an early night. All in all, we had a wonderful, and jam packed day! Looking forward to our full day at the Peace Works Travel Village tomorrow. 
    We are all doing great and send everyone our love!

    Exploring the Angkor Temples

    Published March 28, 2012

    Laguna Blanca School in Cambodia

    Days 4 & 5

    Yesterday we woke up really early to go to Siem Reap. After settling in at our new hoot,l we ventured to the temples. The ones we saw were considered the smaller of the complex, but several were fairly large. These temples reminded me of the ones in Tikal, Guatemala; they were large, mossy, intricate, and just plain awesome. We were taught that some were made in 6 years, and when you think about it, that’s really a short amount of time to build something like that, especially all the way back in the 12th century. After exploring, we had free time to go to the market and bargain for cheap local products. It was very hot and sweaty in there. 

    Once we were all fished with spending our money, we went to an orphanage. The man that started the orphanage was inspirational. As a child he was left to be the sole care taker for his family because his parents had both passed away. Because of traumas such as that, he decided to take in children who were/are in similar situations as he once was himself. Now housing 80 children, his orphanage is seemingly successful. The children are taught to make shadow puppets to carryon the traditional craft as well as support the orphanage. The kids taught us how to make the extremely detailed puppet, of course we all had a difficult time and were not nearly as good as them. :) Many of us purchased the pre-made puppets to support them. The kids were absolutely adorable we watched them put a little show on with the puppets, Dalton played volleyball with a few of the boys, and in the end the kids sang American childhood songs such as If Your Happy and You Know It. Overall it was a great first day.

    Today was another early morning and we woke up when the sun had literally not risen yet: 4:15 am. We then slowly got ready to go to the greatest temple of all–Angkor Wat. Once there it was pitch black and all of us were slightly delirious. There were hundreds of tourists there as well, but somehow we got the best seat in the house right in front all to our selves to watch the glorious sunrise behind the giant ruin. The view was amazing!! The temple was a silhouette with the sun; it seemed almost surreal. 
    Once it was completely light out, we set out to explore the surrounding complex. Inside the temple there was so much detail it was crazy. Every wall had a carving that probably took years to make. There were different rooms and amphitheater type areas. The buildings seemed to go on forever upwards and outwards. Elise, Lauren, Dalton, Ryan and I found  a great spot to sit and take it all in. The sun was red at that moment just behind the massive temple. Everyone else set out to the other side only to discover that monkeys would open your water bottle and bite your pants. 
    Bayon Temple
    Unfortunately, we had to leave and set out for another adventure. We missed to last Elephant ride :) but were able to book the next ride for tomorrow morning. We then went to Bayon, which is the temple of Angkor Thom with the faces carved in the top. It was absolutely amazing, Shertzer says its his favorite and I’d have to agree; it was spiritual in a way and I felt it was enigmatic–how is it that so long ago this amount of detail, this high off the ground in such was crafted into perfectly carved faces and reliefs? It blows my mind! 
    Well so far thats it for our last two days in Siem Reap. What we have done for the past two days? Nothing much, right? Nah! this trip has been amazing! I LOVE IT!!!
    Looking forward to our next adventures,

    Traditional Homestay on the Mekong Delta


    Santa Barbara students in Vietnam
    Days 4 & 5
    The home stay for us was a really great experience!
    We arrived at our home stay late at night to a wonderful dinner and buzzing mosquitos complemented by mosquito nets for the beds. The night we spent there was a fantastic bonding experience, but we woke up with throbbing bites. After we ate breakfast, we had the opportunity to learn how people in the countryside did their laundry. It was a interesting experience that strangely was enjoyed by all.
    After learning to do laundry, our day’s adventure started out at a local market, where we we saw the exotic dishes and treats that the native Vietnamese prepare for sale (and for us tourists). Following our culinary lesson, our awesome tour guide, Mr. Hau, set up a game for us which involved using 150,000 dong (roughly $7.50) to bargain our ingredients for dinner. Communicating with the locals wasn’t easy and after several very expensive turnips the winning team (as well as the losing) received delicious mangos.
    After the market, we took four person canoes through the canals of the Mekong delta. The scenery of the surrounding landscape was incredible. The lunch we had after the boat ride was both exotic and traditional, as well as filling. Thankfully we burned it off with a six mile bike ride. The bike ride was such a great, fantastic experience; it was almost everyone’s favorite. The ride wound through backstreets and over lots of narrow bridges with no handrails; this made everyone nervous, especially Justin who’s bike riding experience was limited to that day. But after some wrong twists and turns, and scenic routes, we all made it back home safely.
    Our reward  for returning safe and sound consisted of cooking the first course of dinner, traditional Vietnamese flour pancakes. They were delicious, as was the rest of the dinner that followed. With bulging bellies we all played Mr. Hau’s signature games, a twist on pin the tale on the donkey that involved smashing ceramic pots, and then a two person potato sack race. Losers were faced with face painting from the grimy under side of a cooking pan.
    We all miss you and love our friends and family back at home and thank you for this wonderful experience! 
    Saavan and Naomi wish there mothers a happy birthday!
    More to come soon!
    Mica and Gabija

    Tuesday Travel Tip: Crossing the Street in Vietnam

    Published March 27, 2012

    Crossing the street is one of those things, like lacing your shoes, that hopefully, by the time you’ve reached adulthood, is second nature. We’re trained to cross the street safely from the time we can walk. Form holding your mom’s hand to journeying on your own, the method is the same: pause at the corner, look both ways, make sure all cars are stopped and no one’s coming; and if you live in a city, stop when there’s a red hand and walk when the green “walk” is flashing. But if you’re traveling in urban Vietnam, the rules are a little bit different. First off, there are next-to-no crosswalks or lights for pedestrians. Secondly, if you wait for a pause in traffic you might be standing on the street corner well into the night. So what exactly is the first step?
    Traffic in Saigon
    Before you take the plunge into oncoming traffic, it’s best to acclimate yourself with the new environment. Traffic in Vietnam is notoriously bad and can make navigating LA’s 405 seem like a breeze. Here are a few things to keep in mind about Vietnamese rules of the road: there are none. Forget whatever you’ve learned at home, here honking is like saying hello and street lines and red lights are mere suggestions. Think of the road as a Hobbsian state-of-nature: whoever is biggest has the right of way, no matter what side of the street they’re supposed to be driving on. In other words, above all, watch out for buses. If this makes being a pedestrian seem scary, you’re not alone, but believe it or not there is a way to safely cross from one side of the street to another.
    When I first moved to Vietnam at the beginning of 2011, it took me a good two weeks before I picked up the rules of the game and felt comfortable and confident stepping into what seemed like unorganized chaos. At first I trained myself by shadowing locals, observing their method and often following closely so as not to get hit myself. But after six months in Hanoi, I  became a traffic traversing pro, so here are few of the methods to the madness to help you on your own adventures.
    Crossing the street in Vietnam 101:
    ·       NEVER make eye contact. Looking a scooterist in the eye will only greatly increase your chances of turning yourself into their moving target.
    ·       DON’T STOP, no matter what, keep walking. Drivers judge your walking speed so they can move around you without having to stop. You pausing like a deer in the headlights in the middle of the street is guaranteed to get you whacked and definitely yelled at. This should go with out saying, but NEVER stop in the middle of the street to take a photo.
    ·       WATCH the locals, they know what they’re doing, don’t take your cue from fellow tourists (they often have no idea).
    ·       TAKE a deep breath. This might just be a placebo effect, but it helps me calm down and center myself before I step out into the madness.
    ·       LET cars pass. Scooters will move around you, cars and buses are much less likely to, so let those guys go first (remember the first rule of the road: the biggest thing has the right of way).
    ·       NO sudden movements. Just as you shouldn’t stop in the middle of the street, you also shouldn’t change your pace. Sprinting to the end or slowing down is only going to mess up the drivers’ anticipation of your speed and location.
    So take a deep breath, find your moment, look straight ahead and start walking. You can do this. 
    For more tips about safely crossing the street and having a positive attitude about it (like smiling into oncoming traffic), check out the LonelyPlanet’s “How – and how not – to cross the street around the world.”
    Enjoy your travels, have fun and be safe! 

    Siem Reap: Temple Tours and Shadow Puppet Orphanage


    Laguna Blanca School in Cambodia
    Greetings from Cambodia! 
    Today Milo and I reunited with the Laguna Blanca School group in Siem Reap, where we’re all having a great time. 
    Today’s activities involved visits to some of Angkor’s “lesser” temples, if you can call them that—even the smaller, more remote complexes are staggeringly beautiful, juxtaposing human artifice with the power of nature, where the tenacious jungle weaves through the ancient stone monuments. Students had the opportunity to climb and explore the ruins first hand before we headed out to an afternoon volunteer project with the puppetry orphanage. 
    The puppetry orphanage is located a few miles out of town, adjacent to some of Angkor’s most ancient temples. Here the children learn to carve shadow puppets and revive an ancient storytelling tradition in order to help support the orphanage and defray the costs of their education. Everyone was deeply moved by the sweetness of the kids and how humbly they live (dirt floors and group bunks), not to mention their motivation to acquire an education and learn English in hopes of gaining a better life. While visiting, our students had a chance to make their own puppet carvings. We also had time to interact with the children and help them practice their English. None of us wanted to leave, but as evening approached, it was time for us to return to Siem Reap for dinner. As we left, the children gathered to see us off, singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” as they bowed, hands at heart center. 
    Tomorrow we’ll be exploring the temples of Angkor’s “Grand Circuit.” The students are all eager to visit the illustrious Angkor Wat and jungle-entwined Ta Phrom. 
    More to come soon. 
    Peace and love,

    Legacies of the Vietnam War: Learning from Living History

    Published March 26, 2012

    Santa Barbara students in Vietnam
    Hi everyone,
    Just a quick update to let you know that the group is doing fantastic! The kids are great and their enthusiasm is inspiring!

    Yesterday was a full day of unprecedented educational opportunities. Nick Ut and Chris Wain gave the group an exclusive conference room for an eyewitness play-by-play of the fateful napalming that burned Kim Phuc and killed many others during the Vietnam War—the kids were mesmerized. Thereafter, we went to the War Remnants Museum where students were free to discover the Vietnamese version of the history of the “American War” along with supplementary lectures. Not surprisingly, the chemical warfare exhibits were the most haunting. 

    Journal writing and reflection in the park followed, and students shared the complexity of their thoughts with each other and the journalists.
    In the evening, we took a lively walk through Saigon’s steamy streets to visit the key sites of wartime journalism: the Rex Hotel—where the famed “5 O’clock follies” press conferences would take place, and the Continental Hotel—where The Quiet American is set. The kids were impressed with both venues.
    Today we visited Trang Bang for a walk through of Kim Phuc’s tragic accident. We met her family, and enjoyed a lesson in living history from both Chris Wain and Nick Ut.
    Thereafter the kids went to the Cu Chi Tunnels where they had a chance to crawl through the underground labyrinth dug by the Vietcong. They were positively giddy with enthusiasm afterwards!
    After exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels, the group made its way to the Mekong Delta for home stay. Please note that they will not likely have Internet service in the Delta, but will check in from Hanoi when they arrive there on Thursday.
    I fly to Siem Reap tomorrow and won’t be reporting further on this group, but Spencer Barr will be posting updates as Internet service allows.
    Much Love,