Cambodia: Angkor, Siem Reap, Blood, and Revelations

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I haven’t posted much in the project blog lately because video editing work back in Bangkok has become a black vortex devouring my time every day, including weekends, as deadlines start creeping in. Worse, I no longer had India on my agenda of mission to deploy to, so it would be another month without travel, even if the good news is, I now have extended my contract with their approval to June 19. No travel on a monthly basis makes me suffocate, but thankfully, Songkran (Thai New Year) and Khmer New Year came in, and I decided on a spontaneous trip to Cambodia for the long weekend to breathe.

My goal since leaving San Diego last June has been to always do at least one good deed in every country I go to, and it became reinforced after seeing the ripple effect of kindness in the movie Cloud Atlas back in December when I turned 29. Since I didn’t have the time to teach English and I am usually on the cynical and wary side about the benefits of teaching English, plus the dodgy characters who congregate in that world in Asia, I decided I would donate blood at the Swiss-run Jayavarman VII Cambodian Children’s Hospital as my first priority in Cambodia.

Cambodia is characterized by several common sentiments by people who go through there, especially when seeing Angkor Wat: firstly, that it changes lives; secondly, that nobody stays on schedule there, they tend to extend their time longer; thirdly, that you either love it or hate it, just like the rest of Southeast Asia and the durian fruit that is common here.

Since this is more of the project blog about making a difference, I’ll be posting a more personal account of Cambodia on the personal blog after this goes update goes up.

The people I have met in Cambodia reminded me why I am alive, and taught me that my self-worth is greater than I perceive it to be. Little acts make a big difference, and things that are unappreciated in America or the first world, or even in cities like Bangkok and Jakarta, are really appreciated since none of us were from there or live there.

From my readiness to be open to my passion and focus on putting forth kindness in the world through my creative abilities and small acts like chivalry, which include walking on the outside by the road and women on the inside (many men do not even know this simple rule), to listening when people talk, teaching yoga, body hacking, and meditation, or just simply joining people because they are alone and need company is what shows a certain kind of personality that is suited to making a difference in the world. The real test of working in development and humanitarian aid is not just your skills or degree, but your emotional intelligence: can you make someone look forward to spending four hours in traffic with you in a cab, even when hungry and tired?

I have discovered that yes, I can, from my breadth of experiences traveling, even just this past year, but also my focus on using the camera and pen to impact this world. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but people forget it is the wielder, and if the wielder is weak and lacks eloquence and insight, the pen is weaker, obviously. And by recognizing small acts ripple in life, I know that I am valuable, and everyone else is too, even when they feel that they have nothing to offer, we actually all do. It’s about being there and offering yourself, because there is value in the person’s openness to either a) learn they have more to offer than they first believed, or b) they find that what they do have is far more valuable than they believed initially. A kind heart goes a long way, as I discovered in simple interactions and the way I perceived Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, how it is a magical place that reinforces my decision to do good in this world.

So when I spoke how I was determined to do good for even just one day in Cambodia if not most of my time there, introduced people to volunteer vacations, and all the like, it was what allowed them to all say “Johnny C, you have a very attractive passion, and it’s infectious too!”

When we went to donate blood together, my new friends came and donated too. That day, only one person had donated, and we brought up the total donations to four by the end of the opening hours. On average, 40-60 women bear children each day in Siem Reap, and the hospital sees many of those women. Furthermore, they also need an average of 22 bags of blood per day, especially with road accidents. Compare that to how the average daily donation is only ten bags per day, from tourists, and you can donate only once every three months.

It was my first time, and it was their first time too, and in the tuk-tuk (rickety local taxi powered by a motorbike with a side coach), one of the girls said to me that I have inspired her to do more kind acts wherever she travels now, and to donate blood now whenever she can. Not only did I give blood to children, I got two more people to give more O+ blood, and I inspired them to live a life of bringing in more kindness into this world. If that’s not rocking the planet, then I’ve got much, much more to do and will continue living a life of bringing in kindness, just as I have in Indonesia when connecting David and Sisilia, and Sri Lanka with the shankh mudra and the widows and orphans. And it was the best thing to do instead of giving money to children who were trained to beg at Angkor, as this documentary, Money or Blood, reveals.

This kindness is not only infectious, but it is good karma, and not only did I discover new friends in that week in Siem Reap, but I have found a new family for the first time in years. Janice, Camilla, and Yesl are not just lifelong friends, but people whom I can trust my life with and be myself around, and they feel the same way too. Being me is who they love me for, and being me is what allowed me to provide safety, comfort, and inspiration to them, just as they return it to me and to the world.

I am reminded now of the opening quote from Dune, which I have adapted for the close of this article: Do not be deceived by the fact that he was born on Caladan and lived his first fifteen years there. Arrakis, the planet known as Dune, is forever his place. Do not be deceived by the fact I was born between China and the Philippines and in America, and lived my first fifteen years between those three places there. The golden path that all vagabonds walk is forever my place, and kindness will always be what I spread in my wake.

And now, with my new family, I am compelled to pursue greatness at a higher level than ever before, because the more people around me who inspire and support me, the more I must seek to give them my gratitude and kindness to reflect their faith and conviction. What is wealth and happiness if it cannot be shared? What are travel adventures without people to share them with? I love my family, and these girls have shown me what I am truly fighting for every day: to make a better world so that I have something wonderful to give them, just as I will one day give my children if I ever have any. And what better way to give them the world than to improve it and find ways to travel it as we improve it together?

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One response to “Cambodia: Angkor, Siem Reap, Blood, and Revelations

  1. The world is a better place because you’ve been here!

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