He That Travels Much Knows Much!Thomas Fuller
And at last, the day I’ve anxiously been waiting for came knocking on my door.
Dragging my oversized 28-inch luggage around the near-empty airport, the darkness permeating through the glass windows reprimanded me for coming too early. Loaded with regret why I picked up a meager 1-hour of rest, my battle with the weights piling on my eyelids was rapidly going downhill. All worn out, I wrestled my muscles and affixed my eyeballs to the computer screen, leaving my fingers freestyling their own tap-dance on the laptop keyboard. As the pivotal mission of finishing the prototypes before departure was finally fulfilled, I let out a huge sigh on relief. Even with an exciting 5-Day experience awaiting around the corner, I barely had the energy to feel upbeat.
“What’s up, man!” I was too engulfed in my own work to realize familiar figures– friends old and new started appearing in bunches. Tasmin, one of my partners in the journey, gave me such a forceful pat on my back I nearly tumbled over. As the group started congregating around the center of the airport, I exhausted my imagination to think of an energetic face and to keep in on as long as possible, hoping that my fatigue would not dampen their enthusiasm.
Grace, the Cathay Pacific Representative, took out the “exquisitely designed” Cathay Pacific shirts in its characteristic green. Soon, the 30-man team, with fewer than 30 hours of sleep in total last night, ditched their fashionable outfits and blended into a remarkable patch of verdure. In the break of dawn, this green patch invaded a plane to Cambodia, embarking on a 5-day journey unlike any other.
Having picked up nothing positive of the country through the media, I had little hopes of this purportedly backward country. So, when we arrived at an airport that didn’t appear a bit dilapidated, I was pleasantly shocked. After a warm welcome from the amiable customs officers in such a modern and stylish site, our feet finally kissed the Cambodian soil.
My first impression of Siem Reap– a collage of Hotels and juxtaposed with gargantuan markets, seemed fitting with the city’s reputation as a tourist hotspot. The strange yet surprisingly harmonious blend of French, Thai and Vietnamese Culture everywhere protruded outside the windows of the coach. Kelvin, the representative of YILI, the Taiwanese Organization who hosted the worksite, slowly recapitulated the tumultuous history of modern Cambodia as Tuk-tuks and motorcycles sped by before my eyelids.
Still struggling to find words to express all the convoluted emotions, the coach already dropped us off at our hotel– a moderately sized structure, the serene atmosphere of which contradicted with the hustle and bustle just across the road. The unforgiving schedule gave us little time to rest–summoned to a hall on the ground floor, we introduced ourselves again to each other. Granted, the benign atmosphere allowed the excavation of a lot of less-than-glorious secrets. Having recharged ourselves with laughter and joy, we hopped onto the bus for a 30-minute ride to the Angkor Children hospital.
The insignificant visitor center next to the plain looking hospital was home to the entire 20-year history of this beacon of hope for the local family. With total focus, the representative slowly divulged into the humble beginnings of this site in a room piled with antiquated equipment. A photographer from Japan, having witnessed the abysmal scene of a desperate father embracing his deceased daughter in her arms, decided to make a difference in the community. So, with a total of 3 doctors, around 10 nurses, and the support from foreign groups, he put together a children hospital to provide treatment for the local children free-of-charge twenty years ago.
Our hearts plunged into sorrow as the representative delineated the predicament of the hospital: fundings they put together barely sustained their daily operations, with continuation becoming more and more of a struggle. I was earnestly taken aback by Cambodia’s dire medical scene: not only does the shortage of professionals hinder its capacity to deliver treatment to the needy, but poverty has also deterred people from getting their cure. In fact, knowing transportation costs would, in fact, be a significant reason many living far away from the city center refrain from visiting the hospital, I honestly could not piece together the picture in my mind, knowing that is something unforeseeable in the fabrics of daily life in Hong Kong. It was a timely kick in the head that such a week in Cambodia is, in no way, a carefree tour, that we came here to work for causes shared by many other both in the region and across borders.
Stressed out physically by the intense schedule and psychologically by our visit at the hospital, we allowed ourselves to regroup by having dinner at Marum, a renowned local social enterprise restaurant serving Cambodian Cuisine. Realizing that the waiters and waitresses were originally destitute kids educated by the Friends organization and given a job here, I was glad that we could have our meals at a place where our expenditures are put into good use.
In fact, there are lots of choices we have to make en course of and visits to other countries– do we consume products from locals, or do we just go with the flow and grab a burger from fast food chains like McDonald’s? The former would be a much nicer way to funnel money to the locals, allowing them to benefit directly by receiving the full monetary compensation of their service and production. It might be surprising to know, but every consumption decision could have lasting impacts on the local community.
It wasn’t until around 8 p.m we managed to catch a breather at the local indoor Night market. Navigating through the intersecting alleyways, the multifarious products on the shelves shined like jewels, asking for adventurers to pick them up. Voices of the stall owners resonated underneath the rooftops, making their way forcefully into our ears.
Exhausted, I realized I’ve already consumed the last bits of strength in my legs. With 5 fellow mates who body ached as much as I did, we shared a Tuk-tuk back to the hotel. As the breeze gently brushed my face with its fingers, I closed my eyes, slowly allowing every single moment to rewind and replay within my mind. From the excitement as I heard the engines of the plane roar to the astonishment of the diversity at the night market, I cannot wait for more of such moments to be carved deep in my memory.