Asia, Cars, Culture, Food, Funny, Garden, Summer, Travel

Cabbage Cartel

My hair smells like cabbage.

Actually, everything about me smells like cabbage. 

I’ve gone from Kimchi Princess to Cabbage Patch Kid. 

So, I’ll go ahead and answer the question everyone has been asking. How exactly did I end up surrounded by cabbage on a van from Laos to Cambodia?


Well, the real answer starts back in 2013. I went on a trip to Cambodia then and saw the establishment of the first BMA church there. I became friends with the believers there and have kept up with them since. So, when I found out that we weren’t far from their border here in Laos, I asked if we could go visit.

I have crossed land borders before. We’ve driven to Canada, and that one is pretty easy. We drove from Jordan into Israel. That one was a little bit tougher because of the high security, but still okay. But, as I was told: Laos to Cambodia is a whole different story.

We were told our van would arrive at 8 am to pick us up. Joy had warned me that it would be an “interesting” experience. 8 am and we’re waiting. As I see vans pull up, I ask Joy: is that the one? To which she kept responding, that one looks pretty nice, that one is pretty new.. Which made me wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into. And what exactly our van was going to look like.

Finally, at 8:40 am, it arrived. Looking okay, not bad at all, a little dusty, but that’s to be expected around here. Then, they opened the door.


A Lao-Vietnamese family occupied the first row of seats. As the door opened, they all gave a sort of amused look like: you’re riding in here? The second row was to be occupied by Joy and I… And cabbage. 


So. Much. Cabbage.


The driver gets in the back to start re-arranging and makes just enough room for us. I look at the floor and look at Joy, trying to figure out where to step. And finally, as the driver is getting out, I realize that I’m just supposed to step on the cabbage. Because what else is there to do?


We settle in for the ride. It’s about two hours of pretty good roads to the border. Along the way, I notice, we stopped to hand off some money to a man in a uniform. I thought possibly it was some sort of toll system. So, I asked Joy why we randomly had stopped in the middle of the road. She informed me that these are passenger vans only and not allowed to haul any type of goods. But, our driver has a friend (the man in the uniform) who will look in, make sure we only have passengers (and not 700 pounds of cabbage), take some money, put it in his pocket, and let us pass on by. Seems okay to me. 

About an hour or so in, we stop for a bathroom break. Which looks like this.


We continue on our way, smelling more and more like the produce aisle as we go along. We arrive at the border, where I have to get a Cambodian visa. While I am waiting, I notice the van door has been opened and the driver is ripping into a bag of the cabbage., the one that was at Joy’s feet nearest the door. He hands off six heads of cabbage to a man on a motorbike, who stacks them all in front of him, balancing one on top of the other, and takes off. He starts passing out a few more to the men at the border, which they all happily accept. I finally get all my paperwork filled out, get stamped through, then, we hop back in the cabbage wagon and take off again. 

The roads get more treacherous to navigate as soon as we enter Cambodia. Causing a lot of bouncing around. There are no seat belts, of course, so its hard to anchor yourself to any one thing. We arrive in Stung Treng, which is our transit town where we switch vans. As we unload our stuff at the stop and say goodbye to the cabbage van, all I can think is: what will we be hauling next?

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Asia, Culture, Food, Missions, Travel

Until the Whole World Hears

I posted my 50th blog the other day. I had no idea I had posted that many. I feel like my 50th post should’ve been something monumental or moving. But, instead, it was about popcorn. That’s probably a pretty accurate description of my writing though, so it seems appropriate. After being alerted that it was post #50, I took a little trip down memory lane and read back on some of my earliest posts. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t usually read things after I’ve written them. It’s just a quirk of mine. But, I wanted to go back to remember where I started.
This has been such a fun (and funny) journey for me. Reading my first posts reminded me why I started writing and how much I enjoy it. It had me laughing and remembering stories that I didn’t even write about. The funny thing about these stories is that a lot of them aren’t monumental happenings. They aren’t about the major stories of my life. To me, they are the little things, the details that weave the bigger stories together, the daily things that often get lost in the mix. Those are the stories I love to tell. And those are the stories I love to read, so here’s to the next 50!
Four years ago, I was in Micronesia on my second medical mission trip. (If you don’t know where this is, don’t worry, neither did I! We had planned to take this trip to the Dominican Republic and instead got saddled with the Micronesia trip. It’s a tiny tiny tiny set of islands in the South Pacific, by the way.)
Landing in the Land of the Islands

Landing in the Land of the Islands

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Three years ago, I was in Armenia on my third trip. (Interesting fact: we could see the mountain that Noah’s Ark landed on from where we were in Armenia. The mountain {Bible trivia: anyone know the name of it?} is in Turkey, but we were in the Ararat {that’s it!} Valley, so we could see it from there. Another interesting fact is that I skipped my first week of senior classes in college to go on this trip. It was totally worth it.)
Cloud covered Mt. Ararat

Cloud covered Mt. Ararat

One of the many monasteries we visited on that trip

One of the many monasteries we visited on that trip

And, two years ago, I was in Cambodia on my fifth trip. Now, I’m gearing up for number 9. I never realized it before but I think I see a pattern that has been established. People always ask me where my favorite place is. I never have a good answer for that. They’re all so diverse, both in geography and culture, and I went to all of them at different points in my life, so they all hold memories from those times. (Like trying to do the homework I was missing from class while trying to soak in the scenes of the Armenian countryside)
The other question people always ask is what’s the weirdest food I’ve eaten. And, I can answer that one (although this is a really long list…)  It was in Cambodia and it was called balut, which is apparently quite a delicacy. It’s a half developed duck egg that has been cooked and it is served over rice. So, I tried it. Because when in Cambodia.. Right?
Balut

Balut

I should also note that when they sell these eggs, you can buy them according to the stage of their development. So, you can buy a less developed egg (which maybe wouldn’t have formed feathers or a beak yet) then scale up from there on development. This one that was cooked for us was a late stage of development and very close to hatching, which they said was not ideal. Here’s what it looked like after it was mixed up and ready to eat. (I feel I should mention that this was Matt’s idea, the guy holding the bowl, and I blame him completely for bringing about these circumstances. He specifically requested this delicacy from our hosts, and they went out and tracked down the eggs and cooked them for us.)
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Cambodia has been on my heart lately because there are some really neat things happening there right now. When I was there in 2013, they had the ceremony which established the first church in Cambodia for our particular missions group. It had been a nine year process of building and growing, and it was such a blessing to be there to witness the establishment. Here’s a picture of our missions group with all the founding members. Can you pick me out of the crowd?
First BMA Church of Cambodia

First BMA Church of Cambodia

Currently, the church is ordaining a pastor and the missionaries there will be turning more of their focus towards work in a remote village on the river. This village is called In Village and we got to visit when I was there. When I say this village is remote, I definitely mean it. It is only accessible by boat, so our group of over 20 loaded up in these rickety boats and let a 9 year old motor us across the not so gentle waters. (I’m not sure if you can tell from this picture, so let me detail it. There is a 9 year old in front who is the driver, and one of the boys jumped out of the boat to get the motor free of weeds while going across the river. Jake is in this boat and I am standing on the shore because I came across in the earlier boat. No big deal.)
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I am told that they received official papers from Provincial Cults and Religion to be able to construct buildings in the village, which will serve as a project center, place of worship and living quarters for a couple of young men who will be working there. This is a huge step forward for the work in the In village. On our trip there, we worked out of the “community center”. Which was essentially the place they met for the animal sacrifice ceremonies. The jawbones of various animals nailed up inside the building were the first thing to give that particular detail away. Now, they will have a place of their own, where they can work and serve.
Me and a Khmer lady in the In Village in 2013

Me and a Khmer lady in the In Village in 2013

Not very many people know anything of Christianity there. Buddhism reigns supreme in this region of the world. In fact, in another village we visited on our trip, one of the members of our team asked a local man if he knew who Jesus was. The man replied that there was no one named Jesus in their village, but we might find the man we were looking for in the next village over. He had no idea who we were talking about, had never even heard of Him.
Sleeping Buddha

Sleeping Buddha

Cambodia was my first exposure to Southeast Asia. It was a whole different world, for so many reasons. It opened my eyes to needs, both spiritual and physical, that I wasn’t even aware existed. It’s that same hidden hunger I started this blog talking about. When I began traveling for missions, I had no idea what I was in for, where I would go, the people I would meet. When I started writing, I had no idea what stories I would have to tell.  50 posts in and I feel like I haven’t even begun.
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Asia, Missions, Travel

Let’s Ride!

Arranging for group travel is always fun. But, the least advantageous in said arrangements is being the youngest or the smallest in the group. Which is usually me. In a car, you are put in the middle seat. In a van, you’re put in the farthest reaches, climbing over seats and other passengers to your tiny corner in the back. In Costa Rica, I was put in the tiniest seat on the bus, right behind and above the driver, for the three hour ride. In a little fly in plane in Canada, I was stored in the back with the fishing poles and duffel bags. And here in Laos, it means I’m put on the back of a motorbike. I heard rumblings at the other end of the table of this conversation about transportation at our lunch. Everyone else was accounted for, but we had one extra person, so what should we do? Oh! That’s right, Brittney can ride on the back of the motorbike. Problem solved!

Not so sure about this

Not so sure about this

I would dare to say that motorbikes are the main means of transportation around the world. (That’s a Brittney fact, not a real fact, so don’t quote me) But, we do see them everywhere. There’s not much you can’t do and not many places you can’t go on one. You can carry things on them. I’ve seen a full grown pig being hauled on one, tied with a rope to the back. No big deal. Families ride on them together. I think the most I’ve witnessed is 6 at a time.

Motorbike parking

Motorbike parking

There is a mental lag that happens with seeing bizarre things on motorbikes though. Usually, one will go by, and you will see it. Then, two seconds later, you’ll process what you saw and think: did I really just witness that?

Baby’s hungry? No problem! Sit side-saddle and feed on the go!

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Just got an IV? Just hold the bottle up and climb on, you’ll be fine!

Yes, that bottle she's holding up is an IV. This is actually a pretty common sighting.

Yes, that bottle she’s holding up is an IV. This is actually a pretty common sighting.

I finally talked myself into it.

I finally talked myself into it.

I did finally talk myself into riding, holding on carefully, in the most American style. Mastering the side saddle will have to wait until next time.

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Asia, Culture, Food, Travel

Cheap Thrills

If I was going to receive manna from Heaven, I would hope it would be in the form of an enchilada. Can you tell I’ve been jonesing for some Mexican food? Well, God must’ve heard my plea because pulling up to our hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I see a sign, two beloved words: Fresh Tortillas. There just happens to be a Mexican restaurant about three steps from our hotel. And I’m not ashamed to say it was our first meal here.

Chicken enchiladas

Chicken enchiladas

In Southeast Asia, you can find a lot of really cheap stuff. The food is cheap, the souvenirs are cheap, the transportation is cheap. But, as in the rest of the world, sometimes you get what you pay for.

We got a great deal on an inexperienced tuk-tuk driver

We got a great deal on an inexperienced tuk-tuk driver

One of the best cheap things are the massages. To dip your toe into the local massage scene here, I’d suggest the thirty minute foot massage. The going rate for one of these is $3. And they vary in intensity. You’ll never get two just alike. One of mine included a lot of reflexology and pressure points in the feet. Another one I got was a lot of massage through the calves and knee. I just knew I was going to have bruises after that one, but surprisingly, I didn’t. A lot of it borders on feeling good and hurting, I’m not quite sure if that is normal, but it seems to be the norm here.

One of the many $3 foot massages

One of the many $3 foot massages

Since I experienced the massages for the first time last year, I thought I’d wade a little deeper into the metaphorical pool. Last year in Laos, I had a full body massage, which consisted of being laid down on a mat on the floor in loose clothing and having a tiny Lao woman crawl on top of me and manipulate my limbs in different positions. I’ve never had any type of physical therapy or been to a chiropractor in the States, but I feel safe in saying that these massage sessions would be a cross between massage and physical therapy/chiropractice. (Is this what they call the work of a chiropractor? If not, it should be officially adopted as the word to use) As strange as this sounds, I felt really relaxed and in good shape at the end of it. But, I had never had the Cambodian version of this type of massage

When you approach one of these massage places, they usually have lounge chairs set up outside where they conduct the foot massages. If they see you coming, they’ll bring out a menu, much like at a restaurant, of all the different things you can get done. There’s quite a list to choose from and varying time frames. I chose a full body massage with lotion, just to try something different. They led me to a back “room” (some sheets held together with binder clips) and had me lay down on a table, which I was surprised by. Everything seemed pretty typical of what I would expect the American massage to be like and then finally, she climbed on the table with me, and that’s where it departed. If you’ve never had anyone balance on their knees on the backs of your thighs and walk their hands up your back, popping every vertebrae along the way, I would highly suggest the experience. It’s an hour long adventure of “what are they going to try to do next?” and “I don’t know if I can stretch that way.” Exhilarating and terrifying all in one package, all for the low, low price of $5.

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Asia, Culture, Travel

Elephant Excursion

For those of you who have never ridden an elephant, getting into the basket is about as tricky as it sounds like it would be. Of course, the natives crawl out on the head or shoulders with ease. But, not for me. I’ve ridden an elephant before in Cambodia, the last time we were here about a year and a half ago. That ride was a more authentic experience. Some Cambodian boys we met took us out to the forest and we paid $5 for these guys to let us ride their elephants. Then, after we rode the elephants, we had to pay for them to let us out of the compound. Sounds authentic, right? That experience was daunting because you basically climbed this rickety structure that was constructed in who knows what year and precariously stepped out to balance yourself on the shoulders of the elephant, then sat down and hoped you didn’t fall. They also took us out into the forest in some pretty rough terrain. This was not exactly like that, but a little scary nonetheless, seeing as how I don’t ride elephants every day.

The picture basically says it all

The picture basically says it all

Cambodian break time

Cambodian break time

We are quite a spectacle in this part of the world. My hair and skin color gets me noticed pretty much everywhere anyway. But, put me on an elephant and it takes it to a whole new level. We just rode in a big circle around the temple, and there were tourists everywhere taking pictures of us on this elephant. It probably didn’t help that Jake had his “selfie stick” out trying to capture the experience. So, tourists from around the world now have a picture of us riding an elephant in their photo albums from their temple visits.

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I’m pretty much convinced that trees can grow anywhere and the temples prove my point. These were constructed nearly a thousand years ago and have been used for Hindu and Buddhist practices. Angkor Wat, the most famous of the temples, was used as a palace for the king of the Angkor dynasty. You can still see remnants of their luxurious life here, including the remains of an indoor pool. But, back to the trees. They have basically taken over part of the temples, growing up through the stone and not only growing but thriving.

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Did I mention we’re traveling with a professional photographer at this point? Well, not exactly professional, but she’s definitely not an amateur. She sees the opportunity for a great picture and takes it. Literally.

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Kissing up to the ancients

Kissing up to the ancients

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Asia, Missions, Travel

Moving On…

Airplane bathrooms baffle me. You get one square foot of space, but they include a full length mirror. Why thank you, I did need to see a full view of myself standing three inches away. Yep, just as I suspected, travel worn and weary, that was just the look I was going for! I cause scenes in airports. I liken it to having a toddler at the DMV. All my normal social standards just go out the window. I try, I really do. I always go in thinking I’ll try to be normal this time. But, it never works. I stand in line, everything is going well, then our baggage is too heavy, hidden fees ensue and all the sudden, I’m sitting on the floor, shuffling dirty clothes from one bag to another, trying to balance weights among bags, muttering angrily to myself, with about a hundred sets of Asian eyes all on me. And, after that, it’s all over. I guess I figure once I’ve literally aired my dirty laundry to everyone around me, there’s no turning back and I can throw whatever kind of temper tantrum I need to at that point.

4 of our 8 bags

4 of our 8 bags

My frustration gets me nowhere though, and after an hour at the check-in desk and being ushered into a back room to dig through my checked bag to show them my hairspray (for reasons that didn’t translate), I still find myself running through the airport, with a now 25 lb bag on my back and dragging a 35 lb bag behind me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an elephant run, but I have and I know they look more graceful than I did. We made it onto the flight though and God shined a little light down on me in my distress: the seat next to me is open, allowing for some much needed room to breathe. Next stop: Cambodia!

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