Friday, April 16, 2010

13,000 feet...

I have never been more proud of my parents, or the Meesh (more details to come later)...

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Happy Easter to you, our beautiful friends and family. A couple of days ago, Michelle and I reached our final destination, New Zealand! We spent far too long in airports as our flights were continually delayed or rerouted from the South Island to the North. This did mean lots of complimentary food vouchers, which are always welcome in this household.

Phnom Penh:
We ended up spending more time in Cambodia than we previously expected. As a country, it was the most humbling, sobering, and shaming place we’ve visited. In Phnom Penh (the capital), we stayed with some friends of a friend, but they are now our friends of a friend and friends. Friends. They welcomed us in with amazing hospitality and informed us about so much of the current political and social climate in Cambodia.

Just before arriving, the Cambodian government burned down over 50 homes in a slum that sits over a river containing mostly human waste. The government simply didn’t like the way the slum looked in their city, so they displaced hundreds of people, who had to swim through the sewage to collect scraps of metal and wood. The government took no responsibility. There are also more Lexus suvs in Cambodia than anywhere I’ve ever been. All of the government officials and businessman own one, two, or three of them at a cost of $150,000, new. 8 years used, $50,000. Mind you, they also place huge vinyl stickers across the door panels stating that it is a lexus (think fast and the furious), as if driving a $150,000 car through a bunch of motorcycles and tuk tuks isn’t obvious enough. Sick.

But I digress. Our friends in Phnom Penh run an orphanage and a home for families with aids. Some of the kids have (formerly) treatable physical disabilities because their parents made more money if their child was begging and crippled. Some have aids. Aids is incredibly common in Cambodia largely thanks to rampant prostitution and brothel attendance. Some of the children never knew their parents, some of them are still mourning recent losses. In spite of all this, the kids were so joyful. Some of them are aptly nicknamed, “Smiley” and “Giggly”. We spent some time playing games with them, meeting the staff, and seeing the facilities, which also includes a farm, garden, and school. Watching the kids in school was so sweet as well. Hearing them pronounce square, “squee-ar”, was too cute.

Our last day in Phnom Penh, we went on a tuk tuk tour of the city. One of our first stops was at S-21, a school that was turned into a prison under Pol Pot’s (leader of the Khmer Rouge) regime. S-21 was where the Khmer Rouge (the people responsible for the killing of over 3 million Cambodians) tortured and killed all of the academics and intellectuals in Cambodia: students, doctors, professors, lawyers, scientists, etc. Mind you, this was a little over 30 years ago.

After S-21, we visited the actual Killing Fields. The Khmer Rouge told the people of Phnom Penh that the US was set to bomb the city, causing everyone to evacuate into the country, where they would soon be killed. Upon entering the fields, there is a 7 story tower that is filled with the skulls and bones excavated from the mass graves. Many of the skulls have bullet holes straight through the cranium. I could go into much greater detail of the stories, accounts, and facts of the Killing Fields, but 1.) I don’t want to freak out our nieces and nephews who have our blog read to them, and 2.) It might be worth doing some personal research, as I for one, was previously completely ignorant of these events. One last bit: the Khmer Rouge was recognized as a legitimate government by the UN and held a seat until the early ‘90s.

Siem Reap:
Siem Reap is an awesome city. It is the home of Angkor Wat. There are tons of cheap, good restaurants. Our hotel had a pool. And we met an awesome Canadian couple to boot. Michelle and I took a more relaxed approach to Siem Reap thanks to our pool and the ridiculously sweltering Cambodian weather. We did spend 3 days at the temples of Angkor Wat with our awesome tuk tuk driver, Sinh. The first day, we saw the most famous temple, Angkor Wat, as well as many of the surrounding temples (there are hundreds in total). As we were leaving Tah Prohm (the temples with the trees growing over them), a line of Buddhist monks dressed in their bright orange wraps, came strolling in. I quickly rushed back in order to get the ever sought after photo: brightly clad monks with the temple trees. This proved to be much more difficult than I had anticipated as all of the monks were constantly holding out their digital cameras or handicams to take pictures of each other or the temple. One even snuck a video of Michelle over his friend’s shoulder. Silly globalization.

Our last day in Angkor Wat, we drove far out into the country to visit a temple built by women, hike up a mountain to see the ruins of the king’s temple, and then finally to visit the landmine museum. The landmine museum was again incredibly haunting and disturbing, especially as an American. We were directly responsible for the deaths of over 600,000 Cambodians thanks to 60,000 bombs we dropped on Cambodia, trying to kill the Vietcong. We also dropped thousands more of unexploded rockets in Cambodia that are still killing farmers and children every year. Last year, a van of people were killed by a landmine only minutes from the museum, yet America remains 1 of 6 six other countries who refuse to sign the anti-landmine treaty, alongside Russia, Pakistan, and Iran, to name a few. It’s estimated that over 5 million landmines remain uncovered in Cambodia and what are we doing to help? On a lighter note, someone at our hotel saw Jude Law at one of the temples right after we visited. Michelle was jealous. I was more jealous.

Perhaps more so than any other place we’ve visited, I’m really thankful for our time in Cambodia. The people are amazing. The history is recent albeit ridiculously disturbing. The culture is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, seeing as ¼ of the population was wiped out so recently, and that the majority of Cambodians are under the ager of 35. If you are thinking of traveling in the near future, Cambodia comes highly recommended from the Hoffner camp.

I know this was a long and somewhat preachy blog, so I will end with a picture of me bathing in a “waterfall” and Michelle looking super fresh.

In a few hours, we will head over to the airport to meet my parents! Then it’s 3 weeks with Bar and T-Ho, cruising through New Zealand, catching Hobbits and chasing sheep.