Cambodia is Much More than Temples

Now I could easily make this a blog post filled with photos of temples. I have hundreds of incredible images. What impacted me the most about Siem Reap, undoubtedly was the people.

 

First and foremost the most amazing person we met was our tour guide Mooni. He organized five days of sightseeing, and incredible experiences for us. He made this the best family trip we have experienced. Mooni shared with us the impact that the genocide Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge communists had on his family between 1975 and 1979, and beyond. Walking long distances in fear of their lives, eating whatever they could to survive: crickets, ants, snakes, and much more, his sister almost sitting on a land mine, the horror of waiting to be admitted into a refugee camp, and the struggles being reintroduced back into Cambodia. Our driver Mr Oun, although not able to speak much English, he brought so much joy to us with his big Buddha smile and warm, friendly presence.

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Our first insight to life in Cambodia was the floating village known as Chong Kneas. Mooni arranged our own small boat which took us through the crowded waterways. I had read that this trip was a scam, and that no one should do it. What I experienced was the opposite. It was an insight to a way of life for people, who have lived this way for years. Our eyes were opened. I must admit, I felt uncomfortable, as if I was a spectator looking in on someone’s personal and intimate life, for that reason I did not take many photos of people. Reactions of the people told me otherwise. Children waved, they smiled as they went about their business jumping in the water, or helping their parents with netting, cooking, fishing.

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We then enjoyed a relaxing trip through the mangrove trees. There was an eerie beauty. Once Amanda realized that this was not the crocodile farm, and that there were no crocodiles she relaxed and enjoyed as well.

 

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Biking through the countryside was another highlight. Huge thanks to the wonderful Lors from Indochine Exploration for a very special day. Riding our bikes on the rocky, uneven road was an adventure. We were greeted by village children running out of their small homes on stilts with big grins and hellos. Everyone we passed along the way had a huge welcoming smile. One lady in particular, who was very old had stopped beside her bicycle that was laden with wood. She had the hugest, most beautiful, warm and friendly smile I’ve seen, rotted teeth and all. There was no need for a picture, that breathtaking image is embedded in my heart.

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A day wouldn’t be complete without Mooni finding an insect to show us, this time a huge grasshopper. As usual, Amanda was as far away as possible.

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Our next stop was kayaking a barray, where we saw water buffalo roaming, and sweet children playing and bathing in the water.

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We then walked through forest to arrive at some old temple ruins where Mr Oun, Mooni and Lors set up a delightful picnic lunch.

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Our sweet smiling Buddha, Mr Oun

 

Our second last day in Cambodia was one that touched all of us deeply, and we all agreed at dinner that night that it was the most impactful day of our trip. We were headed to Beng Mealeal temple, with the intention of stopping at villages on the way. Our wonderful community in Kuala Lumpur had donated many items, and we had a suitcase full of books, pencils, toys, clothes, shoes, toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap to give away.

 

Mr Oun took us along the route rarely used by tourists. Along the way I had mentioned to Mooni that Miss T would like to try fishing. He was going to go home that night and make her a bamboo rod so she could try it the next day. As grateful as we were at his suggestion, we didn’t want him to go to any more effort. Next thing we know, we saw two ladies walking on the side of the road with fishing poles. We pulled up alongside them and Mooni asked if they knew where we could try fishing. With magnificent smiles, they told Mooni where we could go.

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What touched us so deeply was their smiles, their warmth, and friendliness. We decided to go back to them. Mr Oun pulled over and we got out of the van. The older lady kept saying to Mooni how beautiful our girls were. She even stated that she wanted to be Miss T’s mother-in-law. At 12 years of age, that was her first indirect marriage proposal. They mustn’t interact with tourists much, because they asked us how we got our skin so white. We were in laughter. After we took a group photo, and then showed them, the older lady laughed, and for some reason gave Amanda a little slap on the bottom.

 

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We ended up joining these ladies and walked to a small fishing hole in the rice fields. As we walked along some village children joined us.

 

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Under the scorching sun Miss A and Miss T fished with the ladies and the children.

 

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Five small fish were caught, enough to make one meal of fish soup.

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We gathered some gifts from the suitcase for the children, and for the ladies. They had gifted us so much in such a short time. Their gratitude was infectious.

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As we drove away, the children had their new clothes on, their Mom with a baby in hand, waved – I could feel her tremendous gratitude, tears stung my eyes.

 

Our next stop was the Beng Mealea temple. As we were about to head towards the temple I saw a large pig. Mooni and Miss T ventured over.

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Behind it I could see some children playing in the dirty water, a little boy naked, a little girl chasing him with laughter. I asked Mooni if he could find out about this family. He walked into their hut. The single lady was looking after many children, most were the children of relatives or friends who needed to journey far for work. Their conditions were some of the worst I’ve seen. Our next stop of giving would be right here.

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The older boy in blue had tears in his eyes

 

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Miss T’s smile says it all

 

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He would not let go of his scrapbook, don’t worry sweetheart I’m not going to take it away.

 

Our final stop for the day was The Cambodia Landmine Museum. This small museum details the horror caused by landmines in history and today. It was difficult seeing the pictures of so many people severely injured and killed from landmines.

 

While we were in the museum Mooni was asking about some local villagers. There were two families who were struggling. The other villagers were doing what they could to support them, providing them with some food. This would be our final act of giving for the day.

 

We were greeted by a sweet little girl serving her ailing grandmother (drip and all), with a thin soup. The grandmother waved her children in, and they all sat around her. Gratitude filled her eyes as we gifted the children with clothes, toys for the little ones, books, coloring pencils, and some hygiene items.

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We ventured over to the neighboring house. Two women sitting on the steps with little ones touched us all. Another older lady looked on with pure joy, as she smiled her teeth were black. One of the older girls was overjoyed when she was gifted Miss T’s purple glitter shoes. They were so polite, so grateful.

 

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More children appeared and we were able to give away everything we brought along.

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As we were leaving we were touched to see one of the girls show us her first entry into her scrapbook, and one of the little ones playing with his new toy.

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These beautiful people have nothing, or maybe they have everything.
Few have shoes on their feet, many struggle to find something to eat.
Maybe, just maybe, a family member will earn US$1 a day.
Teeth are rotted, bellies swollen, sickness threatens.
Yet here they are,
smiling,
grateful,
joyful,
loving,
kind,
welcoming.
They lift each other up
when another struggles.
Children play in the dirt,
go fishing,
play jacks with stones,
use a worn flip flop as a soccer ball.

What I’ve seen in this last week, has touched me deeply and will remain etched in my heart.

Towers, Temples, Markets and a Gunshot

It took having our first visitor to arrive to explore a little further outside of Kuala Lumpur. Amanda arrived at midnight last Thursday, and we’ve had so many wonderful adventures together. It warms my heart to know that our best friends daughter, who is like a daughter to us, chose to start her first time travelling abroad with us.

 

We didn’t wait to get started. Friday morning we were off on our first adventure – Batu Caves. I didn’t tell her too much, Amanda had read about Batu Caves, although whatever she read – didn’t prepare her for the monkeys! To see her face and her reaction at the first one she saw as we were climbing the 272 steps up to the caves was priceless, to say the least. And then our disbelief as we watched people try to pat or feed these wild animals. Witnessing her first time at being asked if she would be in a photo with someone was humorous. Seeing the caves through her young adventurous eyes, a blessing.

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Our next adventure took us to the Petronas Twin Towers. At 452 meters tall, they are the tallest twin towers in the world. The interior motifs are a reflection of local handicrafts and weaving patterns, while the 33,000 pieces of stainless steel and 55,000 pieces of glass panels on the exterior combine beautifully as Islamic patterns.

 

We had a couple of hours before our tour started, so we went for lunch, walked around KLCC and ventured five floors up to the book store in Suria KLCC.

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The tour took us to the Skybridge, the world’s highest double-decked bridge at 170 meters above the ground.

 

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The next stop was the observation deck on the 86th floor, 360 meters high! Although haze from the fires in Indonesia were obstructing much of what the view may have been, it was quite impressive to be this high up.

 

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Next on the adventure was a trip via the train system to China Town. Amanda was quite surprised when Neil told her to guide us to where we were going. Given she’ll be backpacking around Thailand soon, this was a little practice run. Much to her surprise, she managed pretty well, and off we went. On the train we giggled, especially at the station Dang Wangi.

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We ventured into Central market, a place filled with so many great little shops and even an opportunity to have all the dead skin eaten off your feet!

 

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There isn’t a whole lot that can prepare you walking along the streets in China Town. The sights, sounds and smells are something that can’t fully be explained in print. It’s an interesting experience to say the least.

 

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On Monday, Amanda and I ventured to Genting Highlands. With the Skyway Cable Car entered into the handy Waze App, we were on our way. We were in awe as we drove up the winding road, the thick lush forest surrounding us at every angle. We giggled as we came to a roundabout that had only one exit point – how that’s a roundabout not sure. Somehow we missed the Cable Car and ended up at the Chin Swee Caves Temple, which was a welcome change of plans. This place is magical in an eerie and peaceful kind of way. The clouds, and light rainfall made seeing all of this beautiful spot difficult, although it did make for beautiful images.

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And of course the day would not be complete without Amanda being asked to be in a picture or take a picture!

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After an unexpected tour around one of the large resort parking lots – thirteen floors of tight turns and corners, we decided to skip lunch and head back to Kuala Lumpur.

 

Tuesday’s adventure was Port Dickson. I really didn’t know what to expect, I did not do my due diligence with research. After a little investigating I found the Cape Rachado Lighthouse hike, and thought that would be a wonderful way to spend our day.

 

Driving into Port Dickson was surprising, I now know that it is known as an Army town. There are many training facilities, and a great deal of barbed wire.  My message to Tina (Amanda’s Mom) was this:

“From military camps, barbed wire everywhere, a gunshot where we were destined to go, to a surreal oppulent and over the top resort.”

We arrived at Cape Rachado and were deciding what to do when we heard a very loud gunshot nearby. Needless to say, we decided to get back in the car. As we were driving out we saw an over the top resort on the beachfront. We decided to head there, check it out and maybe have some lunch. As we drove into the Lexis Hibiscus we felt like we were entering Far Far Away from Shrek. It didn’t seem real. After a quick walk around, we decided this wasn’t the place and kept going.

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Image from Agoda.com

Image from Agoda.com

We found our way to the Thistle Resort & Spa. After an incredible 15 minute Head, Neck & Shoulder massage we enjoyed a lovely lunch before heading back to Kuala Lumpur.

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What a whirlwind adventure this has been this past five days. We are so grateful to have Amanda here with us. We couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful first guest! Next adventure – Cambodia in three sleeps!

 

Serenity in Koh Samui

“Why don’t you go to Bangkok for the weekend?!” Neil suggested.

 

Our daughters had gone on a three day Malaysian Studies school trip, and I had booked myself in for a rejuvenating three days at The Shorea. After a one and a half hour drive through dense haze I arrived at the Shorea. The property was everything I had hoped – quaint, secluded, and surrounded by nature. There was only one problem, the haze from the fires in Indonesia was suffocating me. With great disappointment I drove back to Kuala Lumpur. One saving grace is that the lovely Roza from The Shorea credited me for a future stay.

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Haze from my Villa Bougainvillea room

 

Neil’s suggestion of Bangkok didn’t appeal to me, I was looking forward to nature, beauty, and relaxation. After a quick search on Kayak and Trip Advisor, I booked a flight and accommodation at 7:00 pm on Wednesday for a 8.25 am flight the next morning. This is one of the many benefits of living the expat life, the ability to travel to exotic destinations quickly and cheaply.

 

My first time flying Bangkok Airways was a wonderful experience. The crew were so friendly and eager to please, the meal was delicious, and the flight was on time for our 9:25 am arrival into Koh Samui. My heart skipped a beat as I took in the view outside my window.

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After a quick 15 minute taxi ride I arrived at the Hansar Samui Resort & Spa. I smiled as I read that Hansar is taken from the ancient Sanskrit language and translates to mean happiness and joy. I felt that as soon as I waked into the open, uncluttered beauty of the foyer. Given that I booked last minute, I in no way expected to have, what I consider, the best room in the resort. Room 3201 (3+2+1=6, known in numerology as the most harmonious of all single numbers), greeted me with simple elegance and a breathtaking view.

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What better way to get this weekend of bliss started by a spa treatment. The Luxsa Spa at Hansar is peaceful, serene, tranquil, welcoming, and beautiful. The tough part – to pick a treatment. The Healing Body, Mind and Soul Shirodhara, two and a half hours of total bliss and deep relaxation was the choice. It definitely lived up to it’s divine write up. The therapists touch was gentle yet firm, calming yet invigorating. It was obvious that she loves what she does. I left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, in the perfect state of mind and being for this solo weekend to myself.

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Hansars proximity to Fisherman’s Village is a definite bonus. Wandering through the quaint, yet lively street gave me a sense of exploration, amusement, and stillness. This wonderful first day in paradise finished with a stroll along the beach taking in the beautiful sights, and a delicious beachfront dinner at the Smile House Restaurant.

 

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What to do the next day? Another visit to Trip Advisor for suggestions, and Angthrong Marine Park was my choice. After reading many reviews I chose a full day trip with Boutique Yachting. The laid back cruise to the marine park appealed to me far more than an overcrowded speedboat to quickly get you to and from the island.

 

As soon as I was on deck I felt a sense of excitement rush over me. We were a diverse group of people – Germans, Russians, Americans, English, and then there was me, the only solo person, the Aussie who has lived in Canada for 20 years and now lives in Malaysia (try explaining that every time someone asks – great conversation starter!). Rob our guide was welcoming, comical, with an obvious love for what he does. With a somewhat dry sense of humor (which seemed to come out more when he spoke German, based on the laughs), he kept us entertained.

 

The two and a half hour cruise to the marine park was exhilarating. At first I had wished I brought my book or journal, this oversight provided me an opportunity to simply be.

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Our first stop was Ko Wua Ta Lap. Cruising into the beautiful park was breathtaking.

 

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The Baidee cast it’s anchor and we awaited the long boat to take us over.

 

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The trail to the top lookout is quite treacherous, and many people have injured themselves, so for safety reasons we were offloaded without any shoes, and given strict instructions not to go to the top – otherwise we’d be waving good bye as the Baidee sailed away. The resting point of the trail (which was recommended for us to do) was a 100m climb up slippery rocks, surrounded by lush greenery. Walking up barefoot was quite the little adventure. The view that laid before my eyes was well worth the slight scratch on my foot, and sweat dripping down my back.

 

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To cool down from the intense, humid heat, I took my camera and ventured along the shoreline where kayakers were coming in from their journey.

 

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Back on board the Baidee we were treated to an exquisite lunch cooked fresh and served with a smile.

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We continued on taking in the magnificent cliff faces and emerald green waters.

 

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Mae Koh Island provided one of the most spectacular sights. The climb up the Lagoon Trail to see the Green Lagoon is not for the faint hearted. The steep stairs are challenging, especially in the heat. The view though, was well worth the effort.

 

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And then it was down some more stairs to be at the base of the natural wonder and beauty.

 

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Back to the Baidee by longboat we went, and enjoyed a refreshing swim, and some entertaining jumps off the boat in the beautiful waters.

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We were trailed by a storm on our way back to Koh Samui. The sky was moody, dark and eerily beautiful.

 

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Ahead of us was a breathtaking rainbow. Along the way fishing boats were heading away from the storm.

 

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After a full day filled with majestic natural wonder we disembarked at 6:00 pm, and were whisked away to our hotels. I’m so grateful to Boutique Yachting, the crew (especially Rob), and the other guests for a remarkable day.

 

Fisherman’s Village comes alive for the Friday night market, so I ventured down to take it all in. Without camera, I just strolled along, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this lively scene. I finished off this incredible day with an absolutely divine dinner of Fried White Snapper in Green Curry sauce at the lovely Krua Bophut Thai Restaurant. As I sat, I listened to the sweet laughter of children playing on the beach, watched the young bartenders practicing their ‘Cocktail’ skills and took in the calming sound of the waves rolling in.

 

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The rest of my trip, well that’s between me and Koh Samui. What I know is this – I am so deeply grateful for this remarkable and beautiful experience that I am so blessed to be able to experience and share.

We Love Langkawi

12033376_814714765315693_545989868_nI’m not one to check weather forecasts before we go on a vacation. For some reason I did this time, and it almost resulted in us cancelling our trip. Thankfully we didn’t, the weather forecast, as per usual wasn’t accurate.

 

Due to a change in Miss A’s Volleyball tournament, Miss T and I left on our scheduled flight on Wednesday evening, Neil and Miss A left Thursday morning. Miss T and I had an adventurous ride to 12030803_814711225316047_2063294149_nthe airport in a taxi that I’m sure shouldn’t be on the road. I should’ve clued in when we opened up the trunk and there was only room for one carry on bag as there was a huge gas canister. My seat-belt didn’t work. It sounded like it was going to die. The fuel light came on in bumper to bumper traffic. He swerved across four lanes as he almost missed the turn off. Thankfully we arrived in one piece at KL Sentral for our train to the airport.

 

Then I12042022_814717975315372_1743270838_n realized I had left my credit card, bank card, drivers license all at home. We missed the train by two seconds. Our flight was delayed and then changed gates. Well at least we got to chill in some massage chairs for 30 minutes.

 

We finally arrived at the beautiful Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa and got busy decorating the room for Miss A’s 16th Birthday. Thursday morning we knelt behind the bed as Miss A walked in and we popped up with an eager SURPRISE!

 

After breakfast Neil and Miss A who had been up since 5.00am had a little nap, while Miss T an12064409_814723871981449_708538664_nd I walked along the beach. We had so much fun searching for shells, frolicking in the water, and simply enjoying each others company. As we neared the end of the beach I said to Miss T ‘normally you would have complained about the long walk, not once have you and we’ve been walking for over half an hour. All the stairs and walking at school is toughening you up, I’m proud of you!’

As we approached the end Miss T said ‘What’s with the Hollywood sign?!’ I couldn’t help but laugh.

 

Our family enjoys taking time to unwind and relax, so our first day was spent lazing around the pool and taking it easy. We all had a massage in the small open air huts by the beach. We enjoyed watching the sun set before a lovely dinner.

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Friday was Miss A’s 16th birthday, so the days activities were her decision. A six hour snorkeling trip with Naam Adventures to Pulau Payar Marine Park was her choice, and a great one it was. The waters were clear, refreshing and beautiful. Fish, Black Tip Reef Sharks and coral were plentiful. We enjoyed a leisurely snorkel while the hoards of people that had just began to arrive were getting ready. We thoroughly enjoyed standing in the waters with fish and sharks swimming around our feet. As the water warmed up, small jelly fish came into shore, many people were stung as the lifeguards tried to keep up with spraying vinegar. We walked around to the other end of the park and tried going in there, half way out I was surrounded by these tiny little creatures so we decided to come back in, with the girls behind each of us for protection. Even though the jellies kept us from venturing out, we thoroughly enjoyed our day.

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We decided to leave the marine park before the rush and our captain took us on a leisurely cruise through the Langkawi Islands. The waters were a brilliant hue of aqua, the cliff faces jagged and spectacular. At one point Danny, our guide, told us to yell out to hear our echoes. As we did this, we could hear all the monkeys hidden in the trees chattering away. Miss A saw a monkey with a black face, we saw some grey monkeys, and we wondered how many were there?

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After a full day in the sun, we took it easy on Saturday. Relaxing at the beach. Miss A and Neil went for a 30 minute jet ski ride, while Miss T and I took in the delights of another one hour massage.

 

After a light snack we took a 20 minute taxi ride into Langkawi for the night market. It definitely wasn’t Chinatown markets in Kuala Lumpur, although it was interesting to walk by the river with small fish teeming at the surface, boats that were aground due to the low tide, and taking in the sights and smells of a local market.

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How grateful I am that we are able to take a one hour flight to such a beautiful location. We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Langkawi. We’ll definitely be back to explore some more – possibly rent a car and drive around, go on the Rhino safari (and no, much to my disappointment it isn’t Rhinoceros), and a jet ski tour through the islands.

 

Thanks Langkawi for a wonderful weekend. We’ll be back!

The Chin Refugee Children of Siamsin Learning Center

Spending time at Siamsin Learning Center with Chin State Refugee children today, humbled me. It inspired me, brought me joy and reminded me how precious the life of a child is. Today my five senses were touched deeply.

 

If you look deep enough into a persons eyes you can see their soul.
I could see the wonder and awe, fear and sadness, happiness and gratitude, inquisitiveness and focus, playfulness and cheekiness, desire and hope in the eyes of these beautiful children.

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If you listen with focused attention you can hear the subtle whispers of a persons past hurts, their needs, and their desires.
I could hear their determination, willingness to learn, joys, struggles and sickness in their words, their silence, and their coughs.

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If you can imagine the food that tantalizes your taste buds you can almost taste it.
I could taste the crisp apples, juicy watermelon, sweet strawberries as we talked about their favorite foods, and the lunch the nursery children were served with such love and attention.

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If you gently touch another person with kindness and compassion you make a connection, and let them know they are not alone.
I connected through touch and a sweet tentative hug. I witnessed the gentle loving touch between the children.

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If you can imagine the sights of poverty and disaster, you can smell the odors of decay.
Arriving at the center I took a closer look at the surroundings these children live in, the smells of garbage and mustiness.

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Siamsin literally means learner or student. Siamsin Learning Center is owned and operated by James and his wife. They teach, they love, they support and they nurture almost 30 children ranging in ages from two to 15. James is a passionate man, filled and driven by his deep Christian faith. He and his wife devote their time, energy and love to running Siamsin and providing these children a safe place to be. James mentioned today that many times after school finishes the children come back to the school as he’s cleaning up. How many children do you know that go back to school after it’s finished… by choice?

 

James, his wife, their one teacher, the children and approximately 140,000 Burmese refugees live in Malaysia, where they are unable to work or receive education. The United Nations lists Chin State as Myanmar’s poorest state, with at least 73 percent of the estimated 500,000 population living below the poverty line, compared to a national average of 25 percent. Food shortage is a chronic problem and the low level of development and isolation means that the impact of natural disasters such as the recent flooding and landslides is severe and life threatening.

 

Today James asked Jenny and I why would we want to help them? We never got the chance to answer him.

For me, it’s quite simple. Because I can, because I want to, because I care.

 

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