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Looking at the locals, living in a restrictive regime where self-expression and the free propagation of ideas is not exactly what you would be inclined to do, I’m wondering how many live for a dream and what is that dream?

Travelling through tens of countries from Bangladesh to Japan and Argentina to Kenya, seeing different cultures, political systems, schemes of thinking, beliefs, religions, behavior models, my personal dream is to get to the people’s core way of being and understanding them.

Judgment can only be stopped by knowing, by documenting, by understanding, by seeing and genuinely trying to put one in the shoes of the other. We live in a globalized world that is more racist and less understanding and tolerant to other beliefs, cultures and religions than ever.

Before judging someone or something try to understand where they’re coming from, how they think and what they have to say.

I wanted this trip for years and it must be 15 years since I’ve been in a group tour, an itinerary organized by somebody else. While this is the most common route in Iran, when I come back, I have to visit Tabriz and maybe Mashad.

Mashad is a holy city in the East of Iran where Imam Reza (or Ali al-Ridha), the 8th Imam of the Twelver Islam, a section of Shia Islam, was buried.

Globalization: A Basic Text

Closing my eyes, I can see where I am on the world map. So far, yet so close. What about my mission, my life? Where am I? We’re so good with practical aspects, yet with the less tangible we still seem to struggle. At least I do and I’m unceasingly searching, searching. Sometimes I feel like a dog scratching the ground in search of something he cannot see or feel, yet his senses tell him it’s there.

It’s second day and I wished I talked less and listened more. Does human interaction scare me? Does it make me look inside? Simply cannot sleep. Does a story that resembles mine make me sad? Does my competence make me too proud? Do I not take rejection, criticism?

Travel, just like love, is meant to change us. My motto is:

If love and travel did not change you, it means you did not love enough or traveled far enough.

Love, another force that makes the world spin.

I’m working on myself without even noticing, washing away pain, learning to deal with my thoughts, at the border between acceptance and understanding. Between these two doors I walk back and forth.

It’s a long way, a long process. It means dedication to myself and meanwhile I’m trying to observe where selfishness ends and giving begins.

Personal Revolution: How to Be Happy, Change Your Life, and Do That Thing You’ve Always Wanted to Do

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June 27th 2016, 6 AM, just arrived from a whole night flight to and back from Ahmedabad

My life lately? Positive isolation, removing myself from the distractions of everyday life. Harvest of interior work. Rising above what I no longer need.

 

Same day, Doha, Qatar, Iftar time, 6:25 PM

I’m in uniform in the bus going to the airport. At the intersection of two main roads of Doha, a truck stopped at the red light and two men take water bottles and boxes and put them on the sidewalk. Other two run fast from one car to another and distribute the water bottle and the Iftar boxes.

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At this moment, while I wait for the clock to tick 6:29 PM, to be able to drink the big bottle of water I brought with me I’m not only thinking, but I FEEL that living in the Middle East is the most amazing experience of my life.

I wrote this on facebook and to my surprise, I was ironically attacked by people who live in the Middle East for quite some years. “Which part, the Ramadan?” asks one voice. Yes, actually I kept this as a secret, but I was fasting for about a week in this Ramadan and I was fasting in the day I felt this strong bond. Fasting cleared me of some dark energies I’ve been having lately, of the dirt that came out as the oil in water when I searched in my past, my childhood, my wounds, my past lives, my patterns, my family patterns, my karma, my inner male and inner female, numerology and astrology.

As you can see, I’ve been busy. And I’ve been digging every day like a crazy hamster. I’ve had sleepless nights, moments of epiphany and days of hell on Earth to b where I’m at. And I have such a long way to go, but I will not stop. Will not give up. Will take responsibility for everything in my life and will do the work for the ones around me if I have to. At all costs, I will rise.

When I started flying (to Oman; and maybe not by chance after I return from Dhaka I’m heading in an anniversary trip to Muscat), a little over a year ago, I was writing:

 

“Today I am starting the journey of my life, a road of self-knowledge and self-education. I am leaving to search for a spiritual awareness over a material one. I shall look for unwritten laws rather than written ones – as until now.”

 

Be careful what you wish for say the wise. Well, I got plenty and most of it the hard way. I’m proud of how I encountered everything that came my way and I understand our lessons come at the right time and the level of the lesson is according to the level where we are. Great challenges therefore flatter me although sometimes overwhelm me. I would write about it, but only one person in this…Universe would understand me and they would still not admit it. Keep climbing, keep evolving!

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June 28th, 5AM, landed in Dhaka, Bangladesh

There are some destinations nobody is go to. Dhaka is one of them. This is my second time here and I must say I’m glad to be here (as I said before) and be able to explore the city.

First time I came with a suitcase full of coloring books, pencils, stationery and sweets and donated them to the local girls’ orphanage. Could not go there myself because of Bishwa Ijtema, a Muslim pilgrimage, second biggest after the Hajj at Mecca. The gathering is less known since, as opposed to Hajj, which is one of the pillars of Islam, Ijtema is not mandatory.

These destinations tell stories. Like the hundreds of people gathered at the airport behind some bars looking like they’re in jail, the colorful dresses of the well groomed ladies, the cage looking green tuk tuks, the no rule traffic, the tens of men sitting on top of the train while it’s moving.

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And our 5 star retreat. Although I’m not impressed by 5 star hotels since I was younger than high school age, I understand we stay here mainly for safety. However, I’d love to go out and explore the real city.

So, I put on a long dress and go out in front of the hotel, get the first tuk tuk and get inside. It’s tiny, I already negotiated the price at 200 Bangladeshi Taka ($2.5) and I sit – not to relaxed – ready for the adventure. Well, going out in Dhaka IS an adventure. First of all there are about 40 degrees + and no air. Doha it’s hot, but not like this. The tuk tuks look like little cute cages, they’re tiny and with only two people inside I was feeling claustrophobic. I saw 4 in one of them.

I loved that everything is colorful, from tuk tuks to trucks and buildings, carriages and clothes. Essentially a Muslim country, each thing has a small inscription in Arabic, either with Allah or MashAllah.

The surprise of any foreigner is that there isn’t really a place to go. I had opted for a market, but as it was hot out and it was during the Holy Month of Ramadan, I entered a sort of mall to eat and look at the merchandise.

Some restaurants were opened and some are closed. Mainly foreigners, but not only. I had a mutton biryani and my friend had a big tray called Rajlokkhi Thali, described by the waiters as traditional.

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After eating I dragged the poor guy – 100% Japanese, born and raised in Brazil – in many stores with traditional dresses, which I’m in love with. I dream of making my own collection of traditional dresses from around the world and I’ve started already – Lebanese, Berber motifs, Pakistani dress, Jordanian. At the beginning of the month I made my apparition in one of the dresses from Beirut at a high class wedding and it made quite an impact.

I’ve just tested the market this time and planning on doing some serious shopping next time. Well…if they stop the attacks. I was fortunate enough to be in Dhaka 3 days BEFORE the attack, so I was allowed to go out of the hotel. After the events in the diplomatic area (really?) they stopped letting people go out of the hotel.

We roamed around the market with 4 or 5 kids not going further than 10 cm away from us, repeating neurotically “money, money”. In a word they harassed us, on top of being harassed by the high temperatures.

Surroundings? Poverty, dirt, dogs, kids, men, cows in the street. Mountains of garbage, a general mess, colorful carriages. The latter were my favorite. Honestly, I thought they only exited in movies. Buses seeming to dismantle, old and rusty or colorfully painted, yet all scraped as a consequence of the most crazy traffic I’ve ever seen.

In the tuk tuk on the way back to the hotel, I could touch the bus next to us, through the grid of the tuk tuk; it was just a few centimeters away.

I’m particularly fond of the pictures in Dhaka. It’s a rare destination, a place where you learn to treasure what you have, it’s a life lesson if you know how to take it.

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The kids are still following us screaming money-money every third second and by now we have aggressive thoughts. We get into a tuk tuk and we are inside and they are hanging with their small hands on the grids of the tuk tuk screaming the same chorus. The tuk tuk starts driving, but they stay there, screaming faster moneymoneymoney. The driver stops, kicks their but, gets back and starts driving. The tuk tuks have meters, but the price is negotiated before – especially for foreigners.

This was a fulfilling experience. Back in the hotel I remember of the benefits of someone waiting for you with three types of aromatic water and a lounge for your comfort. The poster of the Filipino band makes me smile, remembering the party time in the hotel bar last time I was here.

Pink frangipani by the pool and my colonial print dress from…Bangkok. I walk through the palm trees by the pool. Thinking of him, thinking about us. Although I wear long leggings under my skirt, I lay on a pool bed. Soon a yellow dragonfly rests their flight next to me. So close I can catch the details of its wings on the pool background.

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Iftar time at The Army Golf Club. I have not fasted today. Together with my Tunisian and Algerian colleagues we are at the restaurant of The Army Golf Club where a dua (prayer) and Iftar meal was organized. The place is impressive in contrast with the rest of the surroundings. Clean, guarded, luxurious, decorated with sort of Christmas lights, ceremonial entrance. From the dust of the market to the luxury that here it’s reserved for the very privileged. Country of contrasts.

The Iftar is lovely, starting with the dua. I look around and there’s good energy. So many things go through my mind. Why poverty is there where there is a lot of faith. Or is faith there where there is not much?

You might think I’m crazy, but I almost though I talked to my aunt, who passed away and hear her call me kizamika, like she used to call me.

M. and myself and two more wives seem to be the only women in the place, but nobody seems to notice. It’s a good day and a good night.

Oh, I have not said how we passed the 8 lane highway. By day was almost fine, but going back, by night…such an experience. First of all, there is no public lighting. I strongly doubt the individual lights or the breaks of cars and buses. Then there is no crossing, so you have to manage. We are three, we hold hands and we just run. Oh my God, I experienced the scare of my life. They don’t slow down; they simply honk and seem to hit the gas. Adrenaline!

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June 29th 2016, early, early morning, Dhaka, Bangladesh

I must say the world is sick. The hotel is organized in such a way that you can see the lobby from all floors hallways. I get out of my room dragging my trolley, my jacket and my suitcase. I stop to take a look. Lots of crew. Turkish Airlines? They’re delayed because of a bomb attack in Istanbul not long ago. Chaos, worry. What is going to happen to this world?

 

July 2nd 2016, ready to fly to Casablanca, Morocco

OMG, again? In January I was in a coffee shop that was blown up a week later.
Now after just returning from Dhaka, where the Turkish Airlines crew was delayed because of the horrible Istanbul attacks, I find out this.

Medina and Baghdad attacks were going to follow.

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June 14th 2016, Sydney, Australia

Australia means silence and peace for me. Worriless mornings as this one. A short walk in the morning breeze to the Darling Harbour. By the way, here, at night there are Laser-Dragon Water projections, which, indeed, are very similar to the ones in Singapore.

It’s Saturday morning, the terraces are just opening, the water in the Darling Harbor are mirroring the glass buildings around, the pigeons are sitting in the sun and walking by the tables hoping to steal some food, but there’s nobody here yet. We stop somewhere on the left side of the harbor, before The Australian National Maritime Museum, right in front of the Novotel and Ibis Hotels, facing the wheel looking like the London Eye. Sun is still shy, but the reflections in the clear water are bliss.

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Darling Harbor – and Darling, Darling staaand, by me, oh yeee, stand, by meee! Oooohhhh staaaand by me! – I sing in my mind thinking about…Berlin! He knows why.

I love to be in the silence of huge cities before they “wake up”, seeing them get to life over breakfast by the ocean.

Passed the bridge towards the city and started some sustained walking up to the Sydney Harbor Bridge, looking at the somehow familiar Australian urban architecture, admiring the novelty elements, enjoying the sun, the ships, the water, the lighthouse, the countless sails.

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On the other side of the bridge bordering the Cockle Bay from the Darling Harbor is a complex comprising of bars, restaurants, shopping places, tourist agencies advertising cruises, whale watching. Wait a second! Whale watching? Totally in! What time, good, we’ll be here. The agency has a paper saying “This is a great day to see the whales”. So excited! Two hours left.

Cupcakes with blue crabs and green turtles tiny and sweet decoration, The Sydney Markets, wooden wide docks, the beautiful sun in this early Australian winter, the Lamborghini looking boats, my shiny hair, silver stork sculptures fountain in front of The Cockle Bay Whare.

Walking, walking, walking.

Now on Sussex Street.

Many of you ask me how I remember all these details. Well, I write as I look at the pictures – and I take a lot of pictures. Yesterday I discovered one new education institution (I keep it a secret for now) I am thinking about applying for. There are 21 days left. It made me think a lot about it and I even had a somehow related dream last night. It’s a 2 year program and that means it’s not short. It means tying me to Qatar. Which I don’t mind at all.

I wrote the question “Should I apply for … program?” on a paper and put it in my T-shirt, close to my heart. And continued my life waiting for a sign. Well, what I’m trying to say is that I found a picture from Sydney with one word, which is exactly the name of the university…

This happened to me before – many times. I had signed up for Work and Travel in US and I had picked the location and employer based on pictures. I chose the bigges hotel and the brightest one. It turned out to be Lake Placid, New York, but I still had some doubts, I was not sure I would get there, if this is the right thing to do, I was at a crossroad in my life, had just destroyed (total damage) my mom’s car in a stupid accident, I was in a wrong relationship – wrong relationships, university life was really low and my life was just not going the right direction.

One sunny afternoon I was walking on Victoria Avenue and stopped at the Kretzulescu Library, next to the Kretzulescu Church. That is a place where I often found peace of soul which I so much needed. As a parenthesis here, you might say I have a crazy life right now, because it’s very public through this blog and social media, but my previous life – as I like to call it – was very tumultuous, contradictory, by the edge, dangerous, with shadows and demons, rebellious against the world and many times against myself. Never spent there less than one hour. The idea is that, like never, I chose an album on skiing resorts and opened it randomly. Guess where? Right at the page showing the hotel where I spent what I call the summer of my life.

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Needed to listen to Caruso sang by soft female voice to calm myself from the agitation I got from remembering all this. I must explain I had a very good life, I had everything, I was going up in my early career, I was in the cultural life and the nightlife of the capital, I was doing charity work, studying law and working at the same time, I was there when something big happened, I got invited everywhere, had lots of men sizzling around me. But I had my path to go, my ways, my deepest darkness and utmost light. Most of the times they came at the same time and I felt like an ant in a huge world. Kept going always. Maybe this is where I got my strength from. I’m not afraid of the storm, I am the storm.

We keep walking on the streets and stop – inevitably – in a UGG Boots Australia shop. In my opinion these are the ugliest and least gracious shoes on the planet, but I take a look at their furs and I’m attracted by some rabbit fur and red leather smooth gloves. I spend quite some time with baby boots, which I will buy for sure, in different prints – roses, animal print, shattered paint. I put one on my belly, but there’s such a long way to that. So long until that small spirit will choose me.

Pass by another travel agency and step in, leaving my friends behind asking if I can take a picture with their amazing wall representing a stylized map with big letters saying “Sydney, what’s your adventure?”

Carla Zampatti huge ad on a wall outside inspires woman power. Black and white, clear cuts, big, square shoulders.

The Sydney Tower between tall buildings and a bombardment of 11s in many forms. I’m thinking of D. and our meeting and when this 11 festival started. Well, it started when I was born, but that’s a too long story.

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The psycho killer story in the gay pub is hitting the first pages of the newspapers. Could someone tell what was going to happen the following month – the attacks in Istanbul airport, in Dhaka, in Baghdad, in Medina, almost each day? I’m sure there are people who could. Kent Street 333. Numbers and subtle messages.

The dried leaves are sweeping the street where an old SUV is parked with the cover of the spare wheel saying “Which way today?”. Pure me.

We’re in The Rocks, the historical area of Sydney. It was established soon after the formation of the colony, back in 1788. It’s pleasant to walk by the old terrace houses, looking like downgraded London houses, with the streets opening to the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Lord Nelson Hotel, Sydney’s oldest hotel, since 1842 and a short stop on the square rocks by the park to look at the harbor and at the residents either jogging or…practicing yoga.

 

Later that day, somewhere on a speedboat in Sydney, following whales

It’s time for the highlight of the day, the two hour speed boat whale watching time!

Back in the Darling Harbor to take the boat. Soon we are at sea (oh well, at ocean) and the adorable whales start appearing. Sometimes 2, sometimes up to 4. They jump and sneeze and throw the water up in a waterfall, they sink back leaving a huge whirlpool and everyone on the boat cheers with joy.

Right before going back, at sunset, we go to see them do some flips, somewhere in a further place. It’s time to say goodbye to the kindness of Sydney, to the colored lights of the night, of the whales, of the gardens and also time to reflect at dusk (listening to The Prayer – Andrea Bocellli and Celine Dion as I write this).

[…]

I was laughing at people seeing the one in each relationship, but I don’t want to waste my time with any random guy who’s not the one…Funny, right? Contradictory. Queen of Contrasts.

[…]

Want to fly straight to Bucharest after the flight. As I said, this month will either cure me or kill me.

 

June 15th, 5AM, landing from Sydney

Apparently, we’re delayed and then the gate given by air traffic control was wrong (WTF), so more delay and the system does not recognize my request to leave the country. No big deal, it’s not meant for me to go today, I need to solve what I need to solve in Doha (!!!). At least, I can sleep.

54098 km flown…this month so far.

 

In a nutshell: Sydney is a great place and although it’s a too long flight for me and this will be the last time I will have requested it, I hope I will return one day. There are so many things to do and places to see. Just to give some examples, The Hyde Park Barracks ($10) – an UNESCO World Heritage site, opened in 1819, where around 50.000 convicts passed in around 30 year timeframe, Museum of Sydney ($10), trying the Lyrebird Pass – fly in an electrical glass bottom skyway, walk in the rainforest, trying the Cockatoo Pass – experience aboriginal culture, Australian Museum, walk in The Sydney Olympic Park, the Jazz Nights at the Opera Bar Café, tan at Bondi Beach, attend the a Boat Festival – there are more, all around April, see…Vivid Sydney 2017 – May/June?

Tip: Search for the Souvenir Edition Vivid Sydney (A3 format) which tells you all the activities available in every day of the festival, the shows, the locations, the timings, comprises maps and pictures, prices, guiding for transportation means from bus to sea plane, sports, musicals, family activities.

“Though you may travel the world to find the beautiful, you must have it within you or you will find it not.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Sometime at the end of 2014, Bucharest, Romania

Much of the activity of our family is concentrated around Rotary International (mother just handed over the Presidency of her Club) and Rotaract, of which I am a proud (inactive for now) member.

In a trip around Australia, at the end of 2014, with the occasion of the Rotary International Convention in Sydney, my mom sent me an amazing picture of the Sydney Opera House all covered in amazing lights. I was really impressed and I thought that’s so beautiful.

Back then I was still a rising lawyer in a Bucharest law firm and although I knew I would get to see it one day – like I know I will get so see ALL the world one day – I did not think it would be that fast.

Just a few months later I was embarking on the journey of my lifetime.

 

Life is, indeed, an interesting journey.

 

Although flights to Australia are too long for me, I made it to Perth to see the koalas and the kangaroos, to Melbourne a city that was awarded for the 6th time in a row the best place to live in the world award and now to Sydney for Vivid Sydney  Light. Music. Ideas Festival and to see the whales in their home, the Pacific Ocean.

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What is Vivid Sydney? It’s a vivid, lighting and light installations festival. The whole city is filled with thousands of people and tens of thousands of lights. A festival of ideas, of music, of creativity, of lights, of color, of joy. In Sydney, every year. Or you thought the Opera House is wearing light projections every day of the year? No.

 

June 13th 2016, flying to Sydney, Australia from my home in Doha, Qatar

Flight thoughts:

My life is a roller-coaster – I’ve said it so many times. I’m a girl like any other, but I like to do things differently, I’m a rule breaker and a disruption factor sometimes and I don’t hesitate to assume my decisions and amuse myself about the astonished faces of the ones watching (with popcorn and some envy). Like I’m going to change their lives. Well, to some extent. People like to know you are where they left you, where they knew you were.

I’ve written about this in the past. Getting out of your comfort zone means taking the ones around you from THEIR comfort zone and not everyone (actually most of them are not) is ready to step out. Did you know that most of the people love their unhappiness? They stick to it, like they do with abusive relationships and aggressive men. Why? Because it became their comfort zone.

 

We arrived in Sydney somewhere in the afternoon and headed towards The Circular Quay, where the Sydney Opera House is located. Actually in this area there are a lot of other attractions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, The Royal Botanical Garden which hosts The Government House, The Sydney Harbour Bridge etc.

On the way (by train, 8 Australian dollars return for most city areas) I notice the graffiti that makes my eyes smile. If I had to make a top of the best street art I’ve seen in Australia, Perth is no. 1, then Melbourne and Sydney.

However, Sydney is the most cosmopolitan, modern and with a chic and with a little snobbish fragrance.

Melbourne is very friendly, welcoming, cozy, modern, has a bit of everything, art is great, going out is impressive. After all, it’s the 6th time it was voted the most livable city in the world.

Perth is very peaceful, a peace you feel deep down, it comes from the air and not from any particular aspect. Nightlife is good, walking down the streets is zen and I loved the Caversham Park for kangaroos and koalas. I mean, it’s a opened huge park where you get to see tens of animals. In Sydney the roos and koalas are crammed in a glass building in modern district Darling Harbor. Not the same for sure and the price is triple in Sydney. Told you they’re snobbish!

If you visit Sydney once in your lifetime, you have to do it during Vivid Sydney. The city is under the vibe of holiday and from little kids to senior citizens, they are all impressed with the lights. This festival heals your inner child and believe me I know what I’m talking about.

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We started by Circular Quay Station, where everyone stops to see the 3D mapped projections based on Sydney’s flora and fauna on the Customs House, talking about Sydney’s Hidden Stories in orange and purple. Then we followed the walking flow – although countersense, haha – towards the greatest attraction of Sydney, the Sydney Opera House, where there are light projections of various inspirations, from aboriginal art to geometrical motifs and animal and vegetal world elements and also live music programs.

It’s breathtaking – the novelty of the surroundings, the fact that I’m in Sydney, that it’s night and I’m by the Sydney Opera House watching the impressive projections so beautiful I cannot stop admiring them, that everyone around me is in the same state of dreaming, that the whole city is shuddering with joy, that there are…tens of thousands of people, gathered here, in the wide quays by the Opera House to see this miracle.

Most of my colleagues did not know about the festival – I know, not everyone has such a fancy jet-set mother. When I told them about it they asked almost without exception: “Same like in Singapore, no?” No! Same same, but different. The light and sound show at the Marina Bay Sands is impressive, too, but you cannot compare it to this festival, literally taking over the whole city.

The skyscrapers, the office buildings, the hotels around the harbor, The Museum of Contemporary Art are all wearing rainbow colors lights from first floor to last. Most of the lighting starts from 6 PM and lasts from 9 to 11PM depending on location.

In the hotel lobby I appear in a pencil animal print tight skirt mid-calf long (yes, this is my length), a cream DKNY (stolen from my mom’s closet, haha) party blouse with high neck that ties in a huge ribbon making it look very sophisticated and the wide cut leather jacket I got from…Perth, zipped up to the huge ribbon, tight on my waist. Pony tail and pearl earrings. Colleague asks me: where are you going, to the opera? Well, yes! Come on, it’s not like it’s the first time you go out with me, I add. First time I was wearing a backless black tight jumpsuit at a home/pool Halloween party where I showed up with abaya looking trench and hijab, leaving all confused whether it’s my clothes or a costume. I love to confuse people!

After hundreds of shots with the opera, we walk towards the Vivdid Sydney at the Royal Botanical Garden Sydney – Queen Elizabeth II Gate.  Here the lawn, the bushes, the trees, the water, the handrails towards the water everything is lighted. My favorite is modern art piece light tunnel (Cathedral of Light by Mandy Lights) and the snake reflection on a huge tree. Plus the amazing views from this side of the Opera House. As I walk through I say: “Tunnel of light, not of darkness”.

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Here only a part of the Gardens is opened and you follow a trail which takes you through the tunnel where there are tunnel traffic controllers asking you to take your photos and selfies on the side and keep walking. “Good job with that selfie, keep walking!”

I loved the restaurants on the Quay between the Station and the Opera, right across The Museum of Contemporary Art from where you can watch the boats/yachts sailing around with huge light letters saying Vivid Sydney.

Steak ing wine ing by the Opera, more lights and good night!

 

 

 

 

Read here about my first trip to Seoul

May 25th 2016

That moment when it’s almost 6 AM and you haven’t slept since yesterday because you came back from Miami and you talk to your mom who’s traveling to Seoul via Doha while you’re off to Jakarta, about meeting in Korea, then her continuing to Tokyo and you back to Bucharest via Doha to go to the Black Sea in order to attend a good friend’s wedding for which she needs to send you a traditional Romanian costume. Missing her since last time get-together in Rome at the beginning of May. ‪#‎neverstoptraveling ‪#‎meandmomaroundtheworld‪#‎wordmap ‪#‎QueenofContrasts ‪#‎Rotary2016

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May 29th 2016, off to South Korea to meet mother who is in Seoul for the Rotary International Convention

They said: “You became insane because of the one you love”
I said: “The savor of life is only for the insane ones”
– Yafi’i, Raud al Rayahin

 

May 30th 2016, Grand Hyatt Incheon West Tower, Seoul, South Korea

The feeling I had stepping in the hotel lobby is hard to explain. First of all I did not think I’d still be here by now, at this job that I identify myself with more and more. Then realizing all the things I’ve been through and what I learned. What I did and what I failed to do. What I could’ve done better.

I’ve been in Seoul before, it must have been a year back and I loved the city. However, instead of 2 days I was in the South Korean capital for one week, most of it isolated in quarantine, a time of reflection and questioning of many essential issues about myself and life in general.

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I remember that whole day running up and down Seoul, eating new and delicious food, seeing exciting places and a fascinating culture that was new to me, thinking how fortunate I am to see all these places. I was just at the beginning of my second month of flying and I had already seen the sunset from the tallest building in Tanzania in Dar el Salaam, hugged the lion cubs and partied hard in Johannesburg, ate authentic borscht in the Red Square in Moscow, swam in exotic Phuket, rode tuk tuks, motorbikes and trains, experienced rooftops and strip bars in Bangkok and discovered the unique charm of what became my favorite city, Beirut. And throughout that day I was thinking that I shall not leave with my colleagues that following morning. I don’t know why, but it was just haunting me.

So, at 8 PM, when I got at the hotel, it was a crazy house around there. Two letter under my door, calls from various offices in Doha and Seoul, messages on my phone. What followed was from a Hollywood movie, tens of calls to different departments and nothing certain, other that I was going somewhere. In South Korea. In all this mess I was trying to contact my mom to let her know I’m going somewhere for some time. 3 nights and 4 days it turned out to be one of the harshest, yet inspiring experiences of my life.

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I had come for experience, here it was served.

Yet, that lobby brings so many memories. Of the two men and one woman assisting me to go, my bags packed, my thoughts whether they would be thrown away, a crazy sense of adventure in the given situation.

Let’s start a month of the ghosts of the past. Same Korea, same red sun shine and same luxurious lobby…but the story is simply a life memory…to be continued. June, bring it on!

In the room. It’s dusk time and the fog of the setting sun is giving a grey shade to the thousands of cars parked in the airport’s lots. Some aircraft tails in the background. My life and spirit in a picture. I become melancholic, but I have no time for this, I have to pack my bag with all the presents I brought for my mom from around the world.

The coffee pots, the ceramic mug, the wooden box with tea and coffee, the Jeju water, “Morning Calm” magazine issued by Korean Air, the Seoul Hallyu Tourist Guide, are part of my stories and although I don’t care much about things, I kept some symbolic ones from Korea. In my work notebook, where I write my flight details, there is a post it saying Flight Crew (of my company) in Korean. It came with my daily food box in that hospital/hotel.

Soon I’m back to the airport from where, at the advice of a Korean colleague, I take the Airport Limousine, which is actually a bus, a comfortable first class bus, let’s say. It costs around 15000 won (~11 euros) and it takes you to every single hotel in Seoul. I took bus 6015 towards the Myeong-Dong Area.

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The Limousines have a sticker saying I, a big heart, Seoul. They are running every 10-20 minutes starting 4 AM to late night and there are special lines for them, making them really fast. Also, there is a number where you can call and check where each bus is at all times.

Koreans are impressive from many points of view. Just an example, vision glasses with different diopters are available in the airport for completing the forms.

Myeong Dong District with mother is amazing. Although we saw the world together even before my intense traveling experience, it’s still hard to believe we are together in the other side of the world, even for two days. Or especially for two days.

A few days before I was in Jakarta, writing: “Another sunrise in…Jakarta, Indonesia” and she wrote “Waiting for you in Seoul”.

I came not long ago from Miami and I’m still in the Cuban vibe. La Lupe. And the idea to go to Cuba in August.

Huge Korean drawings down on the streets, Korean BBQ, alive seafood at the entrance of the restaurants, tons of face creams and cosmetics – yes, Koreans, both women and men are obsessed with skincare, awesome street style, adorable little Korean kids, snails and tiny octopus on a stick, watermelon fresh juice – coming with a stand decorated with watermelon plush toys and lights and storekeepers dressed in…watermelons, Yaki Noodles, fashion shops with tiny sizes, thousands of luminous advertisements in Korean. In fact, Myeong Dong means the bright cave or bright tunnel. At night, it looks exactly like a bright melting pot.

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I love Korea black shirts, stands with baby colorful shoes, lots of American brands, shops for all budgets and millions of small stuff, most of them useless, cute nonetheless. I’m awake for almost 30 hours now and I’m wearing the same make up. If any Korean would hear that…

Mother is beautiful and classy as always, perfect coiffure, simple cut grey top with and she’s wearing the colorful stones bracelet and assorted necklace I brought for her.

We cannot stop talking and we stop to talk by a huge pot of food for two, with chicken and seafood, a pot that we stir every now and then and wonder about what it contains. Cass beer and scissors cut meat. A good day and a good night. In Seoul, with mother.

May 31st 2016, Rotary International Convention, Seoul, South Korea

The city is filled with the Rotary International Convention banners saying Connect with Korea, Touch the World. There are over 40000 participants this year and they are roaming all over the city. They are mainly the best of the crop from around the world. On our way to the venue, which is somewhere outside the city, we pass by the City Hall and the Deoksugung Palace. I sleep for 10 minutes when I get the chance.

“Join Leaders. Exchange Ideas. Take Action” invites a huge panel at the entrance of the Kintex Convention Center. Myself a Rotarian, I share the values of Rotary. Service above self, charity, spreading the good. Rotary Conventions are great and I love this year’s logo in the shape of a traditional palace with two pagoda style roofs, colored in red, blue, green, yellow and black.

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Weather is great and in the interior garden of the convention center they sell amazing food, beers and cold drinks and a group is dressed in traditional costumes and they perform traditional dances.

In what is called The House of Friendship I find the world under one single roof. Korean souvenirs and information, Korean costumes, Nigerian costumes, Americans speaking Spanish, Indian sweets with some silver topping, people from all over the world, mostly in traditional clothes, roaming around. I try my first Korean traditional dress and pose in front of a traditional rug. I even have traditional boots and nearby there are two Korean grannies explaining the Korean culture and how food and drinks are traditionally served. Of course, she wears traditional dress. The funniest of all is to see people of color wearing the Korean dresses.

Bulgarian roses, Rotarian Wine, Police and Law Enforcement Fellowship stand, Rotarian Hunters and Fishermen, an improvised theater, a diplomatic section, a library, restaurants and cafes, clothes-cosmetics-perfumes, volunteers volunteering to guide the Rotarians who are actually….volunteers, red and blue lampions, Welcome written in tens of languages, stickers saying Falo Portugues, Je Parle Francais, Hablo Espanol, Youth Exchange Student, New Rotarian etc.

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Face painting, food samples of all sorts, flags everywhere, spectacular traditional dresses, stand of next year’s Rotary International Convention in Atlanta. Yes, we’re going.

By now I’m trying my second Korean dress and without knowing I try the wedding dress. Red, with impressive over sized wide sleeves, embroidered with pink roses on the white silk by the edge. The outfit is completed by a heavy head accessory, looking like a small clutch with sowed beads and three tassels of different colors hanging down my forehead.

The water machines provide small bags instead of plastic glasses.

Next on the list is some shopping in the Lotte Department Store, where, as always, the designs are unique.

Later, back in Myeong Dong we ate all the street food we could find, from seafood green pancake, fried crabs, shrimp on a stick. The area is pulsing with life and by late afternoon it gets crowded and quite crazy.

In front of the hotel, I get the Limousine and my mom prepares for the rest of the journey – Busan, Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara etc. Life is good, it takes you places…

On the way back I meet two Romanian couples and I move them both in the same zone and change my zone to theirs. I loved this flight for some kind of reason. One of the couple lives in Korea and she is a life coach, mainly for expats’ wives and we had some very interesting talks both on the flight and thereafter. Life is good.

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Read here about my other trips to Jakarta: Spirituality and Nightlife in Jakarta / About Destiny in Jakarta

April 23rd 2016, almost midnight, somewhere in Jakarta, Indonesia at 15th floor

With God’s will we’ve landed in Jakarta.

Why with God’s will?

Because without it there would be nothing.

Indonesian people are so nice – they remind me of people used to be. Patient, kind, smiling, pure, joyful for small things.

Getting used to South-Eastern Asia, to its crazy, hectic traffic. What I like in Indonesia is the hijab women wear. It’s most of the times very colorful and it creates a peaceful state of mind. It’s not disturbing.

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Two old ladies dressed all in white and covered in white cotton lace blessed me as the disembarked the plane. I have never seen those gestures, but I knew right away.

Thinking of some childhood psychological reasons for some of the ways that I act after a recent conversation with a stranger.

[…]

I want to own hotels and I know I will! Until then – I live in them.

Wondering in this year of flying how many nights I slept in hotels and how few at home, how many I did not sleep at all…

In front of me, on the bar of the lounge I have the list of destinations I’ve been to in ONE YEAR. The first year.

It’s hard to believe even for me, who has lived this crazy hopping around the greatest cities of the world and the most desired destinations, hanging out in lofty hotels, sipping huge colorful cocktails by the pool in the shade of palm tree leaves.

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…and as I write this, somewhere in Jakarta, where I’m at for the fourth time now, the schedule for next month is out and I run away from life a bit more or towards it and it’s 01:01…

Miami, Jakarta again (5th time), Seoul with mom (after meeting her in Rome this month) and some surprises to be unlocked soon.

At the “office”, in Jakarta, after a 9 hour flight, writing – by hand, in pencil – for the blog. So I do have an office job after all, but it comes with welcome drinks in lobby bars and upgrades.

1:40 AM: Yes, put it on the room. Good night!

 

April 24th 2016, Jakarta, Indonesia

You are the kind of person that does not fear of anything and if they know they are doing the right thing they will not hesitate. I read this on the screen of the shop, where one of the guys working here has been trying to translate it with the help of Google translate since I entered the store. I leave with a smile on my face and some “Made in Indonesia” items.

April 18th, around 39.000 ft, flying over the Indian Ocean, right where it meets the Gibson Desert of Australia

Earlier I saw the reflection of clouds in the ocean, the wide ocean. My view from here is like the one on Discovery Channel – red and blue blend in a canyon. It looks like small bits magnified, when it is actually the opposite. Pink and blue, surreal blend. There’s no line between the sky clouds, the water, the land, the blue, red and pink desert. Even the clouds are pink or I’m starting to imagine things. The temperature outside is -47 degrees and the view is a wonder of the world. Regular and irregular – nothing can beat the nature. Blue veins in pink flesh or blue roots in pinkish red soil. Makes me remember of the histology plates I played with in my first years of school – my mom was teaching the subject at the Med School. Finally, a road, like the track of a plane, like a line drawn by aliens. Is this a nature made pointillism painting? Is this Seurat? Low lands all pink and blue, dots, waves, small valleys, all in colors and brushes.

 

April 18th, on the bus from the airport to the hotel, Melbourne, Australia

Flipping the Melbourne Official Visitor Guide, I’m automatically attracted to Burma Lane Restaurant. Why? Because I am Yangon; Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh. All at the same time.

But why all this love for Asia during the last months? Maybe because I have some Asian blood?

 

Later that night, Melbourne, Australia 

I pass by the bar in the lobby where all four pilots are having a drink, I say hi and they don’t answer, but that’s none of my business.

The hotel staff in front of the main entrance whistles for a far-away taxi. As I search for my map to tell him to go to Acland Street, I catch his accent, right at the same time I listen to the beautiful instrumental Romanian music he’s listening to. Because the Universe is not sleeping, the taxi driver is Romanian and he’s quite a smart one, but a bit laid back. He cannot speak Romanian anymore and he speaks to me in English and I don’t mind, we speak English. He has an opinion on Qatar, on Baku – where I’m going later this month, on the non-culture of Australia. He says “We – the Romanians, as a culture – are unique, the rest have nothing”. Indeed, Romanian folklore is authentic and unique, but there are so many other beautiful cultures around the world. True enough, if you have not seen them, it’s difficult to make a comparison. I did not appreciate much this about him, but I think it came from a deep homesickness.

I asked him what is his name in Romanian, but he said “Romanian, Australian” and I got it he’s struggling in having an personal identity – caught between his obvious love for his country and the huge distance in time and miles that separates him from it.

What’s your name? Ion, Vasile? Oh, Viorel he asks and I can see the tears in his eyes…

I walk past some delicious looking sweet stores showing colorful cupcakes, ship shaped chocolate desserts, rocky road in chocolate and almonds and wonderful cream cakes and walk on a small narrow street full of graffiti. Wherever I go, I take the package, such as these colorful street ads saying I killed the Prom Queen, the street art, the cafes and restaurants, the birds that fly my way, the kids that smile, the couples that kiss. My almost all black – rubber boots from Italy, black tight pants and leather jacket from Perth, huge black bag – makes me blend in with the colorful walls of the parking lot behind.

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Gary Moore’s “Still Got the Blues” plays in the corner restaurant at the end of the street, corner with Barkley Street and I step in. It’s a cute place called The Big Mouth having two floors, with different specific. I stepped into the Bamboo Room upstairs, decorated with vintage chandeliers and real orchids, black and gold ornaments, red walls with gold big golden motifs, mirrors, 20s chairs and all different Australian maps table cloths, Chinese decorative pillows and flower bowls, baroque lavish couches with burgundy and gold velvet and carved wood. I ordered mussels with jamon and prosecco (Katnook Estate – Coonawarra; Australian), wrote some thoughts, I listened to the guitar half looking outside the window at the tram and half thinking somewhere far.

Outside the window three places called Chakra, Veludo and Witchery make me smile.

I enjoy the world my way and I want to dream big and build. Evolve. I know I look like a lucky girl and in many ways I am, but this place and especially that song playing when I stepped in reminds me of some hurtful truths of my past.

At The Monarch Cake I take one godly Oreo cupcake and click some pictures of the library like sweet store.

I will not say my traveling around the world is meaningful and I gather the messages along the way, as in a video game. Lately, however, I seem to receive more and more messages and the more I fight it, the more I get it to understand it is not a mistake.

A place invites me: “Sister of Soul – Step into the Lightness”, then I see 40 Thieves & Co.

There’s a bar called Lone, but I don’t like the way it looks, so I’m on Nelson’s Street at Pablo Honey, an awesome place with nice design (lots of skulls) opened just 6 months ago. The bartender turning up to be one of the owners – it always happens to me, my friends know – prepares a Tequila Sangre, so spicy that it makes my nose burn. This is what I need before the flights to keep my nose unblocked. My lips are burning and he is proud that it’s his invention. Makes me remember a spicy cocktails I drank from a Cosmo glass by the pool in Yangon, Myanmar…and the disaster that followed.

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The bar’s motto: “Tequila probably won’t fix your life, but it’s worth a shot”.

Earlier I saw two homeless hugging on the sidewalk, sleeping on their belongings, but they are so affectionate to each other. Now they’re walking in front of the fancy bar where I am. Why they’re homeless and I drink $20 cocktails?

Brad offers me a glass of Clas Azul Tequila and later on I find out he has a special tequila bottle that costs 200 Australian dollars per shot and if you get one, your name will be carved in a wood piece that shall be displayed in the front window. Selling a story, he is already at the second bottle. Tequila’s name is Clase Azul Ultra – considered world’s most luxurious tequila. Forget about Patron! Aged for five years, the tequila is only bottled in 100 pieces batches and sells as it is released on the market.

 

April 19th, around noon, Melbourne, Australia

Drank quite some tequila last night, but I did it with style, it’s true – and topped up with prosecco in the hotel lobby (De Bortoly Prosecco – King Valley; I love the bottle, it inspires traveling and adrenaline, class and bubbliness – is this a word?).

Dreamt of my place catching fire and me fighting the fire.

I’m in the tram passing by stop 19 – Shrine of Remembrance and the Royal Botanical Gardens.

La Boheme is coming up soon in Melbourne and huge ads are on the facade of The Melbourne Arts Centre. It reminds me of the man who took me to this musical where we served caviar and champagne, then took me for dinner with the conductor in his fancy restaurant, introduced me to the most beautiful actress of the show only to find out she’s one of his old flames. Like all of the actresses, models, singers and TV presenters. Or at least that’s what I thought.

What I noticed is that men are stylish. Not guys, men. Above 40-45. Ladies are also well dressed, but I was more impressed with the ones in Buenos Aires – so much class.

I’m a few steps away from the National Gallery of Victoria – International (St Kilda Road) and I’m here to see the Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei Exhibition (so lucky to catch it in its last days before it ends on April 24th; 26 AUD), which exceeded my expectations.

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Why go at the museum? Because you see cool, interesting people and God – this world lacks them. Museums are a different worlds than the one we live in.

Why do I like Pop Art so much? In the end, you might say, it is non-art, it’s cans of soup and digital photography. Well, I remember when we had to present an artistic current for the Art class and I chose Pop Art. The teacher, one that I owe a lot gratefulness for seeding the love for art, for explaining its’ basics and insisting on making us recognize styles and artists, encouraged me for choosing something…different.

Every exhibition I see brings me closer to who I am inside, who I want to be.

You probably know who Andy Warhol is and if you don’t it means you’re not interested.

However, you might want to read about Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist, very little known in his own country and famous abroad. Fighting against government non-democratic policies, for liberty of expression, Weiwei went big on his blog which was closed by the Chinese authorities. He was also arrested and his passport was revoked.

 

“Expressing oneself is like a drug. I’m so addicted” – Ai Weiwei

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What I liked most: Warhol’s Screen Test: Marcel Duchamp (one of the hundreds Warhol made in his studio – The Factory on East 47th Street in NYC), Mao paintings, Hammer and Sickle, Electric Chair, Elphaba from Wicked – making me think of Defying Gravity song that I sing every now and then in my mind and which is a landmark of my motto; Ai Weiwei’s With Flowers – pictures of the new bouquet of flowers he would put in his bicycle basket everyday as a peaceful protest to his arrest and revoking of his passport in 2011, Circle of Animals – of the Chinese Zodiac, . The initiative led to a movement called Flowers for Freedom and Weiwei got his passport back in 2015, the Lego Room featuring Julian Assange and violence on women, women’s rights, religion, love.

 

“I have no imagination, no memory. I act on the moment” – Ai Weiwei

 

I leave the museum by the Australian Ballet, where a young couple sits with their daughter in pink ballet costume in front of one of the beautiful ballet poses sculpture. Walking towards the Yarra River, the skyline of the city is almost revealed and as I get closer to the Federation Square on the other side of the river, the architecture of The Melbourne Arts Center is fully visible.

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It’s autumn time in Melbourne, but during the day a T-shirt is enough. I’m already in Federation Square and the vibes are great. The Squares climbs up towards the National Gallery of Victoria: The Ian Potter Center – Australia Section of the Gallery. The red line on the Eureka Tower matches the red in the Australian flag. This Square is such a pleasant place to be and the architecture is simply wonderful – edgy, yet inspired by the Aboriginal Art.

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And guess what, I arrive at The Atrium – a sort of galleria between the Suare and Flinders Street – right when a Meditation class takes place with a Buddhist monk. Yes, should this be the exact reason why this trip follows my Cambodian sip of Buddhist and Hindu lessons? No, I don’t have any thoughts other than expanding my knowledge continuously.

The monk talks about strength, stability, concentration, clarity, lucidity. About possessions – the mind and body = the self. The self we rely to is a concept based upon our possessions. No possessions, no self. Lunchtime Meditation – Tuesday in The Atrium.

He adds concentration is a product, a matter of alertness. The real meaning of effort is a state of mind, it’s a mental factor. I try to concentrate, but my mind is too alert, always thinking of something, too fast, thinking in three directions at the same time, running away.

 

“There’s no other way to train the mind other than train the mind” – he says.

 

I’m now in the The Ian Potter Centre: National Gallery of Victoria Australia, where the 200 Years of Australian Fashion Exhibition is on until the 31st of July (15 AUD, 10 AUD when presenting the NGV International Ticket). Oh, it’s so good, making me feel as in a real Fashion Week, in the first row. As I walk through the époque dresses, lovely hats making me want to wear each of them and step boldly in an equestrian competition, sequined jumpsuits, backless leather jackets, classic cuts and embroideries, bold cuts and modern designs, lace umbrellas, feather fans, furry shoes, flower jumpsuits, geometric motifs, Aboriginal motifs, Que Sera Sera plays and I find out “the future is not ours to see”. Should it be all connected?

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At the upper level permanent collection galleries I admired John Brack’s works, Jean-Broome Norton’s Abundance, some weird photograpies, Aboriginal Art, the sharp angles of the museum itself, the irregular shape of its stairs and windows, found a spot to look at the Atrium from above and took particular interest in the vast works of Jan Senbergs – depicting mostly cities of the world.

Why do I relate to modern art? To pop art? Because I am a piece of it. A product of society going against its rules.

Since I saw the creations of Collins Street salons, I’m off to the street itself, walking by St Paul’s Cathedral. I’m not impressed with the fancy street so I walk back towards Flinders Street through a lovely narrow path called Centre Places.

Here, at Jack’s Barbers the quote of the day says: “Beware of devils quoting scriptures”. Hmm…

Small restaurants and cafes are so charming, next to chic clothes stores. I liked The Soup place where you can pay 3,5 AUD in a Pay it Forward system meaning that homeless people can come and ask if someone paid a soup for them in advance.

Lots of graffiti, street art and non-art, stickers, inscriptions. Then I walked down Flinders Street and I saw the most beautiful street art ever, so colorful and bright. Even the trash bins were painted.

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Stepped in Quick Brown Fox vintage store and thought about returning someday to buy one of their unique pieces, but for now I’m on a sort of shopping ban, not because I’m in some saving plan, but because I’m worried about where am I going to put all these stuff I gather from around the world.

Tens of 11s, 22s, 33s, but I stopped counting. Anyway, they’re everywhere from the number of streets, to the trams, to the phone numbers and anywhere in between.

I’m right in front of Crown Melbourne where some steps are covered by a green carpet imitating grass. Here I take my shoes off and look at the Yarra River, one lady eats her lunch, another licks an ice cream and a couple seems to discuss some issues. One guy tans in his shorts only. He’s almost 50, but very fit and tanned. On the right of his body Roma is tattooed in huge letters. As he stands up – probably his lunch break is over – I see as big as his back, The Vitruvian Man, Michelangelo’s genius work. Wow! Is there a meaning in the way and order I see things? Do they make sense, a bigger picture? And there, in the sun across the Melbourne Aquarium I realize I wear size 38=11.

Funny to see I am tanned on the feet after the shape of the shoes I had in Cambodia, especially in the villages exploration days on four wheeler and horseback.

Nobu is right behind me, but I just had some sushi and I would love to try the desert platter, but I’m not in the mood for fancy restaurants now, but thought of my very first Japan experience in Osaka and Kyoto at the end of February.

Sat down again looking at Eureka Tower and the spectacle of the Southbank people passing by, tried to guess their stories for a good half an hour and decided I don’t want to up to the observation deck, but I will go to see sunrise in the flight deck – wherever it might catch me, drank a double espresso and tried to wake up, walked to the Shrine of Remembrance and saw the flame lit up and the 5 pm lowering of flags, took my shoes off and walked through the lawn looking at the plaques by each tree, spotting a poppy flower every now and then…

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I stop by the statue of Sir Edward Dunlop, an Australian hero. I read about Changi and about The Burma-Thai Railway and I’m so proud I know about them and that I’ve been there in Singapore and in Yangon and had extensive talks by the pool in extreme rain and thunder with a war veteran – another war – about the casualties of the railway and of the Japanese cruelty and current distortion of facts through a free newspaper.

Museums and memorials, street art and pop art, Poppy flowers and history – all in Melbourne, Australia.

I end the day looking at the sky – and there, made of clouds, I see a huge bird and a human figure…

Read more stories about Cambodia here:

Meaningful Journeys – Cambodia (1-1)

Meaningful Journeys – Cambodia (1-2)

 

“I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one” – Captain Willard, in Apocalypse Now, 1979

 

April 3rd 2016, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Later that day, I am in short white shorts with blue print, white top and my green bag, trying a fish amok at Riverhouse Asian Bistro, by the river as you can guess. Yes, it’s expensive – for Cambodia – but I like expensive places. I am alone and quite awkward to see. Cocktails are good and it’s happy hour. Well in Cambodia is happy hour all day long.

Interesting discussion at a nearby table about entering some market in Asian countries – China/ Philippines/ Hong Kong, transactions.

Busy Sisowath Quay is just in front with the noisy tuk tuks and a few cars. The Mekong River is peacefully waving around the islands.

Tomorrow at 11:30 I’m off to Siem Reap. The plan is to wake up at 8 or 9, have breakfast at the hotel, sit by the rooftop pool and have cocktails and then go to the bus. Or at least that’s what I thought…

Hmm…I should book a hotel for Siem Reap, right?

Yes, they’re American. American lawyers. I bought her two bags, probably the wife. Now let’s go get two a***s. I’m truly impressed.

D. joins me for cocktails and tempura shrimp and later we take a tuk-tuk to Eclipse Sky Bar. This is a quite nice place, great cocktails (a bit more expensive than the average, around $5-$6) and view.

You might probably wonder why there are not many pictures to this post. Oh well, all the picture went away with my purse hanging from a motor biker’s hand when me and D., an Australian traveler (for three years) around the world, were walking around the Sky Bar in Phnom Penh.

 

April 4th, Phnom Penh, traveling to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Didn’t think much about it, went by the Mekong where I saw the sun rise. On the way to the hotel a lady tries to sell some drugs she says are from Laos. Others are exercising on the quay at 6AM. I’m still leaving to Siem Reap at 11:30 and I still have no hotel booked.

Before getting some hours of sleep I ask the hotel for a wake-up call which they never dial and I wake up at 11 AM. I could have had time to make it for the bus, but I don’t want to rush – I pack, check out and walk to the agency which arranges for a bus at 14:30 and eat breakfast looking at the river  at around 1:30 PM.

The bus ticket costs $10 for a 5-6 hour drive, it’s brand new and has AC. There’s a temple around 30 min away from Phnom Penh that’s beautiful.

When do you think more about what you have seen and truly visualize it? When your photos are gone. It’s the only think I regret after being snatched by a group of four motorbikes.

Camera’s gone, phone’s gone, I’m safe. Oh well, this had to happen at some point and I’m grateful to the ones just taking the purse off my hand and riding with it. Somehow I had let the stuff go once I arrived here. Maybe is premonition or maybe I attracted it. Either way I’m here with an Angkor beer, I booked an amazing hotel in Siem Reap, where I will focus more on the feeling of the place rather than on clicking photos.

Concentrating on what I can do to feel better works out more than whining about it. I believe in the relationship we have with things. That you either deserve it or not. That they come and go.

Another gorgeous Cambodian with an old fatty American – probably.

Do souls recognize each other? Sure they do.

A negative event might draw your attention to what’s right in your life or what you’re doing wrong. I mean I’ve just lost worth of 2000 $, but I’m safe and I’m in Cambodia and I’m going to the temples in Siem Reap, so really…no big deal. And here happy hour is from 12 to 10 PM.

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Not long ago I was writing: “From Bali to Beirut to Ho Chi Min to Osaka to Kyoto to Perth. Back home in Doha in the desert where … it is raining. Life is so beautiful and full of surprises. Traveling is living, but don’t think it is easy.“

Accepting that things might happen makes you get over it easily and I have said it so many times before – traveling is not easy, traveling is supposed to teach us something, traveling is growing, evolving, knowing, traveling is about being positive and controlling emotions (well, I’m struggling here a bit), traveling is educational and supposed to get us up not take us down.

I look out the window. Cambodia is rural and we are somewhere in the provinces almost at dusk after stopping for a midway break.

On the right and left of the asphalted road dusty sidewalks lead to schools, fields, houses and huts, palm trees.

What I find interesting is the houses, built on poles with ground floor only for half of the house, looking quite stylish and functional. Some they use the shelter under the house as a summer kitchen and others keep the kettle there. Probably in the wet season it gets quite flooded. Most of the houses are wooden, but there are some made if bricks and paint.

Many black palm tree trunks lie on the ground in a picture in tones of brown and caramel. Gates are just different size heights ad shape poles planted in the land and perpendicular – or relatively perpendicular – other poles or trunks or sticks. You can throw a calf through the holes of the so-called fence, but probably they use it for delimitation purposes only. Although I slept more than two hours, I don’t regret taking the bus instead of the plane because I get to see. How the villages are, how people live. Kids and youngsters are gathered by a few bikes by the road.

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The night brings some cool wind although there are still 30 degrees plus. I spot a Yellow Matiz.

Why do people meet? I think I met someone I knew in a previous life, there, at the second floor of the Mekong Riverside Bar.

I think about what happened – the bag snatching – every now and then, but it does not affect me much. Even with this mishappening, I am traveling in Cambodia alone. I am quite brave and feel strong being here at the end of the world alone.

A shallow mirror like water gathers the eyes of the men and women lying on the reed huts. A cow crosses the street and the motorbike needs to stop as the cow decides to accelerate. A few meters ahead a teenager boy follows around 30 cows to their hut. Which reminds me that by the time I started to perfect the photo taking skills, I lost the pictures just as that cow that by the time got used to not eating, died.

This is a great area to explore. The road is much better than I expected and outside Phnom Penh there aren’t too many cars. The orange sun is getting closer.

This is really wow! The most beautiful half-sun, totally red, almost smashing the ground, getting bigger and bigger as we drive fast towards it. Done! It’s huge and round, red and surreal.

18:03 PMsunset in Cambodia, in the middle of nowhere. Just me and my thoughts and great views.

In a small plastic bag I have a can – measurement unit – of fried insects and a huge insect, as big as a finger, anyway a flying bug.

We ride at over 120 km per hour on the wrong lane while the driver talks on the phone, but it’s fine. I’m in my own world, playing my own imaginary music depending of the stages I go through.

13-16 April is Khmer New Year Festival.

I was curious how it is by night in the Cambodian villages. Dark. There is no public lighting and only few houses have electricity – mainly businesses and the Cambodian People’s Party. The others burn a fire by the road. I can’t believe how laid back life is here. No hustle. No bustle. Yes, they’re poor, but I think they can get something to eat at the end of the day and for sure they are happier than the ones trying to impress in fancy cars and flashy clothes.

Latest events made me think about past years, am I running away from life? And if I am, what’s the lesson? What do I need to learn? What do I need to work on?

This trip is for sure cleansing. Giving me new wings. Educational. Personally speaking. On a different level, where money and so called valuables are nothing.

I just spotted a truck full, overloaded with bicycles. It’s quite something as they stack them so well that there’s barely any space between them. Not to mention that the bicycles are double the size of the truck. We should be close to Siem Reap.

Did you know? In Khmer, you say chah if you want to say yes as a female and baht as male.

Between the road and the houses a tailor’s shack if functioning at this time of the night (almost 8 pm). I see it’s normal to ride a truck seated on the top of the box or standing in the box – in some trucks more than 30 or even 40 people.

Two dressed up ladies ride besides the biker of a motorbike. Lights start increasing, and I see more touristy shops, restaurants and hotels. Same rural look, but a bit fancier. We are in Siem Reap and Da – a tuk tuk driver – offers to take me to the hotel and to give me a ride tomorrow around the temples. Sure, arkoun!

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Read more stories about Cambodia here:

Meaningful Journeys – Cambodia (1-1)

Meaningful Journeys – Cabodia (1-3)

Cambodia is one of those crazy Asian countries where, as an European, you cannot get enough of the new-effect, same as in Vietnam. Hundreds of motorbikes, 30-40 people in a van, minimum 4 people on a motorbike, crazy traffic, weird things to buy and eat, busy markets, it’s all part of the incredible charm of Phnom Penh.

Every street in the main area of Phnom Penh – by the river, is full of life, restaurants, cafes, girly bars, diverse cuisine – from Khmer (Cambodian) to Indian to Halal to Italian, Thai, Burmese, French, name it, travel agencies offering visa services for Vietnam, crossing the border to Laos, flights and minivan trips to Siem Reap.  Photo 05-04-16 12 29 34

After I get a good impression of the capital city I sit down at the second floor of a riverside restaurant, on the corner of the street. From here I can see the river  and the traffic on the Sisowath Quay as I eat and check my map, trying to make an itinerary for tomorrow’s sightseeing. Here I meet D., who happened to sit right next to me, actually I sat right next to him. D. is around 40 and the ones who have known me for a while know that it’s exactly the age of people I like to hang out with. One of the advantages of traveling alone is making amazing friendships as it happened in Zanzibar, Beirut, Athens just to name a few of them. Well, I ended up meeting D. every day of my Cambodian trip and of course he’s not someone who has a normal 9-to-5 life with one holiday a year. Actually he quit his job 3 years ago to travel the world. How cool is that?

 

April 3rd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I walk the block that separates Street 148 to Wat Ounalom, the most important wat of Phnom Penh and the center of Cambodian Buddhism, established in 1443.

What is a wat? A Buddhist monastery or temple.

On the short way, parallel to the river, I see a cute girl, not more than 7 or 8, at a stand selling books. When I see books, I stop. Let me tell you, she impressed me. First of all, her English was impeccable and she literally sold me the book. She has talent, I did not want that book and I did not want to buy it in the morning and carry it around the whole day. But I did and that’s what a skilled seller does. I don’t know her story or her family’s, the bookstand had a picture with three kids – her and two younger brothers with school backpacks – asking to buy from the stand of the mother to help the kids to go to school. I gave the girl $100 dollars and she said she has change – no problem, she warned me about thieves and told me to take care of the green bag with an elephant keychain. She was doing all the work. The book was cheap – $6 – although the standard price of Lonely Planet is around $30, I did not wonder why. Well, guess what? The covers look exactly the same, but the content is photocopied. After all, it serves the purpose. Her parents were both sleeping at the cool and shadow of the buildings by the street, opposite the river. She woke her mom up and sent her to change the dollars. Then she asked me my plans for the trip, woke up her dad to open the car and took a contact card and said her father could drive me to the airport. I did not call them ever, but I think about the girl every now and then – she’s going to go far, that’s for sure, she’s smart and has a great merchant spirit. I actually think I envy her.

Wat Ounalom is considered to display an eyebrow hair of Buddha. Some guide tries to follow me, but I need my silence and alone time. This place is so quiet, so peaceful, not intrusive. I might have spent almost 3 hours here and it is a very small place. I walk outside and inside that temple a few times. Behind the temple, some orange monk cloths hang on a rope waiting to dry.

Did you ever wonder why the monks wear orange? Well, apparently that was the available color.

I leave the temple from the back exit, where there’s another market, restaurants frying a whole veal turning on a pole, improvised – maybe only in my opinion – hairdressers having everything they need by the street, giving haircuts next to the carwash, which is next to the restaurant, in the dust left behind by motorbikes. Here I find David, a tuk-tuk driver who speaks French only – and Khmer, of course – who asks for $5 to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21), but is happy to take $3. The museum is on Street 113 and the entrance fee is $6 including audio guide.

The Museum is a confession of a cruel regime that most former communist countries have had at some point. Non-humanity at its highest level.

A little bit of recent Cambodian history. The Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge was the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), ruling Cambodia between April 17th, 1975 and 1979, an era of political execution, forced labor and death – around 2 million people. Because of this the era is called the Cambodian Genocide and there are trials currently undergoing to identify and punish the ones responsible for the years of terror and torture.

CPK’s aim was to erase class differences, a common goal of communist regimes around the world. They marched in Phnom Penh in April 1975 under Pol Pot and Son Sen and ruled the country for the following 4 years, expelling the population from urban center to countryside, killing the ones who refused and later moving the population again to other areas in a huge population migration.

But how was this possible? Well, during that time Vietnam War was going on (1955-1975) and the Americans war fighting something called The Secret War – bombing Cambodia. More than 100000 bombs fell in Cambodia from the sky and the people were in a state they were welcoming revolution. Khmer Rouge said that many bombs would come, being able to relocate entire urban populations. Of course, the Vietnam War ended by April 30th same year, 1975, but The Khmer Rouge, who had risen on April 17th of same year had gained control already.

Tuol Sleng had been a high school and was renamed S-21 when the Khmer Rouge took over, becoming one of over 200 secret prisons during that era. So was Cambodia, becoming Democratic Kampuchea – name inspired from the ancient Khmer Kingdom of Kambuja, Sanskrit name.

The Khmer Rouge era was known as the Kampuchea Democratic Era, but as the museum shows, it was very far from democratic.

The guide starts by saying: “When you leave you go back to your normal life”. Hiding from the sun under a Frangipani flower tree, it makes me think. What’s my normal life? Will I ever go back to a normal life? What is normal? Do I even want to be normal? Some unrest woke up in me and actually all I wanted was to be alone and process a new world history lesson. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was declared by the UNESCO valuable to humankind as a proof of inhumanity. How ironic, but what is this worldly life other than pure irony?

Nobody knew about the existence of this and the detainees were brought blindfolded, in trucks. Angkor was always right and there are only 12 confirmed survivors. A place where people enter, but never leave. Angkor has eyes like pineapples, detainees were told to convince them they had been wrong, but actually they would kill anyone. One of the staff declared that it was better to exterminate someone by mistake rather than letting the evil spread.

This is how The Hill of Wild Mango, how it used to be called, a place of Frangipani blossom, coconut palms and jack fruit became a hill of horror, interrogation, false accusation, starvation.

Staff were young boys from the countryside who were told they are the right hand and the soul of the country, but ended up being detainees themselves if they would hesitate in torturing or killing. Women? Mainly cooks or medics, although one was a confirmed interrogator.

One of the buildings – Building A – was for important people. New people, city people, lawyers, teachers, children, high officials. The contemptible. Enemies of the regime. Of course, the building had no air flow and was the place of torture three times a day, ammunition boxes was used for human waste and detainees were shackled to iron beds.

“Once we had the answer we killed them all” – said one of the staff. Nowadays, in international law, information obtained under torture is not acceptable. I’m thinking about my month in Hague, as the International Court of Justice, the special tribunals for Lebanon, Sierra Leone, former Yugoslavia.

The chief of S-21 was Dutch Kang Kec, who took notes on confessions and signed executions. Excellent student, mathematics teacher – remembered as gentle by its students, joined the Communist Party, arrested and imprisoned for 2 years and tortured. Established discipline and handpicked youngsters to train them in the art of torture and obtaining confessions. What caught my attention was – a contrast. Dutch would wear two pens in his shirt pocket – sign of craziness in a time when having a pen in your hand, glasses or soft hands – being an intellectual – meant that you were an enemy of the regime and the country.

As I walk through the rooms, a sparrow is flying inside the white, depressing walls of the former prison, by the pictures of responsible and the victims, a symbol of freedom and hope.

“Would I have had strength to refuse to kill if penalty was my own death?” – again in the garden, on a bench looking at the Frangipani and at two of the survivors. An artist and one who repaired typewriters – essential for confession registration, no? They sit there, in front of you, selling their books.

The museums has archives, which can be visited on appointment.

What caught my attention was the two Banyan Trees. I had heard about them mainly because of the super fancy rooftop bar and restaurant in Bangkok, but never gave it much attention. Well, it is said that Banyan trees give shelter to restless spirits. How beautiful! I listened to it over and over again. Where is my Banyan tree then, restless spirit of mine?

David is outside waiting for me. I get another mango shake and he takes me to the Independence Monument. I ask him to drive in the roundabout around it a few times and then continue to the Royal Palace. He speaks in French and I answer in English, but we get along. The ride is both fun and pleasant, the wind is blowing through my hair and David seems to be smiling, although I can’t see his face. Reception dresses stores, barver stores having Leonardo di Caprio as image, French restaurants, Champs Elysee Hotel – a place I would never go to when in Cambodia, but since most of the tourists are French, of well, tiny restaurants. We are around Sothea Ros Serey Street, holding the name of a singer.

The Independence Monument looks like the central tower of Angkor Wat (in Siem Reap, around 5 hour drive away from Phnom Penh) and was built to celebrate Cambodia’s Independence from France, in 1953.

Phnom Penh is a small city and all the attractions are very close to each other. The Royal Palace is a good place to spend your afternoon in an April afternoon if you can stand the 35 degrees + temperatures that I love. The Palace is closed between 12 and 2PM and the entrance fee is $6, so organize your schedule accordingly. Also, be mindful of what you wear – no tank tops, shorts etc.

The Palace had many compounds and maybe it’s not a bad idea to take a guide – available at the entrance – who will explain every single detail of decoration and what it means, but I was still in lonely mood and I walked around, looking selfishly at only what I wanted to look at. And other tourists are looking at me. I might seem a little odd and a little pretty – alone, with camera, phone, selfie stick (all gone by following day), long flowery skirt, Frangipani huge green hair clam ($1, from an old woman carrying a tray-like basket by the Mekong) in my hair not longer than my shoulders level, inhaling and exhaling some kind of special freedom and a dose of mystery.

Again, there are no many tourists if I compare it to the invasion I’ve seen at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, where the ticket is three times the price of this. Indeed, it’s low season in Cambodia – making me love it – and Phnom Penh is not Bangkok…yet!

As you may easily guess, The Royal Palace is the residence of the King of Cambodia and has been so since 1860, excepting the Khmer Rouge years. As you can see, they tried to destroy pretty much everything valuable, artistic, intellectual, spiritual that Cambodia had.

I will not emphasize much on the edifices themselves, but on the symbols. Symbolism has been a great passion of mine for long. Well, let’s get started, but please have patience and understanding as this (Hinduism, Buddhism symbols) is quite new to me and I’m learning as I go, see and read more about it in Cambodia and different cultures of the world that I get the chance to visit.

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As you enter the Palace’s gardens a huge Couroupita guianensis or Cannonball Tree attracts the eyes of all visitors. The tree is tall and impressive flowers grow from its trunk, but there are some buds and fruits, too. The flowers are called Shivalinga flowers (Hindi). For Hindus this is a sacred tree because the petals of the flower resemble the hood of the Naga, a sacred snake, mostly a cobra because it was Buddha’s protector.

Garuda is a creature looking like a human bird, the vehicle of Vishnu.

The whole ensemble is full of symbols, from the colors of the Palace’s roof to the seven head snakes rising at the stairs of some buildings. The Silver Pagoda or Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha is in the same complex and used to be covered by 5000 tiles of 1kg of silver each, one of the few places kept by the Khmer Rouge, as a symbol of Cambodian civilization.

What is Khmer? Khmer is the Cambodian language and also the people of Cambodia.

I sat by the shade of some trees, by a huge Buddha reading from the Lonley Planey book about Cambodia, while listening to the Bamboo xylophone (Roneat aek) play somewhere not far. I leave the complex looking at the pictures of the life of the King.

All of a sudden I decide I have time to see the National Museum the same day – if I rush. And I do. By now in the nearby park the preparations for the upcoming Khmer New Year (13-16 April) have started – they’re building a stage with the King as a central figure, small merchants gather already. It’s almost sun set and the sun reflects in the peaceful waters of the Mekong. I walk past some American coffee shops, where I would never leave even one dollar when traveling and rush to the museum – two blocks away from my hotel.

The National Museum of Cambodia (Street 13, $5) is another peaceful place, especially before closing time, catching the serendipity of the interior gardens. Probably I was too tired by this time, but I was attracted more to the museum itself than its displays. Moreover, it is a history and archeology museum, not very interactive and a bit boring. A stone museum. What I loved about it is that it’s an opened museum, no walls towards the interior gardens. Makes you feel and think outside the box. Similar to the National Museum in Indonesia, which I visited in January. It should be a trait of the area museums, anyway I love it. Lotus flowers and frogs live together in the four basins of the garden, frangipani flowers look over them and monks spread their calm, hugged by the tall square structure of the museum.

A couple takes pictures. Outside the museum a man in his 60s draws on the porch of the building. Huge green bushes are completed by elephant heads and horns, two monks sit by each other on a bench, an orchid flows down a tree trunk in purple, yellow and white and I catch the perfect picture with the monks and the orchids.

It’s late afternoon and the city life seems to take one more strong breath before going to sleep for the day. Agitation and traffic. I go back to the hotel through the market, I buy the green dress I was telling you about, try to bargain, but I realize there’s no point.

Read more stories about Cambodia here:

Meaningful Journeys – Cabodia (1-2)

Meaningful Journeys – Cabodia (1-3)

April 1st, 1AM, almost arriving from Venice, Italy

On the flight I’m thinking “Life is a video game”, but not quite sure what made me think that.

2AM, Doha, Qatar

Talking about Zaha Hadid today in Venice. Landed in Doha, read the news…

April 2nd, a little before 1 AM

Just came from Dubai and it’s raining, I’m freezing here in Doha and it’s windy, so I booked for Cambodia and off I go with my geisha shoes, black turban and elephant key chain.

IMG_4766Yes, this has been the week of visas and paperwork and I’ve been running after them like crazy. As I am running now to my gate, the furthest ever, almost the same that took me to Zanzibar in September last year. But I guess I should run not write…this is only until they start the airport bus that they’re testing now. Because HIA is awesome!

As usual, I get excellent treatment at the airport and get 3 seats for myself. I cover myself in 3 blankets plus my huge wool blue scarf with a story, fasten my seat belt and sleep. I have chills, but I manage to sleep.

9 AM Doha time, 1 PM Saigon time

“Saigon, I’m back in fucking Saigon” – Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, the movie, yes, the old one, 1979 with Marlon Brando. Watched it not long ago when trying to write about my experience in Vietnam and Saigon in order to learn more about the war. Finally, I changed my plans of seeing Petra in the days off to flying to Cambodia.

So, Saigon, but I’m not here to stay more than 60 minutes, as my colleagues announce that transit lasts for. I almost feel excited for them and their stay. On the left, through the oval windows of the airplane I see the buildings of Ho Chi Minh City. Touchdown!

Vodafone welcomes me to Vietnam – these small things make me happy.

Starting to recover with a glass of Chardonnay from the zombie state I was in when leaving Doha.

We have just landed in Tan Son Nhat International Airport – Terminal 2. Well this sounds familiar, I have been here one month ago. The temperature is 33 degrees. Yey! – I love when the thermometer reads over 30 degrees Celsius.

Slept almost the whole time and was lucky enough – or should I call it differently? – to get three seats just for myself, as it happens most of the time.

I spot a Vietnam Airlines plane, blue with the yellow lotus flower on the tail. This reminds me of the most beautiful aircraft design I have ever seen – Batik Airlines, from Jakarta, where I’m returning this April, in a new setting/hotel.

Not sure whether it is snobbish or fine to talk about exotic destinations with this ease.

After all, it is my job. Oh well, passion.

Flying from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. Again! I remember when I was doing this for the first time (February 27th) and thinking: “Gosh, where am I? Flying from Saigon/Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh, places I can barely pronounce”.

Day 1, 14:55, not one minute less…

And up we go to Phnom Penh passing by many Vietnam Airlines planes. I see the repetition as a pattern of my life. Sao Paolo/ Argentina twice in two consecutive months, Zanzibar same, Madrid same, Beirut same and now Ho Chi Minh City/Phnom Penh. Interesting, though I noticed that once I’m done, I’m done – proof that whatever you have not processed the way you were supposed to, what you did not learn, where you still have work to do, debts to pay (don’t think of money, but that could be the case, too) will follow you over and over until the lesson is learned, may it be positive or less appealing.

Here I am a solo travel girl in Cambodia. Is it safe? Who cares? I’m a Queen of Contrasts. Internet and solo female traveler blogs say yes, but there was an announcement in the flight to be careful with the jewelry and valuables at all times.

We’ll see! By now I’ve been in a lot of so-called dangerous places – alone – and had a great time. Let’s put it this way, if it’s not a bit rare or dangerous, I’m not in.

15:10

Captain made the announcement and we’re arriving 10 minutes earlier.

15:20

Plains and big inundated low lands of irregular shapes. Brown – the water and dark green – the vegetation. No roads, no houses, no skyscrapers. As I read this later, I’m thinking how naive I had been before visiting Cambodia, the Land of Wonder. Finally some houses and huge Mekong River, with an island in the middle. Same tones on my oval window as we descend to the best holidays I’ve ever had.

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15:28

Welcome to Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia. Outside – some Bassaka Air airplanes, a Cambodian carrier and some of Bangkok Air.

Most of the people in my flight queue for the visa on arrival for which you only need to pay around $30, fill in a form and have a photo. I had applied online for it – it is true I paid $80, but you can find other websites where it is only $30.

I don’t have any check-in luggage so I’m the first one to leave the airport as the whole queue is staring at me when the officials tell me to proceed. This is easy and much better than I expected, I’m thinking. The airport looks new. First thing I notice if a Japanese Newspaper, free Japanese newspaper. Inevitably I think of the free Japanese newspaper in Yangon and some distorted truths I read there.

As I had read online, you can get a Pink Ticket from the official service of the airport. They provide transportation to the city and it costs $9 for one tuk-tuk ride (a little over 30 minutes depending on traffic), as it is written of the ticket. I chose tuk-tuk over taxi  – I don’t know how much this costs – because you can get a better feel of the city from an early stage. Just be careful with your belongings, put it flat on the ground of the tuk-tuk and your backpack/purse between your legs. Most probably you’ll be using Street 110 – it already started – Russian Federation.

In Phnom Penh I chose Harmony Hotel and for $50 – one of the most expensive around – it’s more than I need. I had taken shampoo and a towel with me just in case, but both the hotels I stayed in offered great amenities and services. I get a welcome drink and I have to deposit $50 dollars as guarantee. In Cambodia there’s free wi-fi everywhere.

My hotel is on Street 148, neighboring a day market and at 2 streets away from the main nightlife area in Phnom Penh, the restaurants and cafes by the Mekong River on the Sisowath Quay, and less than 10 minutes tuk-tuk ride to The National Museum and Silver Pagoda and around 15 minutes by tuk-tuk to Tuol Sleng Museum (S21).

It’s almost getting dark, so after I take some pictures from the 10th floor window of my room and check out the bar by the 2 level rooftop pool of the hotel, I go out to check the surroundings.

Cambodian People’s Party signs are pretty much everywhere and as I got to see during the 10 hours (return) trip to Siem Reap, where the biggest, tallest and most luxurious house/mini palace was, it was for sure the office of the party.

People seem so warm and nice. I’m obviously odd in my short leather pants, green polo shirt and light green bag with an elephant hanging from its handle. I step in the dirty water puddles of the market.

They sell alive hens and chicken, fish which have been in this 35 degrees head all day/days, clothes – I got myself a $7 long green flower print dress, vegetables, fruit, tens of kinds of leaves, fresh juices and shakes (all $1), gifts for gods – mini gold ingots, toy Range Rovers and other such extreme kitsch stuff.

To my surprise, I don’t see any tourists and the reason might be that, as myself, they’re only in transit here, in their way to Siem Reap.  At one table by the river what seems to be an American/British/Australian puts some wet towels on the forehead of what looks like his pregnant Cambodian wife, sited next to their other child.

Now my dream is to have in the bank that much that produces interest 70$ a day, ok, then 100$ and live happily around the world, running away from life.

In case you’re wondering which currency is used in Cambodia, it is the US Dollar, meaning you can pay in $$$ even to but water from the street merchants. $1=4000 Cambodian Riels.  Prices? Small water $0,5/$1, mainly any small thing you buy in the street is $1. Happy hour runs from 10AM to 10PM in some places or the whole day actually. Nice cocktails for $4 (1+1, meaning $2 per cocktail). Beer for $0.5. Cheap, in a word.  My suggestion would be to go with small banknotes of $20 and $10 and as many of $1.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Let the crazy days and weird food festival begin! Where am I?

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March 15th 2016, Hangzhou, China

We reached in the afternoon and checked in at the lakeside hotel, looking like a mountain resort. Not tall buildings, maximum 3 floors, big green spaces, relaxed atmosphere and clean fresh air.

However, once you step out of the hotel gardens doors, on the main roads, you really understand the purpose of those masks the Asian wear. Literally, I have sand/dust/soil on my face and lips and I need to cover my nose to breathe. So polluted that my eyes are filled with the stuff. Such a contrast.

This area is a relaxation areas, with hotels and lakes. No much activities to do other than look at the mirror of the lake, at the peace of the sky, away from the pollution down the street and eat some Chinese food and drink wine or very light Chinese beer.

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We get into discussions about conspiracy theory and aviation, media manipulation and other almost spiritual issues with the German pilot. I find out from him about Udo Ulfkotte, a German journalist who wrote a book called “Bought Journalists” in which he tells how journalists would take a canister of gasoline and light it to pretend they were transmitting from the war zones, although they were in safe areas.

Oh well, what caught my attention was his theory that people start having vision issues when they don’t want to see the world around them. As a psychological issue, as a battle to what they don’t like in their life. Made me think about it a lot. I started having my issues when I was around 15. Very interesting discussions by the glasses of white wine and a very intelligent person.

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March 16th 2016, Hangzhou, China

We’re ready to go to West Lake, but since early morning I feel we’re not going to make it. I’m with O. from Serbia, whom I just met, but feel close to her, as to a cousin.

Walking down Xiang Lake Road, through the terrible pollution I was telling you about, you reach a beautiful Chinese Gate decorated with dragons, right in the middle of a small park, by the lake. There are not many people around. On the left, a high hill covered in trees and with a pagoda. Right under the hill, a river and a chain of houses by the lake. From the road where we are to the houses there are fields that grow rice and vegetables in this extreme pollution and dust.

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This looks like a Palace, but it’s actually a restaurant and we pick a huge table by the lake, in the interior yard. The waiter comes to take us and we think because we are just two. We try to explain we want outside, but he insists, so we go. He takes us to the place where you order, where the food is made. So clean and well organized. The plateaus already arranged, the soups with all the ingredients at view, pictures for all types of food, the fresh vegetables and salads being watered continuously to remain ultra-fresh and a selection of fish and seafood that looks literally like an aquarium. It’s a museum inside the restaurant, you can forget you are picking your food.

We ordered and without any English he brought exactly what we asked for, even the Jasmine tea with goji and complementary cherry tomatoes, grapes, American peanuts and sunflower seeds. Some shrimp and some snails and other weird stuff I like or want to try.

I pause this to check my email and I have just received a complimentary letter for this flight. Wee!

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Xianghu Lake and its surroundings are lovely, a vast park with music playing from speakers hidden between the cherry blossom trees. Such a peaceful afternoon and O. and I talk about different things, about life, joking that we are like old people in a Sunday relaxing afternoon.

Besides, we laugh at the announcements by the lake and in the hotel. First was in the bathroom saying “Beware of the slippery”. Who’s the slippery? Now it’s written “Depth of Xianghu lake water be safe”. Probably it’s deep? Last one: “No littering here beautiful Xianghu Lake”.

We went back by the chain of houses at the basis of the hill, a place that looks quite strange, right by the very dirty water river, which does not prevent the old ladies to wash the vegetables and salads in it. Oh, and one more detail, the salad grows in the 30 cm wide soil band between the 3 meters fences of the houses and the street itself and it’s covered in dust and soil and the pollution stuff raised by the expensive cars driving around. This small community looks like the ones of criminals hiding their families here. Very tall fences, no men around, very expensive cars, only some old women preparing to cook and some kids. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right.

Oh, I love the three seats bicycles at the hotel and the red ribbons with Chinese coins hanging from the trees with small pink flowers growing directly from the branches for the recent Chinese New Year. The hot air balloon in the garden of the hotel and the very twisted branches of one tree. Just like my thoughts. The cooks with their white hats walking around, the trees with huge pink flowers with countless petals, the reflection of the chain of houses in the nearby river, the pagoda up on the hill…

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