25 January, 2014

Chips or Salad?

The other day I had lunch with a male friend at Post Box Cafe, a very lovely local establishment in Yowie Bay. We had ordered two servings of their scrumptious steak sandwiches, one with salad the other with chips.

As the waiter came by with our food, he asked who was having which dish. We hadn't particularly decided what we wanted, and told him it didn't matter. He paused for the slightest second and placed the plate with the salad in front of me.

How preposterous! I thought, in a posh English accent. 

Now yes, this was a rather humorous assumption that he made, but it bothered me.

It was the waiters' natural instinct to hand me the salad and my friend the chips. When in fact, I felt like having chips that day. I soon realised that we all, to a degree, have this unconscious assumptive nature.

Assuming how others should act, and how we ourselves should conduct ourselves.

He had unknowingly made a conclusion through his experience of living in a highly self-conscious, health-crazed society that:

A young woman = a calorie counting, health magazine buying, green juice drinking junkie.    That in turn = SALAD.

This innocent act revealed a truth about our society. That it is easily accepted and even expected for a girl my age to be dieting, that I would eat a salad over chips particularly in the company of a male, and that I would be repulsed at the sight of oily potato sticks.

He didn't mean any offense, but it got my mind churning.

Maybe this is the moment in a science fiction text, when the protagonist (me) realises the world she once thought was her own is in fact controlled by an alien species. That we are stuck in the Matrix. A stimulated reality, controlled by image-obsessed fiends, who demand humans to be sucked into a manic devotion to obtain the "perfect" body.

Have we perhaps reached our dystopian society?

A society that I have easily been dragged into? Allowing myself to be seduced into buying more and more clothes. Being flooded with negative self-talk about my body. Surrounded and bullied by images all over the media.

A society where conversations overheard in bathrooms want to make you sick.

I was in a bathroom at Strathfield, washing my hands, when two girls who couldn't be more than 16-year-old, wearing mid-drifs, came in to look at themselves in the mirror. 

One of the girls had recently gotten her belly button pierced. As her friend admired the piercing and her "super flat stomach", I slowed my hand drying process to listen to their conversation. Keep in mind that both of these girls were very clearly in the category of "super skinny".  

First girl: O.M.G! You are so skinny! You're so lucky you got a belly button piercing!

Second girl: Oh my gosh… I am not skinny… you are SO much skinnier than I am. You should just get one as well!

First girl: Oh no, I could NEVER get one, I'm way to fat! 

Now, either both of these girls were completely delusional, or have gotten into the habit of saying, "stop it, you're prettier!" It's become something hip and an instant response for people to push down their own self-image to lift another up. 

Constantly being unaware of what simple comments like that do to ones self-esteem. And not only does it affect your own self-esteem, but it creates a standard of what everyone else should be reaching. 

Due to the superficial values we place on image, we have collapsed under an automatic thought process in terms of how we are expected to look and act.

That as a woman I should order the salad because I am expected to. And when I do order salad, is it because I want it or because the evil healthoids force me to?

Next time a negative comment crosses your mind. Stop. Stop before you say it out loud or let it boil in your brain. Think about why you are choosing to throw yourself a pity party. Is it the aliens? It sure could be.

But if there are no aliens hovering over your stolid body, then it's up to you.

Does anyone agree with what I am saying? Or are these comments completely irrelevant? Are all my readers lettuce munching, kale gulping, image obesssed calorie watches? Surly not.

There is nothing wrong with being healthy.
There is nothing wrong with drinking smoothies.
In fact, there is nothing wrong with ordering a salad.

What is wrong, is that I wanted those chips but instead got a poorly dressed salad.

Join the fight, do what's right,

Plug out.

18 January, 2014

Road Etiquette

Thou shalt not make racial driving insults.

Honour the road rules and regulations.

Remember the polite gesture when a fellow brother has let thy merge.

Thou shalt not do burn outs on the streets.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's parking spot.

There are only a few things in life that I consider basic human etiquette. Those rules that no one mentions but expects them to be abided by, due to common sense. 

I have accepted that not every man will open doors for you, or swiftly tuck in your chair as you sit down. That not every child will eat with their mouths closed at the dinner table. And that sometimes friends will forget to take off their shoes when they enter an asian household. 

These things are easy to let go. 

But there are others that I do not have the patience for. When these certain rules are broken I am instantly infuriated. But I do not do anything about it. I am simply disappointed.

In life. In society. Momentarily melodramatic asking myself what has happened to us all? Have we forgotten how to be considerate? Do we no longer have a general awareness of those around us?

I here by declare these as the 21st century CSC (Claire's Sense Commandments)

Trivial commandment #1
Thou shalt take careful consideration whilst readjusting and de-sanding thy beach towel. 

There is nothing worst then getting a clump of sand sprayed across your face at the beach while you are trying to relax and sun bake. Usually it is due to children running across the beach, other times it's adults wearing thongs, then there is the de-sanding of the beach towel. The worst.

I just can not help but to groan and give the person a very unpleasant face to let them know that… "You! Yes you...you got me." I am then left lying there, helpless, disgusted, and possibly blinded by the particles that have latched onto my contacts.

I for one, put my towel into a mound and slowly move it away from the people I am with. I then make sure I know which direction the wind is blowing (so I don't get sand in my own eyes) then proceed to flap my towel. Slowly placing it back onto the sand I retire to my towel. 

Unnecessary? Probably, but it is common sense with an awareness of people around you. 

Trivial commandment #2 
(as stated above) Remember the polite gesture when a fellow brother has let thy merge.

As long as I could remember, the one thing I noticed in the car was when my mum raised her hand up to the rear view mirror communicating with the car behind her. I wondered what secret gesture this may have been. What mysterious things did she know that I didn't?

Eventually I asked her why she did that. Why she raised her hand like that. And she told me. It was to thank the driver behind her for letting her merge. From that moment on, I honestly thought that being in a position to communicate with other drivers without talking was mind blowing.

It became something sacred. Something special that could only be practiced when I had my licence. The excitement of being able to raise my hand in the car obviously wore off. But there has always been a sense of pride that I had when doing so.

A pride that came from showing I appreciated and acknowledged others on the road. It has also been something that I expected everyone else would do in return. Turns out I was wrong. It turns out that people must have forgotten about this ritual, or they just couldn't care less.

Now when I know that I have purposely slowed down to let someone get in front of me, my eyes dart to the cars' rear view mirror. Glaring through the window, waiting for a little gesture, waiting for that hand to rise, I wait but… nothing. No dam thank you!

It bothers me that I find this frustrating because I don't know whether it shows that the other driver is ungrateful, lazy, and inconsiderate; or that I am an arrogant, self-absorbed prune.

Maybe it means both, maybe neither. Maybe no one cares about this but me.

Trivial Commandment #3
(also stated above) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's parking spot.

I am going to assume that this is most relatable out of the three I have mentioned. Because surely there is no one who finds a thrill in finding parking. Who enjoys going around and around, feeling the time tick on and their patience run out. 

There is something about cars in a busy parking lot that is so animalistic. There is a sense of rivalry, tension and technique that goes into the sport. You lurk, you stalk, you seek out, and then you pounce on a returning customer. 

There is always that dilemma in the car park isn't there? Do you sit in one place and hope someone returns in the next couple minutes? Or do you drive around to survey the whole area? 

Or is there no technique and just plain old luck? 

For me, the two most annoying things a person can do while you are trying to find parking is...

  • When they don't notice you are stalking them back to their car. Once they reach their car they unlock, unload but then lock the car again. They then look surprised when they notice you there and shake their heads. Come on.. If you feel a car lurking behind you, either: RUN AWAY or TELL THEM YOU AREN'T LEAVING!

  • When you have been indicating for a while, trying to be patient as a previous car prepares to leave the parking spot, then someone else speeds around the corner and takes your spot. 

The most aggravating situation to be in. This has happened to me a couple of times in what I have experienced as the two worst places to find parking. 

The first is at The Grounds of Alexandria. Great food but limited narrow parking. And the second is at a small outdoor parking lot in Hurstville. It is a very poorly designed car park. 

I'm not one to storm out of my car and demand the spot back, partially because I can't be bothered, but mostly because I am too timid to assert myself in that way. However, I am not afraid to use my horn. 

No matter how much I beep and beep and beep, the other driver remains oblivious. They choose to ignore the annoying chirping of my Kia Rio. Still high on the satisfaction of cheating their way in, your foe continues to exit their vehicle with a mixture of, innocence and smugness smeared over their face.  

The amount of contempt I can hold against a person in that moment is unbelievable. No other feeling can compare.

These are the few sins that I do not stand for.

Once reading this, you can never unread it. 

You have been given your chance. 

If you do not follow these commandments … nothing life threatening will occur to you.

But you better watch out next time you are on the road, because I may be there. And I might see you commit one of my fictional sins. 

And when that happens, I will not hesitant to take action.

I will beep you. 

11 January, 2014

Obligatory New Year Resolutions

"Obligatory" because I have a blog.

"New Year" because the date has changed.

"Resolutions" because I want to see if setting them will make a difference.

It's time to roll your eyes. Yes, yes, it is another one of these. These generic, boring statements. That post that everyone seems to need to address. To address the fact that it is a new year.

To debate and question what makes New Years Day so important? That time of the year that everyone seems to have the same complaint that they still think is humorous.

You know the, "OMG I keep writing 2013 down when I write the date, It's so frustrating!"

You must be bored out of your mind hearing the same thing over and over again. So I won't be one of those people. I won't ramble on about how it doesn't feel like a new year but just another day.

Or explain why I think celebrating New Years Eve with a huge party is overrated. Or mention how the millions of dollars used for the annual fireworks could be more effciently injected into the economy.

Perhaps you are sick of hearing the naive positivity and passion in New Year posts - that generally die out in a couple weeks. Perhaps, you are even sick of hearing my positive and youthful life experiential antics.

I will not mention all the above in any more detail than I already have. I am sure you have heard it all before. But what you can't escape from is hearing my resolutions for this year, because that is why you clicked on this link is it not?

Here is a well known theory that I would like to call....

THE NYE BEER GOGGLES: Intoxicated by overexcitement, naive hope and majority of the time it is alcohol, we have submerged into this mentality that if we think of a few generic things we would like to achieve in the new year that they will magically happen. That when it comes to this time next year we are confused to why we continue setting down the same goals because they have not yet been reached. It seems that because someone decided to make new year resolutions a western tradition, it automatically makes them invincible. Suddenly when the clock strikes 12, we are under the impression that if we list everything we ever wanted to accomplish in our lives, they will be resolved. This my friends is a delusion. Beer goggles. Unless you set out realistic goals and ways in which you can achieve them, they are not going to magically be ticked off your list. 

But do not get me wrong. You can dream higher, push harder, work more efficiently, and strive to be a better person. But simply listing those things doesn't make them realistic resolutions. How will you accomplish the things on your list? If we are going to accept the hopeless notion of making new year resolutions, let's do it right. Don't make it an empty tradition but something that pushes you all year around. 

So after all those words of me rambling on about not wanting to ramble on about new years, here are my resolutions. They are not original or thought provoking goals, nor did it take me that long to think of them. These are simply things that I believe I can stick with and want to achieve this year.

  • Discover different worlds, characters and language by reading more. 
I definitely do not read as much as I would like to. And I am going to do something about that so I never have to say the previous sentence again. Practically I will do this by always having an answer to what I am "currently reading." To always have a book I want to delve into after the one I am holding in my hand. It is not about speed but about getting into the habit of good reading. Read recommended books, spend less money on clothes and more on buying books, investigate whether I truly like crime fiction or not, to determine if newspapers are as boring as I remember when my mum tried to enticed me to read by giving me pocket money after I wrote reviews on the articles I skimmed. I want to have a confident answer to the question "what is your favourite novel?" I want to be a person others ask for good book recommendations.

  • Discover new lands, cultures, peoples and food by first saving money. 
This may be the hardest one for me this year. Yes, it is not surprise that I have trouble with saving. After purchasing my first "expensive" t-shirt at General Pants Co. in year 8, spending lots of money on clothes became easier and easier for me to do. Hence, my goal is to save at least half of what I am paid during the month no matter what. Effectively cutting off a lot of my money fund. From working at the frozen yogurt joint to helping out my mum, at least half of what I get paid. I do have a GoalSaver account that I deposit money into (rarely) but it has not been a very effective way for me to save. At the end of the day, if I want something online and don't have the money for it, I will transfer money into my everyday account and get that skirt instead of thinking about my trip to Europe. So... I am going to put a lock on my GoalSaver or even open up a new account where I can not withdraw any money until a pre-proposed time. It's going to be tough, but has to be done. For the sake of my travel fund. 

  • Discover how performance can emotionalise, challenge and entertain me by watching more theatre.
This will be another hard one to accomplish this year. Because it involves having the time and money to complete. Theatre as I described in an earlier post, is the highest form of entertainment and luxury for me. A trip to the theatre to attend a live show is the biggest treat for me. I already know realistically that I will not be able to afford going to the theatres as often as I would like (which would be every fortnight.) So I would like to go once every couple months, and when it is not possible simply expose myself to more theatrical readings and theory. This may include reading more plays and possibly doing research on famous practitioners, playwrights, directors, performers, and styles of theatre. Just to continue to expand my knowledge and depth in my interest of theatre. 

  • Discover the world around me by visiting a new place every month.
This one may sound difficult to achieve at first, but I know it will be possible to do. This is to simply keep my eye out for new places I can visit and experience throughout the year. To constantly be driven to try new things and visit places I may not usually choose at first glance. I am excited to even regret and hate some of my experiences but to absolutely enjoy and be pleasantly surprised by many others. This can be as simple as finding a park I have never walked by, a new cafe I never bothered to eat at, to possibly visiting a suburb that I have not yet explored, or going on a short road trip. Perhaps I shouldn't make it as strict as having to find a new place every month. I suppose it is more romantic and fun if it is done more organically and naturally. I basically want to make sure I am finding more places and reasons why I love home.

2014, my year of discovery. 

"2014" because I know how to write the date properly.

"my year of" because I need the unnecessary reminder that it's my life.

"discovery" because there is such mystery and excitement about being opened up to what was once unknown.

Temple Time! (Week 2 in Cambodia)

Siem Reap 

Our 8 hour bus trip to Siem Reap was quite horrible. 8 hours is a long time. And being trapped on a bus with over 20 high school girls was not fun. We seemed to have had the loudest girls behind us as well. They were laughing and chatting at very high volumes, screaming to each other across the bus. I can now see how frustrating it would have been for teachers and the general public to be around me and my friends when we were in junior high school.

The constant swaying, bobbing, and rattling of the bus was not nearly as disruptive as the bus' horn. It seemed to be an internal sounding horn. By that I mean it seemed louder being inside then bus then what I imagined it would sound outside. Every time the bus driver spontaneously beeped the horn to warn other drivers he was going to overtake, it violently jolted me awake. It was loud. And since there is nothing to do on a bus for 8 hours but to sleep, it was a frustrating experience.

After all the bumps and jittering, I was beginning to think the bus was invincible. Until… we reached a unexpected stop. Our tire popped. And by popped I mean it was destroyed, slashed, mangled. And if you look at the photo of the tire, you can probably see that we were not working with great conditions to start with. This prolonged the journey, which made the day roll on very slowly.

The popped tire.
Kate and I were pleasantly surprised at the quality of our accommodation. Later on we found out that the guest house we were meant to stay in was over booked, so they upgraded us!
This was my first meal in Siem Reap. One of the biggest mistakes I made while on the trip was ordering fried chicken in a completely empty hotel restaurant in Cambodia. But what can I say? I was craving chicken. This meal cost me a whopping $4.50. This is a big jump from the low prices in Phnom Penh. 
Features around the place we were staying at - Angkor Spirit Palace. 
We even had a pool!
Breakfast was included with accommodation. It looks much nicer than it actually was. Let's just say we bought our own breakfast after I had this one. Trying black coffee for the first time. I'm not going to pretend that I enjoyed it.
Temples, Temples, Temples! 

There is not much that I will mention about the temples. I will simply let you look at the images to appreciate on your own. Using one word to describe my experience with the temples would be - "exhausting". Yes I have used that word too many times in the past couple of posts, but it really just takes so much out of you. The hot humid weather, the overly crowded areas, the repetitive nature of the days; was just not that enjoyable. I loved being amongst the ancient architecture, but it was just so difficult to stay interested and alert when our tour guide stopped at every second relief to explain the story behind it for 10 minutes each.   

The number of temples that remain in Siem Reap is immense, and the intricate details at each site are breathtaking. So do not get me wrong, despite all my complaining there were some amazing temples we visited. If I was able to take my time at temples that blew me away and quicken the pace at ones that were less interesting it would have made the experience more enjoyable. To be not pressed for time knowing that I needed to visit 3 or 4 more temples afterwards, and also having the choice to skip a site. 
And so it begins… at the South Gate of Angkor Phrom. 
Angkor Thom.
Overly excited and unaware of the day that was ahead of me.
Slabs and fragments collected to be used when it is time for reconstruction. 
The gang. Me, Kate, Deborah, Khanh, and Tara (left to right, top to bottom.) The face I am pulling was actually how I was feeling... and this was only the first temple we visited.
My new favourite thing - mango smoothie, yum!
"Fresh spring rolls"
Temple Baphuon. 
Ta Prom - a location where the film Tomb Raider was shot in. 
Diamonds and gems would have filled the holes in these walls.
Angkor Wat. 
Angkor Wat is so fundamental that the temple is displayed on the national flag. It is considered the heart of Cambodia.
Kate and I putting on pleasant smiles outside Angkor War. We were so keen to get back home!
Had a tofu red curry at The Singing Tree Cafe for $3.50.
Fresh carrot and orange juice for $2.
At The Blue Pumpkin treating ourselves to ice cream. I got two scoops for $2.75. I loved being in this air-conditioned clean place. They had massive sofas you could lounge on to enjoy your dessert and perhaps fall asleep on. 
Mid way through the week, the weather hit lows of 20 degrees. This made the other ladies and I very excited. To finally escape from the heat! It was pretty funny seeing the locals react to the weather that morning. Our tuk-tuk drivers were shivering and wore big parkers. However, we soon understood why they needed it. Our ride to Kbal Spean was almost 2 hours long. So sitting at the back of the tuk-tuk while the wind hit our faces for that long was freezing! We actually had to stop by at a small village to warm ourselves by a fire.
Kbal Spean was supposedly a "climb" that would be "well worth the effort." This gave me the impression that it was going to be a treacherous uphill battle to get to the top of  a mountain. It wasn't. It didn't take us long at all to reach the top. It was perfect. The weather had cooled down and this very pleasant walk ended up being one of the highlights of my trip. I got my shorts on and powered through the walk. Having a solitary, breezy, stomp through nature was just the break I needed. 
It was mainly a solid, moist sandy terrain, with tree roots outstretched where they pleased. Occasionally we had to climb up some rocks, but it is a very beautiful walk.
Having overwhelming excitement after Kate told me to try and swing on the vine. 
Remains of reliefs and structures that had been broken down by nature. It was pretty awesome seeing the images amongst the moving stream. 
A very basic stir fry vegetable noodles we had for lunch - $5. Eating close to the temples, you can expect that the prices will be higher. 

Tip 7. Never purchase items off begging children around the temples. It encourages that behaviour and gives the adults the impression that exploiting children this way is acceptable. There will usually be a couple of children at each entrance who seek out tourists. Do not give in. 

Banteay Srei Temple.
 Pre Rup temple - a popular place to watch the sunset. Even though we were not there late enough to see the sunset, there were still amazing views.
On our way to the "docks" to get to the Floating Village.
Floating village.
Boy in small cylindrical tub.
Once you travel long enough, and go through the floating village, you get to a place where you can be dropped off  to have refreshments, and walk along the boardwalk. The walk started off with full fencing on both sides as seen in the image above, and got more and more sparse as you walked along. It was quite scary (for me.) 
Kids coming home from day school. 
We then took the boat out into the open, this would have also been an amazing spot to watch a sunset. 
Even out at here where the sky seems to touch the sea, they still attempt to sell you things via boat!
Bahong. This was the last temple we visited on our trip and was one of my favourites. It wasn't necessarily an immense complex, but I enjoyed running around and absorbing everything in quickly. Being able to get away from our guide for once and enjoy the temple on our own was great. We ended up sitting at the top of the steep steps and enjoying the view.
What remains of the elephant.
Pretending to ride the lion of whatever animal it was.

Phare (The Cambodian Circus)

"I went to an extremely entertaining and authentic small outdoor circus. Presented by students from the performing arts school run by Phare Ponleu Spelpak - an non-profit Cambodian organisation. Taking children and young adults off the streets and away from their difficult backgrounds to give them an avenue of expression. I was absolutely taken away by the talent and passion I saw on stage. Bravo!" Directly from the caption I wrote on my Instagram - c_mjung. 

The show that we watched was a very simple yet beautiful performance. About a boy who comes from an abusive home, who ends up running away and joins a group of circus performers who are traveling to Phnom Penh. There was live music, subtitles on a small screen to the side, hilarious slapstick comedy, audience involvement and high energy all throughout the performance. Reading through my travel journal I can't believe I actually wrote "I am a happy chappy" after describing my experience. 

Having something quick to eat before the performance. 
Artisans d'Angkor. This was not the most exciting place to visit, but it helped give me perspective of the enormity and work that would have been completed at all the temples we had visited earlier on in the week. The Artisan village is a place where you walk through different workshops, where locals are working on replicating images, statues etc from the temples. 

Last Day at Siem Reap

The last day at Siem Reap was similar to my last day in Phnom Penh. Relaxing and making the most out of the town. Kate and I spent the morning with Khanh and Deborah at the Artisan Workshop, then Kate and I separated ways from the others and came back to our accommodation. We spent an amazingly relaxing time by the pool just sunbathing, reading and swimming for most of the afternoon. We even ended up getting lunch brought down to us from the hotel restaurant. The vegetable red curry was surprisingly very delicious! And you can't do much wrong with a mango smoothie. 

After 3 pm we retired back into our room and had showers before heading back out to town for the night. We met up with Tara and got cheap manicure and pedicures together. It was the first time that I had gotten this done before. And you do pay for what you get I suppose, when you pay $7. After the very awkward and uncomfortable experience of a pedicure, my nails failed to dry. Even after a substantial amount of time everything started to smudge. So I gave up and ended up taking all the nail polish off my nails because it was hard to look at. 

We met up with Khanh and Deborah again for our last dinner together. We ended up going to a cheap local place, which did not have very good food at all. I ordered a vegetable Amok that had a very bland taste. After dinner we went to Blue Pumpkin again and had ice cream. While we were here I salivated over the breakfast and lunch menu. So I decided to come back the next day before getting on my flight to have a decent lunch. I had quite an early night. 

Kate left early in the morning. I got out of bed and gave her a very sleepy good bye. I spent the rest of the morning in the room watching TV. When I got too hungry I left the room and took a tuk-tuk to town with Deborah, who was staying one more night before she moved on with her plans. I ended up going back to The Blue Pumpkin for brunch. And I went all out. I ordered spring rolls and pho. It was pretty yummy, and I was so full afterwards! Not only did I attempt to scoff down all the food I also had a watermelon crush, which was amazing. 

The spring rolls, pho, and watermelon crush cost me around $10.50 (from the top of my head.)

I got to the airport really early at 4:15pm because I didn't want to risk being late. However, when I got to the airport the check in desk wasn't even opened yet, and I realised I didn't have to rush to get to the airport. On top being at the airport super early, the flight got delayed an hour more. So that was now a 3 hour wait in a small place. It wasn't too bad waiting though, it was nicely air-conditioned and I spent the time reading my book and getting a complimentary meal from the airline because of the delay.

Totally empty restaurant at the airport receiving my free meal.
Ordered tom yum soup. It was not what I was expecting. It actually tasted quite awful. 
All in all, Cambodia was good for me. A great way to end the year. To realise that I was more than capable to travel alone, and didn't mind admitting that I enjoyed doing it by myself. I got to meet some amazing people and I loved being able to be responsible for myself. I unraveled my desire to experience different and new cultures, and now have such a passion to travel more. Fantasying over and over in my head where my next destination would be...

But sitting in that empty restaurant, writing away in my travel journal, I was ready to leave. I was content thinking of heading back home. Until next time...