Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brunei part one -- The Paradox

It is surreal to stand among shacks patched together by plywood and scrap mettle looking at a gold plated mosque. I could comprehend one of the two realities in front of me -- but not both. The ‘Venice of the East’ is a shanty town, a cluttered jumble of patchwork houses perching on stilts above a marsh of slick mud, rubbish, and a seemingly infinite number of crabs. We walked along the boardwalk that threads through the shacks, marveling at the contrast of the houses built with nailed together pieces of corrugated mettle and the beautiful potted flowers set outside.

Following this path we reached the Mosque, a blinding white structure, shining gold painting. You step out of the slum into the tiled courtyard, crossing a reflecting pool in an odd reflection of the walkway through the water village. The Mosque is beautiful, in a built to impress sort of way. But the white walkways and fountains were stained with money and the memory of how it could have been used better.  I can’t suppress my anger, but really this sharp contrast is a reminder of the economic injustice in the name of God that is endemic world over. From the gold plated mosques of Brunei to the extravagant mega church of Lynchburg, money is spent on decorating for God that could have been used to house the homeless.

This is the beautiful and bittersweet part of traveling. It exposes us to truths we are hidden from most of the time. Growth is often uncomfortable.

On a more cheerful note: A monkey tried to steel pineapple from me today!

Tomorrow we are heading into Malaysia for a day trip! I will be sure to share this with you -- hopefully on happier topics!

For more photos from today:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hong Kong!

October 28th 2010
9:00 AM 
Bandar Seri Begwan, Brunei

Hong Kong is a city which doesn’t seem like it should be able to exist. Maybe we are jaded in America, but we have grown used to the idea that  a metropolis it will be dirty and crime infested, the kind of place Batman and his many nemeses lurk. Hong Kong is paradoxical: a huge city filled with night life and chaos and fun without the rubbish and grime.

My hotel was on a bustling neon shopping street, lined with expensive clothing stores, pharmacies and shops which seemed to indiscriminately sell a mix of candy and dried squid. I walked along this road, absorbing the energy and taking pictures of bright signs that splashed reds and purples and yellows across the streets. After some wandering I found a night market, a discombobulated mix of touristy statues, paintings and silks crammed in next to locals hunting through piles of socks and boxers.

That night I  could barely sleep -- intoxicated with excitement inherent in the city and the joy of starting my adventure. So I left my hotel before 7 in the morning, startled to find the streets far more deserted than they had been at midnight. I walked through the city, suddenly turned monochrome by gray skies the same color of the concrete buildings. I sat by the river while I waited for the city to wake up, surrounded by the odd quiet of the river noise -- boats and water lapping against the pier as the street noise behind me swelled. While I was sitting an ancient Chinese man named Lee started a conversation with me, discussing everything from my future plans (he suggested I should become Commissioner of Refugees for the UN!) to American politics. Another way Hong Kong defies conventions of big cities -- the people here are genuinely friendly.

I really hope I will be able to return here while I am in Asia. Hong Kong, even with just 20 hours experience of it, has definitely marked it’s place in my list of favorite cities!

To see more photos of Hong Kong:

To see photos of New York City:

Tomorrow I will post a blog about Brunei, where I am now!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day One: Setting off!

Day One: The Adventure begins!
October 24th, 4:30
Amtrak train en route to New York City

Hard to believe it has begun. Maybe I should say impossible -- I get flashes of the enormity of the journey that lies ahead, moments mixed with giddy joy and disbelief. Flashing by flame-colored forests feels like freedom, even cramped on my seat on the train. Now more than ever in my life I feel the disintegration of boarders. I have never held much patriotism, or believe that imaginary lines drawn between people separates us in any meaningful way. Countries, like God and love must be believed in to exist. But unlike the other two, I think they are not worth the effort to believe into existence. I am on the verge of an adventure spanning oceans and continents,  languages, nations,  but the purpose of this adventure is to be with the people. To recognize, to experience, to love the humanity in my brothers and sisters half a world away.

So much of my life has been spent defying distance. My sister, who I loved from across a planet long before I met her, my boyfriend, who I loved from across a country for years, the suffering in Darfur who I have tried my best to love and to champion in a small way from my small town. Now I have the gift of physically bridging that gap, of conquering distance to teach and to learn from 59 Cambodian orphans.

Sunday -- Taking the Amtrak to NYC. I spend the night in New York with family.
Monday -- Board plane to Hong Kong
Tuesday -- Spend the night in Hong Kong, explore during 20 hour layover
Wednesday -- Arrive in Brunei
Stay until Wednesday November 10th, then depart for Brunei

The map of the journey!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I spent this summer in Egypt on a state department scholarship to learn Arabic! In between studying I got some fun photographs.