Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy Hump Day!

From a 5th grade girl. So sweet; matched my outfit and all :) Totally one of those small, good things that always exist in the midst of the most crazy of days.

And from a 6th grade boy-

Love it...muhaha

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Save my Friend: Help North Korean Refugees (Photos) Pt. 3

-2 million people (about 10%) of North Korea's population has died from famine. 

-150-200,000 North Koreans reside in gulags or political work camps for simply reading a foreign newspaper, singing a South Korean pop song, ‘insulting the authority’ of the North Korean leadership or being within 3 generations of someone of such. 

-North Koreans cannot escape over the heavily guarded DMZ between North and South Korea, so they cross the Tumen River into China. 

-An estimated 250,000 North Koreans live in China

-China views defectors as illegal immigrants rather than refugees, and therefor, if arrested, North Koreans are repatriated. 

-The North Korean government pays China for their return while defectors face execution, torture, and/or political work camps. 

-It's a myth that we know little about "The Hermit Kingdom." Defectors are ready to share their stories. We just need to listen. 

A few of the past vigils: 
Photos courtesy of Joey, Harry and Deborah

Debbie and I speaking at the Save my Friend vigil

Bottom line...

We support the Save my Friend campaign. 

A North Korean doctor (left) and Park Sun-Young, a Korean lawmaker, went on a hunger strikes in front of the Chinese
Embassy in support of 31 defectors in Chinese custody that would soon be repatriated. 

The doctor speaks

Debbie, Barbie and HyungKyung 

Debbie, myself and Joanna

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Save my Friend: Help North Korean Refugees Pt. 2

I'm starring out into a crowd of North Korean defectors, South Koreans, and foreigners. Video cameras are pointed at me and camera flashes make it difficult to focus. I'm trembling and I'm not sure it's because it's 27F and extremely windy or if it's because I am about to give a speech in front of a large crowd of supporters of the Save my Friend Campaign. "Am I really going to do this? Can I do this?" I think to myself. I search the crowd for reassurance. I'm drawn to a lady whose eyes are filled with tears above her sign that reads "Save my Friend," which covers the rest of her face. My throat tightens, but at the same time the emotion in her gaze strengthens me. I remember I'm not standing alone, but with my friend Debbie who will speak after me. Finally, I say "annyeong hasseo (hello)" and the crowd returns the greeting.

Debbie and I nervous like crazy
"I'm really nervous to be speaking here, but I recognize the importance of speaking out," I share. It's my fourth time attending the Save my Friend gathering at the Chinese Embassy, where supporterss urge China to put an end to defining North Korean refugees as illigal immigrants and therefore repatriating them back to a country where they will face either execution or forced labor camps. I realize that it's time to do more than just attend. I want North Koreans to know that, while I recognize that myself and other foreigners may never truly understand their pain and suffering, that we want to try and to stand with them in their plight. Because, in reality, these injustices are of world-wide concern. We are all human and must be there for one another.

As I continue on with my speech, the reality of the situation becomes even clearer to me. I'm using note cards, but I find them less important than I had expected. What I want to say it so deeply ingrained that it comes naturally. A Korean man with impeccable English we met right before taking our positions translates for me and I feel confident the message is being relayed with clarity. While I scan the crowd throughout the entire speech, the only eye contact I make is with the lady holding the sign that originally gave me my important burst of confidence. Everyone else is a blur a midst the candle lights, signs, banners, and flashes. I finish, bow, and hand the mike to Debbie. She has had very little time to prepare, but still manages to speak with a calm and confident voice and relays that although many people are fearful of taking a political stance, they don't have to. This is a humanitarian issue as well and a humanitarian stance is all that is necessary.

Afterward, I want to join the lady that had caught my eye during the speech, but I let my nerves get the best of me and rejoin my group. Part of speaking up was just getting over myself. Realizing that there is more at stake than my nerves and fears that accompany them. But it took a lot of courage to leap that hurdle and, in this moment, I'm not quite ready for the next. As for the future, my goal is to find a way to intermingle the foreigner and Korean supporters of the cause. As it is, we are relatively separate in the crowd and I see us being so much more powerful joined as one.

The rest of the event is inspirational. During the past three events, a friend that I met at the first gathering translated the message of the speakers, but she is not here today. Still, I feel the passion in the voices and it's enough for me to know that I am a part of something great, something special, and something I genuinely feel is making a difference.

For anyone interested in participating in the Save my Friend campaign, people are still gathering everyday at both 2:00PM and 7:00PM in front of the Chinese Embassy. To get there via subway, use the Gyeongbukgung Station, exit 2 and walk straight for 5-10 minutes. You'll run directly into the gathering. It's rumored, but not confirmed, that the original 31 refugees have been returned to North Korea. However, the issue of repatriation still stands and the campaign is still going strong.

Finally, if you have not already done so, please sign the petition here: http://www.change.org/petitions/save-north-korean-refugees-savemyfriend

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Poker Face

A new school year is upon us and boy have I missed my students., especially the 3rd graders.

Me- "What is this?" (pointing at my face)
All but one student- "Face!!!"
The one student- "Poker face!" (totally nonchalant)

Wonder where he got that from?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Notes from Campuchia: The Kingdom of Wonders Part 2

Welcome to the better part, part 2, of Notes from Campuchia. The second week was the most memorable. Students started opening up and feeling really comfortable around us. Our teaching styles grew to fit one another. We now knew the routine of the village and embraced it. We continued to explore, but we'd also bask in the comfort of what we'd already found.

“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.” ~D.H. Lawrence 

1/29- Siem Reap

(Sunrise at Ankor Wat) "With each flash, the bugs look like glitter fluttering across the sky."

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

"The crowds are surely a shame, but with every turn of my head, my ears catch a different language. German, Chinese, English, Japanese, Russian. And then the accents, there are so many accents to be heard."

"Looking at the herds of tourists, cameras in hand, each thinking their photos are worth more than they are, is unnerving. I don't believe they are genuinely experiencing the greatness of our surroundings from behind their lenses. I'm one of these people until my camera dies. It's not hard to fall into this role, but now I'm forced out and for that I am grateful. It's refreshing and things look different."

Angkor Wat, Fortunately I do have some photos and I'm happy for that. There needs to
be a balance. 

We often escaped the crowds by heading off the beaten bath. To the side of Angkor Thom we found lots of monkeys!




Ta Prohm, The trees are grounding

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

1/30- Prey Chuk Vilage

"More and more it angers me to see the compulsive behavior of tourists. So many care so little about Cambodia's history, its reality, and its people. It seems that as long as they can add it to their list of places traveled and have proof of it in a picture or cheaply priced market souvenir, they are satisfied. But shouldn't traveling be about authenticity, really experiencing life like the locals, bridging the gap between countries and doing so with genuine interactions between locals and visitors? A country is not just a place, but people and a culture as well. Glad to be back in Prey Chuk."

School boys playing a balance-spinning game, so precious

"A Student approaches me before class and says, 'Teacher, I missed you so much.' I'm surprised because she knows how to say this and am overwhelmed with happiness.

He is not in school, but hangs around later in the afternoons. Also found us at home quite often. If I had favorites, it
would be him...


"Once at the pagota, we hear the melodic sound of monks praying inside a building covered in Kmer writing. The kids whisper and motion for our group to be quiet as we sneak past. We arrive at the largest structure, our usual meeting spot. Gradually we all take off our shoes and make it to the top of 3 levels. Surrounding us are about 50 miniature pagodas, each in honor of a different relic."

Coloring at the village's pagota

"We play games of all sorts. Some they teach us, some we teach them, and others, such as 'rock, paper, scissors,' we realize everyone knows."

Christine suggested a game similar to "statues." They LOVED it!


"Time is dwindling and I'm not ready to say goodbye. I go for a bike ride on some unexplored dirt roads. The further from the main road, the worse poverty gets. In getting started, the organization I'm volunteering with literally scanned the main road for schools in need of assistance and generated partnerships. With the best of intentions, it's difficult to get aid to those that need it most. Anywhere in the world, not just here. Fortunately, the more they expand, the further back into villages they will get."


"It's officially my last night in Prey Chuk. I hope that I can rest. It's quiet for now. Last night, there had been another wedding and the celebrations lasted well past bedtime. Sleep was out of the question, so I gave up, grabbed some coconut crackers and water and sat outside on the balcony to munch away. Being closer to the music, I was able to enjoy it. Crickets chirped and bats fluttered above my head. In the darkness, my eyes seemed to be playing tricks on me. I thought I saw fireflies. As my eyes began to adapt, so too did my ears and I realized how many cars were passing. I sat until the music stopped and I heard the sound of feet on the dirt road neighboring our house."

"Beside the classes at the public school, we've been motor biking to the neighboring village to teach a private class of older students on Fridays. One student is a monk and as with all SE Asian monks, I enjoy looking at him. I'm generalizing, but their shy smiles are so sweet and their skin so beautiful against their orange robes. Then you're not allowed to touch them, which may also add to the intrigue. This one wanted a picture of me, so he also let me take his."

Buddhist monk from private class


It's the morning. I don't usually write until night, but I'm feeling restless. It's not that I don't want to go back to Korea, it's just I know that I have some very big decisions ahead of me."

From a temple-like structure


"Getting from Prey Chuk to Siem Reap is an adventure. Christine and I, with the assistance of our host sister, wait next to the road outside our house. Our luggage signals those passing that we need a ride. Two cars headed for different destinations stop before we meet two men driving a large van that say they can give us a ride to Siem Reap for $4. Our host sister talks to them and then gives us the okay. It feels odd getting into a car with strangers, but it's normal here and the air con doesn't hurt! We joke about both the Australian and American horror stories where a hitchhiker gets owned.

During the ride, we learn the drivers speak a tad bit of English and are tour guides for people heading into Thailand. They are currently on their way back from a trip. We aren't sure who exactly the tourists are, but we decide not to ask too many questions. When we make it into Siem Reap all seems fine until the driver suddenly turns around and tells us he must make a stop at his friends house to tell him he can't make it to their party. Christine and I turn to one another and at the same time, telepathically ask "What the heck?" She then proceeds to pull out her cell phone and "call" our friends that are waiting for us at the hostel just so the driver knows our arrival is expected.

After a few more detours, numerous offers to stop for dinner, and a twist and turn of emotions, we make it safe and sound where I find myself gorging on bread, something I apparently didn't get enough of in the village."

Coconuts were always readily available

Everyday our grandma cooked authentic Khmer food for lunch and dinner.

"Goodbyes all feel awkward- with the students, the classroom teacher, my host family, and the hostel family. I have a difficult time expressing emotion face to face and in the moment, but despite this and despite having been here for just a short period of time, these people have impacted me immensely and I hope they know it. Students give me pictures and the classroom teacher tells me, 'Lana, I'll miss you so much.'"

Ring, Ring! The school bell

Prey Chuk School

The younger class- "hello!" 

The younger class

The older class

The classroom teacher

Beautiful sunset while heading back to Siem Reap

"With Christine, the goodbye is sweeter. We eat a breakfast of fresh fruit salad and a dessert of banana and sticky rice steamed in banana leaves served with coconut ice cream at a butterfly cafe. At times, usually in the classroom, our personalities and teaching styles clashed with nothing more to blame than us being two very strong individuals. Regardless, I feel I've made a very good friend, one that I very much respect as a person and a teacher and one that I genuinely think I'll see again."

Butterflies Garden in Siem Reap

Banana and sticky rice steamed in banana leaves served with coconut ice cream

"It's a crazy-special thing when one embarks on such an adventure alone, but winds up anything but. It's happened on every solo journey yet."

Christine and I in front of our relaxing table hut

Heading for the airport, back to solo

And there you have it- A giant nutshell filled with my notes from Cambodia.  Reading and re-writing them has  taken me back once again and allowed me to squeeze just a little more out of what was an amazing adventure. I'm reminded of my longing to be part of something bigger. My desire to spend meaningful time with the ones I love back home. And the desire to develop new skills. A language. An instrument. A new specialty. I guess to continue growing, period.