01 Sep OG Redefines
Written by Amy Fallon, 2016 Southeast Asia: Cities and Sanctuaries
- OG redefines friendship by selecting some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. We’re a family. Not that Jim and Becca are our mum and dad, but that they, too, are two of my newest 14 siblings. Everyone naturally looked after one another and recommended what to do and what not to do. For example: “Avoid the buckets [literal buckets filled with alcohol]… but if you get one, you should definitely get this one.”Not only does this feeling thrive within the group, but we learned that friendship and warm smiles cannot be stopped by language barriers, skin tones, incomes, or genders, as little children shouted, screamed, and sang, “Helloooo, helloooo! Hello-hello-hello-hello-helloo
ooo,” and we’d sing “hellooo” and “sosa-bye” or “hi” back.
- OG redefines poverty. We experienced a serious disparity gap; the poverty gap is very clear throughout Southeast Asia. In downtown Bangkok, there are all kinds of shops (ranging from Louis Vuitton to 7-Eleven). Down the side streets, there are more market-style stores. There are skyscrapers and there are slums, within walking range from one another. Luxury apartment buildings are often built directly next to dilapidated shacks. Across the border in Cambodia, we could see how poverty-struck much the region is.However, everyone around me was always smiling and saying how grateful they were to have what they have. It made me realize that many views of poverty are perspectives or ideologies that have often been created and defined by wealthier, middle-income countries. It goes back to furthering the divide between “them and us”.
- OG redefines us vs. them. We’re all human. Our group comes from different parts of North America and other corners of the world, and yet we’re all on the trip for similar reasons and we’ve all accepted each other with ease. We have been accepted into people’s homes and cultures.
- OG redefines the environment. We were constantly reminded that we need to give our earth the love it needs. Sustainability was a theme that came up with local people and within our groups. We visited a permaculture farm, where the owner proved to us that you can live on what the earth provides for you without harming it. Additionally, the environment that we often take for granted never forgets to remind us of all the beauty it has to offer.
- OG redefines beauty. From 5:30 am sunrises at Angkor Wat and other temples, to the lily-covered dams in the Battambang province, to the hikes to secret lagoons on the Perhentian Islands, to the numerous beautiful, caring, and helpful people we have had the honor to meet on our travels, “beauty” has been shaped into a whole different meaning. Not only have we experienced the physical beauty of everything, but we have been touched by the beauty within everything, too.
- OG redefines tourism. We were there for “backpacktivism”, or basically tourism without being tourists. We were guests in another country and we were quickly taught to act as such. It combines the ideas of tourism, volunteer work, and cultural consciousness. We were able to visit temples, go out at night, and see popular sites, but we coupled this with volunteer work for local partners and homestays. Travel does not have to be either or, it can be equally satisfying if it is a combination of both.
- OG redefines monetary meaning. Up to ITT (Independent Travel Time), we understood how to budget our meals, leisure times, and living. We had the power to decide and vote where and who our community contribution went to. We witnessed firsthand corruption and were made aware of its impacts and realities within Southeast Asia and throughout the world.
- OG redefines what it means to really care both internally and externally. Through check-ins, dinners with tuk tuk drivers, drinks with new local friends, and numerous “choulmoys” (or cheers – not to be mistaken with “chemoy”, which means sex), we came to really care for those around us and ourselves.
- OG redefines your confidence. From travelling across the world and establishing confidence and trust in people people you have never met, to singing “Super Troopers” by ABBA to a group of villagers in Banteay Chhmar, to singing and dancing the same song with elementary students in a village in the Battambang Province, we gained more faith in ourselves and those around us. We dove straight in with a scavenger hunt in Bangkok, where we were encouraged to befriend local residents, and haggle for tuk tuk rides, meals, and snacks.
- OG redefines what your health should mean to you. Most days started off with the best icebreaker of all, as we confessed our bowel movements to the group. This way, we got to know how everyone was really doing. We learned about our body’s needs and wants by consciously monitoring it. And water – I’ve never drank so much water in my life, nor have I truly understood the importance of it in my everyday life. Water is good for personal hygiene, but it is used in so many other ways in order for you to be healthy.
- OG redefines respect. We now unconsciously take our shoes off before entering someone’s home or even some restaurants. Even as tourists, we were encouraged to dress for temples, explained the concept of “face”, and taught about the history of the cultures we were in, such as the Cambodian genocide and the corruption of the country. We’ve come to respect the local people and ourselves more.
- OG redefines generosity. People who have had “nothing” (by Western standards) have been more than willing to share everything that they have and go out of their way to welcome us into their homes and lives.
- OG redefines transparency and promotes a personal approach. Our group got the chance to meet the Executive Director of OG as he came to SEA to experience the trip that we were doing. He was really open about what OG means to him, how it started, and where our money really goes.
- OG redefines freedom of speech and thought. “I’m going to cry, I welcome all the hugs,” was freely used in times of need. We also spent hours discussing current issues with the US political system, love, gender issues, race issues, and poop. We’d demonstrate and describe the best way to use a squat-toilet. Outside of our internal discussions, we soon realized that freedom of speech was not as safe. Upon chatting with a director of the school in Battambang he said, “If I get killed for my protests, at least the children will understand the corruptness in our country.” While we were in Phnom Penh, a political activist was shot at a cafe and there are still political protests and bombings occurring in Thailand as our trip comes to an end. Additionally, while with Tiny Toones, one of the founders felt so at ease and comfortable with us (after meeting us only a day ago), that he told us his whole life story. From being born in a refugee camp in Thailand to his Khmer parents; to resettling in the US, experiencing racism, getting deported, and experiencing racism in Cambodia again; to missing his family; to investing all of his emotions into “his” children at Tiny Toones, an environment had been created for him to speak freely and open up our hearts. Freedom of speech has both closed our mouths and opened up our ears in certain situations.
- OG redefines history through correct and informed stories. A good amount of people did not know about the Khmer Rouge (including myself) before our trip to the S-21 Prison or the Killing Fields. People may have not known anything about Buddhism or Hinduism, or even that Malaysia was predominantly Muslim. Learning about countries’ religions, cultures, and history is important in order to get everything out of your trip, show respect, and thus be respected in return.
Just like that, OG points Cambodia out on the map to us, and introduces us to the rest of the world and all the amazing people you can meet, food you get to indulge in, and cultures you get to be a part of. All of this leaves you with a full heart and goosebumps several times a day.