From 2011 to 2012 Bijaya went thru some journeys and she wrote about her backyard travels from Nepal to Greece to Cambodia in these short posts, enjoy reading about her adventures and discoveries... you might just find some inspirations of your own!

Hello fellow adventurers,

This is the backyard world traveler sending you my very first correspondence. Today I am figuratively in the former Himalayan kingdom of Nepal.

Former, because since 2006, this country has no longer been a kingdom. Today it is the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

Figuratively, because I am not really there. I am writing from my house outside of Los Angeles. I don’t have the time or the money to travel the world right now, but I’m not going to let that stop me.

It occurred to me that I don’t have to go out there to meet the world. The world has already come here to my doorstep. I live in one of the most multicultural places on the planet. On a daily basis, I come into contact with people who have direct ties to at least 15 different countries. Why not travel the world through them? And through Google Earth? And through internet radio? Satellite TV? Yahoo International?

I have physically traveled to a few places in my lifetime.  And oh what a thrill! When I travel, I leave the banality of my everyday life behind and once again become a child living in the moment, open to the effects of new experiences flowing into me and overwhelming all my senses. I become an explorer navigating unknown boulevards. I’m bolder and braver. Then ultimately the thrill ends. I cram my dirty laundry back into my suitcase and wake up from the dream, left with just memories and a few souvenirs.

But I never come back unchanged. Travel is a growth experience for me. At the same time, it shows me how big this world really is in terms of the sheer distance it covers as well as how small it is in that the same human stories keep playing out no matter the latitude or longitude. I return more aware and wiser.

This transformative experience is what I am attempting to replicate here with my backyard world traveler experiment. I want to unclog my senses of the daily hum drum and try to engage as many of them as I possibly can. I want to let the vast world come into me and make me feel a little more like an impressionable, malleable child. I want to change for the better. I want to feel more alive.

So here I go, off on my journey. And you, fellow adventurers, are invited. We will travel the world with neither a set itinerary nor agenda. We will follow only the whims of my fancy and hopefully, come back the richer.

I have many things to report from “Nepal.” Stay tuned for my next correspondence.


The Journey Begins at Home

So here I am in “Nepal,” a country which has undergone many changes in its recent history. There was the violent Maoist insurgency, the massacre of the royal family, the abdication of the throne by the country’s last king, and a new birth as a shaky democracy. But in this visit, I am not interested in the changes. I’m interested in what has always been the same.

Fall is festival time in Nepal. The monsoon season has just ended; the harvest is coming in. It’s time to light a thousand oil lamps, to dress in red, the color of life and vitality, and to dance. It’s time to celebrate one’s fortunes and one’s family. I choose to camp out here for a while and join in on the celebrations.

But why here? There are autumn festivals all over the world.

The short answer is that I want to begin my journey on familiar grounds. I was born in this small and impoverished nation between India and China and spent the first part of my childhood here. I immigrated to the United States with my parents when I was nine.

I didn’t return for 18 years. During most of that time, English was the main language in my house. I lost my mother tongue, then regained it when my grandmother came to live with us after not having seen each other for 14 years.

And that’s how it’s been with me. I seem to lose myself. Something deeply fundamental in my character (such as the language I use to communicate with the world) seems to just vanish. Then, lo and behold, I discover that it’s been with me all along.

Well my fellow adventurers, this post is getting long. I’ve spent most of it just talking about myself. Please forgive me for that.

I so want to tell you about a colorful, communal Nepali festival called Teej. I celebrated it this year and came out a changed person. My daily routines are different now. I’m sorry to make you wait for it until the next correspondence.

Until then, this is the backyard world traveler signing off.


One shade of Red - Teej

Hello again Fellow Adventurers,

I promised to talk about Teej this post so here goes:

It’s a festival specifically for women and girls of age …


It’s a giant nation-wide party …


It’s a time of prayers and reflection, of dancing and fasting.

Did I mention red?

A lot of eastern cultures seem to be partial to this color. It’s the color of blood, of vitality, of life. It’s the color the bride dons at a Hindu wedding. She will wear bright red vermilion powder along the part in her hair from that day until the end of her life or her husband’s life. A widow forsakes all red, wearing it neither in her hair nor in her clothes.

During Teej, married women wear their finest red, celebrate their fortunes and pray for their husbands’ longevity. Unmarried women and girls who have reached puberty pray for a good husband.

One day before Teej (which falls in late August or early September) women gather for a feast. No men are allowed. They eat the most delicate of delicacies, turn the music way up, and dance all night.

The day of Teej brings austerities. Women fast the whole day, some not even drinking water. They pray to Lord Shiva, the god of fertility, for whom his consort Parvati performed similar austerities until she won him over as her husband.

My mother thought that I would make my American husband really happy if I celebrated Teej for him. He doesn’t care one way or the other. I celebrated this year not so much for him as for me.

It was a purely spiritual exercise. I’m not an active member of the local Nepali community and don’t have a bunch of friends with whom to run off and party. Teej parties turn out to be showcases of fashion and jewelry, anyway, and I don’t really want to get into that.

All alone, I went to buy myself some sweets for my pre-fast feast on the day before Teej. These I polished off after a rich dinner. I haven’t fasted too many days out of my life, so when I woke up the next morning, my first thought was to back out. My second thought was, “I’ve already eaten those sweets. I can’t back out now.”

I fasted that day…well, I let myself eat fruits …well, and the cup of coffee my husband had already made for me when I woke up. (This, after all, was a day for him and I didn’t want to make him unhappy.)

I wasn’t hungry that night when I searched up and down my closet to find something red to wear. I settled on an old red salwar kameez my mother had brought back from Nepal that used to be way too big for me. It now fit a little too snugly for my comfort and I decided that these fasts were a good thing.

Decked out in red, I performed a puja (worship ritual) to Lord Shiva. I did it the best I remember from watching my mother. After the puja, I placed a red mark on my husband’s forehead whishing him a good life. And that was it.

So what did I gain?  I guess at the least, I felt like a part of something bigger. I was listening to an internet radio station broadcasting from Nepal. I’m pretty sure that I heard the announcer say 70,000 red clad women had already filed past Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal’s most renowned temple to Lord Shiva, by 8 a.m. Teej morning. Even though I was celebrating all by myself half a world away, I felt a strong connection to that crowd.

Then there’s the tie to tradition. I’m doing something that my mom did and her mom and mothers back countless generations. But traditions take a lot of effort to keep up, especially for immigrants in far away lands. I’m sure that there’s no way I can pass Teej down to my daughters and it will die with me in my immediate family.

I didn’t seek tradition when I celebrated this year. I wanted a spiritual connection, something I was desperately missing in my life.

But, my Fellow Adventurers, this correspondence has gotten longer than my last. Please stay tuned for the next one to hear how it turned out.
Until then, this is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.

Doing Pooja

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

As I’ve mentioned before, my reasons for performing this backyard world traveler experiment include feeling more alive and changing myself for the better.

Lofty goals, no?

I’m not sure if the one goal leads inherently to the other, but whatever the case, I believe that I’ve taken two steps toward them already with my stay here in “Nepal.” I’d like to talk about one of these steps in this correspondence and save the other for the next.

The step I want to mention this post is spirituality. I’ve always considered myself a spiritual person, having spent countless hours thinking about existence and trying to find a connection to it all. Religions deal with these issues, I know, but I don’t necessarily equate religion with spirituality.

Religions tend to be rooted and worldly. They belong to specific places and to the cultures that developed there. As an immigrant child, I missed in my upbringing the constant exposure from everything around me to the resident religion of my parents’ land. I don’t know it as well as the people who grew up in Nepal do. Nor do I understand the religions of other lands.

Spirituality, I believe, transcends religion. I don’t need to subscribe to anyone’s doctrines to feel the spiritual side of my being – the side that longs to know my place in the universal order.

Am I just an inconsequential fleck of dust? Am I the all-powerful creator of the world that surrounds me? The questions are many, and I have asked many throughout my life. What I have learned in bits and pieces is that there is really just one answer to all of them. The answer is … drum roll please … : I am.

At this moment, I am. With this breath, I am. I am happy. I am sad. I am fulfilled. I am sprawled on the floor because I’ve made a mistake and slipped. I am hurt. Whatever my circumstance in life, I know that right now, I am. And this knowledge that I am alive feels like such a privilege that I experience an incredible need to thank.

But thank what? God? My parents? The countless happy accidents that led to life on Earth? The universe?

To help me with this, I’ve decided to take something with me from this trip to “Nepal.” I’m going to use the puja, like the one I performed on Teej, as a means to express my gratitude toward being alive.

On Teej, I decided that I was going to do puja every day from then on. Like adult members of almost every Nepali household, I would do it once in the morning and once in the evening. Twice a day now, I sit on the floor in front of the puja spot in my house, looking at pictures and statuettes of various gods from the Hindu pantheon. Whenever I feel like it and have the time for it, I do puja with water and flowers and various other offerings, trying to mimic the way my parents do it.

My parents have specific steps that they perform in specific orders during their pujas. I don’t know all the steps or their significances. But that’s not important to me. All I really want is a peaceful moment in a quiet spot, maybe for five minutes, maybe just five seconds, where I can reflect and say “thank you.”

I’ve been doing this for about three weeks now. I give thanks sometimes for my day. Sometimes I give thanks for my family. A nice song I heard on the radio sometimes merits a thank you. I have to admit, though, that more often than not, my mind goes blank. On the spot, I can’t think of anything to be thankful for. Because of these moments, I have decided that I will start and end my pujas the same way every time – by giving thanks for the breath I am about to take. I then take the breath and really feel it.

Nepali pujas tend to include fire, usually the burning of an incense or of small oil lamps. I’ve decided to make this a mainstay of my pujas as well. I light an incense or an aromatic candle. I lift it into the air with my hand, then wave it around, offering the flame to everything I see. Sometimes I ring a small bell while I do this.

The sweet smell, the trilling bell, the colorful flowers grab the attentions of my four and five-year-olds. Every once in a while they come to me and want to be a part of what I’m doing. I tell them to thank god for whatever they’re thankful for that moment.

At first I had to coach them. “Say ‘thank you’ for your family, your friends, for this beautiful day,” I’d tell them. Now, I just strain my ears to try to catch what they’re whispering.

Maybe later, when they’re able, my kids will question what or who this god is that they’re spending their days thanking. To me, it doesn’t matter. It’s the unknown “X” in a profound algebra problem, one that I will never solve because I just don’t have enough information.

Fellow Adventurers, I have dragged you along on a very serious journey today. Thank you for sticking with me. I promise that the next post won’t be so heavy. 
Until then, this is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.

Everybody walks in Nepal!

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

Feels like a long time since I last wrote. What have I been up to in that time? I’ve walked, and walked, and walked some more.

Walking is the other thing I’ve been doing here in “Nepal” to turn me into a better me, version 2.0 if you will.

Everybody walks in Nepal. Home to work. Home to market. Work to market. Market to temple. Sure, people take the bus, taxi, even the rickshaw sometimes. Many own scooters and motorcycles. A growing number are now buying cars. But for the most part, people rely on their own two feet to accomplish their daily transportation needs. Gyms are not a major part of this culture. People get their exercise by doing what they do everyday.

In contrast, I am stuck indoors and in the car here, desperately needing to burn calories. I have a gym membership but hardly use it because it takes too much effort: ten to fifteen minutes to drive to the gym and find parking; five to ten minutes to check in, go to the locker room, change, cram my stuff into a locker; another few minutes to get out of the locker room and pick an equipment. After at least a twenty-minute overhead, I’m finally ready to get started.

That twenty minutes is very precious in my busy life. I’ve found a better way to spend it. I now walk my daughter to preschool, pushing her little Maclaren single stroller up and down neighborhood hills. The two of us carelessly amble past neighbors’ beautifully manicured front lawns and talk about whatever strikes our fancies. We stop for squirrels and falling leaves sometimes.

It takes fifteen minutes to get to my daughter’s school, not twenty, but in four trips (there and back for drop-off, then there and back for pickup) I manage an hour’s worth of walking. And because I’m in “Nepal,” this is not exercise; it’s a lifestyle. I’m keeping it with me for as long as I can, even after I fly out of “Nepal.” And even after my daughter graduates from preschool.

My other daughter attends kindergarten at another nearby school right now. It takes fifteen minutes to walk there as well. When I really want a workout, I take the double stroller and push the two of them back home. Pushing a combined 90 lbs up and down hills for a mile takes a lot of effort and time. I would like to say “no sweat.” But obviously that’s not true.

I’ve lived this walking lifestyle for a month now. Burning calories hasn’t been its only benefit. I’ve explored my neighborhood and have come to know my neighbors a lot better. I should expand on this point a bit here … But I don’t want to.

So Fellow Adventurers, I’m signing off. Not, however, before telling you that I’m going to send one more correspondence from “Nepal.” Then I’m off to another part of the world.

Oh, where, oh where will it be?

I can’t wait to find out.


Dashain, the biggest celebration of the year!

Hello again Fellow Adventurers,

Here it is, the last post from “Nepal.”

I’m getting restless to move on. I could stay here for another month drowning my senses in the colorful celebrations that sweep through Nepal this time of year. But the big wide world awaits me.

I’ll miss Laxmi Puja in early November, full of lights, the most magical time I remember from my childhood. Then Tihar, the festival for brothers and sisters. I will let Dashain, the biggest celebration of the year, mark the end of my stay in “Nepal.”

Dashain is like Christmas in its scale and importance. Family members visit each other and receive blessings for a good life from their elders. That’s what led us to drive seven hours last Friday night to visit my parents. We returned Sunday after a weekend (or at least one full day) of food, tea, laughter of cousins, and lots of grandparent hugs. And of course, blessings.

Blessings take the form of a red mark on the forehead and blades of yellow barley in your hair. Elders place them there while saying a few kind words toward your well being. Everyone takes turns blessing and being blessed from oldest to youngest. Every permutation of family relation is covered. Grandfather blesses grandmother, then all his children then every grandchild. Then grandmother blesses as grandfather did. Oldest aunt or uncle now blesses all who are younger. Then second oldest. And so on and so on until everyone has had a turn. Depending on the size of the extended family, this ritual could take hours.

All this happens on the tenth day of the official beginning of Dashain. In Nepal, the entire length of Dashain is celebrated. People get off of work and school for long periods of time. They buy new clothes and visit temples that are closed the rest of the year. Though it’s illegal to gamble for money, everyone does it at Dashain in countless living rooms across the country. It’s an enchanting time when everyday life seems to have gone on vacation and left a sweet intoxicant in its wake rendering everyone happy.

Outside of Los Angeles, where I live, the biggest celebration in the Nepali calendar is totally eclipsed by Halloween. For my sake and my children’s, how do I get Dashain out of the creepy shadows of ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, and the exciting countdown to bags full of yummy candy?

In one attempt, my oldest daughter and I made Dashain collages the previous two years. We printed pictures of Nepali Dashain scenes off the internet, then glued them onto large poster boards using liberal supplies of glitter glue. I left these artworks in prominent display throughout the year so that they would stay in the back of my kids’ minds. But was this project really making any impact on my 3 and 4 year olds?

This year, I didn’t get around to scouring the internet and printing out pictures. Having done it twice, I wasn’t that excited about another collage. Imagine my joy when my oldest said “When do we get to do a Dashain project this year?” It was time to improvise. I used one of the pictures from last year and turned it into faint gray scale using a photo editing program. I let the kids color over it in whatever colors they wanted.

The project was a hit. We now have two hand colored versions of the goddess Durga sitting on her lion. She is holding weapons and celestial objects, one in each of her eight hands. Dashain is dedicated to this goddess. It celebrates her victory after a hard fought nine-day battle over the demon Mahisasur. It marks the triumph of good over evil.

Maybe next year we’ll get a costume of Durga made for Halloween. We can go around slaying all the ghosts and mummies and ghouls that are out there this time of year.

How’s that, my Fellow Adventurers, for combining East and West?

Until next time, this is the Backyard World Traveler signing off. See you then from another part of the world.


An unexpected stop on my way

Hello again Fellow Adventurers,

I must write you now. If I don’t, I’m afraid I’m going to explode and you will never hear from me again. “She popped like a balloon,” they will say as they scrape me off my lawn. “What filled her up like that?” Only you will know that it was the excitement of this virtual world travel.

I’ve left Nepal now and here I am in “Greece.” It’s been only a few days, but oh … how much have I to tell you! I’ve already learned something about myself that I never, ever would have known had I not decided to make Greece a stop on my tour. I have learned that I can read Greek!

Not well, let’s be clear on that from the beginning; I don’t even know all of the Greek alphabet. But enough to say that I can, for a fact, make out some Greek words written in Greek.

“How is that possible?” you ask. I’ve never been to Greece. I haven’t taken any Greek classes. I don’t know anyone from Greece. So what’s up? Stay tuned, Fellow Adventurers. Like a lame T.V. show, I’m going to make you wait for the anticlimactic resolution until the very end of this half-hour correspondence.

What I want to talk about now is why I came to “Greece.” The short answer is that I’m following my belly … rather, I’m trying to get rid of my belly. I’ve mentioned before that I want to return from my “world travels” as someone who has changed for the better. One thing that I absolutely must change for the better is my diet. I do not want to remain a vacuum cleaner on a see-food diet (I eat what I see) for the rest of my life. It will be a short one if that doesn’t change.

I learned recently that Greek food is one of the healthiest around. So here I am.

I don’t know any Greeks who can guide me through the intricacies of Greek cooking. So for now, I’m relying on the second greatest invention of the twentieth century, the internet, to help me. In the last week, I’ve searched “Greek food recipes,” “Greek eating,” “kid friendly Greek food,” and “Greek rice dishes,” to mention only the food queries.

I found a wonderful blog, greekgourmand.blogspot.com, that a man from Toronto posts. I’ve already made revithosoupa, patates lemonates, fasolada, and tzatziki from his recipes. I’m going to hold off until another correspondence to tell you how these turned out, but I do want to mention that I’ve used more olive oil this week than I thought it possible.

I like it here in “Greece.” I’ve decided to park myself here for a while. I’m not going to leave until my eating habits turn for the better and I learn to read Greek a little better. I’ve already started memorizing the entire Greek alphabet and have learned some words.

“Kali” means good. “Kali orexi,” “bon appetite.” “Sas efcharisto” means thank you.” (Google translator is the best). Now I need to track down a Greek person and hear these words pronounced correctly. I know it won’t be that hard around here and I’m looking forward to making a new acquaintance.

So how did I know how to read some Greek in the first place? I have a scientific background. I used alphas, betas, gammas, deltas, and many more Greek letters as symbols in all those math and science classes I took in high school and college. I just never had the opportunity to read them in sentences before.

And the greatest invention of the twentieth century? The rice cooker, of course.

I’m going to close this post here, Fellow Adventurers. Stay tuned for more excitement from “Greece.”

This is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.


Seats of Power of Ancient Civilizations 

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

I want to share something about myself with you, if you will allow, that’s not necessarily related to this stay in “Greece.” Or maybe it is in the sense that everything I do now is related to everything I’ve done before and everything I say now is related to everything I’ve said before. The person I am now is a direct result of the life I’ve led, its every up, every down.

So I want to share with you the “ups and downs” that I experienced on a trip that I took to Peru in 2003. (I can’t believe it’s been over seven years). It was my honeymoon, to be exact, and I wanted the trip of a lifetime. I didn’t want to do what everyone else did for their honeymoons – relax luxuriously at some tried and true cloud-nine hideaway. No, I hiked the Andes.

For nine days my husband and I covered the ups and downs of the Andean foothills, climbing and descending thousands of feet, walking almost seventy miles. Our destination was Machu Pichu, the seat of power of an ancient civilization. We took a route that the ancients took to get there: no cars or planes, just feet on rugged earth and the trust that that was enough to get there. Obviously, what waited along the way was unknown to us.

What would we find around that bend? A local school without electricity where children read by the window? Over that hill? A panorama of the 14,000 feet below? Down in that valley under those trees? A little shack of a convenience store stocked with Pepsi?

Now that I sit here thinking about it, that trip was a metaphor for life. I’m heading toward “Machu Pichu” taking the same route that people have before me. No one ever really knew what was around the next bend or over the next hill. That trip was even a metaphor for my every day. I can plan my day to the second, but until it happens, I haven’t seen what’s ahead.

Today, I’m en route (albeit virtually) to Greece, the seat of power of another ancient civilization. I’ve already learned in this journey that I can read Greek. I didn’t see that coming around the bend.

So what bombshell does the next hour hold for me? The next week? The next ten years? From enough experience now, I know that the next ten years will seem like the blink of an eye. (I still can’t believe it’s been over seven since the Peru trip).

Fellow Adventurers, please pardon my moment of reflection. Shall we get back to Greece now? Next post I’m going to write about how when I picked Greece, I thought I knew nothing about it, then quickly I came to realize that Greece was more a part of my life than I realized.

That’s not much of a teaser, is it?

Will you please stay with me, Fellow Adventurers?

Until next time, this is the Backyard World Traveler, signing off.


Back to the Business of Traveling...

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

How long has it been since I last wrote you? Two months? Three months?

Please pardon my hiatus.

Thanksgiving has come and gone. Christmas shopping, then Christmas have come and gone. It’s 2011 now. . . Wasn’t it just 1992?

Time has come and gone and I haven’t taken advantage of it. Shall we then, Fellow Adventurers, post-haste, get back to the business of traveling the world from our backyards?

No more delays. We’re back in Greece now where I’m trying to
1) get better at reading Greek, and
2) find my way to a healthier eating habit.

I’ve mentioned in my previous posts that when I chose to come to Greece, I thought I knew nothing about it and that I had no ties to it. Since then I’ve learned that I could read Greek much of my life without ever having suspected it. I’ve also realized that I have more ties to Greece than I’d previously believed.

The strongest of these ties is that my husband lived in Greece for two years when he was a child. I’ve glimpsed at fragments of this country in the souvenirs and the recollections that he and his family have brought back. The authentic Greek salad that he learned to make there (with no leafy greens in it at all) is on our dinner menu almost weekly. I’ve acquired a taste for Retsina, a pine resin wine that we order at Greek restaurants.

But even before I met my husband, I’d crossed paths with Greek culture through the magic of Greek festivals in California. I attended my first one with a very outgoing Croatian friend who encouraged me to try all the food stalls and to line dance the night away. As traditional Greek melodies playfully enticed us, I held hands with total strangers and followed them in a long human chain shuffling my feet to match everyone else’s. We repeatedly folded then unfolded in and out of cozy circles around the dance floor. I had a marvelous time. The whole celebration had the feel of a vibrant wedding party.

A few years after this initial encounter, it was an image of Greece which served as the straw that broke the camel’s back when I decided to quit a job I’d held for over six years. The whitewashed dome of a seaside Greek Orthodox church defiantly asserted itself into the backdrop of a calm crystal sea as the sky above tried unsuccessfully to imitate the deepness in the water’s blue. This picture hinted at a sense of freedom to me. At the time I was sitting in front of a computer screen inside black and ash-colored cubicle walls that bound me from almost all four sides. Midday I stopped to ponder the picture in front of me and thought, “What am I doing here when I could be eating lunch over there?”

It was an epiphany that had the power to knock me out of my padded gray swivel chair and right into another life, out of the line of career I had started. It was a historic acknowledgement to a heart that had been running very low on will for longer than I cared to admit. I never made it to Greece, but I did travel a little after I quit my job.

Finally, I mustn’t forget the Papadopouloses. They were the first family friends that my family had when we moved to the United States from Nepal. The father was Greek. There too is another connection to Greece for me.

Well Fellow Adventurers, I feel like I’ve shared so much about myself here. But what am I expecting to share? Some other woman’s journey of personal growth? I just hope you don’t find it too boring walking beside me.

Until next time, this is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.


Big Game Hello Fellow Adventurers,

It’s February, the short festive month of multiple colorful celebrations in my backyard. There’s President’s Day. Shall I read some history to celebrate it? There’s Chinese New Year. As I write this, it has already passed through my life for the year. I ordered take-out Chinese to mark it. There’s Valentine’s Day. We’ll save that for the next post. And finally, let us not forget the holiest of holy days in this wonderful land where waving a flag (or a yellow Terrible Towel in the case of Pittsburgh Steeler fans) elicits deep unutterable emotions.

Of course I speak of Super Bowl Sunday, a day when an entire nation opts to forget the outdoors, to abandon the gilded grounds of the local mall, and sits glued to the television for four straight hours. The hype machine has been working overtime for two whole weeks prior. We know everything about the participating players, where and how they grew up, what shampoo they use, what they eat for breakfast. And we bow down before their images hoping that they will deliver that much-coveted trophy to the doors of our city or to the fulfillment of our psyche so that we can chant in all sincerity “We are the champions of the world.”

This year, the world champions of American football were the Green Bay Packers. But let’s examine that word “world” for a minute. We know they’re not the “world” champions because … well, let’s see how they celebrate Super Bowl Sunday in Greece. Here’s what I found on a site called earth.org when I googled “American football Greece:” “It seems that American football really hasn’t taken off in Greece.”

So when the big game started here at 3 p.m. PST, we can rest assured that the nation of Greece was soundly asleep at one in the morning. Neither the Packers nor the Steelers played a team from Greece. They didn’t even play a team from Canada which has its own thriving football league.

I grew up watching football after I was introduced to it at the beginning of high school. I vociferously rooted on my beloved San Francisco 49ers from my living room through four of their five Super Bowl championships. But that phrase “world champions” has always bothered me. It’s just wrong. How can someone justify it when the world doesn’t stop at the borders of the United States?

Maybe in many minds it does. For my grandmother, who was born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, the world’s boundaries didn’t go much beyond the boundaries of that city until she was well along in years. That was all she knew. She was aware of the existence of other places and other people. But when she thought of the world – where the sun rises and sets, where the business of performing the day’s routines was concerned – all the images that came to her were those from Kathmandu. That was the world.

But step out. See someone cook breakfast a different way. Watch someone kneel at prayer in a new direction. Hear someone speak a different tongue. And the world expands. It becomes so much more than what we thought it was. For me, oh what a thrill this discovery! The idea of the world inside the borders of a single country is too claustrophobic.

Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl champions. Okay. World champions? No. Even if people are taking it as a given that there’s no other football team in the world that could beat them. A bit presumptuous, don’t you think, before even having set foot on the field?

Come along with me and travel the world, Fellow Adventurers….

This is the Backyard World Traveler signing off for now.

Greece on my mind
Hello Fellow Adventurers,

I hope this day finds you well. My day seems to be one of evaluation and reflection. I’m evaluating this backyard world travel experiment. It doesn’t seem to be moving at the pace I’d like it to. Has it been over a month since my last correspondence? And I’ve been in Greece for so long. The rest of the world is just out there waiting for me.

I guess I’ll take solace in the fact that the rest of the world’s not going anywhere. I must somehow try to fit it into my life while I chauffeur my two little ones to school and dance and soccer and play dates. While I cook their dinners, cleanup after them, give them baths, help with homework, breakup fights, bandage little boo-boos. . .

The world’s in no danger of going anywhere. I, on the other hand, am on a journey. My path has crossed with those of two beautiful little people who now rely largely on my guidance to patiently and lovingly start them off right on theirs. Priorities, then, are determining how I conduct my virtual travels.

Anyway, Greece in the back of my mind is a nice place to be stuck. I’d like to “stay” here until Easter, the biggest Greek festival of the year. I’d like to visit the Agia Sophia Cathedral down the road in L.A. I’d like to make the acquaintance of a Greek lady, whose contact information I now have, and attempt a woefully basic reading of Greek writing. I’m still on a quest to eat healthier the way of the Greek diet. Let’s see if I can fold all these into the mix of my daily routines.

It’s March now. My daughters are painting rocks green and leaving them outside for leprechauns to hide gold coins underneath. Leprechaun traps they’ve meticulously built are strewn around the house. Our thoughts are in Ireland, about fifteen degrees latitude north of Athens. I’d like to go there now for just a brief visit in my virtual teleporter and find out a little about St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, took Christianity there. He used the shamrock to depict the holy trinity. Legend has it he drove snakes out of Ireland. Snakes may never have lived there, in which case this legend serves purely as metaphor. Some sources cite March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, as the day he died sometime around 400 A.D.

These are the “facts” that have filtered down through a millennium and a half and landed in the internet from where I fished them out this morning. But let’s not think them facts so much as a few simple notes around which a grand symphony is built. The notes form the backbone and have lent their names to the symphony. But the movements are how we dance around them. How little girls paint rocks and look for leprechauns. How a city decides to color a river green for a day. How parades are held throughout the world, near and far away from Ireland, which itself observes St. Patrick’s Day as a public holiday.

“A lively Irish expatriate community in Greece has assured that you'll never be far from an Irish bar on St. Patrick's Day” claims one website and proceeds to list bars throughout Greece for 2011 festivities. In my neck of the woods, community centers and churches have been hosting their own celebrations.

So let the leprechauns run amok, let the green beer flow, and let Irish stew and cabbage fill your plate this St. Patrick’s Day. “Everyone’s Irish on March 17th,” proclaims a sign pictured in a website I stumbled across this morning. Let’s take this to heart and let our inner green shine.

Until next time, this is the Backyard World Traveler, signing off.

 An Historical Travel Moment

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

This is what I’ve discovered about traveling: you may have an itinerary at hand when you start, but once you get going, there’s no telling which side streets will catch your fancy. You veer into one of them, and if you’ve stumbled onto a road that isn’t on the map, you look inside yourself, letting your gut and instincts become your compass. At the end you’re left with a new road map of the world. You’ve changed.

In this installment of my reports from “Greece,” I have once again gone off the straight and narrow path I’d set for myself. I let an Armenian friend nudge me that way. Since April marks the anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, she wanted me to write something about it. She pointed out that many Greeks were slaughtered as well.

I didn’t know that. I didn’t know much about this event in history until, after having agreed to write about it, I went to the library and checked out a book. So this post is about what I’ve learned – what I’ve learned about the world, about people, and about myself. Forgive me if this correspondence is longer than most. I want to do justice to the topic.

The prospect of following me down some narrow road into a holocaust may not quite strike your fancy this minute. I fully understand if that’s the case. I will see you in my next post. But for those of you who will go there with me, first I must mention that researching and thinking about a genocide have been extremely difficult for me. Second, I am not a source of detailed information on the subject. I am neither an expert nor do I have the word space in this blog. You’ll have to go elsewhere to fully understand the events and their implications. I can only tell you what struck me and how it has affected my overall outlook.

What struck me first was the fact that I didn’t know much about it. There must have been at least a passing reference to the Armenian massacres in my history classes, but I don’t remember it. By some counts, over a million and a half men, women, and children were butchered in modern day Turkey between 1915 and 1922 in a state-sanctioned, highly systematic manner. The stated purpose in the government’s internal documents was to exterminate an entire race of people within its borders. It succeeded in wiping out two-thirds of the Armenian population from regions they had inhabited for thousands of years.

“Who today, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Hitler is reported to have said in 1939 before sending his troops to invade Poland. The fact that I didn’t hear much, if anything, in my history classes plays into some global amnesia that seems to have taken effect not too long after the fact. How can a government succeed in wiping out not only the hearts and limbs but also the memories of so many human beings?

How does a genocide happen in the first place? It’s physically impossible for one Hitler or even a small group of Hitlers to go out and kill with their own hands hundreds of thousands of people. It requires the coordinated efforts of more hands than I care to think about. What mix of noxious, flammable fumes in the air transforms regular human beings into the instruments of mass murder? What spark ignites inside the darkest cavities of their chests?

The Nazis were people with fathers and mothers and children of their own. So were the Turks who set out to kill all the Armenians. Why couldn’t they recognize themselves in their victims?

And why does this happen not just once or twice but over and over again? Why Cambodia under Pol Pot in 1978? Why Rwanda in 1994? Before any of this, why the Native Americans? Under a democratic government much less? In between, prior, and since, who has been forgotten? Who’s next?

When reading personal accounts of a genocide in the book I borrowed from the library, it wasn’t hard for me to put myself in the victims’ shoes. I’d wonder how I might react if my neighborhood was on fire and a mob was breaking down my door as my children clung tightly, seeking a comfort that I could no longer provide. These things weren’t hard for me to imagine. But I couldn’t imagine myself being on the other side. I couldn’t see myself tearing a child away from its mother and making her watch as I harmed it.

Yet people just like me did these things and much, much worse. What could drive me to it? Love of country? The Turks were trying to establish a united Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and saw the Armenians as a threat. Love of religion? The infidel Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and other minorities) were the targets in this Muslim majority nation. Any Muslim seen harboring an Armenian was condemned to death.

I have a hunch, though, that insecurities, including economic insecurities and insecurities of identity, play the largest roles in propelling genocides.

Whatever the cause, how can I make sure that I never get sucked into the machinery of mass murder? Are asking pertinent questions and learning about other cultures small first steps toward this end? In a big, complex world full of thousands of seeds of discontent, what can I do as a lone voice to help make it one of less carnage?

In every genocide, the victims are no longer called people. In Rwanda they were cockroaches. In Nazi Germany and Ottoman Turkey, they were disease germs that needed to be wiped out of the body. How can I teach my two children to never lose sight of the humanity in others as well as in themselves? How can I do the same for me?

How far does controlling my rhetoric and refraining from name calling go? I can’t control economic policies, but I can monitor the words spoken in my house and thought inside my head.

Make no mistake, words have power. The voices of writers, teachers, artists, and intellectuals seem to be the first ones to be silenced in genocides. April 24, 1915 was the day when around 250 Armenian intellectuals and leaders were rounded up in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and taken away by the Ottoman authorities.  That day is conventionally observed as the beginning of the Armenian genocide.

My friend’s grandmother was four when she lost her entire family in the genocide. She was adopted by another Armenian family who managed to escape. “I should write down the stories,” my friend says.

I had another friend in college who I’m sure had many, many stories. But I could never get him to say anything. His family came from Cambodia and lived in Long Beach, which he once told me had the largest concentration of Cambodians in the United States. Every time I asked him about his life before America, his expression would change; he’d look somewhere else and pretend not to hear me. I didn’t ask him too often.

Fellow Adventurers, I think that when I finish my stay in “Greece” sometime after Easter, I’m going to “Cambodia.” I want to find out what happened over there. Don’t worry. I won’t put you through the rigors of another genocide. I’ll write about Angkor Wat and about eating Cambodian food in Long Beach and whatever else I encounter along the way.

Until next time, this is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.


Ready to move on

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

This is the Backyard World Traveler with a farewell from “Greece.” I’ve been here for many months now. Is it approaching half a year? Wow! I never expected to be studying one country for that long when I started this experiment. But I like this turn of events. I’m not rushing through a place, am instead letting it come slowly from different angles in bits and pieces. It’s gently getting folded into the whole mix of my life.

But I’m ready to move on now. Since my last post, I’ve been tying loose ends and trying to check off from my list all the things I wanted to do while in “Greece.” The list started with a single item: to start eating healthy, the traditional Greek way. Then as I learned more about the country, its influences on the part of the world where I live, and also about myself, the list grew. At the end it included “learn to read Greek better” [check…now I can’t pass up trying to read anything I see written in Greek]. Visit Saint Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles [check…it was amazing].

I’ve cooked several Greek dishes. I used phyllo dough for the first time when making baklava and learned how hard it is to work with. The amount of butter and honey that I put into this dessert has left me unable to eat another baklava without a moment of pause. I found two great Greek recipe sites: greekgourmand.blogspot.com and greecefoods.com.

I’ve eaten at Greek restaurants. I found an excellent hole in the wall in the San Fernando Valley named (in full Greek glory) Firehouse Restaurant. I went on a date there with my husband and touched a little upon the two years he spent in Greece as a child.

We went as a family on a Sunday afternoon to Papa Cristo’s, across the street from Saint Sophia. With a spanakopita, the spinach and cheese filled pastry, in hand, my husband told our girls about how he used to buy a spanakopita every time he ran to the corner bakery in Greece. My eldest begged him to buy xorta, a dark leafy greens dish. Our disbelieving eyes watched as she ate it without a single prompting from us. She even took some to school for lunch the next day.

I’ll admit that I may not have completely achieved my goal of eating healthier since I started the Greek journey, but something’s definitely rubbed off on my kid. I can now celebrate a job half done.

I’ve learned that there are many, many Greek Orthodox churches in the United States. One in Wisconsin was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The one in Los Angeles was paid for by Hollywood money and designed to look like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The exterior’s not very impressive, but inside, it’s by far one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen.

And finally, I now have a Greek acquaintance. I met her through a friend who introduced us at a local park. While our children ran off and played, we sat at a table and talked. I read to her an excerpt from something I’d printed from a Greek website. She told me that I was reading an announcement for an event at a children’s museum. She appreciated it that I was taking an interest in her culture and later sent me a list of books I could buy on the internet which would help me learn Greek.

I’ve decided to buy one of these books as a souvenir of my visit to “Greece.” It will be something I can look at and pull out of the bookshelf down the road when some of the more substantial things I’ve found on this trip have sunk so deeply into me that I won’t be able to take them out.

So goodbye from “Greece,” Fellow Adventurers. Next I’ll catch you from Cambodia. Until then, this is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.



Hello Fellow Adventurers,

This is the Backyard World Traveler writing to you for the first time from “Cambodia.” Since my last post from “Greece,” I have traveled 5000 miles in my head and landed off the Gulf of Thailand in Southeast Asia. I never knew there was a Gulf of Thailand before this excursion. Hence begins my education in a new corner of the world.

I could have chosen any spot on the globe. Why am I here? The short answer seems to be “history.” A few posts back I mentioned that I wanted to learn about the Cambodian genocides that started in the 1970’s. But I now realize that I’ve been curious about Cambodia’s older past for much longer. I want to know about the temples in the jungles, about Angkor Wat and other comparable complexes that dot the wilds of Cambodia.

Who built them and why? How did they fall into the indiscriminating clutches of nature? I read once that Angkor Wat is the largest temple ever dedicated to Vishnu, the preserver in the Hindu trinity. Having spent a large part of my childhood in the once-Hindu-kingdom of Nepal, I have visited many temples dedicated to Vishnu. I have prayed many times to him. I therefore feel a connection to Angkor Wat and to ancient Cambodia.

After I “came” to Cambodia about a month ago, I went to my local library and checked out a book called “Khmer – The Lost Empire of Cambodia.” Let me tell you now, my Fellow Adventurers, that no one could have made me read this book (unless huge monetary sums were involved) if I wasn’t doing this backyard world travel. I read the book from cover to cover and, dare I say, found it interesting. I took away from it a sense of story.

It’s not only people who live out unique personal tales, but also places. The Angkor civilization was the largest pre-industrial society in the history of the world. The empire lasted for many hundreds of years and included parts of modern day Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Malaysia. King after king built elaborate temple complexes to the deity of his choice and all we know about the Khmer Empire today comes from the inscriptions written on these temple walls. I read about what led up to Angkor society and about people who were major characters in the play.

The jungle and other elements of nature have now reclaimed almost everything that belonged to the people who lived then – their earthly possessions, their flesh and bones. But the temples haven’t been completely taken. You can go to them and walk around. Or you can open up the latest version of Google Earth and enter destination “Angkor Wat, Cambodia.”  And there they are. Their stories have not yet ended.

My story will one day include a real trip to Cambodia. I’ll smell the musty jungle in the air and run my hands over the powerful roots that are slowly pulling the curtains over the Khmer temples. I’ll read about historians and preservationists who are trying to make sure that the curtains don’t fall for a long time yet.

But for now, come with me virtually Fellow Adventurers. Stay tuned for my next post from Cambodia.

Until then, this is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.

 Still Wandering
Hello Fellow Adventurers,

This is the Backyard World Traveler still wandering (in my head) through “Cambodia.” I’m having trouble here, though, because I can’t figure out what to do next.

Since my last post, I’ve looked at pictures of major sites in Cambodia on Google Earth. I’ve read about recent Cambodian history. I’ve even started studying the Khmer script, Cambodia’s writing system. But none of these different avenues are calling me to further explore them right now. I’ve seen no flashing neon signs declaring “Come down this path and behold the wonders of a lifetime.” Never mind that a journey worth taking doesn’t announce itself like a Disney cruise ship brochure.

So here I am, a bit paralyzed under the spell of indecision, smelling a hint of boredom in the air of my virtual travel world. I have a real life, you know, with kids to chase around, errands to run. Is it worth taking time away from all that to lead this imaginary journey?  Let me think . . . one . . . two . .

Yup! I’m learning and growing and my world’s opening up. So this post is about me picking myself up from the doldrums and getting back on track . . . but in the third person because I want a little change in the pace of writing:

In other parts of the world, it may be the descending arc of the overhead sun or the call from a minaret which marks the hour of day summoning people to their tasks. In her corner of the globe, specifically under the roof over her head, it’s the cries of children.

“Mom, I’m hungry,” calls the youngest.

“Shoot, it’s 5:30 and I haven’t even thought about dinner.” She lifts her body off the couch where it’s been clamped for the last half hour by a stupor over Cambodia. What could she research and write about this country that’s interesting enough to share on the blogosphere? She could go to Long Beach which has the largest Cambodian population in America and write about her visit. She could try to track down her Cambodian friend from college and see if he might help her. But these things require a lot of time and effort and here she is, not even finding the time to make dinner.

“Me too,” chimes in her oldest.

She goes to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and confronts a bag of green beans and not much else. When was the last time she went shopping? The children are now dancing around her and pulling on her clothes.

“I’m hungry, I’m hungry,” they chant together, then one of them has the great idea to raid the pantry for snacks. Before the other can join in, she manages to grab two bananas from the fruit bowl and wave them in the air.

“This is all you can have now,” she barks authoritatively. Dejected, they take the bananas from her hand, mumble “okay,” and walk away. A pang of guilt stings from inside her chest. They would have given her a bigger fight for the snacks if they’d been properly nourished. She’s a horrible mother.

She doesn’t have time to reflect on this for too long, however, because the green beans need to be cooked. Her next challenge: how to cook them. A quick check of the pantry yields walnuts and raisins. She knows she has red onions and tomatoes, which always taste great together. She cuts an onion and some tomatoes, blanches the green beans to soften them then fries everything up (including the walnuts and raisins) in some grape seed oil. Oh, she can’t forget the touch of lemon. She runs to the front yard to pick a lemon from the tree, and sprinkles its juice over the whole mix.

But green beans alone do not make a dinner. What should she cook to go with them? Fast calculations on what’s going to turn bad if she doesn’t use it and what she’s overly stocked up on yields a dish made of grits cooked in chicken broth and almond milk with a healthy slice of butter.

She can already hear the “Yuck, that’s gross,” responses from the kids (maybe even the husband) after just one whiff. But that’s what she has to work with and that’s the experiment / dinner for tonight. She’s become emboldened now and is even ready to tackle the Cambodian question.

As the grits boil in the rice cooker and the green beans stay warm over low heat, she walks to the pile of books she’s borrowed from the library. One of them is called “Angkat: the Cambodian Cinderella.” She recalls that almost every culture in the world has a Cinderella story.

Maybe that can be the next alleyway in her journey. While exploring Cambodia, maybe she can go down a side street named Cinderella Lane and read these stories from several different cultures. Her next blog can be about her experiences reading them.

Fellow Adventurers, that’s what I had to work with and that’s what’s going to be in the next blog.  Please stay tuned. I have to tell you that writing this piece has given me more resolve to visit Long Beach sometime in the near future and to also try to contact my friend whom I haven’t seen in fifteen years. That will be an exciting journey.

Until next time, this is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.

Promise Kept

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

It seems many months ago that I promised you a post on Cinderella. Finally, here it is . . .

Wait, I have to mention something first. It’s been exactly a year since I started writing this backyard world traveler post. I started from Nepal with a piece on Teej. It’s Teej time again as I write this. Tomorrow I fast and wear red. Today, I stuff my face with all kinds of scrumptious delicacies.

But that’s neither here nor there with regards to this post right now. We’re exploring Cambodia, where I’ve somehow managed to bring Cinderella on board. It started with my reading “Angkat – The Cambodian Cinderella,” which I checked out from the children’s section of the town library. It’s the story of a girl thrown into servitude who . . .

Wait, I have to mention something else. I’M FREE! Both of my kids are now in school. The little one started kindergarten last week, leaving me with five continuous hours each weekday all to myself. I now have more time to write, to more fully immerse myself in this strange journey where I pretend I’m traveling to distant lands in the name of personal growth. I haven’t gone very far in a year, but did I mention that now I’M FREE?  Let me pick up the pace!

Back to Cinderella.

After reading Angkat, I decided to explore how the Cambodian Cinderella compares with other versions from around the world. I read the European version, two native American versions, Egyptian version, Chinese, Philippine, Mexican, Korean, Indian, Persian. Here’s the synopsis of all of them:

A girl is alone in the world.
The world is a very cruel and unkind place.
The girl faces many hardships but takes on all that comes with nary a complaint.
She is a hard worker and a gentle spirit. Her circumstances do not alter that.
Eventually, forces in the universe conspire to give her the help which she so rightly deserves.

This is the genetic makeup of every Cinderella story. The details – the color of her hair, the name of the forces that help her – are environment and culture. What about the prince? The shoe? All secondary! They’re not the focus of the story.

The Cinderella story is our story. We wake up every morning alone in our own skin to face a world that sometimes can be cruel and unkind. We work hard to make a living. If we accept the hand that’s dealt us while keeping our wits and working very hard, this karmic world sometimes does help us.

Every culture seems to have a Cinderella because it’s the human story. I discovered that there are many cinder boy stories around the world as well. And one my favorite movies, the Shawshank Redemption, is a Cinderella/boy story.

So let me tell you what happens to Angkat:

She’s the daughter of a Cambodian fisherman. Her mother dies and her father marries a widow who has a daughter Angkat’s age. Angkat gets the short end of the stick and has to work pretty hard around the house. A fish in one of her father’s ponds helps her. When Angkat’s stepsister discovers this, she catches the fish and cooks it for lunch. Angkat is heartbroken. A kind spirit appears and instructs her. Through various events (which do in fact involve a shoe), Angkat finds herself married to a prince. Her stepfamily, with the help of her wicked father, lures Angkat back home from the palace. Then they kill her.

“What?!” you say. How can that be the end of the story? Have no fear. . . It’s not.

Fast forward a few other events. The kind spirit reappears, brings Angkat back to life and returns her to her beloved prince. The villains get what they deserve.

Okay, Fellow Adventurers, that’s all I have the energy to write today.

See you next time from Cambodia.

This is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.


It’s autumn. The days are getting shorter as a curtain of darkness closes in on them from either side. Summer is leaving the stage. Halloween’s coming and Thanksgiving’s not too far around the corner. 
It’s festival time!

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

I would care to wager that in autumn there are more festivals celebrated around the world than at any other time of the year. And these festivals are the type where friends and families gather. The harvest comes in. People eat well. They’re in a mood to share friendship and camaraderie with whoever walks in through their open doors.

There are a lot of Jewish people where I live. They’ve just celebrated their new year. In Hindu Nepal, they’re celebrating Dashain, the year’s biggest festival. In Buddhist Cambodia, the year’s second biggest festival, feeding of the ancestors, has just finished.

It is called the Pchum Ben Festival and is celebrated for fifteen days. The most important is the last one, which occurs on the fifteenth day of the tenth month of the Khmer calendar. The final three or four days are public holidays, which Cambodians celebrated from September 26 to 28 this year.

During Pchum Ben, spirits of dead ancestors are said to roam local temples looking for food to ease their hardships in the spirit world. They can eat only what their own descendents offer. If those descendents show love and respect by remembering them, they will be blessed by the ancestors with happiness for the coming year. But if they neglect to leave food, they will be cursed. The food reaches the ancestors via monks at the temples.

Saffron clad monks sit in front of endless rows of colorful offerings. A large room of people sit cross-legged, very subdued, holding candles and plates full of food. To me, these pictures felt like glimpses into the peoples’ souls, into something they value so much that they’re not posing for the cameras.

When I was looking at the pictures and reading about the festival, I remembered something from my own childhood in Nepal. Every year, during the anniversary of my grandparents’ deaths, my father and his brothers performed an elaborate ceremony with a priest that involved cooking something and leaving it out for their departed parents to eat. Were the two ceremonies related?

I called my dad and talked to him about what’s known as a shradde in Hinduism . He explained a lot of what I already knew about how sons have to feed their recently deceased ancestors on the anniversaries of their deaths. Then he mentioned something I’d never heard before, that one time during the year, for sixteen days, they have to remember and feed all of their ancestors, regardless of how many generations have passed between them. Then he added, “The last day of the Maha Shradde (Great Shradde) was yesterday.
Two cultures were celebrating the very same thing at the very same time. Hence, I found one more thing I have in common with the Cambodian people and culture….Come to think of it, I remember my college friend telling me that the word “maha” meant “great” in Cambodian….Also, through this backyard virtual trip to Cambodia, I’ve learned that the Cambodian Khmer alphabet has a very similar structure to the Nepali Devanagri alphabet.

We are related in more ways than we know. Finding out what we all share is what I love about these backyard world travels.

Well, Fellow Adventurers, this is your friend and relation (I know we’re related somehow) signing off until next time.

~ Bijaya

California to Cambodia

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

I ventured into Cambodia Town with my family this weekend. It’s a mile-long stretch of Long Beach, California, the city with the second largest population of Cambodians outside of Southeast Asia. Only Paris has more. Up to 50,000 Cambodians live in Long Beach. I was sure to meet at least one. Maybe I’d even run into my long lost friend from college.

We left home mid Sunday morning, and my husband drove while I entertained the kids for an hour. Then we were there. A small marker at a nondescript intersection told us so. So did the many store fronts with Khmer writing. There were businesses from fix-it shops to jewelry stores with not only Khmer splashed across them, but also English, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, and probably Thai (I can’t yet tell the difference between Khmer and Thai scripts). 

We had lunch at the Grand Paradise Restaurant. On one side of it was an intricately drawn mural called “At The Close of Day.” The sun was setting over lush Cambodian fields that seamlessly flowed into Long Beach Harbor and the Queen Mary. Very happy people, mostly children, smiled and peeked out from behind a tall spired doorway and ornate temple colonnades that framed the entire length of the mural. As we stood admiring it, live music started playing from inside.

We walked in to a large room with a bar in one corner, a fountain in another, and a big crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There was a sizeable dance floor in front of a small stage where a middle-aged band sang in Cambodian. I pictured many wedding receptions having been held here and felt a bit of the crasher.

“This is your first time here,” said our waitress. “I haven’t seen you before.” She seated us and gave us menus that had a picture and a description in four languages for every item. We ordered pork soup, eggplant with ground meat, ginger chicken, and Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce. It came with a large side of white rice and added up to enough food to feed a family our size for three days. 

We could barely walk after this big lunch, but managed to amble a block to a small Cambodian grocery where the flowery smell of sweet durian flash-flooded our senses as soon as we walked in. The fruit’s fleshy insides, wrapped in clear plastic, sat next to Thai rambutan and other exotic fruits that we couldn’t identify. With choruses of “What’s this Mom?” following close behind, I went up and down the market’s aisles and grabbed a packet of loose lotus tea to try at my leisure at home.

In visiting Cambodia Town, I had hoped to get a small feel for Cambodia. Through the food and by just observing the people there, I did manage to microscopically scratch its surface. But more than anything, what I found was not Cambodia. It was instead an excursion into immigrant America. Slightly run down, with a mix of despair and disintegration hanging heavy in the air, it was like any other inner big-city ethnic enclave.

We walked past several homeless people pushing carts that day, and checked twice to make sure our car was locked. However, this didn’t keep us from feeling the sense of promise that all those immigrant businesses offered. They were the shot of energy that America needs to revitalize such places which so many have fled and given up on. Enterprising new immigrants have found fertile soil here and begun to plant their bags of seeds and dreams. In the process, they are making America healthier and more colorful. 

Across the street from our restaurant, there was a community center named Homeland Cultural Center. Its class offerings read like a conference of cultures from around the globe: African Drum and Dance, Ballet Folklorico, Belly Dance, Break Dance, Cambodian Dance, Hmong Traditional Arts, Khmer Martial Arts, Micronesian Music and Dance. Nowhere else but in America can you find such a mix under one roof. Don’t you agree, Fellow Adventurers?

With that, I will end my thoughts for the day now. Please stay tuned for the next post.

Until then, this is the Backyard World Traveler signing off.
~ Bijaya
 End of Journey
Hello Fellow Adventurers,

This is my last post from virtual Cambodia. I’d now like to wrap this portion of my journey up, put a shiny bow on top, and place it under the untrimmed, wild tree of the year that was my 2011.

So farewell the thought of Cambodia from my life for now. 2012 will not find me exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat from my computer screen. No more reading Cambodian history or checking out the latest happenings there on a Khmer news portal written in English. No more trying to learn the Khmer script. I’ve now accepted that’s not going to happen this lifetime.

I decided to explore Cambodia partly because I wanted to learn more about the genocides that happened there not too long ago. After reading a little about it and trying to watch “The Killing Fields,” a movie based on the accounts of a New York Times reporter who was in Cambodia at the time, my curiosity has sufficiently been satisfied.

I have trudged you through the Armenian genocide and now the Cambodian genocide, Fellow Adventurers. Rest assured that there will be no more following genocides on this post.

Nor will there be attempts to find long lost friends. After much thought, I opted not to get back in touch with my college friend from Cambodia. I tracked him down online and even wrote an email to him. But just as my index finger was about to click the “send” button, I froze. I decided I want my friend to stay with me the way I remember him, as a source of comfort for me when I was in college and also now through those college memories.

So it’s time to say goodbye: to a friend, to Cambodia, to the year 2011. And prime myself for new hellos: to 2012 and . . .

Where shall I go next? . . . Will you please follow me Fellow Adventurers to . . .

. . . Singapore?

I’m just curious about why and how there’s a city state, a very prosperous and powerful city state, in today’s non-medieval Italian world. 

So here’s to season’s greetings, happy endings, and fruitful beginnings.

~ Bijaya