If there's one thing I love about traveling abroad, it's definitely the learning experience you'll pick up along the way. Books and other resources aren't enough. They say that when you travel, it allows you to be open-minded as you immerse and eventually accept the cultures of the country you've visited.
In my case, I have a severe case of separation anxiety in Vietnam and Cambodia.
I have been an avid fan of the musical Miss Saigon since I was eleven. I discovered the original two-disc original soundtrack inside our cabinet, played the CD, and the rest was history. Lea Salonga's character, Kim, rung a bell to me. Back in my first grade Sibika at Kultura lessons, we memorized those Filipinos who have greatly contributed to arts, literature, and culture to the world. Lea Salonga was one of them. I did not understand the predicament or the plot that time. All I knew was it was set during the height of Vietnam War and it was a tragic love story of a poor Vietnamese village girl and an American GI. It never occurred to me that this musical was greatly inspired by one of the deadliest wars of the 20th century.
Saigon is more than just the motorcycle capital of the country. I'd always see millions of motorcycles plying the major thoroughfares of the city in Amazing Race. What I saw on TV was pure understatement. It was MORE in real life as I had a first-hand experience almost two years ago! History tells us that Saigon was the last stronghold of South Vietnam, the democratic side of the once divided country. As the communist army of the north invaded Saigon, many were sent to reeducation camps, got tortured, and eventually died in the process. Those who managed to survive the reeducation camps died due to starvation. It was a terrible period for Vietnam.
After visiting the remnants war museum, the reunification palace, and other notable landmarks of the city, I can't help it but to feel emotional. I could still see people who were victims of the Agent Orange. I can't elaborate this on my blog because it's really gruesome. I became more obsessed about the history of this country, and I even watched several documentaries about the war. Now that I've finally understood the meaning behind Miss Saigon, the lyrics became more heart-wrenching than before. Every song of the play definitely pierced the hearts of many. No wonder this musical had reaped numerous awards. Lea Salonga even won a Tony Awards in 1991 for her role in Miss Saigon.
Saigon will always have a special place in my heart.
Temples always fascinate me. I couldn't help but wonder how the people of the ancient times managed to build gargantuan structures without the aide of modern tools. The temples of Prambanan and Borobudur in Central Java, Indonesia, and the Angkor Wat temple complex of Cambodia will always remind me that nothing is impossible if you have a clear vision of the things that you want to achieve. You just have to work hard for it.
While exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat, our tuktuk driver took us to a nearby cemetery. Little did we know, it was a public holiday in Cambodia. Most of the locals went to the cemeteries to venerate their dead loved ones. No wonder our booking officer in Saigon had a hard time in finding bus tickets to Siem Reap. We had a brief stopover and witnessed how they celebrate their own 'undas'. We stopped by near the infamous Killing Fields. History tells us that Cambodia was once ruled by Pol Pot, a ruthless leader of the Khmer Rouge. He mercilessly killed the innocent people under his totalitarian government.
It was really heartbreaking to see the skulls of those who died during his regime. Our tuktuk driver told us that it was the darkest history of Cambodia. I reckon it was the darkest in the whole southeast asian region, followed by the Vietnam War, and the Martial Law of the Philippines.
If only I had a lot of time (and resources haha), I'd definitely go back to these countries and understand more of their culture. See? Traveling is a great way to learn things. Yes, we can still read a lot of archives in our history books, but nothing beats the feeling of learning through first-hand experiences. It is still different.
I wonder what's in store for me in my future travels.