Kingdom of Hidden Treasures

Me on a sunset river cruise in Kampot, Cambodia

Sihanoukville

Flash back to two weeks ago and I am sitting on a warm and beautiful beach with the most ideal breeze blowing past my face while waves of blue and white ripple at my toes. As I sit here basking in God’s glory I remain shocked by my peer’s comment of “there is nothing in Cambodia.” Cambodia definitely has its fair share of issues ,such as mass corruption and a history of genocide, among other issues I addressed in previous posts, but to say there is “nothing here” is simply inaccurate. 

One of Sihanoukville’s beautiful beaches

Beaches are all over the world but what is unique about the beach in Sihanoukville, one of Cambodia’s coastal provinces, is the presence of Khmer culture even on the beach. Cambodian style restaurants line the beach offering Khmer barbecue and curries. Women come up to you selling fresh caught crab and seafood grilled right on the shore, and others come offering massages and pedicures while you lay in the sand. I never had a beach experience quite like that before.

Back in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s bustling capital city,  I experience wild tuk tuk and moto rides where the  drivers follow no  apparent traffic laws but still manage not to crash (at least not while I have been aboard so far, knock on wood). This city presented its fair share of obstacles for me and took me a while to get used to but once you get past the shock of it all, the fusion of western, Cambodian, and other Southeast Asian culture throughout the city is quite interesting to examine. However, I think that I’ve had the most rewarding experiences in Cambodia by not limiting myself to Phnom Penh.

 

Silk Island 
The first province I went to outside of Phnom Penh was Kandal province, in which we had to take a ferry to get to. I went on a daylong bike ride with peers to the silk island and passed through Kandal on the way. We passed many temples displaying the uniqueness of traditional Cambodian architecture, skinny cows grazing on the side of the road, and convenient stores that sell fresh coconuts out front.  When we finally arrived at silk island, it’s small “beach”  presented a beautiful adventure.

Sitting in a hut on what is called a “beach” in Silk Island

And we found an old hotel tower to climb, in which we were able to view the vast lushness of the province. Not to mention being able to examine the difference between the silk making process in China to the process in Cambodia, expanding my understanding of simple cross-cultural differences.

 

At the top of the hotel

 

Bike riding through the province

 

 Oudong Mountain

The next province I traveled to was the old capital of Cambodia, Oudong Mountain. We traveled there on a rocky bumpy road, closely resembling a highway, with seven people packed into a five seat car and Beyonce belting ballads from my iPhone. That was an adventure in itself.

 When we got to our destination, there were numerous booths selling unique Khmer food I had actually never seen before in Phnom Penh. To get to the top of Oudong mountain we hiked up over 500 steps and encountered some occasional monkeys who I assume live in the trees that lined the steps. When we arrived at the top, the view was so breathtaking that the 500+ steps and wild monkey encounters were immediately worth it.

 

Finally made it to the top of Oudong Mountain. Sorry that I don’t have a good picture of the view, more reason for you to travel here and see it for your self!

 

At an old temple on Oudong Mountain

It’s also worth noting that it was on this trip that I tried jack-fruit for the first time and LOVED it.

 

Kampot

Last weekend I went to Kampot province with my friend who is currently studying abroad in China. Kampot is a beautiful province with so much unique beauty, mountains, rivers, and lakes. Each Cambodian adventure keeps getting better for me!  

Playing in Kampot’s Secret Lake

  

 

Fresh Kampot pepper!

 

The beautiful Sharee and I waiting for lunch in our hammocks off of the Secret Lake

 

Me at a small temple

 

Using a log to cross the river to get to the caves

 

Petting one of the many cows

Aside from the adventures I’ve had, I’ve also made a few Cambodian friends who have unique perspectives and enlightening conversation.
For example, while I was in Sihanoukville my co-worker shared his thoughts on life and religion that are influenced by his cultural background and identity. And eating with him and going to places he recommended helped me gain an authentic Cambodian experience.
I was also lucky enough to meet a half black Cambodian girl my age who also lives in Phnom Penh! When we first met, we had an immediate connection and somewhat of a unique shared experience as black women living in Cambodia and Southeast Asia. She’s amazing and I am always eager to hear her perspective on things.
As I continue to meet new people, embark on new adventures, and triumph over obstacles, I am grateful for my experience in Cambodia as well as my experiences throughout the greater Asian continent. These experiences continue to expand my mind and mature my understanding of the world.

At the Kampot pepper farm

A Love Affair With KL

IMG_2492

In my last post I illustrated the discrimination, loneliness, and pain I have experienced as a black woman living in Cambodia, but of course not all of Southeast Asia has hateful tendencies.  This past week I spent sometime in Kuala Lumpur, otherwise known as KL, Malaysia’s capital city. Although I was only there for a short period of time I felt like a human being instead of an alien  for the first time in three months.  KL was filled with people of so many different religions, ethnicities, and every skin complexion you can think of, yet, there was an overwhelming sense of respect for everyone’s differences.  I will risk sounding cliche and say that being in KL was a breath of fresh air.

Eye- opening Moment on Black Identity in KL                                                        One eye-opening moment, of many, occurred to me while I was touring the Bantu Caves, one of KL’s many attractions. While the person I traveled with was suddenly no where in sight, I suddenly found myself surrounded by six tall men alone in a dark cave. Although I initially felt a slightly uneasy, I felt more at ease when they made it clear that they only wanted to take pictures with me. They waited for me to say yes before coming too close and didn’t touch or grab me without my consent, as almost all Cambodians and Chinese people have done when they wanted to take pictures with me.

Bantu Caves
Bantu Cave

“Why do you want to take pictures with me?” I asked. They said, “because we have never seen hair like yours and we think that it is beautiful.” What made this moment so memorable is that it was a major contrast from my Cambodian co-worker’s exclamation of “ahhh, your hair so scary, how did it get like that!?” Which was her reaction when I took out my Senegalese twists and began wearing my natural curls to work. Some of the onlooking Khmer coworkers saw how this offended me and have made an effort to compliment me on my hair ever since. Nonetheless, I  still receive more  hateful reactions to my skin and very existence from Cambodian people than positive ones. In contrast, I received numerous compliments from Malaysian people who said that my skin and appearance is beautiful. No longer was my skin “unpopular.” There are many Malaysians my complexion, and much darker, as well.

Religion                                                                                                                                 The presence of religion in Malaysia is very rich and the religious diversity is very obvious.  You cannot walk the streets of KL without seeing a mosque, temple, or church, often in the same vicinity of each other. The supermarkets and restaurants primarily offer Halal meat to respect the large population of Muslims in the country. However, one religion did not seem to dominate the others and religious customs and norms did not seem to be forced upon people by society. 

The Beauty of Malaysia                                                                                                  Aside from the beauty I saw in the people, the city and surrounding country side put me in awe. From the waterfalls at the top of the mountains to the tea plantations, it was absolutely exquisite.

IMG_2605
Bottom of Waterfall in Cameron Highlands
Tea Plantations
Tea Plantations
KL Twin Towers
KL Twin Towers
Holding a snake around my neck at butterfly garden
Holding a snake around my neck at butterfly garden

Hateful Tendencies: My Experience With Racism in Cambodia

blog photo

Although, I am surrounded by people, I often feel spurts of loneliness. Not because I am homesick and not due to a lack of friends. It’s lonely because I feel as though I shoulder the burden of racism here independently, the one target, the one unwanted. Being the only “dark skinned” black woman in a city swimming with racists ideologies can be tolling emotionally and mentally. There is no black community here, no support system, and no shared experience. I didn’t come here necessarily looking for that community but I also did not expect to experience overt racism in a country pervasive with brown skinned people; call me naive if you will. Although I have found two other black women who I am more than grateful for, I will be the only one that I know of when they both return to the USA.


Conversations with Cambodians about Race
Most Cambodians have been very nice to my face. However, even my co-worker, who has been the most welcoming Khmer I’ve encountered, told me that my skin is unpopular. She explained to me that most Cambodians do not like black people and after I informed her that I thought this was racist, she told me that her skin is also unpopular because she has brown skin as well. As if this would make me feel better!


Today I went out to lunch with a different Khmer co-worker and her friend, who was exceptionally pale compared to other Cambodians. They were really nice and friendly to me but suddenly in the middle of our meal, my co-worker’s friend randomly said “I like black.” Then she continued, “not black like this,” pointing to my arm. She went on searching my arm, twisting it and turning it until she found the lightest part of my arm near my palm and proudly said “I like black like this, I want to be this color.” She thought that comment made her cool and unique going on to explain that all of her Cambodian friends “don’t like black” and that they all want to be white.

Even when I went to get passport photos taken for work, they photo shopped my skin to be so light that I hardly recognized myself! The photograph was me as a white person. And yes, they did all of this to the tiny photos for my work application that no one even pays attention to.


Racism in Cambodia compared to Ignorance in China
Firstly, I do not mean to use the word ignorant in a condescending way; ignorance literally just means a “lack of knowledge” and that is how I am using it in this context. Chinese people were very ignorant about black people, black culture, and anything pertaining to Africa or the African Diaspora partly as a result of China’s homogeneousness. However, most Chinese stared at me out of curiosity and since I could speak Mandarin I understood as many of them said I was pretty, beautiful, and cool. They took pictures of me and followed me around as though I were a celebrity. Most Chinese people who had never been outside of China did not even know that black people existed outside of the African continent and many were incredulous when I said I was from America. Even though I am well versed in their history, they knew absolutely nothing about mine.


Cambodian people may not know much about my history but they do not stare at me in awe either. Similar to the Chinese they are fascinated with my hair but the only people who stare and take pictures of me in Cambodia are the ones who do it out of spite. I’ve had a Khmer man take a picture of me and laugh and a Khmer girl glare and snarl at me in the supermarket. I’ve never had experiences like the aforementioned in China, even though Cambodians are much darker than Chinese people! To escape brownness, skin whitening lotions, soaps, and solutions are sold in every single store. Many Cambodian women also wear sweatshirts and long pants while they are outside so that they will not get tanned from the sun, even though it is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher most days here. It was the same way in China actually. When it’s nighttime in Cambodia and the sun is no longer a threat, I’ve seen many wear more non-conservative clothing than they do in the daytime. In light of all of my experiences in Cambodia thus far, I was not surprised when my black friend informed me that the Khmer towel guy at the gym called her “n****r,n****r,n****r.” Yes, the “n” word.


The Value of My HBCU Education
Even though I have always appreciated my HBCU, this experience has made me value my experience there even more. In a world that teaches black people to hate themselves their entire lives, I think that spending four short years at a place like Spelman is important for the intellectual growth and psyche of black women. Societies around the world marginalize black women and place us in the lowest social category. When a society systemically and subliminally perpetuates a certain standard of beauty that is the opposite of anything black people naturally look like, humiliate black people, and portray them as villains, that has a psychological affect on black people. In addition, black women’s bodies have been exploited and de-humanized throughout history. I can go on forever explaining the institutions that are still working today to keep black women oppressed but that is for another post. Spelman combats the worldwide oppression of black women as the one place in the world that actively uplifts black women while simultaneously providing a community for intelligent black women to uplift each other. The experience is empowering and unique. It nurtures some of the brightest black women to fearlessly encounter, conquer, and change a world full of racism, hate, and injustice. Sure, I may have been successful without a Spelman education but if you can have an experience like this as black woman, why not? I thank my institution for not only preparing me for life as a black American but for preparing me for the world.

An Early Thai Excursion

Today has been a good day. Even though my reason for being here is based off of misfortune, I am fortunate to have this experience. I’m in Bangkok, Thailand! 
 

A street food vendor in Thailand
 
As you may know, I’m doing a media fellowship with the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia for a year. I just started working a few weeks ago and just moved into my own apartment last Friday. I haven’t unpacked and I am the furthest thing away from settled. 

So why am I in Bangkok? 

I had to do a “border run.” Meaning, due to some miscommunication, I got the wrong visa upon arrival and have to flee the country and return in order to get my yearlong work visa. So what better place to go than Thailand? Thanks to the “Two Kingdoms, One Visa” law and an amazing PiA fellow willing to host me, Thailand was clearly the most affordable and comfortable option. I’ve always wanted to visit Thailand so it turned out to be a win-win.

 

More Thai Street Food
 
Since I’ve been here I’ve eaten an incredibly spicy Thai mushroom soup, tried strange fruit(that I still don’t know the names of) sold on the street, and have tried “Japanese cold bread.” It was such a treat! A mountain of milky ice covered in what seemed to be chocolate syrup and soft Oreos surrounded by a pond of milk and accompanied by actual chunks of bread! It was a delicious treat and definitely something worth trying.     

 
I’m off to making the most of my weekend here. Later ✌🏾️

An Almond In A Sea of Lemon Drops: Black Girl in Asia

Greeted by tall sky scrappers encompassed by a thick gray smog, I found myself alone in a foreign country for the first time in my life. I came to Shanghai, China to study at Fudan University for four months, the spring semester of my junior year of college. I created this blog before I went to China with the intent of writing about my adventures and experiences. However, I became so preoccupied with my internship, culture shock, and the most challenging language class I’ve ever taken, that I let the entire semester go by without me visiting my blog once.

Now it’s a little over a year since then and I am an proud alumna of Spelman College who has chosen to continue to leave her footprints around the world. I am currently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia through a fellowship program where I am able to work at The Phnom Penh Post as a journalist for a year, coming straight out of undergrad! However, the different global environments I have chosen to place myself in are not places frequented by people of the African diaspora. As I stumble amidst a crowd of staring eyes, I stand out as something foreign to  these Asian societies. Living in this context as a black woman is a particularly rare experience that I’d like to share. Through this blog, I will compare my experiences in China with my experiences in Cambodia, as well as my experiences in other global contexts. So look out for more posts soon!