Friendships made while Surfing Couches and flying from Singapore to Hong Kong

20140508-130113.jpg

Often people ask if I’m traveling to find myself. I, happily, really like who I am. I also know who I am. It is because I know myself that I choose, or perhaps feel driven to travel.

I absolutely love the people in my life, and my home. I also deeply love experiencing other ways of life and making new friends when I travel.

Traveling for an extended time is an amazing experience, and challenging, too. Unless you are in a single place for at least a month or so, it is hard to make new friendships, and not to be looked through by shop keepers. Even when you are quite comfortable with your own company, it can occasionally be a bit lonely.

So far, I’ve used AirBnB for most of my lodging. The idea is that people rent out a room in their home or entire flat, and thus have some cultural exchange. Many times it has been a wonderful experience. A few of the times the rentals were run by a rental company, and not very personal. I don’t enjoy those as much. As I was planning Singapore and Hong Kong, most were agencies or hostels, not homey. So, I tried something different.

I just experienced Couchsurfing for the first time.

Couchsurfing is a online board that people can use to find travelers to Host or Couches to Surf. There is no expectation of payment, just cultural exchange, help around the house, or maybe a small souvenir from the Surfer’s home. Or even just conversation.

The process is like this:

  1. Go to Couchsurfing.com and create a profile.
  2. Start a search on where you want to visit, and look through the Host profiles, and see what is a good match. See if your interests mesh, do they have something to share that would be meaningful to you? Do you have something to offer to teach, learn, share with them?
  3. When you find a Host that looks good, send a CouchRequest to them and see if they offer to Host you.

There are all kinds of people in the world, and it is the same in the Couchsurfing world, too.

My first Couchsurfing experience was great! Weizhen, my Host in Singapore is a great person, and we had wonderful conversation about Massage Therapy, which I practice, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, which she is practices. She picked me up from the metro stop and we went to dinner. She asked what I liked, and chose the place, and I treated. I think she was planning on treating, but I beat her to the register.

After dinner and great conversation, she took me to her clinic, where I slept in the treatment room on a massage table. I’ve slept many a time on my own table, and on more uncomfortable beds, so I slept well.

She returned the next morning, and when she found out that I was having some, shall we say, “abdominal discomfort of the travelers variety”, she gave me a consult and prescription of Chinese herbal medicine. THEN, she said when I return to Singapore in a couple if weeks, return to her and she will provide a treatment for another issue (was also diagnosed by a TCM practitioner in NH, USA).

As I write this, I’m flying from Singapore to Hong Kong. I “kind of” have a second Couchsurfing spot lined up. My next Host’s English is loads better than my Chinese, but seeing as I only know how to say “Hello” and “Thank you”, that isn’t saying much.

My seat mate is a woman from Singapore named Lillian. We are having wonderful conversations, and she has been brainstorming on possible options for who she knows who could host me. Her thoughts are so generous! She insisted on buying me a muffin and coffee! If our schedules allow, we may meet for coffee while she is in Hong Kong, and she offered to take me to dinner when I return to Singapore.

A day or so ago, I was feeling not so good, and like a stranger every where I went. (Cuz I am – LOL). I thought hard about what I wanted from my experience, and wished to find warmth of spirit and to feel cared for, and like magic, I was gifted with these people.

My first day walking around Siem Reap

20140503-222501.jpg
My first day I spent walking around, getting the layout of the land. My goal was to find food and the Old Market.

Traffic here is mostly bikes, mopeds, and tuktuks. “Laadyy, tuktuk?” Is something I’m hearing so often, I’ll hear it in my dreams. I mostly walk, as long as I have water and sun cover, like a hat or umbrella. I can mosey at my speed and get photos along the way.

20140503-222201.jpg

Here are some small children on the side of the road.

Before I got to the market, I stopped for second breakfast. The first breakfast was much earlier in the day.

20140503-222144.jpg
Khmer Noodle Soup

Once I slurped down some noodles, I found my way to the market. Loads of t-shirts and touristy things on the outskirts, but a more local style market in the center.

20140503-222124.jpg

20140503-222103.jpg
Some kind of juicing contraption, and coconuts.

20140503-222041.jpg
MEAT!!!

20140503-222018.jpg
A butcher girl.

20140503-221933.jpg
View down a market alley to the outside.

Dinner that night was some nice veggie soup.

20140503-221954.jpg

Khmer food adventure after a day spent in seclusion.

20140501-124112.jpg

Shhhhh!!! Don’t tell my NH Bed that I nearly wrote poetry to my Khmer Bed. The sweet comfy bed, AC, and decent wifi kept me indoors most of the day. By about 7pm I was getting hungry and I read about the “BBQ place around the corner”. People know where it is but not the name. It is huge, and quite local.

I found it, but at first I thought it was a garage. Lol. I managed to communicate that I wanted to sit down and order food. It seemed like they were a bit shocked to see me, and weren’t sure of what to make of me. I was the only westerner there, that was for sure.

No one spoke English except for the word “beer”. I went for a small Angkor Stout. They realized I wasn’t going to be a big drinker, and gave me a younger waitress.

I am deeply grateful that the menu was translated to English and had pictures. There were many wondrous dishes, like Beef Gender with Fire Ant Sauce (yes, it is probably what you think), grilled frogs (which are supposed to be best during rainy season- I may try them), and “The Vilest Parts of a Bovine Creature cooked in its stomach” (I paraphrased that dish – you are welcome).

20140501-123836.jpg

I went with the grilled beef and veggies with sauce. The meal came and was presented on several plates, trays and bowls. I started picking and eating away, when a nice waitress stopped by my table suddenly and shook her head, grabbed another pair of chopsticks and showed me how to eat the dish. I was supposed to mix a few of the things together in the sauce, dip the meat in it, grab some of the raw veggies THEN eat it. Laughter translates well. It wa a good meal for $4.50.

20140501-124134.jpg