Monday, April 27, 2009

Stomach things

Before I begin this post, I just want to mention that I'm forever grateful to the magic pills created by western medicine. For all the criticism that I may lay on big pharma and the pill-popping culture of developed nations, there is no questioning that without the hard work of some tremendously intelligent and dedicated people, most of us (all of us?) would be living well below our current standard of living, and would most likely "fail to thrive" (a phrase I read in a description of the symptoms/effects of giardiasis -- a phrase that nearly brought me to tears thinking of all those who have failed to thrive...)

Thanks to all those who continue to push.

More personally, I think -- I only think because no tests were done -- that I managed to get some giardia parasites in my GI tract. I have no idea where they came from; there are just too many potential sources. Some likely candidates include any of the food I've ever eaten when eating out (or sometimes even the stuff I make), a sandwich I ate on the bus ride back from Koh Kong, the jungle river that I sat in for a few hours, etc.

For all the horror stories I've heard, it certainly wasn't as bad as I had imagined. It began with general discomfort, lack of appetite, and constipation, then developed into a fairly strong fever with one episode of diarrhea. This is something I've experienced before (3 or 4 times already in this country), but the strange part was that the malaise continued even after completing the dose of antibiotics prescribed by a Khmer doctor (who originally wanted to give me an injection to lower my fever, which I politely declined...). He gave me Ofloxacin and Augmentin -- 3 days worth for the low, low price of $3.75. This sort of seemed to work -- my fever subsided and the diarrhea stopped.

However, I was still feeling weird in the stomach a week after the fever, and I started getting incredible bloating and the most gas I've ever experienced in my life. I also started burping a lot, and I couldn't help but think they smelled like the burps I get when I eat too many hard-boiled eggs. Foremost though, was the weakness. I tried to do a 5-6 mile run on the weekend, but that may have been a poor idea. Going out was OK, but the return leg was the most physically challenging experience that I can remember. I ended up walking for a good 10 minutes after thinking my legs were about to dissolve (this was exceptional because I typically try to never stop running, regardless of how tired I am. It usually works out OK). Eventually I mustered up a bit more strength and plodded home. I thought I would be hungry (as I usually am after some good exercise), but the hunger never really came. The gas and burping actually started after I tried to force some food down, and the following day I fell asleep at my computer from a complete lack of energy/blood sugar. I thought that this might be worth a visit to the western (aka "expensive") doctor.

The doctor was nice (although fairly laconic), but after a couple of questions and some stomach poking, told me it was probably either giardia or an amoeba. He said I could do a stool test, but it was kind of pontless since he had some magic pills (tinidazole -- and no, he didn't use that phrase) that would get rid of either one. I opted just to take the pills and come back if it didn't fix it. (I was particulalry struck by the spot-on description of my symptoms by this wikipedia article on giardia in the "gastrointestinal" section, minus the "vomiting" and "explosive." Really a perfect description though...)

I had four 500mg pills with my dinner last night, and I'm already feeling a lot better. I felt a bit of what I think was hunger in the morning, so I decided I'd carb up and try for a run, which went well. With each step, I couldn't help but feel amazed that I'm alive and capable of running. I'm not 100% better, but I think I'm getting closer. And yes, I do get the metallic taste in my mouth, and no, I don't care about the cancer risk if it means no more giardiasis (it's not like I'm taking the medicine for months...)

Now, take a moment to think about all the people who a) get these illnesses from childhood, b) don't know what they have and are never properly diagnosed, c) live with it all their lives and never realize their full potential, and d), can't afford the $60 to get a doctor with decent training to diagnose and dispense medication or simply don't even have access to that option.

Now, think about how you can effectively contribute to the elimination of this problem. (Donate to an organization committed to results, and not just the continuation of the status quo of the organization? Raise awareness of these problems among friends and explain what concrete steps they can take to make a difference? Commit your life to fixing one small aspect of the problem? I don't know...)

(sorry if that last bit sounds a little patronizing. It's just that I'm a big proponent of taking action instead of simply lamenting the problem and then forgetting about it an hour later, or using it to make myself guiltily-thankful that I can afford the medicines, etc., which might do my ego a bit of good, but not the net well-being of all people...)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Moto of the day

This is one of my favorite Vietnamese motos. It's hard to tell in this first picture (click on it to see a larger version), but the giant metal pipe things he's carrying on the back are directly attached to his moto. The additional wheeled carrying thingy is not attached to the moto at all. Here are some close-ups of the pipe thing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Moto of the day

It's incredibly difficult to express how pleased I am with this photo. It might seem plain and simple to the untrained eye, but this is the perfect embodiment of the Cambodian moto, and is particularly "Phnom Penh" in style.

First, note the moto. The classic Daelim model from who-knows-when (looks like the 80s). This thing is so cheap and ubiquitous, any time I see a dull red moto I think Daelim.

Second, the driver: the cheap, untucked, collared, long-sleeve shrit made in a garment factory somewhere in the city; the drab pants; the sandals while driving a moto; the ill-fitting hat (in place of a helmet -- but in his defense, ALL helmets in Cambodia are of dubious safety value anyways).


(can I get some confirmation from others who are in the know?)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Moto of the day

This guy has good form. Straddling large loads in front is a well recognized practice in the field of moto transport. Double points for having a big bag of cucumbers in the back. Good job.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reflections on Vietnam

Spending three days in a foreign country isn't the best way to learn everything there is to know about its culture, but I thought I'd share my subjective observations, particularly things that were visually striking (since I don't understand a word of the language).

  • moto helmets
The Vietnamese really seem to like these small, thin motorcycle helmets that look sort of like plastic bowls. Although the thicker Thai-made helmets that predominate in Cambodia would surely fail to meet DOT standards in the US, you could tell just by looking that the Vietnamese helmets are useless.

I wonder why. Maybe it's a style issue? A heat issue? (sorry for the lack of picture, maybe there will be some in the "moto of the day" series
  • mustaches
Any man over the age of 35 is legally required to have a mustache. Or so it seems. A stark contrast with Cambodia, where almost no one has a mustache without an accompanying beard.
  • inventive motos
I was very impressed with the various moto modifications I saw in Vietnam. I imagine there are a lot of shops that will build you a hauling-moto to suit your needs. I don't think such an industry exists in Cambodia. This also motivated me to start the moto of the day.
  • pushiness
People love to push, even when it's obvious it's impossible to move any further. Definitely one of those cultural things. I'd say they are just as comfortable touching people in Vietnam as the are in Cambodia, but there's less of a "loving" feeling when they do it there.
  • chinese-ness
People had lighter skin and more Chinese facial features. Still, their look was definitely different from the Chinese I've seen in the US and China. I'm not sure how to describe it. Coming from Cambodia though, the similarities were more readily apparent
  • stylish face masks
They love the custom-design face masks used when riding motos in the polluted city. I saw many colors, patterns, and even cartoon characters or writing. Very interesting (and fun).
  • horn mods
It seems that a very large percentage of autos in the cities have special horn modifications. Rather than one loud, continuous burst, the sound will be oscillating and decreasing in intensity over about a 3 or 4 second period (with just one touch of the horn). My friend tells me that people take their cars to the shop to make the modification. It adds a strange musical element to the sounds of the city.
  • Rip-off attempts
It's difficult for me to asses this because I'm not a true tourist in Cambodia (speak a small amount of language and am comfortable here), but I was in Vietnam. People seemed like they were trying to rip me off quite often, and there wasn't such a friendly feel to it when they did it. For example, in Cambodia, when someone blatantly tries to rip you off and you call them on it, they just laugh it off and then agree to the real price that you suggest. In Vietnam they seemed to try to hold their position much harder, and would use feigned anger or disappointed faces when I tried to negotiate
  • development
Overall, Vietnam is a lot more developed than Cambodia. I saw electronics factories and organized government buses, decent-looking hostpitals, etc. that are just not present here. That was in the cities though. In the countryside, things often looked fairly similar to Cambodia -- similar building materials, shack houses, crude shops, etc. Still, the fields looked fairly irrigated wherever I looked, which isn't something I can say about Cambodia.

Well, those were the big things that I noticed. There were lots of little things that I've already forgotten or didn't notice at all. The trip was very fun overall, but mostly because I spent time with 3 other Kiva Fellows. I think any other trip would have been just as fun with that group. I also had a tremendous "happiness revelation" where I was stuck in an incredibly happy mood for several hours (triggered in part through meditation on love for all beings, and in part through the incredible beauty of the mountain scenery). Life is nothing short of wonderful when you feel an unconditional love for all people (even the "bad" ones). I think that feeling is beginning to stick more, since I had a similar experience later on during my trip to the island in Koh Kong, and because I generally feel more positive feelings towards people at any given time.

- Peace and love and all that good stuff

Moto of the day

This 3-wheeled Vietnamese moto seemed to be a fairly popular style in Saigon. I'm not really sure how it works, but it seems to have the handlebars attached to the carry box. I wonder why they would choose to put the carry box in front when it would obviously be much easier to drive with a larger load if it were placed in the back (because the view of the road wouldn't be obstructed). Maybe it's a steering/control issue. Any ideas?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fruit blog

Hi all,

I just wanted to show you the half-completed Cambodian fruit blog that Drew and I are working on called "Cambodian Fruit MADNESS"

Check it out for some entertainment. Also, please see the videos in the posts below for a glimpse of Vietnam and Cambodia. (I still owe you a post about Vietnam, I know)

Koh Kong

Drew (another Kiva fellow in cambodia) and I had a great time in Koh Kong, a small town in the middle of a protected forest area near the Thai-Cambodian border (on the Cambodian side). It's difficult to explain these things in words (you should also see my earlier post), so I'll put a video here. Facebook users should also check out my page for some pictures (if you're interested).

The final day involved a trip to the Tatai river waterfall. There were a fair number of Cambodians there on holiday (Cambodian new year), and we were the only foreigners for some time. We explored up and down the river, and floated gently downstream to a very peaceful area where the flow was so slow that I sat on a submerged rock and took a nap sitting up. The drop in body temperature was something I haven't felt in Cambodia without the aid of air conditioning. A truly refreshing and peaceful experience

(it has been extremely hot as of late)

After that we visited the mangrove, which had a mysterious staircase to nowhere. It was pleasant and beautiful (the mangrove). Drew got his "cane juice" and was slapped in the leg by a monkey.

Today we came back on the bus (after I took a bucket shower due to lack of water in the pipes at the $4/night guesthouse), and there was an incredible 1 hour thunderstorm. Drew's house got flooded because he wasn't home to close the windows. That's about it! (Don't forget to check below, this is the 3rd blog post I've made today!)

Moto of the day

After seeing so many interesting motos (100cc motorbikes ubiquitous in SE asia) in Vietnam, I decided to fill some space in this blog by posting an interesting moto I've seen. Some are quite ridiculous.

First, a Cambodian moto stacked so high, I have no idea how it makes turns or stops:

Eventually, you'll be able to sort using "tags" on the right hand side. Leave a comment if you like the moto

Sa Pa video

It seems like the Sa Pa video has started working again, so I'll repost it here for those who didn't see it yet:

Also, those with facebook should check out some more pictures here (sorry, connection is too slow to upload to somewhere public too)

I'll try to give my comments on Vietnam in general very soon

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Islands... and such

First of all, I noticed my Sa Pa video didn't work, so i'll repost later.

Since one vacation wasn't enough, I"m now out in Koh Kong by the Thai border with Drew, another kiva fellow. Right now we feel like tuk-tuk drivers at 1pm on a weekday -- lazy . We had a fantastic day wandering around a completely wild island (there are a couple people living there, but there were no other tourists). Every time I looked at Drew it looked like a scene from some movie. We also cruised through a mangrove and got stuck in the mud. We had to push the boat to get out.

Other highlights:
  • lazy french tour guide who spent less than 30 minutes outside of his hammock on the boat
  • fish and sea urchins
  • sunburn
  • feeling really connected to everything, love for everything
  • running on a long bridge
  • tasty thai food
  • busy market in the morning
  • amazing moto drive in the countryside
  • rain in morning
  • wonderful everything
Backtracking, yesterday was fun.
  1. went to bus place at appointed time, were told there were no buses
  2. showed guy ticket, were then let on crowded bus
  3. 5 hrs, scenic ride, tight space, chinese movie
  4. got $4/night guesthouse, $4/day motos
  5. had fun trying not to sound uncomfortable with ribald englishmen/germans
  6. checked out beach
  7. tasty thai food
tomorrow will be more of the same. The vacations never end. We'll check out a waterfall and relish in its relative coolness. Cambodia is a hot country. Yawning and burping are the two actions being taken by my travel buddy, Drew.

Sorry, no pictures until good internet. Trust me though, it's pretty ridiculous.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sa Pa

I had an amazing time in Vietnam.

Brief summary:

  • went by 6hr bus to HoChiMinh city and interviewed for Haas (Berkeley business school)
  • took a flight to Hanoi, mini-bus to the city
  • met 3 other kiva fellows
  • took overnight train to Lao Cai (by Chinese border)
  • took 1hr bus to sapa
  • did 10km walk around amazing valley of terraced rice paddies
  • watched lightning storm at night with Kiva fellows
  • meditated in morning, felt incredible amount of "love" for everything
  • walked more in beautiful countryside, met more local hill-tribe people
  • ate watermelon in natural hot spring
  • went running in extremely hilly area, loved cool breeze (after 2 straight months of "hot")
  • explored countryside on 100cc motorbikes with buddy
  • appreciated spectacular beauty, local people
  • crashed said motorbikes with buddy
  • had fun arguing over price of repairs with owner
  • took 1 hr bus, 10hr train, 1hr bus, 2hr plane, taxi, 6hr bus
  • back home in time to sit outside with local people and enjoy Cambodian new year festivities
what a trip. I'll post more soon. Please check this video for a short summary of my adventure.

Also, check out Nathan's album of our trip on facebook

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cambodian new year, Vietnam

Hi all,

I'm off to Vietnam tomorrow for a business school interview and then a short trip up to the northeastern part of Vietnam to hang out with 3 other Kiva fellows (Katie, Bernice, and Nathan). Should be good fun. Apparently the place (Sapa) is known for its beautiful scenery and hill tribes. Will report back with some pics and videos.

I'll be back in Cambodia on Monday night, just in time for another vacation -- Khmer new year. I don't think there's much happening in the city, so hopefully it'll be a good time to get out into the countryside and go somewhere far away. Not sure where I'll end up, but I'm leaving that up to my buddy Drew.

In the meantime, check out this video I took from my roof on monday night. It was like that for a couple of hours. I couldn't stop staring, even though I had tons of stuff to do.

(and don't worry, none of your donation money is going towards the Vietnam trip! I'm using my own for that one)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Another visit

Today I made a shorter client visit compared to the typical all-day client marathons I get involved in. I went alone to one of the sub-branches in Phnom Penh (about 1/2 km from the airport), and visited a total of 5 clients. The clients were all in fairly rural areas, even though downtown Phnom Penh is only about 10 or 15 minutes from the branch office.

It rained a fair amount last night, so riding on the dirt roads was quite a challenge. My driver was fairly skilled, but at one point I had to get off and walk on the little separators of the rice paddies because they were the only place I could move quickly without slipping. See the end of the video for more on that.

There were no clients that were particularly outstanding for any reason. This time I felt like the theme was "these people are no different than the people who live right next door. They just happened to borrow from CREDIT (through Kiva)." Understanding that these people are completely "normal" for their situation (and not trying to seek out some little detail that I could twist into a dramatic story for the website) was the challenge for this visit. I was able to feel a bit more comfortable, and as though I was just "having a chat" with some normal people. It's nice to be able to lose the perspective that these people are poor and that you are here to rescue them through your magical organization that will solve all the problems they want rescuing from. Nothing is ever that simple...

Besides the visit, my GI tract is all messed up, as usual. It also seems to be something different every time. Details and whining aside, this is one of the key, invisible benefits of living in a developed country -- not having to worry about your stomach. It really is an amazing concept. To think that you can eat practically anything that is available to you in the form of food or drink (besides obvious things), and that you have an approximately 0% chance of getting sick from it. Incredible. The productivity losses from food-borne illness alone must be tremendous. Moreover, I feel that it's a self perpetuating cycle -- people get sick, feel less motivated, put in less work (that would help economic development), less development means lower sanitation levels, people get sick. Or something to that effect. Sorry if the logic is a little sloppy; I'm lacking motivation due to GI issues... :)