If you've been following the hashtag #TravelWithKB on our Instagram (if you're not following us, click the link), then you know that I went to Cambodia and Thailand to study Buddhist art & culture, as well as Buddhist philosophy. And BOY OH BOY, did I learn more than I intended to.
I went from Bangkok, Thailand, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the span of two weeks with a company known as Wisdom Tours! The trip coordinator, Jim Hagan, is this awesome guy professor who woke up to his purpose after studying in Asian himself. Ever since, and for the past 20 years, he's been planting seeds in college-aged students using Buddhism as the basis.
I'm not sure what good karma I amassed these last 20 years of my life, but I've been blessed and chosen to participate in this program, and I'm twerkin' about it.
While I could tell you all the technical stuff I've learned here, such as who the Buddha was, why Thai houses have dragon tails on the roofs, or what's the symbolism behind architecture, and statues, I have to write a paper on that SO NAH! But I will share some of the AMAZING things I, as a person, have learned about myself and how I should navigate through life, and hopefully you'll pick up a pointer or two.
READ MORE YA LITTLE RASCAL YOU!
In Thailand, in front of the Royal Palace, a man selling umbrellas offered it to me for 150 Bahts.
I said "No".
So he persisted, "Ok, Ok, 120 Bahts, final offer!"
I replied, "No".
He finally asked me to name my price, I replied "Ok, 60 Bahts?"
The man groaned, in a cheerful, and funny way "OOOOOOH, 60 Bahts?! Noooo!"
After I left the palace, 2 hours later, he creeped back up to me with the funniest sing song voice, "Ooh, oh, oh! I remember YOUUUU!", I was cracking up!
Man was I happy to learn that I was the one to possessed those vibrations. I'm not going to lie to ya'll, sometimes I'm just in my head dealing with my inner child tell her to chill, sit tight, don't throw a tantrum, relax! But other times, I let my inner child take over! So when people see me grinning, getting excited over the little things, or running towards something with curiousity embedded in each, and every step I take, that's my younger self they are interacting with, and people love it!
I don't do things with that purpose in mind though. It's kind of like when you take a child to the park, and let go of their hand. When I arrived to the temples in Bangkok, I was in total awe. How dare I hold on to my inner childs hand and guide her through these temples with caution? A spark lit up in my eyes, and mind, and I let myself go! And before you knew it, I saw other around me do the same.
Cambodian and Thai people smiled when I smiled at something, other spectators on the trip stood beside me with the similar expressions of joy and fascination. But be wary, where you let your soul illuminate, others observe that and grow envious, threatened, and/or turned off by your enthusiasm. I don't let those people bother me though, they obviously lost their inner child, or banished them to a corner and lost contact, their loss not mine.
Bae once said, "Hate is love".
2. THINK carefully before you make a deal.
Because I blurted out "No! 60 Bahts" to a Thai woman selling these GOREGOUS umbrellas for 300 Bahts in front of the Golden Buddha palace, and she gave me the most disgusted look on Earth. I felt bad for not buying. But I actually told her that the umbrellas were worth $2 U.S. dollars, versus the $10 USD she said. Once I learned that, I really felt bad.
In Cambodia, they're a little more open to cheaper prices, because 1 USD in Cambodia equals 4,000 Riels, but I stuffed my foot in my mouth once I kept undervaluing these beautiful peoples' hard work.
I should've known that from having a South American best friend most of my life, but in New York City, that's like saying you have a Black friend, everyone has [or should have] one! But I kept having people stare at me as I entered temples, sites, and monasteries. I even had quite a few Asians ask if I could take pictures with them, because, they declared, I was beautiful 👑 Me and my travel companions are pretty sure that I am on billboards in China by now, and don't even know it.
My point is, don't necessarily take the "fish out of water" experience, and turn it into a scary, or negative experience. Because I knew that's the main reason why I didn't want to come to Asia. In fear that I would be pointed and laughed at, rather than called beautiful, and a sight to see.
5. Not every action requires a response.
I brought two bags of candy yesterday when I went to a village over-ridden with poverty. I passed out chocolate candy, and it didn't take long before the kids crowded around me, and started attempting to pull the bag out of my hand.
I remember looking into their eyes and seeing the excitement, desperation, and hearing, "Me! Me! Me!" over and over again, in their native tongue. I tried to hold them back, and shouted "Wait!", as if they could understand me, but they ran right back to me and jumped in my face again.
I took a second to think, and just walked away.
Now before you say, "Damn Milah, that's fucked up", understand that they weren't the ONLY kids in the village. There were kids in houses, teens working hard, cleaning, that weren't crowding me to the point of discomfort that would've appreciated the candy in the same light.
On the flip side, I also lashed out at my trip supervisor for not being mindful of the fact that I wasn't with the group and didn't look for me at the visa checkpoint for 10 minutes (which at the time felt like an hour!), and not owning up to that fact. But now that I look back at it, so what? At that point, it was 2 days later qhen he brought it back up in a "blaming others" lecture, and even though I felt like he should've let it go, he didn't. And that was HIS problem, not mine anymore.
One thing that impressed me about Thai and Cambodian culture was how close knit, how kind, how welcoming, how selfless, and also, how simple their everyday lives were, yet everyone was SO content with what they had.
I was staring at a row of ants in one of the temples and thought "that looks like NYC". Where everyone is speeding off to their destinations with no regard for who's next to them, who's smiling at them, who's waving. And it makes me sad.
A man at one of the stands near a monastery asked me where I was from and I simply said, "America", to which he replied "I love America, America is GREATEST!" And I just smiled, and walked away shouting, "No, Thailand is BEAUTIFUL!!! I LOVE THAILAND!"
While America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, (based on per capita income, the U.S. ranks #15) the people there are down right MISERABLE. With mass murders happening every so often, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and other terrible societal issues, it makes me question how fortunate am I really to live in that culture?
7. But, being an American is pretty sweet.
We took a boat ride down Tonle Sap Lake, and I observed kids, maybe about 10 - 12 Years old, boys and girls rowing themselves to class, fishing, selling goods, and merchandise on the lake, in the Floating Village. I saw teen girls, perhaps 14 years old, hustling, working hard.
I went to a rice paddy field with my travel group, where we helped uproot rice plants, and transplant them (which may I add, give you a WHOLE new perspective, and appreciation of eating rice). I met girls who were at least 14 or 15 years old working in these fields where fire ants sting, and spider pop out of the wood works.
I NEVER had to do that growing up, shit, my mom was lucky if I decided to cook that day. While I bitched, and moaned about washing dishes, there was kids on the other side of the globe doing hard labor in the Sun for their family, without a question on their noodles.
I went to listen to a monk named Ta Toeum speak on becoming a monk, and listened to his meditation advice. One thing he mentioned was that we were fortunate to be born in a rich country like the U.S., and we must've done something AMAZING in our past lives to have been favored enough to be born their. I second that. Sort of.
9. Philanthropy is the GREATEST GOOD you can do for yourself, and for others.
We went to a school the other day, and sung for the students, as well as SHOWER them with gifts such as notebooks, pencils, tissue, soap, toothbrushes, combs, folders, puzzles, classroom decor, candy, chalk, crayons, coloring books, and SO SO much more. From the moment I stepped foot in their, to the moment we left their ice cream covered mouths and gratitude-filled "goodbyes", I grinned! My soul grinned! I was sooooo happy.
Happy to know that these kids appreciated our visit, our happiness, and just to make their day alot better than most. We took pictures with them, learned their names, I sat with the boys, and just shared a wonderful, and everlasting experience with them.
But my good deeds didn't end there.
I passed out candy to a whole village, I gave money to a woman living in a shack with kids, and her cow.
I tipped my took-took driver who helped me find a laundrymat that I couldn't remember where it was.
I gave a homeless man $1 USD and a woman $5 USD.
And I didn't cry, or get mad, or questioned it. I did it because I wanted to, and because they ALL deserved it.
That is REAL happiness people! Knowing that I can benefit someones life, by helping them learn, helping them financially, helping them with hard labor,or helping them feed their family. I am a philanthropist at home too, but even the poor people in New York live better than these people here. Either way, I'm learning that nothing is better than extending a lending hand to those in dire need.
10. Not every moment has to be shared.
I took many pictures, some I've shared on Instagram, some I've shared on Facebook. But others, I am keeping to myself. Many of them actually I'm keeping to myself. Not to be selfish, but because its something that I want to shared with my kids, and my husband (someday). I got to keep things for me, because I experienced them. And I'll cherish the memory more than anyone on the web would EVER!