Thursday, December 9, 2010

One of main advantages of learn guitar courses is that you can learn and play the guitar wherever and whenever you want. This is the magic of self paced learning, where your life and normal duties or responsibilities do not have to be on standby just because you want to learn a new skill. With traditional music schools, teachers and classes, everything is pre-set on fixed schedules.

With online learning, however, there is perfect flexibility in terms of when and where you want to learn. If you feel like getting into the guitar lesson at night within the comfortable confines of your home, you can do so without any hassle. One of the best resources for learn guitar tutorials is available at

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brain-eating parasites exist

I was actually going to close this blog, now that I have returned from Cambodia, but I decided to keep it there as a type of diary for when I feel the nostalgia set in. I feel, however, that there is one more post that I need to add to this. My brain-eating parasite.

As many of you who have followed my recent hospitalisation know, I have been seriously ill in hospital with possibly one of the scariest, but coolest-sounding diseases that I could have come back from Cambodia with - a parasite in my brain. It sounds like hollywood fiction, and its rather fitting that this all occurred the weekend after Halloween.

Ive certainly come back with a few stories worth telling, and Ive now told them to all of the hospital staff at Robina hospital as they delt with my migraine, nausea, memory lapses, disorientation, head spins and loss of muscle control.

I went to the doctors to get a certificate to get out of work because I had a headache, but my doctor feared something worse, most likely Dengue Fever. In retrospect, I wish I had dengue instead. They sent me home with a referral letter for the tropical diseases specialist the next day, but warned me that brain cysts could develop and that I may lose my eyesight any second and it wont come back until they treat it. I assure you that every time I so much as had a hair in my eye I started to think 'is this it, am i losing my sight'? Very scary.

Everything was fine, and I had done a sufficient amount of socializing on Sunday with my family, and then coffee and church with friends. That night, bam, I pretty much lost the use of my legs, and it was up to the emergency ward again first thing the next morning. This time, it was to stay.

I was visited by so many wonderful people in hospital - close friends and family. I appreciated it so much, because my company in the Acute Medical Ward were quite literally only 3 people, one who spoke no English but muttered to herself loudly in European languages, and all of these women were very sick, tired and over the age of 70. Not the best company, and I felt that my dignity was sacrificed when it took me about a minutes to go 5 metres on a zimmerframe to get to the bathroom. The parasite aged me.

Fortunately, the doctors were able to quickly and efficiently kill the little bug that I had affectionately nicknamed Gary, and take me in for a few more interesting head-scans before they were sure it had disappeared.

I am home now, and so grateful that the only long-term damage that I will receive is slowed memory, concentration and comprehension, almost like having a low-grade learning disability. The brain parasite could have left me with very severe permanent brain damage, or even killed me, so I am very grateful for the help of the doctors at Robina Hospital to fix me up and send me away with minimal implications.

They say I got this horrible brain-eating parasite from the jungles in Cambodia. I'm just lucky I was back in a place with stronger diagnostics and medical resources when I started showing symptoms. What about the people who LIVE in these jungles? They would get no such treatment, and literally just left there to have their brain painfully eaten alive by a parasite. It really is excruciating.

ps Dont let my story deter you from going to Ratanakiri, Cambodia, to enjoy the jungle and learn about the tribal cultures. I still plan to go back, all things considered. I was sick, but that doesn't mean Cambodia isn't one of the greatest places in the world. Do not be deterred.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

arachnids at sunset

It was a long journey back to Phnom Penh, but not unpleasant. I enjoyed watching the scenery change from dense forests, to agricultural lands, to the occasional small town. I enjoyed watching the bus struggle to get out of situations where it had bogged itself. I enjoyed kicking back with my chocolate wafers and watching people fish in the Mekong. I enjoyed playing my ipod for as long as the battery would last. And I enjoyed the arachnids I ate at sunset.

First, it was the tarantulas. They were crunchy, furry, and had quite a distinct, borderline unpleasant flavor. Moving on to the cockroaches was somewhat of a relief. This was followed by unrecognizable, blue flying bugs, and a stuffed frog. I know the poor kids from the village often spend their day hunting for these little frogs for their family to have some meat with dinner. They are actually quite pleasant to eat, but I can imagine it must get tedious eating them every night.

Then, finally, it was back to wafers and my can of Coca-Cola. Sure, I'm a western stereotype. But I looked around and saw many traditional old women eating the same foods, and many of the young people also drinking soft drinks at eating lollies. I suppose I was blending in as much as my pasty white skin would allow. Yes, I still haven't got a tan, and feel all the better for it. Cambodians find white skin very beautiful and I actually have strangers saying I'm pretty. Such a thing would never happen in Australia, and is rare even with the most beautiful of young girls. So yes, I find it flattering to have my ego stroked every now and then.

Is that such a bad thing?

Also, my Khmer has improved dramatically. I ordered curry with rice, asked how much, and even called for a drink and my bill in Khmer like it was the most natural thing in the world. Could I get used to living in Cambodia long-term? Absolutely. Will it happen? Hopefully. Some part of me wanted to turn the bus around and go set up camp permanently in Ratanakiri.

For now I was fine just to sit back and nibble on my arachnids at sunset.

Ratanakiri resources

The bus to Ratanakiri takes 11 hours, in the dry season. Some say its almost impossible in the wet season, and I can understand why. Parts of road had disappeared completely, and other parts made us feel like the bus was swimming, not driving..

Ratanakiri is about as remote as you can get in Cambodia, and contains only 1% of Cambodia’s population. one in four children die before reaching the age of five and three quarters of the population is illiterate. Infrastructure is poor and very few tourists can be bothered, or have the time, to make the journey. It screams Indianna Jones-style adventure and I knew I HAD to do it before I left Cambodia.

With prompting from a fellow solo backpacker, I learned how to drive a motorbike. I don’t mean a dirt bike, I mean a proper motorbike. I loved it! The rain was drizzling, but that seemed to make the scenery over the mountains more magical, as their peaks disappeared into the clouds. We drove out through the rubber plantations on semi-sealed road, on a journey to a waterfall. This road was challenging even to the best of drivers. I found myself bogged on one occasion, but was helped by the friendly passers by. The waterfalls was impressive, and crater lake is well worth being placed on the tourist maps.

The next 2 days saw me hike deep into the heart of the jungle, with a local English-speaking guide, my fellow solo backpacker and an Indigenous ranger. We slept in hammocks by a waterfall, and enjoyed local foods cooked traditionally by a campfire. It was magical.

The indigenous people of Ratanikiri are amazingly unique people. They have their own music, language, culture and religion (a type of animism). Most still live off the land, hunting for wild pigs and whatever they can find. Seeing this first-hand fed my inner anthropologist. Just when I was almost ready to pack in my Community Development studies and study indigenous languages for the rest of my life, I was hit with the confronting reality of poverty in the region.

Living off the land means they don’t have a great need for money, but many work wherever work is available to afford luxury items. Illegal deforestation is destroying communities, and even along the remote hunting tracks we saw trees that had been marked for logging. Losing these trees means losing the biodiversity of this unique region, and losing the food source for the tribes that need this region to survive.

Yes, its illegal, but this is a corrupt country and a few spare dollars being thrown around by Vietnamese logging companies will ensure that the local indigenous people will never get a say over the uses and abuses of the land that their people have inhabited for over 20,000 years. I would see these families in shanties outside of the main town in Ratanakiri. They have been stripped of their land, and now were being stripped of their food sources. The only hope to ensure the land is protected is Eco-tourism, and the environment may not last long under the strains of large influxes of tourists. They are trapped in a conundrum.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I was reminded by my drunk but enthusiastic tour company manager that Australian geologists are scouting through the mountains for gold, and that somewhere in the mountains there is the prospect of finding larger mines. At no point in history has there been a situation with multinationals searching for natural resources have resulted in fair and equal treatment for the local, poor, illiterate indigenous populations. Ratanakiri is becoming victim to this trend.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Andong in the news!

Those who are reading my blog regularly, or seeing my numerous facebook statuses, would have already heard of New Andong Village. If you haven't read it, please read the blog post called ''Andong''.

Today Andong was in the Phnom Penh Post, the English speaking newspaper that some people from Andong village scrape a living selling copies of near the airport.

Please read this article:

For those who can't be bothered, it says that all of the hard work done at a grassroots level to create livable homes in this community is going to be torn down, so that the government can build new houses (the same size and design) to sell back to the families at a cost unaffordable to most, trapping them in a debt cycle or forcing them into homelessness.

I feel a deep connection to the community and their struggles. Leigh and I have been fortunate enough to witness the ongoing grassroots construction efforts happening in the community. To read this news today was devastating for us, but whats makes it worse is how powerless we feel.

It is clear what the community want, and they have worked hard to improve their lives after the government forced them to relocate in 2006. Why is the government not listening to their people? Is this yet another attempt to reclaim their land? Unfortunately, I suspect it won't be long until the land title awarded to these people are actively revoked by the Cambodian Government, once again relocating them into a situation of desperate poverty and alienation from educational and employment opportunities.

I hope to visit the community one more time before I leave, because Andong will always have a piece of my heart.

There may be dark days ahead for Andong.

Monday, August 23, 2010

40 hour famine!

I had given up on the idea of doing the 40 hour famine this year. I HAD rallied a group of enthusiastic friends together to do the famine with me, but the participation pack never arrived from World Vision.

I suppose I needed a bit of a push.

I knew I could register as an individual participant, but the idea of ONLY being able to collect online donations seemed ridiculous. The majority of my friends are university students, who are too poor to have credit cards to donate online. At most, I reasoned, I would make about $15-$20.

Then, on Friday, I recieved the push I needed.

I decided to set up an online profile, and do a last minute push on facebook for donations. I was impressed with the response, and Im still recieving donations today even after the weekend is done! I have made somewhere around the $60+ mark, which is 3-4 times what I thought Id make in such a short time with only facebook as my means to beg off my friends. Sometimes its possible to be pleasantly surprised with people's genorosity. This is one of those occaisions.

On Friday night, I began the challenge of going without food, furniture and facebook. With election fever in the air, it was very difficult staying off facebook. At Saturday night's election party, it was difficult to pass up the kind offer of western-style food as a group of Australians gathered aroudn a Phnom Penh television set to hear the news. Not that there was any news to hear. Sleeping on the tiles of my hotel room floor on an empty stomach was, admittedly, pretty difficult, but the tuk-tuk ride from the election party to Takmau gave me a pretty strong reminder of why I was doing the 40 hour famine in the first place.

It couldnt have been later than 12:30am, but the rains were the heaviest I had seen them. My tuk-tuk driver had kindly unrolled a layer of waterproof protection between me and the elements, but I was still able to observe sites, even with nearly everything being boarded up for the evening. Then I saw a group of kids, probably around 7-9 years old, collecting garbage on the streets. They were all carrying garbage bags and reaching their bear hands into rubbish piles to see if they could pull out anything of value. Its 12:30am, these kids should be in bed. Instead they are collecting rubbish, in the pouring rain, unsupervised.

Somewhere out there, I knew that there were parents or carers who were somehow profiteering from the kids streetpicking. I knew that these kids will probably always find themselves risking exposure to disease and risking injury just to scrape over the poverty line, either to support their siblings or, as is often the case, supporting a parent's alcahol, gambling, or drug addiction.

I went home and slept on the tiles, on an empty stomach, without having updated my facebook status. It was uncomfortable. But so is poverty.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Full of cake and gratitude

Every village visit makes me feel a little more comfortable in rural Cambodia. The heat becomes less overbearing, the insects are less irritating and the people smile at you like a friend instead of a crazy white girl with pink hair and a strange enthusiasm for taking photos of everything in sight.

Or, maybe, I have simply learned to stop over-analyzing.

Whatever it is, I greeted Chen Chea's family with a polite bow of the head, a smile, and a poorly pronounced 'jum riip sou''. It is always impressive to see how far she is progressing in just a few short days. Outside were large squares of material covered in rice being dried in the sun. I had seen these in Vietnam and other parts of Cambodia, but hadn't yet had the chance to touch it, or ask questions to people who spoke good enough English to answer me.

Every few minutes, Chen Chea's mother would leave the team doing the casting and go to tend to the rice. I had always known her mother to be generous. On one occasion, she sent us back to Takmau with a few banana leaves full of sticky rice. Today, she had made for us some mouthwatering palm sugar cakes, similar to a banana muffin in Australia but much, much tastier. We were already full of cake and gratitude when she offered us another cake. I couldn't refuse.

Just when we thought that somebody couldn't get any more generous than that, she said that she would like us to take with us a bag of the rice that she has been drying out. Situations like this can be very difficult, because while it is amazingly nice of them, you also become aware that this is their livelihood. Joanna simply said that she wants to do what is most polite, because she didn't want the lady to feel as if we thought her rice ''wasn't good enough for us''.

After a brief translation, Chen Chea's mother explained that she will sell the rice for income generation instead.

Cambodian people are just so generous!