Flip-Sides

A few days ago, I began the intimidating process of packing for college.  To be fair, it is infinitely easier and less stressful the second time around.  As I perused my bookshelf to decide which books (that I will not have time to read) I should take, I came across a particular one that brought forth a whole storm of self-realization.  The book is called StrengthsQuest: Discover and Develop Your Strengths in Academics, Career, and Beyond, by Donald O. Clifton, Edward Anderson and Laurie Schreiner.  A gifted education counselor had given me this book in my sophomore year of high school, claiming that it was a nationally renowned book that was even used in the corporate world to bring out the best in people.  (Sure enough, my mom had used it, giving it the immediate stamp of approval.)

The basic premise of the book was that for too long in education the paradigm has involved identifying childrens’ weaknesses and then working to improve them.  Instead, claim the authors, studies have shown that identifying a child’s strengths and figuring out how to best leverage them produced much better results.  Additionally, the book included a code to enter an online test, a “StrengthsFinder” to discover your “Top 5.”  Of course, I had taken numerous tests like these before and did not really expect this to reveal anything life-changing, but I continued anyway.  After the test, the site spit out my top 5, and I had to read the description in order to “affirm and celebrate” my talents.  Here’s what I discovered as my top 5 talents:

Learner-“You love to learn…You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered—this is the process that entices you… It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you…are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one…The outcome of the learning is less significant than the ‘getting there’….  The genius of the Learner talents is that you not only love to learn; you also intuitively know how you learn best. 

Input– “You are inquisitive.  You collect things…Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you.  And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting.  The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity.  If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives.  If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts.  These can be acquired and then stored away.  Why are they worth storing?  At the time of storing, it is often hard to say…but who knows when they might become useful?.. you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away… It’s interesting.  It keeps your mind fresh.”

Focus– “’Where am I headed?’ you ask yourself.  You ask this question every day… you need a clear destination.  Lacking one, your life and your work can quickly become frustrating.  And so each year, each month, and even each week you set goals… Your Focus is powerful because it forces you to filter; you instinctively evaluate whether or not a particular action will help you move toward your goal… This makes you an extremely valuable team member…The genius of Focus talents is in your intense concentration on one task.  Your single-mindedness enhances the speed and quality of your performance.”

Competition– “Competition is rooted in comparison.  When you look at the world, you are instinctively aware of other people’s performance… No matter how hard you tried, no matter how worthy your intentions, if you reached your goal but did not outperform your peers, the achievement feels hollow… You like contests because they must produce a winner.  You particularly like contests where you know you have the inside track to be the winner.  Although you are gracious to your fellow competitors and even stoic in defeat, you don’t compete for the fun of competing.  You compete to win…The genius of Competition talents lies in your ability to stimulate yourself and others to higher levels of performance. 

Significance– “You want to be very significant in the eyes of other people.  In the truest sense of the word, you want to be recognized…you want to be known and appreciated for the unique strengths you bring…An independent spirit, you want your work to be a way of life rather than a job… Your yearnings feel intense to you , and you honor these yearnings.  And so your life is filled with goals, achievements, or qualification that you crave.  Whatever your focus… your Significance theme will keep pulling you upward, away from the mediocre toward the exceptional… The genius of Significance talents begins and ends with the difference you are determined to make.  You want the world to be a better place because you are in it.”  

The various Signature Themes.

I remember reading these results with a peculiar feeling of both awe and disappointment– the former for the feeling of actually being known, and the latter at the same time because I realized actually could be known (I guess an individual should be a dynamic, mysterious type of being, not something that five words could define.)  Yet, for the first time, I did find words to match my basic foundation, the principle tenets of Anisha-ism, what truly made me, me.  These were the words given to my often inexplicable tendencies, the reasons behind my instinctive comforts and dislikes, and the mysterious processes in my deepest mental recesses that lead to my decisions every day.

At the time, I thought that I just had to use these “strengths” of mine, and find hobbies, activities, and experiences which best utilized them.  Yet over time, small, seemingly insignificant moments would plant seeds of doubt.  I loved to learn, but why was it that after quickly learning new skills needed in research projects, I soon became bored with the long-term nature of the research itself, knowing that I had already picked up the new skills?  Why did I continue to try different things, like coding or knitting or environmental data analysis, and then having gained a level of proficiency, want to move on?  For that matter, why was I so scared to enter a music competition that my mother really wanted me to try?  I loved competition, right?  And if my ability to focus on a goal was so great, why did team members sometimes get frustrated with me for “taking control?”  Why did I find so many things interesting that I could not even clearly define my future career field to those who asked? (Right now, in case you were wondering, the interest is patent law.  Why?  Because it is an inherently interdisciplinary field requiring the application of both engineering and law every day in the context of a business innovation, and a typical day at a law firm could involve preparing and prosecuting as many as 10-15 different patent applications in a day.)  Sometimes most importantly, why do I care so much about whether others approve and praise my accomplishments?  Why does this desire for “significance” often singlehandedly determine my emotional well-being?

Today I opened the book again for the first time in four years.  Interestingly, lines that I never remembered existing suddenly came to the forefront.  Apparently, “this Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert” and a Learner “can get frustrated about wanting to learn so many different things because you fear you’ll never be the expert.”  As a Competitor, “over time you will avoid contests where winning seems unlikely.”  What’s more, “significance talents are sometimes perceived as egotism or a need for attention.”  The “flip-side of [the Focus talent] is that it causes you to become impatient with delays, obstacles, and even tangents, no matter how intriguing they appear to be.”

It’s funny how often what you want to see or hear infiltrates reality.   I had been so busy with figuring out my strengths in 10th grade that I didn’t even realize that these aspects were not actually called “strengths;” they were called “Signature Themes.”  These five themes are my pillars.  They are what define me as a human being.  Just as no one characteristic is always good or always bad, every one of the themes listed in this book has the potential to be a strength or a weakness.  It’s up to me to figure out how to make my themes bring out my highest potential, to be the most significant, competitive, inputting, focused learner I can be.

***********************

P.S. I have a confession to make.  I never actually read past the discovery and “affirmation” of my five signature themes.  Turns out there’s a whole chapter about using your Signature Theme “Talents as the Foundation of Strengths,” with a section devoted to how to make each theme a strength.  I guess I found my bedtime reading for tonight.

Can We Be Done Now?

At approximately 9:30 AM US Central time today, I woke up.  Like every morning, I rolled over and picked up the stuffed animals that were lying on the floor (I have been told numerous times about my sleep habits– blanket hog, kicker, and apparently, pusher-of-stuffed-animals-off-the-bed).  Also like every morning, I reached under my pillow and pulled out my cell phone, to see the usual texts, emails, news stories, etc., that I had received over night.  And again, as usual, I deemed it too early actually get out of bed, and decided to go back to sleep after cleaning up my notification window.

Except for the fact that I had gotten a CNN headline alert which told me that less than an hour before, there had been a shooting in front of the Empire State Building in New York City.  And despite the incredible heaviness in my head induced by my desire to sleep another hour, I was definitely mentally awakened.  When my mother came up a bit later to force me out of bed, I told her in a still sleepy voice, “Did you know there was another shooting?”  She thought I was talking in my sleep.  That I was dreaming.  I wish.

Aftermath of the shooting earlier this morning, which started when Jeffrey Johnson, fired from his job a year ago, shot and killed his former co-worker–picture from the New York Times.

So, what I really want to ask is, is it time yet?  Is it “bad enough” yet?  Are three shooting incidents within the past three months enough now for leaders across this country to go beyond their speeches (well-intentioned, I know) in which we are told that this is an ordeal, a tragedy– that their heart goes out to the families of the victims?  I want to know, if I can ever stop adding these incidents to my memory, like files in a cabinet– the Sikh Gurudhwar in Wisconsin, the Dark Knight movie theater in Colorado, Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others in Tucson, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and so many others.

I, for one, am tired of hearing, guns don’t kill people; people kill people.  Not to point out logical fallacies or anything, but you need a person to pull the trigger.  Earlier this summer, I had been utterly shocked when I spoke to some college students in Singapore who had been taught in China that the majority of the U.S. population owns guns.  In reality, of all the people I know in this world, I can think of only one who owned a gun, as far as I know.  Yet I suppose such a misleading statement seems justified in the minds of those who have never actually been here.  I know also that there are many in this country who do own guns with absolutely no malicious intent.  But I ask, with complete deference to varying opinions and out of utter curiosity, is the right to easy access to a gun more important than preventing (or at least, drastically decreasing) the deaths of others?

I am not so naive as to believe that the simple establishment and enforcement of a gun control policy will completely eradicate such tragedies forever.  There are always wills and ways.  Nor do I believe that the answer is the other extreme– banning all guns for anyone, anywhere.  But I refuse to accept that the status quo is a natural, unavoidable consequence of the human condition.  I find it painful to look back on these incidents and wonder why we don’t do anything.   I cannot look future generations in the eye and say that I’m proud of the past we are giving them, when I know that a solution to a very real problem could have been found, and we stood by and let it happen anyway. Can you?

Wrapping Up

Now that I’ve thoroughly procrastinated on blogging about the last of my summer adventures (considering I have now been home for over a week), I feel obligated to climb up the time management ladder.  Once you hit rock bottom, there’s only one place you can go (I hope).  Either way, I didn’t feel like I could continue without recording my last few days in New and Old Delhi here for any of you who still may be listening. 🙂

This trip was my third visit to the capital city, but I don’t think I have ever repeated anything from visit to visit, which, to me, reflects the diversely vibrant nature of the city itself.  Here are some of my favorites from the last few days:

Indira Gandhi Memorial

The glass marks the spot where Indira Gandhi was shot and assassinated by her own guards.

For me, visiting the home of Indira Gandhi was a validation of everything I had read and heard about her.  A sense of awe pervaded me when I saw the type of simplistic, yet high-profile lifestyle she led.  My favorite room was the prayer room.  In it held every object/text of various faiths one could imagine, even those much beyond the realm of India.  The sign told us that many would come to Indira Gandhi with these tokens of appreciation and she kept them all.  I wish that sense of tolerance could somehow be instilled in every world leader.  The experience simply re-affirmed my admiration for a woman who was courageous enough to run a country with a long history of cultural male-domination.

City’s Heart

Rashtrapathi Bhavan, the “President’s Palace,” through the gate.

Be it in Washington D.C. or New Delhi, I always find national government centers extremely exciting.  Yes, I am aware that no man-made institution is utterly pure, and yet to me these buildings in which people are making decisions that do not simply affect the profit of a business, but the lives of an entire nation, are inherently symbols of the power to do good.  In Delhi, on one end you have the Rashtrapathi Bhavan; if you simply turn around you see a glorifying national symbol: India Gate.

The famed India Gate.

Jama Masjid

The dome from behind the gratings at the top of the minaret.

I think my track record this summer for visiting religious places of worship has been pretty good– a Hindu temple in Singapore, a Buddhist temple in Thailand, the Sikh Gurudhwar in Amritsar, the National mosque in Kuala Lumpur.  I could not pass up the chance to see the largest mosque in India.  With a large, open courtyard surrounded by columns that enclosed a towering dome, the mosque was impressive to say the least.  For a small fee, one could climb the 180 steps to the top of the minaret.  Although on the climb up, the hot, sticky darkness–combined with the fact that passing anyone on the way down required a dance of sorts as each person turned sideways  and yet it was still impossible to avoid contact– was questionable, the view from the top was undoubtedly worth it.  A man with a white taqiyah (Muslim cap) realized that we were visitors and kindly showed us around the mosque grounds, teaching me that it’s the people who make the religion, not the other way around.  It was possible to feel welcome there, or anywhere, regardless of my religion or theirs.

Jama Masjid, in all its glory.
A woman praying at the Masjid
View from the top of the minaret

A thousand other things..

A few places, a few people, that just struck me.

Hot, fresh, melt-in-your-mouth jalebis (Indian dessert), in Chandni Chowk, a major marketplace
Mehendi (henna) at Lajpat Nagar Market
Rain, rain, beautiful rain.
Greenery at Trimurti Bhavan- the house of the late Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India
Lotus Temple, for the B’nai faith.
Driving by a blocked-off street during Namaaz time.

Well, there you have my whirlwind summer.  I’m not quite sure where I’ll be or what I’ll do next year, but I have to say, this one’s going to be hard to beat.

Promise #3

It is said that when Mumtaz Mahal, third wife of Emperor Shah Jahan lay on her deathbed, she extracted three promises from her lovesick husband:

  1. That he would take care of her children after her death.
  2. That he would never marry again.
  3. That he would build a memorial as a symbol to honor her and their love.

Now, proof of her famous beauty that captured Shah Jahan’s eyes and heart, other than hearsay and the words of numerous poets, is not actually attainable.  However, the fact that 22 years and much of the royal treasury were spent in creating a monument that immortalized their love story across generations around the world, makes her pretty powerful in my books.  How many Miss Worlds or America’s Next Top Models can put that on their resume?

So here’s to the Taj Mahal, aka Promise #3.  Although I won’t claim that it’s India’s single, most beautiful treasure (there are so many more temples, monuments, and gorgeous natural scenes in India that are little known to the rest of the world), it’s an iconic image of the country in its intricate grandeur.  Definitely worth the second trip. 🙂

Entrance to the Taj Mahal
Coming into view.
In all its glory.
The gate from the inside.
Sitting on the “VIP Bench.”
Side view.

On the Border of Unity

Thick.  Immovable, impenetrable thickness, surrounding me in all directions–no one willing to budge.  Any sense of privacy, of individuality, disappears as skin touches skin, someone’s hand pushes my back, a woman crunches my toes, a child wails in my ear, and amidst it all, a stream of sweat drips, ceaselessly, relentlessly. 

I am in a sea.  I am in an ocean of orange and green and white, of the frequent shouts of “Hindustan Zindabad!”  (“Long live India!”), being held back by a single gate.  And just like a huge body of water, this sea of people continues to swell and bulge against the gate, the anticipation of a single moment fueling an unspoken energy that defies the crippling heat.  A sudden spark of hope sprouts in one section of the crowd, rippling through, as the murmurs increase and feet creep forward to the gate, only to be dashed back into the original state of affairs by a guard who emphatically holds his hand in the air, Not yet.  For we are all waiting for one thing.  That moment, when the gate to Wagah Border, the famous border between India and Pakistan right outside of Amritsar, Punjab, will let a crowd of over 15,000 people every day overflow to their seats in the stands to watch the ceremony of the changing of the guards.

The crowd at the gate.
The unbearable heat.

When those gates finally open, the crowd billows forward.  But it’s not a simple wave.  It’s a tsunami of people, pushing, shoving, shouldering ahead.  I reach ahead to grab my mom’s shoulder as she too tries to make headway.  I try not to shout in pain at the elbow digging into my side or the heel stamping on my own foot, but when, I feel the skin in the middle of my back pinched and twisted, I can’t help but turn around with an “Ouch!” and a glare at the guilty woman with the remorseless face.  You see, this was my first time in many years being in a crowd in India.  In the next week or so, as I would experience more and more of them at various temples or monuments, my own tactics sharpened– I learned how to push my own way through, stick my arm out to the side to block others from bypassing me, and loudly accuse the woman behind me of pushing, to prevent her from taking my place.  It’s funny how quickly mob mentality can set in; the same behavior that I despised would soon become my own.  Right then, however, I simply wanted out.

I don’t think I have ever appreciated air as much as when I finally pushed through the gate.  I ran to catch up to my mother, who was worried about my father and brother finding us.  Everything from the lines to the seats were separated by gender, except for the foreigner’s gallery and the VIP stands.  Someone had mentioned to us that as foreign passport holders, we could potentially gain access to this gallery.  In hopes of this, my mom decided to stand in a different line, while I went to secure us a seat in the commoners’ stands, which were arranged around the road that connected the two countries, in case it did not work out.  Neither of us would have any way of communicating with each other.

The border from the Indian side.

I’m not exactly sure how long I saved that seat next to me.  I amused myself for a while by taking pictures– of the crowd, the two sides of the border, the waving flags.  As a result, I almost lost the seat I had saved for my mother seven times, and each time, I had to frustratedly explain in Hindi that this seat was for my mom, and you, obnoxious woman in a large sari with an Indian-flag-patterned hat could NOT just ignore me and sit down anyway like the previous four people.

The proud symbol.
A child’s flag.
A happy family.

Just when I had pretty much given up hope of finding my mom in this massive mob, I heard, “ANNNIIIISSHHHHAAAA!”  I turned around and when I finally saw her, her face absolutely desperate, I shot up my hand.  She motioned for me to hurry over, and I ran (well, as fast as you can run through thousands of people), relieved to see my family waiting in line for the foreigner’s gallery.

The gate leading to the Indian side of the border.

An hour later, we were sitting two stands closer to the border, and I was waiting on the curb of the road itself.  The stands and the curbsides were now full beyond your wildest imagination, and a crowd had formed behind the gate as well for those who no longer had room to sit down.  The sun was so atrocious that I could no longer feel the difference between sweat and dry skin.  Suddenly, applause and excitement made me quickly turn to face the road, where two young girls were each carrying an Indian flag and running up to the Indian side of the border and back.  By the time my mom recognized that a line was forming for people to run with the flag, I had already grabbed her and was running down to join the line.  We too ran up and down with the flag, the smile on my face plastered so wide, that my cheeks began to hurt.

Running with the flag
The dancing begins.

Another hour later, the dancing started.  Indian songs, first patriotic, then Bollywood, and finally, the most questionable of all, “Jai Ho,” blasted through the speakers as more and more people from the stands, young and old, Indian and not, took to the road to dance.  It was fantastic, and my camera could not have enough of it.  The energy, the excitement invigorating every one of us, made the heat almost bearable.

Slowly, we could see those on the Pakistan side joining the stands as well.  There were not as many, and we later learned different accounts for the reason why.  Some said that it was because of Ramadan, others mentioned the fact that they charged a ticket to come to the border, and still others simply stated that they simply were not as interested in it.

Amidst all the noise, I heard an American woman next to me ask her friend the reason for all of this.  The other woman, an American photographer, looked surprised at this question.  A faintly condescending expression settled on her face as she said, “Well don’t you know?  These countries hate each other.  This is their way of showing each other up.”  I turned away as my mouth dropped open in shock, but not before I heard the first woman’s response: “Really?  But that’s ridiculous!”  Out of the corner of my eye I saw the photographer put her hands on her hips, and say, “Well hon, haven’t you noticed that about India?  It’s pretty ridiculous.  It’s all a show.”  I would like to point out that this is NOT the reason I was there, or any of my family members, and I would guess a large proportion of the crowd there that day.  I regret not turning around and questioning her statement, not necessarily to confront her, but because I think it would have made for an interesting conversation.  As I saw a man raise his arms again and again in the air, demanding the crowd to become louder and louder in their shouts of “Vande Mataram” and “Hindustan Zindabad,” as he looked over his shoulder at the Pakistan side to see what they were doing, I realized that maybe there was more truth behind that statement in certain individuals than I wished to admit.

The crowd–electrified.
The guards march.
The border opens

It had been over three hours since we had first arrived at the original gate when the official ceremony finally started.  To be honest, the ceremony, though impressive, does not truly register within me as the most memorable part of the day.  It mostly involved the guards on either side walking with high legs, kicks, shouts, and lining up on either side of the border, professing their pride in their country as the crowd responded with applause and cheers.  The one exception was the flag ceremony, in which either side raised their flags, and then slowly lowered them but diagonally downward to the other side, so that the flags themselves crossed, a declaration of friendship.

Pakistani and Indian guards together at the border.
The flags begin their descent, crossing on opposite sides.

With my camera battery thoroughly exhausted, my family, like the thousands of others there began to file out of the stands.  As we were leaving, I suddenly saw people facing the Pakistani side of the border and waving.  I ran to join them, realizing they were waving at people on the Pakistani side who were also leaving.  Within seconds, I saw them turn toward us, and immediately begin to wave back at us.

I thought about the photographer woman’s words and grinned. This is why I was there– it was the symmetry of that moment.  It was the fact that, at that moment, if I could have looked down from the sky, I would see a division between two groups of people with two different labels that were doing the exact same thing: waving at each other.  So what if the government itself did it for show?  So what if the prejudices and stereotypes still exist among people on either side of the border?  The fact that people stood there on the other side, waving back to me with smiles on their faces was enough for me to hope, to believe that those possibilities beyond the status quo actually exist–to wish that one day, I could actually meet that one little girl over there, standing on the white bleachers with the bright, smiling face waving her green, Pakistani flag, for us to be independently proud, together.

The Golden Night and Day

Hello, from the great city of Amritsar, Punjab!  My family’s travels have brought us here to see one of the most impressive temples of the world, among other things (still to come, don’t go anywhere!): the Golden Temple.    The 400-year-old Sikh temple, or Gurudwar was more than alive whether we went at 11:00pm or 9:00am, showing us two different sides of its beauty at each time.  It was one of those things where you don’t need to completely understand the religion to feel the deep-rooted human spirit and devotion that pervaded every living, breathing individual, every drop of water, and every piece of gold.

My SEASIAN Summer

Now that I’ve left Singapore, as horribly depressing as this is, I can take a step away from the jumble of words, emotions, flights, late nights that seamlessly blurred into early mornings, and of course, lots and lots of cheap, delicious food, that defined my summer.  I don’t think I had the mental awareness to do this at 5:30 in the morning when I left our apartment at Tiong Bahru and climbed down those four flights of stairs for the last time on Wednesday, when all I could think about was whether I’d be late for my flight to Bangalore, India.  On the actual flight, I was too sleepy (the product of averaging three hours of sleep per night for the past four nights) to be able to truly comprehend the fact that eight weeks of another life had just gone by.  It was only later that night, in my grandmother’s house in Bangalore that it suddenly hit me.  It was no longer a night with a spontaneous decision to watch a movie with my roommate.  It was no longer a night when I heard four sleepy, yawning “good-nights” before closing the door, or even one where for no justifiable reason at all, I would find that all of us were still awake at 4:30am despite the fact that we had to be at work in another four hours (in case you were wondering, microwavable noodles taste pretty good at around that time).

It’s not that my summer is completely over yet.  I still have a week in India with my family, much of which will be spent traveling in the north (stay tuned!).  But it’s easier now to look back on everything that happened and see just how indescribably unique this summer has been.  So, just for you, I’ve put together my “Top 11 of Southeast Asia list,” or as I like to call it, “SEASIA” (because 10 is too arbitrary of a number, and it was hard enough to restrict myself to 11)– except it’s too difficult to actually order them in some sort of a priority besides chronological order.  Here goes:

1. Singapore Night Safari— So when I heard that Singapore had a night safari, I imagined creepy eyes glaring in the darkness.  Now, the reality of it is not supposed to be that dramatic.  Yes, you can see animals in the dark in creepily close proximity, but still there are definitely precautions against the whole thing being unreasonable.  Unless of course you come with us.  Unless you watch the Creatures of the Night show with us at the park, and believe that the alarm and guides screaming at the top of their lungs that an animal was on the loose is actually real, resulting in mass pandemonium (by “mass”, I mean only our row in the entire auditorium) in which all (four girls) decide to run for their lives, tripping on top of me and several others, causing one of them (oh, Teresa) to land two rows below your seats.  Other than that, of course, it’s pretty chill. 🙂

The view from the Sentosa Cable Car

2. Cable Car from Sentosa– After a long day at Sentosa Island, taking the very last Cable Car ride across the ocean was the perfect end.  My camera-crazy hands kept on snapping pictures of the skyline, and when I finally had my fill, I just sat back and relaxed for the rest of the ride.

3.  Banana Boating in Bintan, Indonesia— It was the first time I’ve ever stayed at a resort, and what’s not to love?  Also I’m sure the guys driving our banana boat were only further encouraged by our screams and laughter as we held on for our dear lives.

4. East Coast Park/Beach, Singapore–  First thing: don’t expect a typical beach scene.  What’s really special about this place is its liveliness: restaurants, stalls full of street food, a boardwalk, large rocks where you can sit on a full moon night, as the wind gives you a temporary break from the inescapable humidity and listen to the waves crash against shore.  And of course, long bike rides through the trails 🙂

An evening at East Coast Beach

5. Swimming at Phi Phi Islands, Thailand– Imagine clear blue-green waters and white sandy beaches– the kind you see in movies (if you have, it’s probably from these islands anyway because so many movies are shot here).  After the bumpiest, scariest speedboat ride alive, our boat stopped in a little nook for about fifteen minutes and let us jump into the warm waters.  Absolutely surreal.

6. Elephant Riding in Phuket, Thailand – I’ve only ridden an elephant once before in Jaipur, India, but it was for all of 10 minutes.  After climbing onto Lucky, our elephant, who, for the most part, was pretty well-behaved in comparison to our friends’ elephants, we took a ride up the mountains right near the Big Buddha statue.  With our feet resting on the soft carpet of elephant skin, we bounced through the forest for a relaxing hour.

7. Thai Massages – Speaking of relaxing… best $10 I spent that whole weekend in Phuket.  After a tiring weekend, all of my soreness seemed to melt away.  I could definitely get used to this…

8. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore– I’ve already talked about this before, in that the gardens themselves are a great work of architecture.  The best part though was the fact that it began to rain when we went up on the Skybridge, and while everyone else ran down the stairs, I couldn’t help but stand there and get complete soaked.

The view from the Skybridge

9. Bargaining at Night Markets – Most of us who traveled refused to pass up a chance to get a good deal (I won’t deny that the racial composition of our group probably had something to do with this tendency).  And let me just say, both in Thailand and Cambodia, the night market scene was a complete success!

Torture weapons in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

10. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia– This was one of those things that makes you feel like a horrible American who is absolutely unaware about other parts of the world.  I vaguely remember hearing something about the Khmer Rouge in 9th grade history, but like all of the other Communist countries, it seemed too distant in time and space to wrap my mind around.  However, to actually see the torture rooms, with blood spatters still on the wall, thousands of skulls in glass cases, paintings of torture methods, the tiny cells, and the stories of being taken away to the Killing Fields, was a whole different story.  I almost never cry, but even this brought tears to my eyes.

11. Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia– Everything you hear about how colossally magnificent these temples are is absolutely true.  It’s impossible to put the size, space, architecture, and sculptures into words.  The hot Cambodian sun seems to strike the carved rock in every way to maximize beauty, and although we only had one day, we could have spent a week there and still not seen all of the temples Angkor Wat has to offer.

So there you have it: my SEASIAN summer in 11 bullet points.  It’s impossible to write it all down, or even try to convey everything that I felt, experienced, and witnessed, and as I go through the rest of my life, a few things here and there will suddenly bring a memory of this summer to the forefront for me to experience all over again.  To experience, to feel, to relive.  Because not everything has a word.