As I’ve already written about on GWAS, my three week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia was a life changing experience. I went over not quite knowing what to expect, but everything we did was so amazing I doubt I could have imagined it beforehand anyway.
We started the trip in Siem Reap, which is usually a lovely city which we are able to spend lots of time shopping and exploring. However, the entire city flooded for the three days we spent there. We were still able to visit Angkor Wat, but the majority of our time was spent inside the hotel. It wasn’t a bad experience, different, yes, but it showed us what people are capable of. Floods of the same level in Australia would have caused mass panic, but in Cambodia the people just went on with their everyday lives, riding their push bikes through thigh deep flood water and continuing with what they have to do to survive.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a selfish person. Well, I was a bit of a selfish person before I went to Vietnam. I was concerned with my money and my internet and my awesome life, but didn’t actually realise how lucky I was. Visiting orphanages, and just seeing people in general in the streets, changed that thought process pretty darn quickly. I was brought to tears spending time with children in an orphanage in Hoi An. Children who receive less than $30 a month from the government. Children who will never experience a proper education, or the internet, or even the simple joys of trash tv. It broke my heart. I work for around 4hrs every week and receive $50 for that. I used to complain constantly about needing more money, needing more things, more, more, more. Since I’ve come home I have stopped doing that. Gosh, the fact that I will have been on three international flights this year alone, more than any of the people I met in Vietnam will have in their entire lives (and more than many Australians will have in their entire lives) should be enough for me to constantly praise God for how amazing my life is. I am so lucky, but it took this trip for me to realise it. I never wanted to go volunteering for a gap year. The thought of sub-standard toilets, no wi-fi, limited electricity and basic food made me wrinkle my nose in disgust. But now I realise that I have the option to have these perfect amenities, to be sitting here right now typing this on a macbook pro in a big room in my beautiful house, and so many people in our world couldn’t even dream of that. It is my responsibility to try and give back a bit. Sure, nobody likes using pit-toilets, but for all the people I met, that was their life. They don’t have an option. I need to go and help them, give a little back, try and pay it forward.
The main focus of our trip was history. 50% of our HSC is on Indochina, and so going over there and visiting battlefields and war museums would help bring it to life for us. I was almost sick visiting the war museum in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and looking at the horrible effects of Agent Orange, but the part of the trip that really brought the reality of war home for me was visiting Long Tan. We had a mini ceremony, and lay flowers in groups of four. As we stood in the rubber plantation, realising with horror the stark cover the trees gave, a friend and I noticed four boys from our group standing at the cross. At the same moment, we exclaimed that those boys, the same boys who minutes before had been mucking around on the back seat of a bus, were just one year younger than many of the men who fought and died where we were standing at that moment. Those boys were so young, so carefree, to think that being born forty years late was the only thing stopping them from being one of the boys we were paying tribute to. You can read about war as much as you like, but until you stand there and realise the true reality of what happened, it’s just not the same. As we drove away from Long Tan my teacher started playing I Was Only Nineteen. That song has never been sadder to me as in that moment.
One of my favourite aspects of the trip was that it allowed me to get to know some of my classmates. Even though I have been at my school for the equivalent of a year now, I still don’t know lots of people, or only vaguely know them. We all bonded on the trip in a way that can only come through shared experiences. Our little insular world was not without fights and tears (I believe every girl cried at least once) but we all got to know each other better and I know I definitely got closer to a few friends. Late night room visits, hostage situations in rainy days in hotels, six hour bus trips, free time in towns…so many opportunities to get to know people on awesome levels. Coming back to Australia was weird, with all the people who hadn’t been on the trip suddenly mixed in, but even though we may not all talk or hang out every day like we did overseas, we all still have been through something that connects us forever.
The trip was something I will never, ever forget. Apart from the harsh realisations I was forced to make, and the maturing I did, the trip was also filled with so much fun. We had custom clothing made, custom shoes made, stayed in beach resorts, ate at amazing restaurants (and not so amazing restaurants. The four straight days of Seafood almost killed me!), and just generally had a ball. I am so thankful to have had an opportunity to experience this, and encourage anyone given a similar opportunity to take it with both hands. I was a bit reluctant to go, but was one of the best things I have ever done.
frangipani princess xoxo