It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Asian continent… and with good reason. The food, the people, the architecture… and the list goes on. It probably all started when my parents took me to Singapore at the age of six and I first encountered Buddhist art and architecture. This time I decided to venture into Southeast Asia, wandering around the streets of Vietnam and Cambodia.I must say that while I’ve been to many other Asian countries over the past few years, nothing prepared me for what these two breathtaking destinations were about to teach me.
Lesson 1: Always be grateful
I was amazed to feel immense gratitude in the eyes of the locals no matter how difficult their living situation was. I met some very tough, and much older, women who rowed tourists down the Mekong River and along Halong Bay on a daily basis, who —believe it or not— were singing and joking the entire time! One of the cyclo drivers in Hanoi —who was well above the age of eighty and driving tourists around, had lost most of his teeth and was definitely underweight— smiled through his front tooth and with incredible ease told me, “Why complain? I’m grateful I have a job and can feed my family.” I froze for a moment… As much as we always tell ourselves to be grateful, more often than we’d like to admit it negativity creeps in and we start complaining, when in fact so many barely have enough to get by –and yet remain grateful and top it off with a smile.
Lesson 2: You can always rise from the ashes
The Vietnam War lasted from 1955 to 1975 and tore through Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, leaving around two million Vietnamese dead. The Cambodian genocide, lead by Pol Pot who ruled from 1975 to 1979 ended with the death of around two-to-three million Cambodians.What amazed me was how resilient the Cambodians and the Vietnamese proved to be. They rebuilt their countries in a relatively short time span and came back stronger than before. They were left with nothing but death, decay and poverty… and yet, when you walk the streets of Ho Chi Minh or wander through the markets, you no longer see —or feel— death, decay and poverty!
Lesson 3: No matter what, remain kind… always!
I’m sure each one of us knows at least one person who “used” to be kind before this-and-that happened to him or her. We tend to give excuses to others —and ourselves, of course— for being unkind, intolerant or rude. Looking in the eyes of the Cambodians and the Vietnamese they reminded me that no matter what happens, no matter what life throws at you, do not allow pain and hardship to damage you.
Lesson 4: Just breathe!
With how busy our schedules are these days, we sometimes get so overwhelmed and allow ourselves to be engulfed by worry and stress. Being predominantly Buddhist, the Cambodians’ spiritual side is evident in everything that they do. Even the simplest of actions, like crossing the street, are done with such ease, and I found that to be truly fascinating! If you’ve ever conversed with practicing Buddhism before, then you’ll spot their air of serenity right away; it’s a reminder that we need to breathe and take it easy sometimes in order to fully understand a situation and to properly adapt.
Lesson 5: We are all the same
As cliché as that sounds, it is very true. While I met travelers from various countries in Vietnam, I found myself in an endless melting pot in Siem Reap. I met solo travelers who were trying to “find themselves”, couples who were trying to rekindle their romance, wanderers in search of a new adventure, artists looking for inspiration, newly divorced men and women trying to heal their wounds, you get the picture. Since we had all embraced lesson four by then, I realized that when it comes down to it, we are all the same. We’ve all loved , we’ve all lost someone we care about, we’ve all failed at one point in time and got up again to fight another day; we’ve all made mistakes and learned valuable lessons and we were all going to leave a little part of us in every city we visit.
With a strong passion the arts, Hend obtained her BA in Journalism and her MA in English & Comparative Literature. An artist, ex-editor and newly-appointed Assistant Director of Marketing Communications at Semiramis InterContinental Cairo, her interests include traveling, art history, painting, philosophy and existential literature. She’s a true Aquarian, vegan and a strong supporter of animal rights.