As I grew up in Canada, I became used to people giving me generic birthday cards, good luck money or easy-to-give gifts. At home I keep two piles of cards: one pile of generic cards and another pile for people who wrote me cards with personalized messages.
It’s not that I’m not grateful for what I have received in the past. It’s just a totally different feeling when people give you gifts from their hearts and when they consider what you like. I have received the most genuine gifts from all of the countries I have traveled in and I have carried those gifs with me everywhere. I have dumped clothes and things I didn’t need to lighten my load as I moved from place to place, but I kept every item people gave me to remind me of the wonderful memories we had.
In Western countries, we’ve been mistakenly trained to show how much we care about people through gifts, often mindless gifts. The best gifts don’t necessarily have to be something someone bought. They can be something that is handmade or an act.
Here are just some of the gifts people have given to me as I traveled Southeast Asia that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
I met my friend Kathy randomly at my friend’s small Cambodian restaurant in Siem Reap in 2013. Because she was alone, I offered to take her around for two nights during her stay. Before we split up, she invited me to visit her in Bali, Indonesia.
I took her up on her invite and flew to Bali to meet her. By the time I landed, I had only known her for three days. We had a very memorable two weeks together and among all of the things we did, part of our bucket list was her making me this beautiful anklet with the shells she picked up in Bali beaches.
After spending just under three weeks of time together in person, she is one of the handful of people of all the people I know who regularly keeps in touch with me.
One of my best friends made me this going away package before I left for Cambodia. It included these pictures, a letter of support and a USB stick with other pictures of our great memories. What a fantastic friend.
We met some wonderful families in Marinduque, Philippines who became our adopted family while we were there. Two of the moms kindly picked up these shells from the beach and gave it to my friend and I as a souvenir.
This was my going away souvenir from the NGO, PEPY, I volunteered for during my nine months in Cambodia. Everyone wrote wonderful notes. This banner will go up in my room.
One of my closest friends in Cambodia was very busy planning for her wedding so I thought it was very touching that she still had time to think of my going away gift. She even asked her very talented and crafty brother to make an envelope for me to put her gift in.
My friend Phai owns a small restaurant in Cambodia and they made the best stir fried yellow noodle I ever had. I always ate at their place and they were so kind to invite me to their home town south of Cambodia. While we were at the home, he gave me his shirt as a souvenir.
When I went to my friend’s Cambodian engagement party in Phnom Penh, I brought some pens and paper for the kids to entertain themselves. I was really amazed at their ability to draw these wonderful images and kept them as a reminder of their playful presence and my time with them.
My friend’s adorable Cambodian niece wrote me this in Phnom Penh.
A wonderful farewell note from one of my closest friends in Cambodia before I left.
A note that brought me to tears before we left Marinduque. “Dearest Melissa and Zu,
It’s so hard to say goodbye, feels like I’m crying, tears on my eyes keep falling while writing this letter. I’m sure I will miss your company. Take good care of yourself, the two of you, stay safe.
I felt so said right now cuz you are leaving but happy inside that I meet friends like you, we maybe belong to different country and have different culture, but we have the same heart that love to have a friend and meet someone like you two.
I hope that you’ll not forget that you have family in Philippines I’ll be your nanay (mom) always. Take care and I hope you will be back to see us again. Thank you very much for friendship. Hope to hear from you when we are far apart.
Stay sweet Melissa and Zu, I love you.”
My friend and I met an incredible young 16-year-old boy who works so hard every day on the farm in Marinduque, Philippines. Even though we didn’t share a language, we laughed, danced and watched movies together. He has many skills, including origami apparently and made me this boat.
This is my friend’s Cambodian wedding invitation. In Cambodia, you actually don’t given an invitation to your close friends, just the ones who aren’t as close. I wanted one as a souvenir so she kept one for me.
This card was made by one of my closest friends in Cambodia and filled with messages of thanks and good luck after I finished my volunteer term. I rarely get handmade cards and among my friends’ very busy schedules, I appreciate this a lot.
More cards from the people I worked with at the NGO in Cambodia.
We met another incredible and passionate friend in Manila, Philippines who volunteers a lot of her time for children and older people. She also runs a business selling Hello Kitty merchandise. She was really sweet and before we left she said, “I don’t know how to describe my feeling. I’m very sad that you’re leaving. Next time you can meet the older people they will be very happy to see you.” In addition to making us some wonderful meals, she gave us this pen and valentine gift before we left.
One of my great friends in Vancouver was so sweet to make me a CD of great house music to take with me before I left for Cambodia last year. She was my regular club buddy and we would dance hard at the club.
One of my Cambodian friends has a very unique talent for making crafts and was so nice to make this for me as a souvenir before I left Cambodia.
My cousin’s 6-year-old daughter really impressed me with her level of consideration. Whenever I leave, she said she will miss me. She asked her mom if she could give two of her jewelry pieces and when she gave them to me, she said in French, “This is so you will remember me.”
The birthday card my cousin’s 6-year-old drew for me.
My 9-year-old niece Wendy made this bracelet for me.
My friend Katherine came to visit me in Mauritius and was so kind to give me this necklace from South Africa.
I celebrated my first birthday overseas in Cambodia and I didn’t have a lot of friends yet at the time. I asked staff at a hotel called Golden Temple if I could have my birthday lunch at the restaurant. By that time the staff only knew me for a week.
Within two hours of me calling them before lunch, they quickly rushed out to buy me a gift and wrote me birthday wishes. I couldn’t believe they went out on their work shift to do such a kind gesture after knowing me for such a short time.
Birthday bracelets from some of the staff from Golden Temple Villa.
Another birthday gift in Cambodia.
Another birthday gift in Cambodia.
I had a wonderful time in Laos and one of my local friends there so generously gave me one of her necklaces. It was too big a gift for me but she insisted and said, “Please take it, it looks nice on you.”
My friend Sopheak in Cambodia kindly gave me this necklace as a going away gift.
My Cambodian friend gave me this necklace before I left.
A going away gift from a Cambodian friend who always helped me with technical problems and was a great guy.
This is from the most well-behaved four-year-old I have ever met in Mauritius. When she came to stay with me by the beach, she kindly drew this for me. She said in French, “Before I go to sleep many nights, I think of you.”
I’m very lucky to have moms around the world and that includes my home country Mauritius. When I stayed with my friend who was visiting at my cousin’s place, she always bought food for us and left us these notes to eat up.