Day out with my Khmer family

Family day out.

I landed in Siem Reap a few days ago and I’ll be starting a new job with a travel company. I’m staying temporarily with my adopted Khmer (Cambodian) family until I get my own place.

I always encourage people to live in a different country for at least a few months because it’s an unforgettable experience to go out to places in the community and the country with local people. You find new favourite places to eat, hang out and go to hidden gems that only the local people would know about.

I arrived at midnight this past Tuesday and many Cambodian people are on holiday for most of the week because of Pchum Ben, one of Cambodia’s most important religious festivals that honours their ancestors. So my Khmer family invited me to join them to go to Tra Kot village, about 40 km outside of Siem Reap.

The drive was quite far into the rice fields and it was packed with kids swimming in the water, food, and people hanging by the hammocks. I always love watching families and friends enjoy time out together and eating together. Going out and eating out in Vancouver, Canada is expensive so that’s why I appreciate many places around Asia where going out is affordable for many people, not just people with high incomes.

It was a perfect way to spend my first day in Siem Reap as I got over my jetlag.

This is my beautiful friend Konnitha and her 1.5-year-old Hannah.

Konnitha’s father and Hannah.

This is a Cambodian chicken and cost $12 US.

I rode at the back of the truck with Gaga, Konnitha’s lovely 14-year-old sister who often helps me cook at home. We had a lot of wind in our faces on our way back home but in a hot country, that is always welcome.

This is a common view throughout the country of the rice fields and flat land.

These are the kinds of homes that most Cambodians live in throughout the country’s villages.

 

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How we raised over $1,000 from two days of work

My friend Carmen came to visit me in Cambodia last year and she was kind enough to help me register everyone’s raffle tickets and collect donations the night of our fundraiser at Darby’s Pub.

I’ve spent the last month in Vancouver, Canada visiting family and friends before I start a new job in Siem Reap city in Cambodia next week. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life and everywhere I go from Asia, Mauritius and Canada, people are extremely kind to me. It would be selfish of and I would have bad karma if I didn’t pay it forward.

Because I had a month free before I begin working again, I had no excuse no to put in some time to raise money for the Landmine Relief Fund because I knew they were effective, transparent and addressed the urgent and continuing problem of millions of unexploded landmines around Cambodia. The organization is a US-based charity that funds the work of the Cambodian Self-Help Demining (founded by Cambodian Aki Ra), some projects of the landmine museum, and an orphanage for 36 children.

I have visited the Landmine Museum in Siem Reap twice last year and all the proceeds from donations and the $5 US entrance fee for visitors funds their projects. I learned a lot about the devastating economic and social impacts of landmine victims who have either lost limbs or died. A third of the casualties are children, predominantly boys because they are much more likely than girls to play with explosives.

Because I was out of Vancouver for the past year and a half and only had regular communication with a grand total of three friends, one whom lives in Switzerland, I wasn’t sure how many people would donate, let alone show up to a pub fundraiser after not seeing me for so long. But I thought I would just try anyway for the sake of an important cause. What’s the worse that could happen anyway, right?

I’ve know my awesome friend Joanne (left) for 8 years now and she has been awesome in helping promote the event, made $200 for us selling raffle tickets to people at the pub and gave me a ride home.

But people have surprised me and I was again reminded how generous they are in the community and how quickly people can come together for an important issue.

I’m writing this detailed post to profile the incredible work of the Cambodian Self-Help Demining Group and Landmine Relief Fund but also to share the successful promotional strategies so you can apply them to your own efforts. I go into a lot of detail in this post to explain why I chose specific time-saving tactics.

The key message for this post can be expressed by a quote from a Canadian icon and hockey hero extraordinaire Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Aki Ra

At the Landmine Museum, we learned more about the incredible and inspiring story of Aki Ra, who was featured as one of CNN’s Top 10 heroes of the year in 2010. He was nominated by Bill Morse, the international project manager of the Cambodian Self Help Demining and Project Manager of the Landmine Museum.

When the brutal Khmer Rouge regime took power in 1975, the leader Pol Pot and his team led a genocidal campaign against his own people and killed two million people while they were in power, which at the time was almost 1/3 of the population in the country.

Pol Pot’s government forced people out of their homes, killed doctors, artists, teachers and killed anyone, no matter how young or old, who was to weak to work in the fields. He had a vision of creating an agricultural revolution and systematically tortured people while he was in power, particularly intellectuals.

I was very happy to be introduced to Nary (left) by my friend and former colleague Vive (right). Nary is an adorable woman who grew up in Cambodia and has been in Vancouver the last eight months. She was brave enough to speak to me about Aki Ra in front of our group.

The Khmer Rouge killed Aki Ra’s family and recruited him as a child solider. He was trained on how to put landmines around the country. During the war, millions of landmines were planted around the country to prevent people from escaping.

After the war, Aki Ra dedicated his life to removing landmines until Cambodia is landmine free. He began removing landmines on his own and would use nothing but a stick and his bare hands to deactivate the mines. It’s a miracle that he’s never lost a limb with his work and he used to remove up to 300 landmines a day on his own.

When Aki Ra got calls from people in the village, he would go immediately if they reported a suspected land mine in their area. He began the Cambodian Self-Help Demining team and to date his team has removed 50,000 landmines.

The fundraising event

These are my longtime friends who have always supported me in everything I do. I look a bit excessively happy here.

Because I was only in Vancouver for a short time, at first I thought of setting a goal of $500 for the month to be realistic. But I believe you get back what you put in. If you aim low, you’ll get lower results. And for such important work, we might as well set a high standard. If we don’t reach the moon, at least we’ll hit the stars.

My friend and I did a pub funraiser at Darby’s Pub in Kitsilano in the past because they were very nice to give us a free venue and a microphone to tell people about what we were doing.

People had the option to donate in the following ways:

  1. Donate directly to Landmine Relief Fund with PayPal or their Visa and report the donated amount to me so I could track our fundraising progress
  1. Come and bring people to Darby’s Pub on September 20 to learn more about the organization with a chance to win draw prizes.

One of the key messages I wanted to get across was that it didn’t matter if they donated $1 or $1,000, every little bit counts. Everyone has a different budget and living in Vancouver is expensive so I didn’t want to put too much pressure or have a cover charge to attend the event.

Promoting the event

The wonderful women I used to work with before I left for Cambodia for the first time.

When I’ve raised money with events in the past, I’ve used the same three channels:

  1. Website

Thanks to WordPress, it was easy to choose an appropriate template for our fundraising page to update people on our progress and give more information about the Landmine Relief Fund and the work of Aki Ra’s team. It’s easy to embed YouTube videos and pictures on WordPress.

  1. Facebook

I set up an event page three weeks before the event and made it public so people could share the page and invite their own friends.vI also reminded people about the event on my Facebook status once a week. But it’s important not to shove the event in people’s faces too much or they’ll just tune it out. Every time we got a prize donation from a sponsor like a restaurant gift certificate or a gift basket, I posted it on my status so people wouldn’t be reading the same thing all the time.

Three weeks before the event, six people said they were going. With events like these, people tend to RSVP in the last week. We had 29 RSVP by the day of the event and probably about 40 people show up throughout the night.

  1. Newspaper event listing

My friend had a great suggestion and told me to write to the Georgia Straight newspaper event page, which lists events for free. I didn’t even realize they ended up publishing our event until an old woman called me and asked me questions about the event. One of the servers at Darby’s Pub also said people have been calling the restaurant to ask about the fundraiser.

  1. Emailing

I just sent one email five days before the event to the friends I’ve kept in touch with and people who didn’t have Facebook to remind them about the event. If you email people too early, they may forget about the event. Email too late, then you don’t look organized.

I don’t email acquaintances I haven’t kept in touch with because I don’t like it when people only contact me when they need something when they don’t keep in touch with me. So I don’t do that with other people either. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

  1. Inviting people in person

Whenever I met up with friends, I told them to come to Darby’s if they could make it or encourage their friends to come.

Getting $400 worth of prizes with three hours of work

My generous Cambodian friend Penha came to support the cause and also donated a few of his organic Cambodian products including pepper, palm oil and teas.

I knew if anyone showed up to our event, they were going to come primarily for the cause. But because I have high standards for hosting, I wanted to have at least a few prizes to give away for people who came to the event and donated. I initially thought I would have maybe 15 people come to the event, so if I got around five or six prizes, almost half the attendees would get something.

When I’ve tried to collect prizes like gift certificates or gift baskets from businesses in the past, I knew I would much more successful by contacting smaller businesses or socially responsible businesses. When I’ve gone to chain stores or international businesses, it takes much longer for them to say “yes or no” because they have to go back to their head office and they also have so many more requests. And to be honest, the bigger chains who make much more profit tend to give less anyway.

When you approach a small business, you get a response much faster because they don’t have to ask permission from any head office and they often support great causes, even if they do get a lot of requests.

In exchange for their donation, I featured them on our fundraising page that would be sent to our networks, thanked on Twitter by my friends who have thousands of followers and linked their Facebook page on our Facebook event page.

I made some new friends at the pub who graciously helped out where they could.

In sales, you have warm leads to cold leads. Warm leads are the contacts you already have some kind of relationship with and cold leads are people you have no connection with. Best to start with warm leads so I contacted businesses in the following order to save time.

  1. Businesses who gave us prizes in the past

I first started with businesses and restaurants that have given us prizes in the past and three out of four of the businesses were able to donate gift certificates again. Here is an example of a custom email I wrote to a warm lead:

Hi [contact name]!

My name is Melissa and I’ve been away the past year and a half doing volunteer work for an NGO in Cambodia. I’m back in town for a few weeks and looking forward to eating your food again!

I am actually going back in a few weeks in Cambodia for work but I am doing a fundraiser at Darby’s Pub with a goal of raising $1,000 for the Landmine Relief Fund, an organization that support the work of clearing landmines around Cambodia.

Last time [company] was very kind to offer a gift certificate for our 50/50 prize draw. I was wondering if you were able to make a similar contribution this time around.

If so, we would be happy to recognize you on our fundraising page, our Facebook events page. We especially want to promote ethical businesses such as yours.

Thanks a lot!

  1. Businesses where I was a regular customer

My theory businesses were more likely to give me a prize if I was a regular customer and explained how many people I have brought over the years. I do something for you, you do something for me. I of course didn’t bring customers to get something in return, I brought them because I loved their food or service. But it didn’t hurt to bring it up.

Even though it’s more intimidating, it’s easier and quicker to get a sponsored prize if you call instead of email. It’s also easier to ignore an email than a phone call and email can easily end up in people’s junk mail folder. I defaulted to email first so people could have time to think about it. If they didn’t reply to me, I followed up with a phone call. Some of my prizes were approved two weeks after an email. But two of my prizes got an immediate yes after a phone call.

  1. Businesses I had absolutely no relationship with (cold leads)

I knew it was going to be a long shot for me to get a donation from businesses I had never bought products from. But if I don’t try, I won’t know.

Even though I didn’t have a direct connection with cold leads, I would still write custom emails to them. I wanted to first contact businesses with a social and environmental mandate, so I looked up, “vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver.” I wrote essentially the same email as you’ve read so far with he exception of the sentence, “I am looking for donated prizes from socially and environmentally responsible business such as yours.

Many of our friends love wine so I decided to just try and email wine shops in Port Coquitlam and Vancouver so I could easily pick them up. All of these shops were cold leads. I spent an hour researching and writing custom emails to wine shops. I wrote the following email:

Hi,

My name is Melissa and I am recently back in Vancouver after volunteering in Cambodia for 7 months. I am doing a fundraiser on September 20 at Darby’s Pub with a goal to raise $1,000 for the Landmine Relief Fund
 
I’m looking for 50/50 draw prizes like gift certificates or a quality wine such as those from [company name]. If you are able to contribute, I’d of course be happy to:
  • Feature your logo on our Supporters page to be distributed to all of our friends and networks
  • Mentioned on Twitter among our friends who have many followers
  • Promoted on our Facebook event page
Please let me know if you have any questions and my number is 604-941-2242.
 
Thanks!

To my surprise, one wine shop emailed me back the same day and donated a private wine tasting tour for four that was worth $100, our highest value prize. Another wine shop was kind enough to give $50 worth of gift certificates at their shop. One employee there said, “This way we can help out the community and get some publicity too.” Win-win.

One of my good friends who won the grand prize $100 private wine tasting tour asked me how I got the prize donated and I just said, “I asked.”

Once we got 6 prizes, I stopped contacting businesses because I thought we had enough prizes to give away for what I thought would be 15 people showing up to the event. But business contacts were replying to me right up until a few days before our pub fundraiser to donate a prize.

I also had a family member who was so kind to give away brand new housewares, candle set and an aromatherapy candle. And my friend from Cambodia donated organic palm oil, organic pepper from Cambodia and tea.

In the end, we had 14 prizes to give away, more than double what I was hoping for.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”-Wayne Gretzky.

Help from my friends

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I’ve been so touched and grateful for all of my friends who have helped me from their hearts and making time in their very busy schedules.

Most of my friends who helped me the most and donated are friends who weren’t in regular communication with me while I was way simple because life is busy. But everyone supported in their own way and everyone’s time and contribution made this fundraising effort a huge success. It’s funny when people come back into your life and support you when you need even after long periods of silence. Or with some people, you can just pick up where you left off.

I couldn’t believe about 40 people came out throughout the night and it was so busy that my friends naturally helped out to make the event run smoothly. One of my friends helped me thank sponsors to her thousands of Twitter followers and brought seven of her friends. She got her mom to donate $50 and another two of her friends to donate $20 each.

P9212989

Another friend brought some of her friends and wonderful colleagues. One of them said, “I don’t know what the cause is but I told her to just tell me what to donate and I’ll do it.” She ended up giving $30 and at the end of the night. After spending a few hours at the pub, she just handed me $10 extra. I said, “What’s this for?” And she just shrugged and said, “Just because.”

I was so lucky to meet a new friend named Nary, who is Cambodian, and she’s been living in Canada for the past eight months. She was invited by her friend to speak in Norway for a fundraiser she was doing for a children’s organization and she raised $1,000 in one night. She was so brave to speak with me in front of a group of people she had never met before that night to give more background on Aki Ra.

My friend’s friends were so nice to volunteer to handle the raffles and collecting money. They even walked around together and gathered almost $200 within 45 minutes of asking people around the pub who weren’t there for our event.

Everywhere I’ve gone in the world, one consistent observation I’ve noticed is people who have less give more. This has also been true of past fundraisers I have done. This past month, people who I know have a lot of expenses as a single income earner, grad school student who is not working or working hard for low salaries donated $15 to $80 and I will never forget that.

Exceeding our targets

Our first guests at the pub fundraiser.

People and businesses have been extremely generous and we were able to beat our goals. A week before the pub fundraiser on September 20, we were at $180 in donations. Three days before the event, we had $330. Judging by the number of guests who were coming, I thought we would probably raise about $400.

Was I ever wrong. We made $700 just from the pub fundraiser and by September 21, we had $1080, exceeding our goal ahead of schedule. Of course we are continuing our fundraising campaign to see how much we can raise by September 30, 2014.

Time investment

Here is the total amount of time it took to get to $1,000:

  • Securing a venue for the pub fundraiser: 10 minutes
  • Making the fundraising page: 1 hour
  • Calling and emailing businesses for draw prize donations: 3 hours
  • Collecting the prize donations: 4 hours (I didn’t always have a car and rollerbladed around East Vancouver and Kitsilano to collect prizes to save on transportation cost)
  • Making the Faceboko event page and inviting people: 20 minutes
  • Continuously promoting the event through social media and thanking sponsors: 1 hour
  • Event submission to Georgia Straight: 15 minutes
  • Darby’s pub fundraiser event: 5 hours
  • Reporting to donors and updating our communication pages: 15 minutes
  • Updating businesses on the fundraising success: 30 minutes

Total hours: 16 hours/2 business days

If I had more time, I would have written a press release to a few relevant news papers, but we were able to exceed our goals using social media and peer to peer recruiting.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”-Wayne Gretzky

 

Warm and cold cultures

This is our friend in Ko Chang island in Thailand who built his bamboo house on the beach. His name is pronounced “Cheyap” and in the few days my friend and I stayed with him for $1.75 US a night, he so generously made BBQ for anyone who passed by, hosted jam sessions, and welcomed people to come and hang out. He is so hospitable and open and when he told us how sad he gets when people constantly come and go, I almost shed a year.

I’m back in Vancouver, Canada for one more week before I start my new role as a Marketing Executive for a travel company in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

In the year and a half I’ve traveled in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Mauritius (Africa), I’ve experienced the most open people and the coldest people. It’s amazing how you can really feel the openness and warmness of different people no matter where in the world you are by their body language and energy.

The funny and generous woman in the middle is Potae, as she said, “Like potato but without the ‘toe.'” She manages V.R. Guesthouse in Chiang Mai. She manages the guesthouse completely on her own so imagine our surprise when she was busy with other clients, she closed her guesthouse at the risk of missing new guests just so she could drive us 15 minutes out of own to pick up our big backpacks instead of us using our motto. Talk about exceptional service!

In the time I spent in Asia, I learned that I connect much better with the local people than I do with many expats, people from other countries who are temporarily or permanently living in a different country than where they were brought up. I found the local people I met so much more welcoming, helpful and open than many expats I encountered. Don’t get me wrong, I have some very close expat friends in Siem Reap, but they probably make up 5% of the people I hang out regularly with in town.

I was surprised to learn that I actually feel a lot more comfortable sitting around a table with local people while they are speaking their own language that I don’t understand than with a group of cliquey expats who speak English. The energy of many local people is so welcoming that it’s easy to talk to anybody. Expats tend to be more selective about who they hang out with and it often feels like you have to say something to impress them or make yourself worth to be part of their group.

A good example of the contrast between warm and cold culture behaviours was when I went to a Cambodian birthday party and then a Canada Day party the day after in July 2013. I had only been in Cambodia for a few months and when one of my Cambodian friends invited me to her birthday, I brought a cake and was expecting to see maybe 20 people or so. Then when I arrived at her house, there were probably 50 people hanging around inside her house and on the front yard with food and beer. I would have been surprised if they even had time to cut my small cake at any point in the night.

John, the guy at the bottom with the dog, is a master scuba diver, amazing musician, in the navy, has been to Haiti on a U.N. mission and a couch surfing host for the past two years in Palawan, Philippines. He has had over 300 travelers stay at his beautiful bamboo house. My friend and I stayed for a few days and when we asked if we could stay two more nights, he simply texted us back and said, “Sure, stay as long as you want.”

She kindly brought me a plate of food and everyone, 98% Cambodian, was very open and easy to talk to. What I love about the people in the country is even if we don’t speak a common verbal language, they still make an effort to try and speak to people.

When you become friends with local people in Asia, even after knowing you for less than a day, they don’t go the extra mile for you, they will do everything in their ability to make sure you are happy or get what you need. In North American culture, we often feel like we are, “bothering people” or other people make us feel that way. I thought I was a good host but now I’ve learned how much more I can do to help people out or make them feel even more welcome.

The next day, I went a Canada Day “party” at a hotel and it was so North American in the sense that everyone was in their own separate groups and not really interacting with each other. I’m pretty sure there were more people at my friend’s birthday party at her house, which is a much smaller space than the hotel.

Case and point.

Warm-cultured travelers

I was very happy to meet Lalha (right) on couch surfing in Jogyjakarta, Indonesia. She kindly hosted a few of us couch surfers, gave us rides, and spent time with us every night during the few days we were in town. When she couldn’t meet me the first day, she sent her friend to be her representative to hang out with me and offer me a place to stay.

I’m making a distinction between expats and travelers by the way. I’ve made amazing connections with open travelers around Asia and when you move where the winds take you on these adventures, you find people who share your values and curiosity of the world.

When I was in Vancouver, I loved having people at our place every week in our tiny kitchen making food together, meeting new friends and enjoying each other’s company. I told people they didn’t have to arrange a meeting time with me, they could just call me if they were around my area to simply say hi, have tea, shower or if they needed a place to crash. When I hosted people, it didn’t feel like work at all but people kept telling me I was really good at bringing people together and creating community, which I never thought of as being a talent.

When I couch surfed in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, I found people who were exactly like me and were even more open with their homes to new people than I was. One couch surfing host in Palawan, Philippines where we stayed had 300 people stay at his place in the last two years alone! In Tacomepai farm and Mindful Farm, I met the most open group of travelers than any other group I interacted with during the year and a half. My friend and I were only staying for a few days, but people spoke with us immediately, shared travel stories, expressed their deep philosophies around the camp fire and making meals together in the mountains.

This is my friend’s Sopheak’s mom in Banteay Meanchey in north Cambodia. I stayed at their house for a few days and even when her mom was extremely busy preparing for a pagoda ceremony and cooking for her newborn grandson, I was so touched when my friend told me that her mom took hours to prepare my favourite fish amok when she found out I was coming. That is hospitality at a whole new level.

Warm and cold cultures in Vancouver

I am extremely fortunate to have grown up in multicultural cities since I was a baby. I was literally colour-blind by people’s ethnicities because people mixing was the norm. When I was in high school and only hung out with one ethnicity on the rare occasion, I felt something was missing and I asked, “Where’s everyone else?”

I have learned a lot about various cultural practices and history just from conversations with my friends and it was such a rich experience to continue to work with different cultures in my professional life as well. I’ve experienced the vibrancy, expressiveness and passion when I interacted with former colleagues from the Philippines, Mexico, Singapore, Ethiopia and other backgrounds. When I spend time with them, I feel much more openness than from many other people who have grown up in Canada.

People outside of Vancouver city, however, are generally friendlier and more open. I don’t know what it is about the city effect that makes people much more cold.

I met a wonderful married couple a few days ago who came from Iran and they have been living, studying and working in Vancouver for the last 10 years. I have only met them three times in the past few years, but I can tell immediately by their energy that they are extremely modest, hardworking and kind.

The husband told me how it is still challenging to connect with people in Canada, he said, “In Iran people speak respectfully with each other and say hi and bye in the morning. When I say hi and bye to my boss and the people I work with, they don’t even answer.” That made me very angry and this breed of people exemplifies the coldest cultures that exist in Vancouver, and it’s often created and sustained by some company cultures, particularly if you work in law or some accounting departments. Would it really be so detrimental to at least have some courtesy to greet your colleagues in the morning?

I was even more angry to learn that his wife, who is an extremely genuine and kind person, encountered repeated bullying at her work. Her husband told me, “She is such a sweet person and we are very warm people I don’t know why this happened.” I told them if the problem can’t be resolved, they have every right to look for another job and not all companies are like this. There are places with more open people and every place has its own culture.

I’ve cherished all of the people who have spent time with me, helped me and given me gifts from their hearts in Vancouver and around the world. We are all responsible for creating community wherever we are and I want to spread the characteristics of warm and open cultures that I’ve been fortunate to experience wherever I go.

 

Meet Lia, our lovely Couch Surfing host in Palawan

Lia showed us this beautiful painting she did while she was in high school during our city tour.

My friend and I had an unforgettable time in the popular island Palawan, Philippines, largely thanks to our wonderful couch surfing (CS) host Lia. This young woman is nothing short of incredible and gave a lot of her time to show travelers around her home island.

We spent six days couch surfing in Palawan and we were fortunate to see her almost every day. I admire Lia for pushing herself beyond her comfort zone to meet people from different cultures, which, as she explained, made her quite nervous at first.

Among her many other talents, Lia has her own business called Clia Fix and Wear Variety Shoppe, selling custom made products. She has also spent a lot of her time volunteering for environmental conservation projects and also founded the organization Aklat Para Sa Kabataan, which means books for youth in English. At the organization, her team taught children in remote and coastal areas on topics that included health and environment.

Oh yes, and she is also a university graduate who studied petroleum engineering.

I chatted with Lia about her experience as a couch surfing host.

We ran into the Shrek family during Lia’s now famous city tour around Puerto Princesa.

Why did you want to be a CS host?

Four years ago, my friend was a couch surfing host for locals and international travelers and he often invited me to dinners with his couch surfing friends. I found it interesting when they shared their stories, culture and different traveling experiences. But because I didn’t like speaking in English, I just usually stared and listened to their conversation. Despite of my interest, I didn’t continue to be involved couch surfing.

But after a year, I decided to make an account after my amazing trip in Cebu and Bohol (island provinces in the PHilippines). We met some local couch surfers and it was really fun, especially since I didn’t have to worry about my grammar or having to think about English words. The Cebu locals showed us around and ate with us. But even though I had a great time with them, I still didn’t want to be a CS host.

Then last December, my friend who introduced me to CS spoke about his job interview in one of the prominent companies in the oil and gas industry. I asked him how was his job interview went and he said his interview was not stressful. He said being a couch surfing host really helped him a lot and he became more comfortable speaking to foreign people.

At that moment I realized that I had to try to be a host to improve my English and to gain confidence in speaking with other people from other countries. I also love learning about world history and other people’s social life and culture.

This past year, my mission in couch surfing was to answer everyone’s questions about Puerto Princesa (city in Palawan island) and show them the beauty of my place and the people.

Our entire couch surfing family spending an incredible day together at Nagtabon beach, the nicest beach in Palawan.

Have you had any challenges while being a couch surfing host?

Every traveller I’ve met has their own unique story and left me with a unique experience. I guess the challenging experience I had was meeting people who forgot the real meaning or essence of couch surfing and used couch surfing as a dating site.

But of all the people I’ve met, there has only one really challenging couch surfer I hosted and it was my first time hosting. I thought I should not give up and believed not all couch surfers are like the challenging person.

It got easier because I’m much more open and much more confident to talk to people. I realized because there is no difference between Filipino people and people from other countries. Sometimes I felt nervous because I thought some people would feel superior since we are from the developing world.

I believe you should respect others and they will respect you.

Our couch surfing posse ended another fantastic day by watching the Venga Boys ladyboy show in town. Not a bad show for the price of a drink.

You’ve hosted six couch surfers for full days this past week. Where do you get all of your energy from?

I guess my past work helps me as I used to work in research where I had to gather data and talk to people late at night for a week straight. When I was 17 I worked in Dunken Donuts and sometimes had double shifts from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.

My colleagues asked me, “You are so energetic, how can you still smile? How can you still walk?” I just answered “I just make myself happy and enjoy what I’m doing.”

What inspired your business?

Maybe it’s in my blood because my family has been running a small business since I was young. We selI daily commodities like vinegar, soy sauce, oil and sugar in small stores in town. I usually do the delivery and customer orders.

When I was in college my brother gave me some money to finance my first business. I choose a lending business but stopped it after two years when I realized that this kind of business is not for me.

Then I started my online and garments business when someone asked for a customized shirts supplier. I tried to be the middle person during that time and organized the orders and it was successful. So I continued to cater a variety of costumized products such as IDs, button, pins, bracelets, lanyards, organizationl shirts, and uniforms and this because my full-time business.

What is your goal for 2014?

I was planning to build an eco travel lodge for travelers in my lot. I want to showcase the real life and culture of indigenous people in Palawan. I want travelers to experience a memorable vacation with the locals at the same time. It will be one of the greatest fulfillment of my life.

We enjoyed the beautiful sunset at Nagtabon beach.

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The 1.5-year journey has been extended

Mauritius is changing at a faster pace with new malls (not my preference) and this newly built highway.

As of today I’m changing the name of my blog to “Live and love life from “1.5 years exploring Asia and the return to Delicious Mauritius.” I have officially completed my 1.5 years of volunteering and exploring Southeast Asia and visiting family in Mauritius, a small island-country oh the southeast coast of Africa where I was born.

But my journey is nowhere near over.

While I was in Mauritius I had my little freak out and I wasn’t ready to go back to Vancouver yet. I almost said, “Go back home” but now I feel like I have another home and that’s in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Many travelers I’ve met found new homes in other countries and have also had a hard time returning to their home countries.

I met a friend randomly at a community event and she took me to her hometown in Banteay Meanchey, 2 hours away from Siem Reap, to meet her family for a few days.

While my parents are still healthy, I told myself in Mauritius, “I’ll apply for a few jobs that look really interesting in Cambodia. If I don’t get any of the jobs, it’s not meant to be and I’ll get work in Vancouver.” I thought my chances would be relatively low because even if I got an offer, I’d have to wait almost two months to start because I was going to Vancouver to see my family and friends.

After two hours and applying to three positions, I got a reply from one of the jobs the next day to arrange a Skype interview. After a good conversation, I ended up getting a position as a marketing executive for a travel company.

I’m very happy to be going back to Siem Reap for a little bit longer and where life goes from there is uncertain but that’s ok and being open is half of the fun. A few of my good friends now are applying for positions outside of Vancouver because the world has many more possible paths than the place we grew up.

Follow your heart and discover your passions.

 

Features of the most well-designed bathrooms

This post focuses on the most well-designed bathrooms, not necessarily the aesthetic of a bathroom. Sure they make look pretty for guests, but after doing my business in almost every kind of bathroom you can think of the past year from squatters to hotel bathrooms, I appreciate the features of accommodating potties.

So far Taiwan and Singapore have the cleanest and most functional bathrooms of all the places I’ve been in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa. These are the features of the most well-designed bathrooms that some of you may take for granted:

This is the only public bathroom I have ever seen that gave real-time updates on which stalls were available before you even walk in. This bathroom was at the train station in Taiwan.

Put amusing figures in the bathroom to bring a smile to your potty users like they do here in a club bathroom in Luang Prabang, Laos.

A garbage bin to put your personal trash.

These high-speed hand dryers are fantastic and help the environment by reducing the number of waste we produce.

People who clean bathrooms regularly are doing a great service for the public.

Every bathroom stall in Taiwan had this help button in case seniors or other people fell or needed some kind of assistance.

Other features of well-designed bathrooms

  • Music playing to mask unappealing potty noises, which is a feature of some bathrooms in Japan and I think is a feature that should be implemented in all public washrooms including workplaces.
  • Having a stall big enough and a place to put your luggage if you are traveling.
  • Hooks on the door to hang your bag. It’s amazing how there are no hooks to put your bag in many stalls.