Motorbike Crash in Cambodia – Part 2, the island recovery

Read part one here:

To recap: I was in Cambodia. I couldn’t walk. And the damage was seeming pretty serious. I was also alone, except for a guy who was, for now, hanging around to help me out. In my dorm room was a woman who got me stoned and flashed me, two tattooed Icelandic boys who didn’t talk, and a blur of various others who looked at me in horror as a warning tale.

I was due to arrive on Koh Rong Samloem, an island off the coast of Cambodia that I didn’t know much about. I delayed my trip there by a couple of days, until I could at least hop if I was holding onto someone’s arm. My friend decided to come with me, to keep me company, carry my bag, and be said arm. Also who can resist an island with nothing on it except a hostel? No internet, no wifi, no civilisation…

Have you spotted the catch yet? I was very injured with deep wounds. This might not have been my smartest idea.

Before we left, we went to the hospital to get my bandages changed. With us we took the newest member of our dorm-room of misfits, the man we dubbed Desperate Dan, who had been having a bit of a rough time. On this particular occasion he’d come to get his stomach checked out, which had started causing huge problems. A week ago he’d had a heart attack, after his drink had been spiked with meth, ket and MDMA by the Cambodian woman he’d had a week long romance with. He was also onto his third phone, after being scammed, losing, and breaking his previous ones. The tales were endless.

Once at the hospital he disappeared off and I was left in the waiting room in my wheelchair. A man on the other side with a tiny tiny baby noticed me staring, and beckoned me over. My friend wheeled me across and the man handed me his baby, who must have been barely a week old. I awkwardly held it as it snuffled to itself. I couldn’t quite believe how trusting this man was, that he would hand his baby to a stranger.

As I got my bandages changed, I thought it was probably wise to check that I was okay to disappear off to a tropical island. “Is there a hospital there?” I asked.

Beautiful Koh Rong, taken by Rene.

“There’s definitely a hospital on Koh Rong,” the baby-faced doctor confidently replied. Koh Rong was the next island across, and so I was reassured. Meanwhile, my friend was off getting his rabies shot. A dog had, unprovoked, nipped him on the ankle when he was at Angkor Wat, and now he was suffering a huge amount of expense and tedium trying to find rabies vaccinations everywhere he went so that he could complete his five week post-bite course. When done, we waited for Desperate Dan, who was in a mood. They had found a stomach parasite.

We reached the island without too much mishap, although swinging on and off a boat with only one leg was interesting. With impeccable timing, my friend decided to pass the hour on the boat by showing me the pictures he’d taken with my camera of when he went back up the mountain to see the parts we didn’t reach. This included a picture of my blood on the road… still there two days later. I went silent for a while.

Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. This was after two days!!!

By this time I was on some intense pain medication, and everything was dreamlike and surreal. One long boat ride, followed by a shorter one to transfer to Samloem, and we’d made it onto the island. In typical twist of fate style, the cabin we were given was the one furthest away from the main area where the food and the people were.

I spent my days by beating everyone else at scrabble (and being very modest about it). My concentration was too poor for most other things, but apparently my word skills were still working. After a couple of days the blood had soaked through the bandages and gone crusty, causing me a lot of pain. It was definitely time to get them changed, and so we started trying to make arrangements.

“Is there a hospital or clinic here?” we asked. We were told no.

“Can we go to Koh Rong? Is there one there?” They looked at us, and me, and shook their heads.

“I have to get to the hospital though,” I said, indicating my extremely dirty bandages.

He made a phone call, and told me that a boat would be leaving early in the morning and we could get to Koh Rong on that – the same boat we had come on, just going in the other direction. How we could get back remained a mystery. Likewise, whether there was a hospital also remained a mystery. They seemed to think there possibly, probably, maybe was one.

The next morning we set off bright and early, ready to go. The hostel boat took us round to the pier on the other side of the island and left us there for a while, where we were scammed into buying tickets from some guy in the restaurant who didn’t seem to be sympathetic to me needing to get medical help. When the boat arrived, the German woman covered in tattoos who was also crewing the way over looked me up and down with a ‘you again’ expression. She offered me a hand and I swung myself on.

Once we arrived on Koh Rong my friend headed off to find how we should get back. It was already 10am, and we were told that the last boat for Samloem was leaving at 12. This was much sooner than we had expected, as we knew the boat going back from the pier to the hostel wasn’t until 3. Unperturbed we made our way onto the island to find out about a hospital. While I waited, my friend went to ask and came back with the news: “he said there’s no hospital here, people always say there’s a hospital here, but there isn’t and I don’t know why they keep saying that. If we go to the bar down there, then there’s a barman called Dennis who’s a doctor.”

Pharmacy fun

Dennis was a shirtless and tanned English guy who took one look at my bandages and roughly told me to go up the road to the pharmacy, where they would charge me much less and do just as good a job. To get into the pharmacy we had to step over multiple small children who were rolling around in the doorway, where a blonde girl introduced herself and told me the pharmacist was in a meeting and we would have to wait. “As long as we catch our boat,” I said. “And why are there so many children here?”

“Oh, it’s also the daycare and English centre,” she said, watching as children wandered around the floor, inches away from prescription medicine.

The pharmacist, when she arrived, was an Australian girl in her mid-twenties who ushered me into the back room and onto a grubby bench. The wooden walls smelled of damp, and old English textbooks lay spread open in the dust on the floor. The metal plate with the medical tools on it was anything but clean, I think there was even a dead spider sitting next to a scalpel.

“So were you a doctor back in Australia?” I asked, as she peeled off my bandages.

“Oh no, I came to Cambodia a few years ago and fell in love with it. Two years ago I came back and started volunteering here, and at one point I did a first aid weekend. But after two years of dealing with motorbike accidents, you get all the experience you need.” I wasn’t overly reassured, and I was very thankful that nothing more serious had happened to my wound since I had arrived on the island.

The super sanitary room

As I grit my teeth and tried not to scream as the iodine was dripped onto the open wound, a cat wandered by on the wall above me.

The boat was, in fact, not a direct boat but rather a scuba diving boat for Chinese tourists. As we lounged around in our shorts and t-shirts, they tightened their life-jackets and clung to every piece of boat they could reach. Young Chinese women took turns holding each others hair back as seasickness got the better of them. When the boat stopped in the middle of the sea, we retreated to the upper deck for some sunbathing while the tourists leapt off the side of the boat and bobbed around, still in their life jackets, hunting for fish.

Relaxing on the top deck

Hours later, and a a little sunburned, we were deposited on the pier where eventually the hostel boat picked us up. The newbies who were arriving looked panicked at the sight of me, exhausted and bandaged. The hostel staff welcomed me back and asked if I’d managed to get my bandages changed, and I just looked at them.

“Next time someone asks if there’s a clinic on Koh Rong, please, please, tell them no.”

A Chinese tourist in a life jacket, bobbing along.

To be continued… as I find myself alone in Siem Reap, and with a website that’s been revenge hacked.

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Vegan FAQs – How, What, Why? – Plant-Powered Nomad

Veganism. What’s it all about? I often get a lot of questions about what, how, where, and why. Here is an easy to follow guide about how to incorporate a little more plant-based meals and compassionate living into your every day life. Here’s an abridged selection of my favourite tips, films, books, and apps – to be added to.

FAQs:

Why vegan for the animals and the planet?

But I need meat to be healthy! What will it do to my body? 

But I travel a lot, I can’t find vegan food on the road.

How do I find vegan food?

But how do I go vegan?

Learning to cook vegan, and some recipe blogs.

But what do you eat? Substitutions (that actually taste good).

Easy guide to going vegan

Vegan chocolate banana waffles in Bangkok

Why vegan for the animals and the planet?

Here’s a handy list of my favourite films, YouTubers and websites to use to inform yourself about all of this animal welfare and sustainablilty jazz. In no particular order, here they are.

Cowspiracy – This is an amazing film that has become popular amongst vegans alike. It’s also an excellent film purely in its own right as a documentary.

The Best Speech You’ll Ever Hear – Gary Yourofsky is somewhat controversial figure, but his speech is easily accessible on YouTube and, love him or hate him, he makes some good points. I’ve even borrowed some of his arguments when I’m in a bar and a drunk stranger decides the vegan is an easy target to pick for a debate.

“Find a 2 year old child, place the child in a crib, in the crib put 2 things, a live bunny rabbit and an apple. If the child eats the bunny rabbit and plays with the apple, send me an email, would you let me know, because I’m gonna come back and buy everyone in this room a brand new car if that happens.”

Earthlings – Voiced by the sultry toned Joaquin Phoenix, Earthlings is if you need a little extra convincing. I’ve never had the stomach or emotional strength to watch it myself so I’m keeping it as a contingency plan. In the unlikely event I find myself wavering on my ethics, I’ll watch it.

The Bitesize Vegan – Got questions that you want answering well and in under 10 minutes? The Bitesize Vegan has hundreds of well researched and easy to grasp videos where you can find most of the confusions that float into your mind, explained. Like “why don’t vegans eat honey?” and “Is alcohol vegan?”

Food Inc. – Not a film directly about veganism, Food Inc. is an interesting exploration of how far we’ve strayed from how we used to feed ourselves, to where our food comes from now.

Why vegan for the animals

But I need meat to be healthy! What will it do to my body? 

When I became vegan, my energy improved, my muscle mass improved, and I started hitting the free weight section of the gym. I became the only girl in my small gym who squatted and deadlifted, and I loved it. I dropped 40 lbs, my skin cleared up (although then I wrecked that with birth control, that’s another story) and people started commenting on how unrecognisable I was. I came out of depression, and found a new joy for life that I’d never had before. My change was dramatic (I ate a lot of animal products and was extremely unhealthy, physically and mentally, and had a long history of chronic illness) but I haven’t heard of many people saying they don’t have some change for the better.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Vegan bodybuilding is a thing. Follow this link to see some amazingly ripped bodies that clean up the trophies at all the natural bodybuilding shows. Mr Universe 2014 is vegan, as are some of the top athletes in triathlons, MMA, cycling… the list in endless.

A plant-based diet is a zero cholesterol diet, and will help a huge list of ailments, including serious issues like cancer, diabetes and heart problems. Despite what the industry is telling you, you don’t need meat for protein, our bodies aren’t meant to digest meat, and calcium doesn’t come from milk – actually, dairy causes osteoporosis, reducing our bone density. Of course, unhealthy vegans do exist – if you just live on carbohydrates and eat a hell of a lot of chips (fries to you Americans) then of course you’re going to be unhealthy. Same as if you just replace everything with mock meats and soy products. But in general, eating a plant-based diet will help you make healthier food choices and increase your daily fruit and veg consumption.

Forks Over Knives – Based on The China Study, Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.

A Beautiful Truth – A Beautiful Truth follows a 15 year old boy as he researches the Gerson Therapy, and the Cancer Industry.

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead – Maybe a 60 day juice fast seems a little extreme, but Joe Cross’s journey is an inspiring one.

And some websites to look at and books to read:

Nutritionfacts.org – A useful source of infomation and videos, nutritionfacts.org is a huge resource created by Michel Gregor, a physician and New York Times bestselling author who turned to a Plant-based diet himself and now dedicates his time to researching nutrition and the consequences of animal products in the SAD (standard American diet).

www.veganbodybuilding.com – self-explanatory, there’s a Facebook group by the same name for some extra inspiration.

My health changed when I went vegan

Fitter, healthier, happier.

But I travel a lot, I can’t find vegan food on the road.

Granted if you’re on my site you’re already aware that I’m a vegan travel blogger, and therefore am living proof that you can be vegan, healthy and well-fed while travelling. But if I’m not enough, here are some more of my ilk that I personally read regularly:

Angloitalian, Follow Us! – A slow vegan travel blog.

Mindful Wanderlust – Adventurous Kind Compassionate Vegan Travel.

Vegan Food Quest – Finding, Eating and Writing about the Best Vegan Food in the World.

Indefinite Adventure – Guides, stories and more from a gay, vegan, digital nomad couple.

Veggie Visa – Recipes and vegan food city guides from across the world.

The Nomadic Vegan – Polyglot, vegan, slow traveller.

Charlie on Travel – Slow, sustainable travel.

Mostly Amelie – Solo female vegan traveller on a bicycle.

Burger Abroad  – Minimalist vegan travel.

And you can find a more complete list here at Chronicles of a Travel Addict, another Vegan travel blog.

How do I find vegan food?

The first thing I do in any new country is get a local sim with data. This means that I can use the Happy Cow app on my phone to always find vegan food. I don’t really know how I survived without it. I also use the website a lot, and just googling ‘Is… vegan?’ often works pretty well, too.

Vegan restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City

A vegan feast found in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

But how do I go vegan?

Most people phase in. I was an odd one in that I changed to a plant-based diet overnight, but it took much longer for my wardrobe, cleaning products and toiletries/cosmetics to catch up. It’s been a steep learning curve for me. If you want to go gradually, try Meat-free Mondays – just making the conscious effort that one day a week will help you build up knowledge and recipes without it dominating your life. If and when you’re ready, move to weekdays, then just being vegan at home and eating meat/vegetarian when out, then take the final leap. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you screw up or make a mistake, that’s normal and okay. What helped me was liking all the animal rights/veganism/plant-based recipe pages on Facebook that I could find, so that every morning when I logged onto Facebook it was the first thing I saw. Be prepared to eat much more in the early days, and don’t leave yourself hungry. I got pretty horrible stomach pain as my stomach learned to deal with the extra fibre and the drastic change in diet, then things normalised and became more comfortable than they’d ever been. Stick with it, give it time, and reach out for support when needed.

Learning to cook vegan, and some recipe blogs.

Learning to cook vegan for myself involved learning a whole new set of skills. I am now pretty awesome (even if I say so myself) at cooking off-book, but that definitely wasn’t the case for the first few years. Don’t  rely on ‘vegan’ foods like mock meats, fancy health foods, and dairy alternatives like vegan cheese and fancy ice creams. It’s a really quick way to burn through a lot of money, and probably won’t be that healthy. Bulk buying beans and lentils from local shops will save a lot of money in the long run, and investigate if anywhere near you supplies an organic seasonal veg box, which are usually cheap and get you being creative.

Here are some of my favourite go-to blogs for recipes:

Post Punk Kitchen – Tasty vegan comfort food that will satisfy any taste buds.

Vegan Richa – Simple and delicious India-inspired recipes that are often soy-free, gluten-free and low oil.

Cooking on a Bootstrap – Made famous by their super-budget yet delicious recipes on the blog A Girl Called Jack, I was very excited when Jack Monroe announced they’ve gone vegan and will now be transitioning their blog and recipe books towards only having vegan recipes. If you’re broke and want inspiration, this is the place to go.

Minimalist Baker – Not just baking, I’ve had many successes with Dana’s recipes which all require only 10 ingredients or less, and under 30 minutes to prepare.

Oh She Glows – Delicious, nutritious healthy plant-based food.

how to cook vegan food

Get creative with a vegetable box.

But what do you eat? Substitutions (that actually taste good).

Milk – I personally like soy or almond as a day-to-day milk substitute, but you can also get hazelnut, hemp, quinoa, coconut, rice, cashew, and oat milk. So if you don’t like soy, you’ll find something you like.

Yoghurt – I love coconut yoghurt, but it’s expensive. Soy yoghurt is more widely available, and it’s possible to make your own although I’ve never tried this.

Ice Cream – There are so many amazing store bought vegan ice creams, and even Ben and Jerrys now have vegan options. If you want a healthier option, though, then freeze some bananas and blend them with whatever you like – cocoa, raspberries, strawberries, the possibilities are endless.

Butter – There are a lot of vegan butters widely available in supermarkets in most Western countries, and failing that coconut oil works well too.

Eggs – I love love love scrambled tofu if I feel like a big Sunday morning breakfast. It’s very easy and quick to make. For baking, if you find a vegan recipe it will usually ask for flax, apple or egg replacer (which is basically instant mashed potato). This guide has more information on egg replacers.

Cheese – My favourite vegan cheese is Violife, which is now pretty widely available in health food shops and is made from coconut (although you can’t tell that from the taste). For a cheesy flavour in your cooking, though, you’ll want to keep a tub of nutritional yeast on hand.

Meat – Don’t like tofu? No problem. You’ll discover the joys of seitan, tempeh, and mock meats as an occasional treat. You’ll experience grains you never knew existed, like bulgar wheat and amaranth. You may even learn how to make pulled pork out of a fruit.

Vegan pizza delivery London

Vegan pizza with ‘cheese’ and ‘meat’ – no animals, no problem.

…………………………….

I’ll keep updating this over time, but if there’s anything I’ve missed, let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to answer as soon as possible.

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Vegan FAQs, how what why

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The New Year resolution revolution.

Today a woman stopped me in the street on my way out of the metro, as I was trying to cross the road to get to my apartment, and food. “Do you know how to be happy?” she asked, smiling unnaturally and handing me a flier. I’ve been homesick all week thanks to working Christmas, I haven’t had a day off other than Sundays in several months, and I’m going through an ‘I hate my job, I’d rather be anywhere else but here’ phase. It will pass, but strangely enough when my blood sugar is on a downward spiral and there’s a strange woman keeping me from my food… that’s not something I remember.

I think I may have muttered ‘no,’ rather offishly, and looked pointedly at the lights willing them to change.

She handed me a leaflet: ‘Keys to a Happy Life.’ As I walked up the stairs I realised she was a Jehovah’s Witness. They’ve made it to Asia now? Where do I have to move to escape them?

Which, of course, has me thinking about happiness. My personal happiness project has slipped a little this month, thanks to aforementioned burn out and lack of festive spirits. I’ve been mainly focusing on getting out bed in the morning, and on not crying at work when a kid makes my life difficult on Christmas day, and I look on Facebook to see friends and family having Christmas as it should be. Whatever, it’s been hard, but it’s not like I ever thought it would be easy.

Onwards and upwards, and here comes 2015. There are many arguments for why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. The easiest comparison to make about them is that they’re like diets. They’re a short-term fix rather than a lifestyle change, and people quickly slip and pile back on the pounds, or the broken resolutions. Here’s a link that will send you to a study on New Year’s Resolutions, with the statistics that 60% of them fail, mainly after the first week. A plethora of articles across the internet advise making small changes that are attainable. This seems logical enough. But I’m going to go back to the Happiness Project here for inspiration, or what I termed my ‘Buddhism Project‘.

Sure, setting a small goal may be easier to keep, but it’s also easier to discard. I like the idea of stepped changes. Like Gretchen Rubin adds a new set of changes every month, I like to have an end goal that is fairly considerable, but broken down into manageable steps. Losing a total of 40 pounds can be broken down into 3-5pounds a month, for instance, which is achievable and also allows room for failure on one or two of the months.

Another article, published only about 15 hours earlier than this blog post, says that New Year’s resolutions are procrastinating something you should be starting today. Sure, if it’s losing weight or quitting smoking maybe. I personally like the idea of a concrete date to make a change, though, and here’s where the revolution aspect of resolutions comes in: using the last few days of the old year to properly take time to reflect on your life is valuable time to think over what realistically needs changing, and how to do it. I like the word revolution for its double meaning: typically we think of revolutions as an uprising against a political power, but the word originally come from the Latin ‘revolutio,’ meaning turn around. A new year is a fresh start, a revolution, or a turn around. A reason to look at what hasn’t been working, and what has been working but could work better. I like to think of it as a chance to refocus: to look at where I’ve gone off track this year, and to work on pulling things back in.

For me, this year has been somewhat stale. This may seem odd as I’ve graduated and moved to Asia in 2014, but in terms of having a direction in life I’ve actually backtracked. This was mainly due to a messy break up and my somewhat rash decision to flee the country when, excuse the phrase, I was so confused about what was happening in my life that I couldn’t tell my arse from my elbow. Suddenly I was in Taiwan going ‘how did I get here? What?’ Strangely enough, this is a common story here. In many ways this year has been a huge turning point in my life, but most of it has been spent trying to figure things out, remembering how to be alone, getting good at being alone again, losing the ability, regaining it, and dealing with a full time job involving lots of very very small humans who don’t speak my language.

In conclusion, I’m currently working on my list of New Year’s resolutions. Nowhere does losing weight feature, or quitting smoking. I don’t smoke so that’s a no-brainer, but you get the principle. My main challenge is to be more productive with my time, so that I can manage to fit a life of my own in around my job. I’m starting with getting up earlier. Not much earlier, just an hour or so. Then I’ll try and be productive in that hour. Then I’m going to get up a little earlier still until I can fit in a decent amount of exercise, or a blog post, or some Chinese. I’ve been working on phasing out TV series’ (on my laptop, I haven’t watched an actual TV in a long time) for a while. It’s going pretty well, but then it’s an ongoing process, not sudden cold Turkey.

While there’s no reason not to do this throughout the year, I personally like the concrete milestone provided by the New Year, and the inevitable reflection on the past year that we all find ourselves doing. I don’t believe New Year’s resolutions are worthless, or procrastination. They’re a way of starting as you mean to go on, of staging a revolution against what isn’t working, and of turning around and refocusing the things that are but could do better.

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The Buddhism Project

Because I’m making it one of my Taiwan goals not to acquire possessions, I only allow myself to buy one book a month, and only then if I’ve finished my previous books. The suitcases of unread books I had to rehome before I left Glasgow were heartbreaking, and also a huge loss of money.

My book this month was ‘The Happiness Project’, by Gretchen Rubin. Although she and I live very different lives (she an established writer with two children living well in New York, I a semi-nomadic, single twenty-something teacher in East Asia) I’m getting a lot out of the book – a lot more than I expected. She tackles a different aspect of her happiness each month: children, marriage, friends, time, and learns what is and isn’t manageable. For instance, she has to come to terms with the things that aren’t ‘Gretchen’: things she wants to enjoy, feels she should enjoy, but in reality just doesn’t. This realisation closes a lot of doors, as admitting that you’re never going to be a lawyer, or an ambassador, or fluent in French, is sealing off possibilities.

It’s been making me think a lot about how I’m guilty of velleities. Things which I dream I’m capable off, and that I say I’m going to do, but which I just don’t because there aren’t that many hours in a day, and it’s not a priority. I always mean to read up more on political affairs in the Middle East, but I’d rather read an article on health, or on women’s rights. Although the Middle East does interest me, it’s not the broad political picture but rather the lives of the people living there that I want to spend time looking into. I do have time for another 3 private students a week, but I don’t want to be someone who only works, and I wouldn’t have time for yoga. It would be great to get up and do Beachbody Insanity on my rooftop every morning before work but I have to get up early enough for me as it is, and I’d rather have the extra time in bed – so I should stop setting my alarm for an unrealistic hour and then snoozing it 15 times.

More than anything it made me aware of how often I vocalise my negative thoughts, and then how they become more than thoughts, but how they start to become part of how I live my day. My job is repetitive and time consuming. I have sung the same song every single week day morning for the past 4 months, and I have another 5 months of it to go, along with various others that I have on a small rotation. I know the exact formula of the lesson I will teach with my bushiban classes each day. On the whole, the classes run like slightly dysfunctional clockwork (dysfunctional because there are kids involved, but clockwork nonetheless) and it didn’t take me very long to work out a routine that would allow me to prep for the minimum amount of time, while still teaching a class that would keep the kids interested and engaged. It is certainly not the most stimulating of jobs, although it is made a lot more bearable by having kids whom I like almost without exception.

Like Gretchen Rubin, I have decided to embark upon my project but with more specific goals. I’m trying to be more conscious of my negativity, and I’m going to try to set myself little challenges to make my days more fulfilling. The areas that I’m going to start with are: friendships, relationships, work life, free time. It will be a work in progress. I’m calling it the Buddhism project because one of the biggest things that’s made a change to my happiness in the past month is starting to meditate, and that’s a practice I’m going to try to maintain. Onwards and upwards.

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