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    [post_date] => 2012-06-06 00:00:00
    [post_date_gmt] => 2012-06-06 00:00:00
    [post_content] => Did the past three months really happen? Is it true that a group of sixteen discovered the highs and lows of a river (turbulent past and all), that we became physically accustomed to its rhythms? That the characters we met on the way have desires, loves, woes, tribulations and dreams that are as tangible and as meaningful as our own? Such doubts cloud my mind as I prepare to settle into a new chapter of my life. For the first three weeks after arriving home, I did not give much thought to the trip other than browsing through others pictures or keeping in touch by brief correspondences. I still have no idea if I did this intentionally or if it existed at a more sub-conscious level as a sort of protection from having to take in all of it’s significance in at once.

Perhaps what precipitated this internal dialogue of doubt and confusion stems from the realization that geography and circumstance may decide after all whether or not I will ever see everyone again. Although we promised each other to stay in touch and to meet when possible, I know firsthand how quickly life can move forward and how sometimes the direction it leads us only brings clarity after reflection years down the road. As much as I am saddened by this prospect, I know that the bonds we created will remain rooted no matter how much or how little contact is remained.

This yak then, represents an affirmation of what did happen: we laughed openly, took care of one another, had minor scuffles, danced to Cambodian beats, sipped coconuts on crowded streets, spoke openly about our bowel movements every morn, climbed up and around mountains, ate rice, ate sticky rice, played with children, ate snickers fervently, spent countless hours on buses, yoked together and swam whenever possible for the simple declaration of being alive.

The people were beautiful, generous and warm. The countries were interesting, stimulating and uniquely their own. From Kampot to Lower Yu Ben, the rivers, lakes, ponds, fields, forests, cities and villages took us in.

This is an affirmation of what was, what is and what will continue to unfold.

“To have a whole life, one must have the possibility of publicly shaping and expressing private worlds, dreams, thoughts and desires, of constantly having access to a dialogue between the public and private worlds. How else do we know that we have existed, felt, desires, hated, feared? We speak of facts, yet facts exist only partially to us if they are not repeated and re-created through emotions, thoughts and feelings.” (339)

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Best Notes From The Field, Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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A bient’t, j’espare.

Natasha Klein-Panneton,Best Notes From The Field, Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

Description

Did the past three months really happen? Is it true that a group of sixteen discovered the highs and lows of a river (turbulent past and all), that we became physically accustomed to its rhythms? That the characters we met on the way have desires, loves, woes, tribulations and dreams that are as tangible and […]

Posted On

06/6/12

Author

Natasha Klein-Panneton

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In the quiet Yunnan village of Shaxi, I recall my three month journey along the Mekong River: the landscapes, families, and moments that have forever changed me. A central part of my experience was my Independent Study Project. This semester I pursued an ISP concerning public perceptions of climate change in Southeast Asia. I had the opportunity to talk to fishermen, NGO leaders, government officials, and village chiefs about their impressions of global warming.

I learned some amazing things from these people, but as I began to think more and more about returning home, I followed a final line of research and learned some shocking information. It turns out that air travel is the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive form of mass transportation. Because of the height of the vehicle in the atmosphere and the sheer distance covered, flying in planes increases a person's carbon footprint far more than any other mode of travel.

When I fly from Los Angeles to Phnom Penh (via Hong Kong), and then from Kunming back to Los Angeles (once again via Hong Kong), I will have traveled a total of 16,196 miles and will be responsible for the release of 4.02 metric tonnes (8,862 pounds) of CO2high in the atmosphere.

As a point of comparison, getting to Southeast Asia and back to the West Coast is basically equivalent to one full year's worth of one American's share of household emissions. Just the hours I will spend on planes this semester leaves the same mark on the planet as a full 12 months of living at home!

I decided to include, as part of my ISP, researching a way to offset the carbon footprint for my seat on the flight, and to help others do the same. I found it was very easy and relatively inexpensive! Carbon offsetting means, usually, giving money to an organization that works to create carbon savings elsewhere in the world. These compensations can come in the form of reforestation projects, replacement of inefficient cookstoves in the developing world, and clean energy initiatives. I was happy to find out that in order to compensate for the emissions I produced, it would only cost $50. That includes all of the flying required for the Mekong semester.

To do it, I went to ClimateCare.org, one of many accredited organizations that provide opportunities for carbon offsetting. It operates primarily in emerging countries, and they say the following on their website:"The carbon offset money you pay will be used to fund monitored projects that reduce your net emissions to zero, undergo validation and verification processes, help the developing world on a path to low carbon sustainability, and often have wider social and economic benefits in local communities."

This semester, we examined the environmental effects that humans face in this part of the world. I -- and I know that this applies to many of my fellow students as well -- have been inspired by this course to lead a more sustainable life of balance, moderation, and intelligent consumption. Unfortunately, Southeast Asia -- these cities, villages, and ecosystems, all of the hilarious, kind, intelligent people who we have met an shared our lives with on this journey -- is a region that will be affected early and severely by climate change. In these low-lying communities that rely on traditional agriculture and the fish of the Mekong River for survival, rising sea levels, inconsistent rainy seasons, harsher storm events, increasing temperatures, extreme flooding, decreasing fisheries, and loss of aquatic biodiversity may all create massive challenges.

I'm excited that I can minimize my environmental impact in this way, especially in the context of this extraordinary course. I still don't have all the answers about this, but this information only inspires me to explore, investigate, and work even harder to find more ways to balance my travel.
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Best Notes From The Field, Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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Covering our Tracks

Jacob Osborne,Best Notes From The Field, Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

Description

In the quiet Yunnan village of Shaxi, I recall my three month journey along the Mekong River: the landscapes, families, and moments that have forever changed me. A central part of my experience was my Independent Study Project. This semester I pursued an ISP concerning public perceptions of climate change in Southeast Asia. I had […]

Posted On

05/14/12

Author

Jacob Osborne

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It hasn't been 24 hours since students left the Kunming airport and we already miss them. We miss their great qualities, their flexibility, their amazement, their kind nature, how they interact with us and one another, their confidence, and their ability to go with the flow.

This poster, which was made and coordinated by a student, another testamount to how amazing our students are, shows not only our group's individual qualities, but says something else too: that the sum of the parts are greater than the whole.

We are so lucky that THIS group of students came together at THIS point in time at THIS place in the world. We miss you. We hope to hear from you soon.

Love, love, love,

Your grateful Mekong sages

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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You are awesome

I-team,Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

Description

It hasn’t been 24 hours since students left the Kunming airport and we already miss them. We miss their great qualities, their flexibility, their amazement, their kind nature, how they interact with us and one another, their confidence, and their ability to go with the flow. This poster, which was made and coordinated by a […]

Posted On

05/13/12

Author

I-team

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Over the course of the past few months the Mekong Dragons have had the opportunity to visit a variety of NGO's with different missions, interests and goals. These organizations have welcomed us with open arms, and have taken time out of their busy schedules to share their knowledge and passion for the causes that they work towards improving. The group would like to formally acknowledge the organizations that have inspired, motivated, and informed us, and we encourage others to look into them as well!

Epic Arts - Kampot, Cambodia

http://www.epicarts.org.uk/
Mission: Our work aims to change lives in a real and immediate way. Through our creative projects and workshops we see people start to believe in themselves and their abilities. We believe that the arts are a powerful means of deepening our understanding of ourselves and others, whilst also being a force for change.

What Dragons did: We participated in a half-day movement workshop led by deaf and disabled Khmer youth. Many Dragons students described this experience as the most fun they had ever had!


STT (Sahmakum Teang Tnaut) - based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
http://teangtnaut.org/
Mission: To provide pro-poor technical assistance for housing and infrastructure and to inform dialogue and raise awareness about urban issues.

What Dragons did: We spent two days helping village members in a community outside Kampot, Cambodia tear down an existing house, and rebuild the home for a mother and her son.

Friends-International, ChildSafe- Phnom Penh, Cambodia
http://friends-international.org/wherewework/cambodia.asp
http://www.childsafe-international.org/
Friends-International Mission: Friends-International and its partners reach out to over 50 000 marginalised young people -particularly street children and youth – each year. We offer a range of comprehensive services as part of our holistic approach to assisting children and their families to improve their lives.

What Dragons did: We ate a delicious meal at Friends Restaurant and attended an information seminar at ChildSafe to learn about the efforts their organization has taken towards improving the lives of street children living in Cambodia.

Khmer Development of Freedom Organization (KDFO) Orphanage - Phnom Penh, Cambodia
http://www.kdfosponsorship.co.uk/index.html
Mission:
The main goal of the programme is to improve the standard of living and wellbeing for children by providing a safe, secure environment, educational opportunities, vocational training and the possibility of family reunification or placement.

What Dragons did: Our group had the unique opportunity to partner up with a young child from the orphanage and take each of our new friends to a water park outside of Phnom Penh for a day of swimming and laughing.

Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) - Phnom Penh Cambodia
http://www.dccam.org/
Mission: We aim to help Cambodians heal the wounds of the past by documenting, researching, and sharing the history of the Khmer Rouge period.

What Dragons did: Our group visited the DC-Cam headquarters to learn about the realities of the Khmer Rouge, what the organization has done to document the events of the genocide, and ask questions about the importance of documentation.

Daughters of Cambodia - Phnom Penh, Cambodia
http://www.daughtersofcambodia.org/
Mission: As an organization, Daughters recognizes the impact of sexual exploitation as an abuse of human rights with detrimental effects on psychological and physical wellbeing. Daughters seeks to help victims find ways out of this situation and into a situation of safety, freedom and dignity, to find wholeness, and to become all that God created them to be.

What Dragons did: Some of the girls visited Daughters' Cafe and Spa, and Cristina had the opportunity to interview a manager to learn more about the organization's work and initiatives.

Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) - Siem Reap, Cambodia
https://angkorhospital.org/
Mission:
To provide free pediatric healthcare to the children affected by both poverty and disease in Siem Reap Province and Northern Cambodia and to strengthen Cambodia's Health infrastructure through training of doctors, nurses and other health professionals as well as rural government health workers and communities.

What Dragons did: Our group spent time at the AHC's Visitor's Center, we watched an informational video, and were given a tour of the facilities by a staff member. After the tour, three of us (Jesse, Adam and Zoe) had the opportunity to donate blood.

Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund - Siem Reap, Cambodia
http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/menu.html
Mission: The CLMMRF facility is more than a museum. It is also a home that provides education and support for dozens of at-risk youth and landmine-affected children rescued by the CLMMRF NGO. Many children who are part of this family have suffered overwhelming hardships. The Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief facility was created so that it might serve as a place of healing for bodies, hearts and minds. We believe that love, support, and education will help secure a better opportunity for the children that live here.

Cambodia Rural Development Team (CRDT) - Kratie, Cambodia
http://www.crdt.org.kh/
Mission:
We are a local not-for-profit work­ing to improve food secur­ity, incomes and liv­ing stand­ards of poor rural com­munit­ies in sup­port of envir­on­mental con­ser­va­tion in Cam­bodia. We believe in a Cam­bodia free from poverty and envir­on­mental degrad­a­tion.

What Dragons did: Our group participated in a CRDTour, a day long trip in Kratie which supports the local community, as well as environmental conservation through our donation. The tour had several components, including an overview of many of CRDT's environmental initiatives in Cambodia, a boat ride on the Mekong to view the critically endangered Irawaddy Dolphins, a trip across the river for swimming and the sunset, and a drive to a wat that supported a turtle conservatory.


Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) - Vientiane, Laos
http://www.copelaos.org/
Mission: COPE was started in 1997 as an initiative of POWER International with the Ministry of Health of the Government of Lao PDR and several international non-government organizations. COPE is now a local not-for-profit organisation that works in partnership with the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) and provincial rehabilitation centres to provide access to orthotic/prosthetic devices and rehabilitation services, including Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy.

What Dragons did: The Mekong group spent time at the COPE Visitor's Center, and had the opportunity to view a movie about landmines in Laos in the center's movie theater.

Many students took personal initiative to visit other NGO's in the places visited, here is a list of some of these incredible organizations that are also worth taking a look at:

Big Brother Mouse - Luang Prabang, Laos
http://www.bigbrothermouse.com/

Laos Institute for Renewable Energy - Vientiane, Laos
http://www.lao-ire.org/

Yejj Solar Energy - Phnom Penh, Cambodia
http://www.yejjsolar.com/

Initiative Développement (ID)
http://www.id-ong.org/fr/index.php

ECPAT International
http://www.ecpat.net/EI/index.asp

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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Making A Difference

Zoe Adams,Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

Description

Over the course of the past few months the Mekong Dragons have had the opportunity to visit a variety of NGO’s with different missions, interests and goals. These organizations have welcomed us with open arms, and have taken time out of their busy schedules to share their knowledge and passion for the causes that they […]

Posted On

05/11/12

Author

Zoe Adams

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After our final trek, we entered into our final homestay of this trip. I felt lucky to have the opportunity to be living with a Tibetan family in the beautiful village of Hongpo, surrounded by barley fields and the biggest mountains I have ever seen. The trek just a few days before was one of the most physically challenging things I have ever experienced and by the time we reached the homestay I felt like curling up in my bed and possibly not moving for a couple days. Well the area and the people living there ended up being just too gorgeous to do so. The group visited the village's monastery, learned about Tibetan Buddhism, held secret Tibetan history lessons, listened to ISP presentations, weeded corn fields, played cards, ate delicious yak meat and potatoes, but it was also a period of unscheduled time.
I ended up spending most of my time sitting on the roof of the girl's homestay house taking in the warmth of the sun, reading and writing, but I often found myself simply starring out at the most beautiful scene stretched out in front of me. I watched the clouds move across the sky covering and then unveiling the mountains as I sat in stillness and my mind cleared. I have never felt more present. As I sat on the roof, soaking up all that surrounded me, I was filled with happiness, appreciating what each moment had to offer. It was the perfect point in the trip to be able to have this time to myself, to ease into the ending of an incredible adventure.
Letting my mind flip through experiences that fill my previous three months, I am trying to reflect on what they mean to me. I cannot fully put to words how incredibly inspirational this journey has been. Though there were moments when I just felt like curling up in bed, the beautiful landscapes, native people, and group members kept me going. They kept me pushing myself to develop old and new strengths and see the beauty in every moment. So thank you to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, China, Tibet, the people who call these countries their homes, and to my fellow dragons. The incredible, passionate, supportive, inspirational, and hilarious people that I was lucky enough to travel with have made this the greatest adventure.
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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Rooftop

Jesse Wiener,Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

Description

After our final trek, we entered into our final homestay of this trip. I felt lucky to have the opportunity to be living with a Tibetan family in the beautiful village of Hongpo, surrounded by barley fields and the biggest mountains I have ever seen. The trek just a few days before was one of […]

Posted On

05/11/12

Author

Jesse Wiener

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Sue-dei Everyone!

Hi guys!

I know most of you might have felt the past three months seemed to be long when you first started the trip here in Cambodia. Now that you’re all there at the end of the trip, this three month trip might seem to be another way around. You might have some dips, falls and some rises too during those times and they influence you in some ways or others. Since you are about to hit home soon and you are too excited to see the people you care about and to see a place that is a real home, you might have a hard time reflecting on those experiences. I am so excited for you too. Beautiful people, I really miss you a great deal and I really do. Thank you Nate, Geroge and Hillary for being wonderful as instructors and thank everyone for being so wonderful to each other. I love and love you.

Hey guys don’t forget to check out the outfit you got it made for me. It looks just perfect on me. I really love it. It reminds me about you all every time I put them on. Thanks again everyone, Or-kun j’reoun na!

Have a safe and enjoyable flight! And please keep in touch.

Love you all!

Mara

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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A farewell note from Mara!

Mara Pho,Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

Description

Sue-dei Everyone! Hi guys! I know most of you might have felt the past three months seemed to be long when you first started the trip here in Cambodia. Now that you’re all there at the end of the trip, this three month trip might seem to be another way around. You might have some […]

Posted On

05/11/12

Author

Mara Pho

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    [post_date] => 2012-05-10 00:00:00
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    [post_title] => 10 Days in Tibet, Part 3
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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10 Days in Tibet, Part 3

Mekong Sages,Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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Posted On

05/10/12

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Mekong Sages

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    [post_title] => 10 Days in Tibet, Part 2
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10 Days in Tibet, Part 2

Mekong Sages,Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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Posted On

05/10/12

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Mekong Sages

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Tibet is not merely beautiful. It is beyond it. Words cannot describe the vast vistas, jagged peaks, colorful culture, and divine inspiration you feel as the clouds clear and Meili shines in the sun. Prayer flags celebrated our assent, people with humble hearts welcomed us into their homes, and we drank yak butter tea to keep warm while sitting on top of the world with the Mekong shimmering below.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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10 Days in Tibet, Part 1

Mekong Sages,Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

Description

Tibet is not merely beautiful. It is beyond it. Words cannot describe the vast vistas, jagged peaks, colorful culture, and divine inspiration you feel as the clouds clear and Meili shines in the sun. Prayer flags celebrated our assent, people with humble hearts welcomed us into their homes, and we drank yak butter tea to […]

Posted On

05/10/12

Author

Mekong Sages

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-Addressing the group at a chorten in Hongpo village as a part of my ISP on religious art.

"Despite any religious affiliation you may have, or perhaps lack thereof , I know you all have prayers. And right now I'd like you to put all your prayers into these flags. Pray for your mom, your dad, your dog, your house. Pray for the people of Tibet, the people of China, of all the places we've been and people who have lef their mark upon our hearts. Pray for each other. Because as sad as it is, it's coming up to closing time for us. But only in this place, Hongpo village. Because in no way is this group closing. We'll always have each other. And with these flags we will leave our mark here, like we have been doing this whole trip. Leaving only tiny reminders that exert nothing but good. So when we hang these, infuse them with your beautiful thoughts and let the wind carry them to those who need them."

And so we hung them up, amongst prayer flags that had been sending out good for days, weeks, years. We walked ceremoniously around the humble monument (the chroten) three times in a clockwise circle. And with that it was over. Time to leave the flags be. Leave this place, the most beautiful place I've ever been, with the most amazing people. But the flags remain. They'll be there, tied together for a long, long time. And in that fact I can take solace, that we left only long-lasting good in the hearts of the places we travelled.

To all of my Mekong dragons, I love you. Thank you for participating. I'll carry you with me always.

"The world is grand, awfully big and astonishingly beautiful, frequently thrilling."

-Dorothy Kilgallen

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

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Prayer Flags in a Mountain Valley

Gracie Barrie,Mekong Semester, Spring 2012

Description

-Addressing the group at a chorten in Hongpo village as a part of my ISP on religious art. "Despite any religious affiliation you may have, or perhaps lack thereof , I know you all have prayers. And right now I’d like you to put all your prayers into these flags. Pray for your mom, your […]

Posted On

05/9/12

Author

Gracie Barrie

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