On Orphanages and Opportunities


Some background music.

My Morning at the Dentist

Do you believe in New Year’s Resolutions? I don’t. Instead, I have five daily objectives and long term plans while remaining open to whatever the winds of happenstance blows my way.

I awoke early this morning and completed some of my daily objectives: workout, yoga, meditate and at least 15 minutes of To Do’s over my after-breakfast coffee. I have yet to complete my fifth daily objective today: piano practice. After doing all this, I set off to my dental appointment. I haven’t been very good this year: I had two cavities filled today, more than I’ve ever had in one year.


In the laboratory, The Arizona Bark Scorpion can be frozen for weeks and still be alive. It’s sting is very venomous.

As I sat waiting in the big dental chair, my eyes were affixed to the television. It was on The National Geographic Channel, which I’m a fan of but don’t ever turn on my TV at home. It was a show on wild animals in the city: big cats that steal little pets in the night, birds of prey nesting on skyscrapers, rats in the dumpster eating every 20 minutes, pythons eating the rats in the sewer pipes of New York, sloths of Rio de Janiero and deadly scorpions of Las Vegas. “Scary!” exclaimed dental assistant as she walked in and saw the scorpions on the screen. She introduced herself as Vannah. She asked if my name was Vietnamese or Chinese.

“Chinese,” I answered with a quizzical glance her way.

She saw my questioning look and answered, “I’m Cambodian…a little Chinese. I was born in Cambodia. My parents brought me here when I was little because of the war.”

cambodia ratcliff

Photo by Trey Ratcliff


I smiled at the mention of Cambodia. “I was just in Cambodia in spring.”

“Where did you go?”

“I mostly stayed in the touristy areas…Siem Reap.”

“How long did you go for?”

“Only a couple of days.”

“Just Cambodia?”

“No. I traveled over other parts of Asia. I wish I had stayed in Cambodia longer. It was so different!”

“Different how? Did you like it?” Then she couldn’t contain her excitement any more. “For Christmas, my husband surprised me with tickets for my mother and I to Cambodia! I’ll be going for three weeks this February. I haven’t told my boss yet.”

“That’s so exciting! I liked it! Different in that I had never seen any place like it. I had the chance to visit some homes and there was no running water…”

I wanted to go on and tell her about the beautiful children, the food, the villages, the markets… the grandeur of Angkor Wat but didn’t get a chance.

“I want to visit the villages and the orphanages! I still remember it. I feel I can identify with the children. I asked my mother if I could buy them bags of rice and she said they probably would rather have money.”

At this point, I grew concerned. “You do know those orphanages aren’t real; right?”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re tourist attractions…”

“Oh! I know about that! The parents are too poor to raise the kids and leave them  or sometimes sell them.”

Children Are Not Tourist Attractions

I wanted to tell her about why we shouldn’t give money to “orphanages” but didn’t get a chance to do so as the doctor walked in… I wish I had the chance to show her this video: Why We Shouldn’t Give Orphanages Money

The doctor, a curly-haired woman who went by the Italian name of Dr. Antonini, made pleasant conversation as she worked. “Did you stay in town for Christmas or go out?”

“I just stayed in town. How about you?”

“ I went to Chicago. That’s where I’m from.”

“Was it snowing there?”

“No. I heard how cold and windy it was here… It was unseasonably warm in Chicago: 70 F. My kids didn’t get to go ice skating.”

“There’s an ice skating rink 45 minutes away. I’ve never been there but I heard…”

“There is?! Maybe I’ll take them this weekend! There is nothing to do around here! My husband is in the Air Force and we live on Base.”

“Oh… There really is nothing to do there!”

“I know! I drive 15 minutes to work. At the last town we were in Ohio, it took me five minutes to drive to work and I liked going home and doing laundry during my lunch. At least I don’t commute to LA…”

I agreed with her, as the traffic in Los Angeles is terrible for daily commuters, not Beijing terrible, but bad enough.

At that moment, I had such admiration for this happy woman who was able to find steady work and raise kids while married to a man in the military. My mind drifted to why I never visited the ice skating rink. It’s something I want to do. I love ice skating! My face was numb from the novacane now… I could feel my heart beat in my chest, just I like do on the rare occasions when I drink too much.

“I feel drunk.”

She laughed heartily and reassured me, “You’ll still be able to drive home. You aren’t the only one who has said that but it’s just your face.”

When I got home, I started writing/ typing all of this out, but I didn’t finish very quickly because my mind started to wander again. I thought about the past and the future.

Looking Back


One of my journals from 2002



Do you ever look back at old things you wrote long ago? Over the years I have kept dozens of journals. I do not know why I still have them… Perhaps I am secretly hoping to get famous and then write a memoir by selling my journals or perhaps I am intending to  compile and publish all of the poetry I have written at numerous times through the years. Looking back, in a journal entry dated October 24, 2002, I wrote out various fantasies. It’s interesting to see all of the things I wanted to study: yoga, costume design, nursing, fashion, film, international relations, teaching, history, religion, kungfu, massage… The list goes on. I’ve always been interested in everything!

One of the things that stands out to me is that I wanted to go to graduate school at UCLA to major in World Arts and Cultures. At UCLA, they have a program in which one may study a culture of choice through either language or dance. I no longer want to attend UCLA to study one culture. I do not want to be restricted to study one culture and I do not have the multi-lingual and dance skills required to enter such a program; nor do I have the money and energy. Even renowned Joseph Campbell never finished his doctorate because he did not want to be restricted to studying only one subject area.


Inside the front cover of an old journal from 2002.

In fact, I’ve been dreading a little bit my decision to stay in my current town for a few years to finish paying off my student loans because of my wanderlust. Looking at this journal from thirteen years ago, I see that even then I wanted to be either a traveling nurse or traveling teacher and even today I have full intention of finding jobs overseas to see the world when I have finished paying off the student loans. I realize that I have a problem. I’m on a hedonic treadmill of pursuing one goal after another and I’m not a very pleasant person because I always keep too busy pursuing things. And so.. while it’s not a New Year’s Resolution… I endeavor to take the slower route. No more running from work to every class imaginable. I want to take life slower and become a calmer/ more pleasant person on the inside and out. Instead of running from work to every which class and coming home exhausted and not yet even having dinner every night, I’m going to come home from work and have quiet evenings. I know it will be difficult at times to be alone with Silence because in Silence sometimes there are emotions we don’t acknowledge and I’m an emotional person. For now, I want to fill my evenings not on busy-ness and work, not on impulse, but by studying yoga and learning to cook…. Studying how to remain present one spice, one bite, one breath at a time.

every moment

Cooking for One

Not long ago, I had the idea that I could satiate my wanderlust by traveling the world through food. I wondered if I could create and eat meals from all parts of the world. I did a google search for some recipes and was delighted to find that this idea of mine is, of course, not original under this Sun! I am very happy to find this because Sasha Martin has published her global recipes on her blog and has written a guide for “cooking the world”! The blog she writes is very family-oriented, so I’ve decided to create a new blog about cooking the world for one. Mrs. Martin graduated from a culinary school and is very experienced in cooking. Her blog details the act of gathering the ingredients for the food. I don’t want to do this with my blog. I want to write about the geography and culture of each food and the meaning of each dish as a symbol of global human connection instead, as that is where my interests lie (and I really don’t know much about culinary arts, though I look forward to learning).

homer cooks

I’ve got a bit of Homer in me, but this new blog may or may not contain bloopers.

Writer Amanda Ford’s ode to the solo life illustrates my exuberance about this idea best:

To nourish your body with healthy food and exercise, to control your finances by paying off debt, living within your means and saving a bit of cash each month, to use kind words when discussing your character, to forgive yourself again and again for all of your human mistakes-these are high acts of self-love….Food is sustenance…Be aware. Learn to listen to your body, to your stomach, to your cells. Healthy food is a basic building block. Without it, you cannot sustain the life of your dreams…If you can conquer the kitchen, if you can sit at the table for thirty minutes slowly enjoying your meal, if you can satisfy your own hunger, then you can do anything. The world is your oyster…If you take time to educate yourself about wholesome nutrition, and make time to prepare nourishing meals and snacks, then you need not fear a thing. You have proven that you can care for yourself at the most basic, fundamental level…Let loneliness erupt! Let sadness arise! Let disappointment intrude! These feelings will not devastate you!…You have the skills to soothe your own heart.”

Be on the look out for my new blog soon. I will be listening to my body (and my stomach) through yoga and cooking. What are your goals and resolutions? As the year comes to an end, have you looked back?


5 responses »

  1. i feel, sticking to a plan to stay in one place to complete a goal of paying off debts is a good plan for i feel that if you didnt and went about on a wanderlust, you would feel guilty and resentful for not finishing the original plan. one of the things i have learned with buddhism is to live in the moment, learn from the past and the future will take care of itself. also, plans can be changed and it is easier to hop on the fast track when you are moving slow, but much harder to jump on the slow track from the fast lane. it is your life to live and i really like all of your ideas.
    sounds like you had a great day at the dentist.
    your visit to cambodia was much better than mine, but then i was sent by my uncle sam. 😉
    you are an awesome woman. enjoy your life and nothing wrong with pausing for reflection. 🙂
    i dont have a journal, but i have looked back at my poems etc. from time to time.

  2. Really inspiring post. Looking forward to seeing the new blog. I think making time for silence sounds like a very good idea, and one that I could possibly use too, as I think too much rushing around is not good for me….
    I haven’t kept most of my old journals, I do have a travel journal though from a trip round Europe that I took with a friend several years ago, and I’ve kept short stories and poems I’ve written over the years.
    Happy new year, hope 2016 is wonderful for you x

  3. You are a big traveller . From the dentist’ s seat you do not loose time since you are studying various animal species to end by a trip trans-Asia and especially in Cambodia that was in the past a powerful empîre and whom the chief of state, the prince Norodom Sihanouk spoke French currently . Alas the Red Kmers commited a genicide and your hair dresser’ s parents were right to migrate in time .
    And to end we travel in the cooking:: 😉 I had a glimpse in the link you give ? Is Anne ,your name ? I have a hesitation since you are Chinese ?
    Happy New Year
    Love ❤

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