A Postcard from Cambodia

I got this in the mail the other day:

postcard from Cambodia

“An elderly Cambodian woman puffs locally grown tobacco.”¬†

This is what the back says:

back of postcard from Max (Copy)



How’s Boulder? Cambodia and Vietnam are HOT! but the trips have been good. Seems like we got a good bunch of guests on this one (you never know what you’ll get). I’d write more… but I’m too lazy. I’ll think I’ll play some more Plants vs. Zombies ūüôā¬†



To summarize:

My friend Max, who works as a naturalist and photograph guide on tours around the world (this trip was up the Mekong River, stopping in Vietnam and Cambodia) sent me a postcard with an old woman smoking on the front to tell me he’s playing a game on his phone.

He always sends the nicest postcards.

At least one of the stamps has a cool bird on it…

Sign spotting: Part 1- Personal Safety

My little brother loves the Signspotting books. He owns them all. I know this, because he has shown them all to me. Repeatedly.

He typically goes through phases where he is fairly obsessed with one particular set of reading and/or movie materials (sometimes there is a clear connection between the reading materials and DVDs in his stack, other times not). He’s really into series of things, like, say, all of the Star Wars movies, or Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers, or a stack of Cleveland Cavs paraphernalia and Media Guides from the past five years, from which he will regale us with various statistical tidbits, staring intently at me over his glasses, and talking as if I know anyone other than LeBron on the team– wait, he left, right? Haha, just kidding. That’s a terrible joke. I’m sorry).

Anyway, the Signspotting books are on regular rotation. Over the years, I’ve seen most of them. Repeatedly, as I may have mentioned. So I started taking my own sign-spotting pictures as I traveled.¬†And here they are.

To make it even more fun, they’re going to be spread out across a few posts. Then you have to come back and read my blog for more. Though I’m sure you come back regularly and read it anyway. (Thanks Grandma, I love you ūüôā )


So here we go:

Lauren’s Sign Spotting: Part 1- Personal Safety


Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada

Grand Manan Island New Brunswick

Caution: if you run enthusiastically off the cliff, popcorn will fall out of your feet.


Somewhere in Florida, USA

no fireworks at gas station

“No fireworks discharge within 300 feet.”


This is a gas station, somewhere in Florida, that sells fireworks. And gasoline. One stop shopping. Because I generally want to buy fireworks and diesel fuel at the same time. Doesn’t everyone?

But at least there is a fire extinguisher handy. Just in case you don’t pace out those 300 feet quite right.

I took this picture a few years ago, as I was driving back to Ohio from Titusville, Florida, where I had an internship at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

I am alarmed that this needs to be put up as a warning on a gas station. And why only 300 feet? I’m fairly certain I don’t want someone shooting off fireworks 400 feet from where I’m pumping gas, let alone 300. And does that 300 feet start from the door, or from the furthest gas pump?



Phi Phi Island, Thailand

phiphi island thailand


Remember, our body is not a life buoy. Because we, collectively, only have one body, and apparently it doesn’t float all that well.

Also, getting run over by a boat is bad.


Prince Edward Island, Canada

The sign: Prince Edward Island lighthouse sign

Interpretation: It is unstable to stand on a tilty platform on the edge of a kite, because you might fall on the floating rocks.

Honestly, that picture doesn’t make the bank look all that steep. That’s barely one body length. In real life, the drop is much, much, much steeper. Also, in real life you can’t even get to the edge because they put up a fence. Probably because all the tourists accidentally drive their cars off or something.

This is next to the East Point Lighthouse on PEI, which is on the northeastern tip of the island. It’s all open and exposed around the lighthouse¬†(which I was too cheap to pay to climb, because as I visited on a rainy day, I suspected the view would be similar to the one from the ground– foggy).

If they’re so concerned about erosion, then they probably shouldn’t put unsecured platforms on the cliff edge. Or lighthouses, for that matter.

Conclusion: They are very concerned about you falling off the edges of things in Canada (see first sign).



Thác Datanla, Dalat, Vietnam

dalat vietnam waterfall

This sign was posted along the edge of the waterfall, either because the slippery rocks are dangerous and they don’t want you to fall and get hurt, or because it’s poisonous. Slightly different things. If you read neither English nor Vietnamese, I would think you’d be a little confused. Though I’m sure that if you drank the water in the waterfall you’d probably get sick, so maybe that’s what they meant.

Oh, and this was the waterfall where a man dressed in an elaborate red monkey costume stuck his finger in my ear. He almost got an elbow in the jugular¬†(since I’m taller than most Asian men, the elbow meant for his gut would have hit a bit higher), which would have definitely knocked him into the “poisonous” area behind the sign. Because where I come from, we don’t do that. I do realize that I’m a visitor to your country, and that Ohioans can be a strange breed sometimes, but there are a few core values that I refuse to compromise. Such as having foreign objects and appendages stuck in my ears. That would be a no-no.

As my sister would say:

False. You will not be doing that. 


And there we have it. Look for part 2 coming soon!

For more entertainment until then, you should read more about Eric in this blog post:

Things My Brother Says 

It makes me giggle every time I read it.


An adventure rightly considered

trek to Annapurna Base Camp

(Above): Considering, rightly or wrongly, the integrity of the bridge on the way to Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal. 

(Below): One of the guest houses along the trail. 

Nepal guesthouse ABC

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.

An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

— G.K. Chesterton

trekking to ABC Nepal

Joby, Lauren, and Max on their trek to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal.

26 Things I’ve Learned in My 26 Years

Here is the world.

Beautiful and terrible things will happen.

Don’t be afraid.

— Frederick Buechner

Canyonlands National Park Utah

Canyonlands, Utah

1. Not everything in life has to be hard.

Sometimes the easy path is the one you’re supposed to go down. Sometimes it’s the universe showing you where you’re supposed to go.

lily in sunlight


2. If you throw the candy wrappers away in the trash, Mom will never find them.

If you stuff them in the couch she will find them and you will get in trouble.


imageswhisper-words-of-wisdom_615x454 3. Let it be.

As in, the microwave/car/laptop/whathaveyou that is malfunctioning will probably start working properly again if you let it alone for a spell. Granted, this doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. I have in fact “fixed” a microwave and a few car problems this way.


4. A sense of humor will take you far in the world.

I honestly don’t know how you’d get by without one. Life is ridiculous, there’s no getting around that. So just enjoy it. Laugh and be merry.

winter camping Wyoming

5. Go camping.

If you want to get to know someone really well, go camping with them. Hopefully you realize that they’re awesome, ‚Äėcause if not it’s going to be a looong weekend.

Fundy National Park New Brunswick Canada

Fundy National Park, New Brunswick

6. Travel.

Traveling is imperative for any well-rounded individual. Even if you can’t physically travel to far-off lands, mental travel can be enough. Read a book, or watch a documentary/movie that transports you somewhere else and teaches you something about other people and the world around you. The world is a large place, but not as big as it seems. The people living on the other side of it are just like us. It is not as scary as you think out there. GO!

blue springs state park florida

Another travel perk: hugging manatees.

7. A good book is always worth its weight in your checked bag.

These are your reserve books for the travels home, because of course you will have finished the books in your carry-on bag. You should have a book to read on your person at all times.

8. It’s better not to tell Mom what you did until after you make it back safely.

Or ever. This includes skydiving, almost getting arrested in Washington DC for sleeping in your car, and picking up hitchhikers in foreign countries. Especially that last one.

skydiving Ohio

9. If you make cookies, they will be eaten.

Especially if you live in a bunkhouse with other field biologists. And especially if they are male.

10. If you simply expect things to work out, they probably will.

The world does not have it against you. It might not happen exactly how you planned, but it will work out in some fashion.

Adopt a kitten, get some sweet corn!

11. Going for a walk is an excellent way to generate thoughts.

galapagos islands

12. There are many people in this world who do not know how to put toilet paper on the holder.

Perhaps they purposely didn’t change out the empty roll because they wanted you to have the joy of doing so.

change toilet paper brain damage sign

13. Not speaking does not mean not caring.

Or not being intelligent. Sometimes we just can’t speak, or don’t know what to say.

Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

14. Just because that’s how it’s been for a long time doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be forever.

15. My family will always be odder than yours.

Therefore, there is very little you can do to weird me out.

Lauren and Grandad with hats

16. It is very hard for me to be happy if I can’t go outside every day.

Sunshine, trees, fresh air, blue skies, and some mountains would be preferable. That’s all I need. And some birds.

Nepal Annapurna

17. Sometimes you just want to do nothing.

And that’s okay. You don’t have to be working on something all the time. It’s okay to take a break every once in awhile and just breathe.

Teton Science School Wilson Campus bunkhouse

18. Though sometimes you might think otherwise, it’s probably better that you didn’t actually say what was on your mind.

Stupid can’t be taken back, and neither can unkind words (no matter how deserved they are).

Darn it, if only my parents hadn’t raised me to be such a polite and respectful person…

Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

19. Climbing up a mountain on your own steam is a powerful feeling.

The view is always better when you work for it.

trekking Mt. Kinabalu Malaysia

It is not always advisable to wear Teva sandals and socks to climb mountains. But I find them to be excellent hiking foot attire.

20. Be excited about something every day.

I learned this one from my dog, who, for all of his 14 years, was excited to the point of backflips for his food. I‚Äôm not sure I’ve ever been that excited about food, and, thinking about it, I‚Äôm not sure why not. Food is exciting stuff. Life is exciting stuff. So get excited about it, and don’t bother with what other people think.

food truck moab utah

21. You can’t outrun your past. Or a charging moose.

And of the two, I can personally attest that the charging moose is much more terrifying.

Fundy National Park New Brunswick Canada

22. Birds are cool.

Like really cool. For instance, migration. Ruby-throated hummingbirds fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. RTHUs weigh 2-6 grams (0.1-0.2 oz) and are 7-9 cm (2.8-3.5 inches) long. At elevations of 2,000 to 5,000 feet, in 11-18 hours, the tiny birds fly 600 miles over the Gulf. Woah.


23. Send postcards.

Everyone loves to get mail. I mean really, is anyone going to say “Don’t send me any more mail, I don’t like getting a little personalized note that lets me know you’re thinking about me”? No.

24. People leave their brains at home when they go on vacation.

On that note, the middle of the road on a blind curve is not a good place to stop to take a picture when there is traffic coming from both directions.

Also, when the sign on the visitor center says “Hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.” that doesn’t mean we employees want to sit here another half hour while you use the bathroom, ask detailed questions about the refuge, and browse the gift shop. But by all means, go right ahead. I get the equivalent of 87 cents an hour for this internship, and no, I have absolutely nothing better to do with my time right now. I really don’t want to go home and eat dinner or anything like that.

south carolina hiking

25. Make music.

Sing. Play an instrument. Music is the language of the soul. And it just feels good.

Especially when it involves boomwackers and Call Me Maybe.

26. Love like sunshine.

Love should warm you, brighten up your day, help you to see things you didn’t before. It should be everywhere, illuminating everything.


Also, I wanted to mention that I have learned a great deal of other things in my 26 years, this is only a sampling. Just wanted to clarify.

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths…”

This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

view from Sapa, Vietnam

Sapa, Vietnam, 2012

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is¬†blue¬†for¬†the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the¬†places¬†where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand, 2012

For many years I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can¬†never¬† go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. ‘Longing,’ says the poet Robert Hass, ‘because desire is full of endless distances.’ Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.”

Fishtail Nepal

View of Machapuchare, Nepal, 2012

Rebecca Solnit

from A Field Guide to Getting Lost

If you’d like to read the whole essay, you can find it here:¬†“The Blue of Distance”

If you have 18 hours in: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

sketchy part of Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

– spend 2 hours running after your friend (literally running, dodging and weaving through crowds of late-night shopping families and groups of Malaysian adolescents, and belatedly hoping that no one thinks you’re a purse-snatcher because getting arrested in Malaysia is not on your list of things to do today) around the malls (of which there are many more than one would have thought necessary for any one country, let alone one city) looking for a camera accessory that no one has and that you were pretty sure wouldn’t be available in stores yet anyway.

KL noodles

Noodles from a street vendor for dinner.

– spend 2 hours eating (dinner and breakfast).

– spend 8 hours sleeping in a cockroach hotel (there was a cockroach scurrying across the blankets on the bed when we checked in, and I’m not sure what happened/who was brutally murdered in the shower before we got there, but it was not properly cleaned afterward. Don’t be deceived by the pleasant-looking exterior- Hotel Mexico is not a good choice).

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Lanterns in the street outside our hotel.

– spend 2 hours checking email and Facebook (priorities, and confirmation that those you left behind on the other side of the world do in fact still exist).

– spend 4 hours semi-patiently waiting, in transit to and from the airport, and for a departing flight to Thailand.

Max catching flies

Despite what he might tell you, Max does in fact sleep on airplanes.

Рspend at least 3.5 hours of transit and time waiting for flight to Thailand wondering: what the city of Kuala Lumpur is actually like; what it would be like to live here; why people live here; at the differences between Kathmandu, Nepal (where we had just been trekking) and KL; when I can go back to the Himalayas and see a yak; what Thailand will be like; what everyone is doing at home; how best to take a sneaky picture of Max sleeping in his seat with his mouth gaping open catching flies; wondering when you can next take a real shower and wear freshly laundered clothes.

– spend the remaining 1/2 hour waiting in line for the restroom, at least twice. 1 minute spend taking care of business, 29 minutes trying not to gag at the condition of the squatty potty.

A quick whine about toilets in Asia

I miss toilets. After 8 weeks of travel, I’m homesick for toilets. Nice ones, where the seat is attached (and stays attached for the duration of use), and ones that have seats. Ones that don’t spurt water from the pipe all over the floor when flushed. Ones that don’t bubble up on you while you’re sitting there, giving your nether regions a wash (luckily I was about to take a shower, which I promptly did). Ones that don’t require hovering, ones where your tush can safely land without threat of immediate infectious disease. Ones that aren’t cracked, and that are cleaned more than once a year (if that), and ones that don’t smell like half of Asia and his brother have peed all over them.

hotel bathroom in Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal. Note the detached toilet seat on the floor under the shower.

I miss not having to wear shoes in the bathroom because the floor is covered in a 1/2 inch deep puddle from the leaking toilet and the shower, which drains through a hole in the floor. I miss bathrooms where the toilet and shower are separated, where the shower is contained in a tub, and where you’re not bumping into the toilet and knocking the loose seat on the floor during your shower because the bathroom is that small. I miss not having to roll up my pant legs so they don’t get soggy as I drop my drawers. I miss being able to assume that every bathroom will have toilet paper, including hotels. I miss toilets that flush, and not having to pour a bucket of water down the hole, which works better than I imagined in some toilets and not at all in others. I miss being able to flush my used toilet paper. In some places here, I miss having a trashcan in the bathroom because I never remember to look until it’s too late, and then what do you do?

Please Toiled Paper Put in Bocket

Sign on the back of the bathroom door in Nepal.

There are many reasons to travel through Asia. However, the bathroom facilities are not one of them. Particularly the bathroom facilities you will be forced to utilize when traveling Asia with Max Seigal, the king of cheaper-than-cheap hotels (generally only marginally nicer than sleeping in the gutter). However, a quick thank you to the US government for successfully preparing me for Asian bathrooms (and hotel rooms) by putting me up in some very, shall we say, Nepalese/Thai-quality housing for various internships. You should put that on the SCA website as a perk- housing will prep you for international travel!

Countries visited: 5 (Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand)
Number of decent toilets in said countries: 3

Lauren’s kayaking adventure in Thailand

Railey Beach Thailand kayakingI suppose the title is misleading, in a way. You’re probably now expecting some epic adventure account, a multi-day saga with pirates, no food, native Thai people and language barriers, some sort of heroic rescue, and then a celebratory bonfire and feast on the beach. No, sorry. I wish it involved all that. The truth, as usual, is much less glamorous. Anything that involves puke is generally unglamorous, I find. Throwing up is a universal leveler, brings us all down to the same miserable state of being. Though, of all the places I’ve thrown up in, emptying my stomach contents over the side of a kayak just off a beach on an island in Thailand in front of at least two restaurants of people enjoying their lunches is definitely the most exotic. My friend, who was a patron in one of the restaurants, said he thought we stopped to look at some fish, which gives me hope that I didn’t put anyone off their food. I would like to apologise to my other friend, who was in the kayak with me, politely adverting his gaze, covering his ears and humming loudly. Apparently the waves were a little rough, and his foot might have gotten splashed a little. I’m sorry, but it did wash all over my legs too, dangling off the side, if that makes you feel any better, and I was slightly preoccupied at the time so I wasn’t able to monitor the currents properly. I’ll try to do better next time. I’ve never thrown up in public before, nor in a kayak, so I’m unfamiliar with the proper protocols in these situations.

view from the kayak, Thailand

In the future, when I decide to jump in a kayak with someone who wants to paddle to a distant island a good hour away by constant paddling (one way) over choppy open water, I’ll try my best not to feel nauseous for the entire trip out and back. Also, I’ll try to void my stomach contents before almost making it back to the beach, keeping in mind the wave patterns, wind speed, and current so as to avoid any splashage. I’ll also work on being more discreet and trying to avoid such public stages for future barfing episodes, of which I fervently hope there are few (or none, none would be okay too). Now that I’ve ticked off throwing up from a kayak from my list of firsts, I’ve no desire to repeat the experience. Been there, done that, moving on (with the aid of Dramamine and some Pepto-Bismol).Railey Beach, Thailand

Oh yes, we are having a splendid time here in Thailand.

Max kayaking in Thailand

What I’ve been up to : or, Singapore, Borneo, and Nepal

I seem to be a bit behind in blog updates, my apologies. I’ve been a little busy. Here’s the very (very very) brief version. I promise more details and pictures as soon as I can.

Pooja and I parted ways in Hanoi, Vietnam. I flew to Singapore to meet up with three other friends : Max, Joby, and Mallory. We spent two nights and one day in Singapore, then flew to Malaysian Borneo. There, we climbed Mt. Kinabalu, which is the highest peak in SE Asia, in a day. Some of us may have made it all the way to the summit, and others of us may have felt like the past year we’ve spent in flat places like Ohio, Florida, and South Carolina did nothing to prepare us for uphill toils at altitude. However, it makes for a pretty sweet story. And there are lots of birds and interesting plants in the Borneo jungle, which made the whole experience slightly more tolerable. After Kinabalu we spent a few days on Banggi Island, off the northern coast, relaxing on the beach and swimming around looking at coral and vibrant blue starfish.

From Borneo we flew to Kathmandu, Nepal. A 6hr bus ride brought us to the town of Pokhara, where we are currently. This morning we went paragliding off one of the mountains just outside town. I won’t try to describe that experience in a few words, because it’s not possible. Fantastic and breathtaking sorta sums it up. The rest of the day was spent procuring permits and supplies, and tomorrow we head out for about 9 days of trekking around the Annapurna region, heading to a place called Poon Hill and possibly Annapurna Base Camp. I expect it will be awesome, and that I will probably take way more pictures of the mountains than I will ever want to go back and look through.

I still can’t quite believe I’m actually in Nepal, just as I couldn’t quite believe I was actually in Borneo ( Good thing I have the passport stamps to prove it, or I would think it was all just a dream). These are places that I’ve read about in National Geographic and seen in wildlife and nature programs, not places that I ever thought I’d actually go myself one day. I knew they were real places, but they were so far away from Ohio that I almost didn’t really think they were real. And now I’m here.
Every day truly is a new adventure, and I cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings.

“Whatever tomorrow brings I’ll be there, with open arms and open eyes, yeah.” That song played on the radio as I drove away from Merritt Island NWR in March, and it helps me to remember that no matter how wonderful (or awful) the past, we must always look forward, because if you’re too busy looking behind you’ll miss all the beauty and wonder in front of you. And, in my case, you’ll probably then run into a tree or trip on a rock, and be forcefully reminded that life is in the present. Every bruise and scratch just reminds us that we’re human though, right?

Every tomorrow is full of promise, the promise of life.

Da Lat to Nha Trang, Vietnam

Vietnam is a fertile rock upon which I think just about anything could grow.

We are on a twisty mountain road from the mountain town of Da Lat, heading back to Nha Trang. Spectacular views of jungle-covered mountains,  far as the eye can see. The road cuts through steep rock slides, with waterfalls gushing, pouring, seeping down under the road. Clouds of steam rise up here and there in the rain-dampened trees. Rolling hills, sharp mountain peaks, blended together everywhere, forever. The soil on the valley paths is a vibrant orange-red, the color of clean rust, of a corroded metal pipe that is always damp, seeping water. Water is never far off here, in the rain, the clouds, the waterfalls, in all the green plant life growing in the earth.

Nice and comfy in my bus berth bed.

There aren’t quite worlds to describe the beauty out the window in the view, or how calm I feel sitting here in my slightly cramped bunk on an overnight bus making its way down through the mountains. Pooja sleeps in the berth next to me. We slow and jostle through short bits of road where the water has washed out the pavement, through construction areas. Mostly the road is smooth, winding, but the way is easy. Or it is for me, sitting here watching out the window, waiting, thinking, writing. I cannot think of any place I could be right now but here. This is where I am, and this is an amazing, life-shaping experience. I’m glad I came. I like it here. That phrase is sewn on to a bag I have at home, ‘I like it here.’ It should be true no matter where you go– I like it here.

It’s always best to let sleeping Pooja’s lie.