Monthly Archives: February 2012

Ayutthaya and more…

Bangkok is huge.  10 million people live here though only about 6 million are “official”.  It is a metropolis of pagodas, temples, new buildings, a ton of cars (nothing to envy my beloved Los Angeles), tuk tuks, brand new cars, a wave of pink and green and yellow and orange cabs and –needless to say- people shoulder to shoulder in the street that manage to follow their own path and not be swallowed by the swell of people going another way.

We are headed to Ayutthaya, a couple of hours away from Bangkok. 

It was the capital of Thailand for 417 years, and is now registered as a UNESCO world heritage site.  I take advantage to write a blog that I very possibly won’t be able to post for a few days.  At least it will be ready to go.

We will walk the last part of the trip and I am really glad to do so. Ever seen a leaning stupa? The soil is soft to begin with, but the floods have made it even more uneven and this one is going sideways, indicating perhaps that too many years have past and a time to rest has come.

I pass scenes of daily life that mean nothing to those who live it while I feel blessed to be able to witness.   

A headless Buddha intrigues me.  In the old days it was customary to –when making a Buddha statue- to put valuables in the Buddha’s head.  As a result, when this country was invaded Buddha statues were decapitated to find what they held.  Later, looters finished off what the invaders did not find. It is during this walk that I start to see “The Land of Smiles”. 

We arrive to Ayutthaya.   Everything guides you to look up.  There are a few stupas on the side that hold ashes of past kings.  A gold offering plate contrasts with the redness of the rocks. 

Otto told us that Americans have a penchant to check bathroom facilities everywhere they go.  He may be right.  Bathroom break.   We have to pass through a market to get there.

Disco balls anyone? 

 The bathroom itself is worth it just for its signs.   We pay 5 Bahts to get in (roughly .15 cents in US money).  

The sign that indicates the female toilet just makes me want to break out in song… “I am woman. I am strong!”

We head to the temple.  It is at this Buddha’s feet that I decide to follow tradition and pick up a bamboo cylinder with wood straws with numbers on it.  You shake it until only one of them falls out.  On my first try number 9 comes out.  Then you make an offering and you are handed a paper that corresponds to it.  For those curious, mine said in Thai and in English:  “Going South or West will bring you good luck.  Love affairs will not yet meet up to your expectations.  Health problems are lessen.  Donation is beneficial to you in the long run.”  I quiet my inquiring mind that wants specifics and would have preferred it to read something like:  “You will continue to travel and be inspired for the rest of your life. You are where you need to be.  Getting old won’t come with aches and pains. Donation will bring you much wealth.”  Not touching the love section 🙂

We make another stop at a place where we can feed and ride elephants.  I am doing a mahout course (elephant owner/trainer) in a Chang Mai elephant camp that rescues them.  (Mahout) I don’t think I want to do this 10-minute ride, but do so anyway.  I feel sorry when he raises his trunk and its mahout asks me to put a dollar in it.

Next stop is Rich Restaurant with two honorable mentions.  One is and ice cold Singha beer.  And the other a dessert that consists of combining a whole lot of things (I won’t even attempt to know what they are),   adding ice cubes, a sauce that has evaporated milk in it, mixing it all together and getting something that looks complete unappetizing but that tastes delicious!  I have two servings.  Our guide says it’s called friends dessert ‘cause so many different ingredients are joined to create something fabulous.  I agree.

With full bellies and a happy countenance, perhaps due to the beer, we head to the river.  

We board a long boat.  (Actual nomination; not a description.)Life along the river is hard.

Some live on it.  Some don’t have it that hard.  Some worship along it.

Catholic Church on Riverbank

Some observe from it. I am relaxed and marveled by it all.  The hour ride seems like minutes.

A two hour bus drive to the hotel and we are on our own.  But, of course, I have built up an appetite and Otto has talked about a restaurant called Cabbages & Condoms. The restaurant has really great food, some organic, most healthy, in a really cute, laid back (yes, pun intended) environment. “Statutes” made of condoms dot the entrance.  

Tiger figure. Read the sign. 🙂

"Tree"

Lamps are condom covered.  It was established in part to support the activities of the Population and Community Development Association and promote the health and safety aspects of condom use in a fun and amusing manner. All proceeds from the restaurants are used to fund this organization.

A quick tuk tuk ride back and we are done for the day.

Tomorrow, Laos awaits!

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Categories: Ayutthaya, Ramblings, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Khob Khun Ka

There has been a huge gap of days; too much time away from you.  The days in Myanmar have been unforgettable, incredible, moving, life changing, inspiring and so many more adjectives that have not even been thought of yet.  I strive to make it justice and find that I will honor it only by taking my time in writing about it.  I want you to enjoy it as much as I have so I wish to take my time in taking you through what experience.  Hence, for now, we are going to have a time gap. Will retell the Myanmar part as soon as possible.  At the last hotel in that country I was trying to connect to the Internet (seems to be a constant in my life these days) and could not.  So the engineer was called in and proceeded to change the configuration of it so that I could access it.  You must change it before you leave he tells me –through signs and smiles.  I in turn signal him to show me how.  He does and I proceed to forget how to do so as soon as the door closes behind him and think nothing of it.  More on that later.

We are in Yangon where we will say good-bye to Thiha, our local guide.  Parting has been difficult for all of us.  He has been incredible.   He leaves us at the Yangon airport.  The mural is one of a Myanmar wedding. 

Shopping Monks

I depart feeling as when you leave a loved one, part of me excited with what lies ahead, the other side of me mourning the separation and worried about my partner.  Myanmar has taken my heart prisoner.

We are flying on. Off to Bangkok we go.  We are bussed to the plane up the stairs into the aircraft where it is sit where you wish or have an empty seat.  It’s a routine I am getting used to.  

We arrive in Bangkok and to go through passport control.  Of course, when I go through (or try) they once again send me to the doctor to stamp my passport.  But I live in the US.  Yes, but Paraguay passport.  But, I already have a stamp from before.  Yes, but need it every time you in.  Ay, ay, ay!  So I go and the doctor stamps my passport and tells me to go through him before I go through passport control.  Now I’m concerned about my internal flights, when I will be alone.  Now I know that there are another 10 souls that are waiting and worrying about me.  Oh well, day at a time.  Zen mode.   I return to the same girl and go right up to the front.  She discovers my profession and I get the first smile in Thailand yet.  You actress?  You go.  I ask how to say thank you in Thai and she says “khob khun ka”.  She takes her time, corrects me until I pronounce it right, smiles again.  I can almost feel the murderous stares of those in line.  Welcome to Thailand.  One more smile and I meet my friends who wait with my luggage.  I love this group!

We arrive once again at the Pantip Suites.  I am starting a new page on my blog where the reviews of hotels, airlines, restaurants, and shows will go.  The one on Pantip Suites is going to be long and not for all the right reasons.  However, a friend will be happy to know that I did jump on the ginormous bed.  I am focusing on the good and am including here the view that I get from the room in the morning which pretty cool.

We arrived late at night so we are free to relax.  I take out my computer, excited that I will be able to report on Myanmar.  Nothing happens.  Try Internet again.  Nothing.  Call downstairs.  One engineer comes.  Changes the cable.  Other engineer comes and reverently touches my Mac and shakes his head no.  What?? Is my Mac dead?  Why are you patting it?  Oh, new Mac.  Don’t understand it.  They leave.  Internet doesn’t come and then it hits me.  The WiFi configuration was changed and I can’t figure out how to reset it.  Ugh!    Nothing else to do but unpack and sleep.

We meet our other 5 travelers at a meeting Otto, our trip leader has set up to brief us on the next 19 days.  A map awaits with where we will go and something that I find absolutely charming.  He has prepared a tag with the maps of our next 4 countries and a space where our name will be written in the language of where we are.  He is funny and very knowledgeable.The Grand Palace is how we will start our day.  I don’t really know what to expect.  On the way there we pass Chinatown.  It seems there is a Chinatown in every city of the world.

We arrive and there is a tidal wave of humanness that overcomes me.  It is hot, hot, hot.  The sun shines strongly, it’s 98 degrees, only 54% humidity.  Still, I am about to faint.  We cross the street.  Cars are everywhere.  Scooters you have to scoot away from.  Bicycles. Motorcycles.  Tuk tuks.   Horns blast.  People talk.  Peddlers putting their mouths close to my ear wanting me to buy elephants, postcards, hats, t-shirts.  Bursts of color seem to flash by. Our guide raises his hand and surprisingly they all stop albeit barely a few inches from us.

Then we go in and once again I am bombarded by colors.  Reds, greens, yellows, oranges along with others shining more than ever due to the sun.  Still haven’t gotten many smiles but am starting to warm up to Thailand.

Scary Good Demon

Good Demon standing guard.

The walls of the Royal Monastery are painted with scenes from the Ramakien.  One is a depiction of the initial stages of the war waged by Ramo of Ayothaya to rescue his wife who had been abducted by the King of Longka.  Ah, the extent that some men will go for a woman!  We visit the Emerald Buddha made of a huge piece of jade.  It is one of the most venerated sites in Thailand.  They change his outfit 3 times a year: one in winter, one in summer, one in the rainy season.  He now sports his winter outfit (Yeah, winter!)  Soon he will be changed into the summer one.

One of the stupas is adorned by broken porcelain.  Intricate design. beautifully executed. 

One building built by one of the kings is European in style on the bottom.  When they were going to complete the top he was advised to make it in the traditional style of the country.  The end result is beautiful and not weird as one would think.

It’s lunchtime now.  My pants are a tad tighter now which makes it impossible for me to disregard the fact that I am a bit less thin J than I was before. Somehow, though I notice there is no way I won’t stop experiencing that burst of flavor with every bit.

Local Beer

Each forkful offering a new taste to decipher and assess.  The restaurant is on the water but a permanent fixture.  Lunch is buffet-style.  I have my first local beer:  Chang.  I am told it is made from rice.  It’s cold and I love it.

Beer and noodle soup unite

Noodle soup is hot and just great. 

Coconut "pancake"

Dessert is a little coconut pancake which is really half a little ball is insanely delicious.  I go back too many times for more but don’t worry much about it.  We see the long boats pass by and with them floats my worries away.

Once back on the bus we pass huge fixtures with photos of a man with a camera and one on the piano.  Who’s the dude? I am told he is King Rama IX.  He is now 84 years old and frail but all photos depict him when he was young.  He is much loved among the Thai people, as is his wife.  It turns out that he is American though his wife is Thai.

And now comes confession time.  In my haste to not keep my friend waiting to go to the airport I left the charger and the extra battery to my camera safely plugged onto the wall of my room in Los Angeles.  Thiha, our Myanmar guide, tried getting me a battery or a charger to no avail.  As we return to the hotel I ask Otto to give me the address and name of somewhere that could possibly have it.   He writes it down in Thai, puts me in a cab and I am off to my private adventure in Bangkok.  Nothing prepares me for what I encounter.  I am at MBK Center “the most visited mall in Bangkok” a shopping mall/department store/market 7 floors high.  It is massive!  You can barely walk the aisles. I feel like sand thrown in a glass and stirred mightily.   Not many understand English but all recognize my battery and that it comes from a new model.  No, they don’t have.  Finally I go into a store that says Lumix in big letters.  I show my battery she says no.  I ask for charger and she says yes.  And so it is that my camera is operational again.  I go downstairs and grab a cab.  I’m in it and show him my hotel address in Thai that Otto so kindly provided me.  He doesn’t put the meter on.  I point and ask him to turn it on.  He shakes his head so I ask him how much and he tells me it will be 800 bahts.  Stop the car!  There is no way I will pay that for a ride that cost me 60 bahts here.  The second one I don’t get in.  I just ask and he says 500 baht.  Next!  I get in the third and ask him to turn the meter.  There’s that head shake again.  He speaks English.  300 bahts.  No!  How much you want to pay?  It cost me 60 to get here.  Too little.  Rush hour.  It’s Saturday, by the way.  Okay 100.  No, 250.  My counter-offer: 200.  Okay.  I know I’m overpaying but just want to get to the hotel.  He feels he got what he wanted.  We are happy.

Quick shower in my new room -after packing and moving since my room had a semi-flood in my original- and off to dinner it is.  Zilch ambiance but the good company, great food (we are given a cooking lesson), a glass of wine, and an unforgettable coconut ice cream make up for it.

Two of the girls and me, along with Otto will be going to a lady-boy show called Calypso.  Before we go in we encounter the

Thai Elvis who is doing a mighty good job at the lobby bar.

The lady-boy show is actually pretty good and I am glad I came.  A recreation of a wedding with drama when the guy cheats bringing out the dark side of the bride is pretty neat.  A Marilyn Monroe lady-boy has us all quite amazed.

Back to the hotel but this time in a tuk-tuk with a young, proud driver that tells us his tuk tuk has 3 horse power, car brakes and 1 cylinder. He’s done all the changes himself. He honks his horn (which makes a sound that just cracks us all up) probably a good 70% of the way, zigzagging around cars at a speed that tuk tuks should never go.  We are laughing throughout the ride out of sheer terror!  He reaches the hotel honking his horn repeatedly and makes us all feel like VIP’s.  All those in the lobby (including the employees) come out to see what the racket is all about.

I can’t take any more fun for the day and retire to my room.   Wake me up tomorrow?

Categories: Ramblings, Thailand, Yangon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

ADM=Ay Dios Mío=OMG=Wow!!!

This sign was in the middle of Yangon's market. 🙂

I have not been able to connect to the Internet recently.  I have missed talking to you all.  There is so much that I want to share but in the little down time that I have, even when I try to fight nodding off I can’t, and succumb to slumber.  Then I awake missing you all over again.  I do not want to forget any second of this experience.  I feel that in having you as my virtual companions, I have the responsibility to try to transmit thoughts, experiences, places and people I encounter.  As an after effect to that, you aid me to remember it all through words and photos.  I do not want this, however, to turn into a laundry list of where I went.  And in the haste to get it all down I may err on that side.  I will try to avoid it by all means and what is left will be inked as captions to on-line albums when I return.

I wake early.  They are picking us up at 8:30 a.m.   I am up at 3:30 a.m.  This internal clock thing is playing with me.  My adrenaline one-ups it and so far I haven’t gotten cranky and have managed to stay awake while going about town.  At 6:00 a.m. I go down to breakfast where other internal-clock-misfits in my group are already.  This group has turned out to be wonderful and having Thiha to give us insights has been fabulous.  It’s nice to know that everything is taken care of for us and, on a personal level, it is comforting to have others to say good-morning to and share a cup of coffee with.  Turns out that in good Myanmar tradition I am also sharing a bowl of Mohn Hin Gar, a fish soup with noodles, peanuts, red pepper, lime and who knows what else.  In some parts they would call it a “levanta muertos” which loosely translated is “raising of the dead”.  If this doesn’t give me enough energy for the rest of the day, I don’t know what will.

Before we head off to the Market, Downtown and Chinatown, our guide gives us an explanation and demonstration of Thanakha.  Thanakha is a paste created by putting some water on a flat, circular grinding stone and rubbing the bark of a thanakha tree on it. This is placed on the face.  It is cool (temperature-wise) on the skin and said to tighten pores and prevent wrinkles.  May be plastering it all over my body!  It is used widely by both women and men.  I thought of it as a foundation but it is used in circles or just a swatch on the face.  The paste is either yellow or white, so it is quite noticeable.  What is perceived as beauty varies dramatically between cultures.  Some of our group is adorned with it and out we go.

Monks in Market

This city is chockfull of sounds, smells, smiles, temples and pagodas.  I thought I was on sensory overload until we reached the market and then I went into sensory overboard.  As we zigzag the alleyways we see people smiling at the people in our group with thanakha on their faces.  Beautiful, they say.  Biggest guavas I’ve ever seen (didn’t taste).

Durian Fruit (Seasonal)

Huge Guavas!

Durian fruit, also called stinky fruit (not as smelly as I thought or that sweet, a bit pasty but not bad.)  Dragon fruit (inside it looks like a kiwi but whiter meat and not as sweet) Chicken feet, raw meat, sausages, fish paste, innards.  Vegetables I’ve never seen.  Food I would not try.

Then we go to Chinatown where an older gentleman approaches the group and starts asking where we are from, what we do and offers to tell us that his son lives in the States, tells us how happy he is we are visiting, points out some places and leaves as quickly as he came.   We go visit a Chinese temple.

Praying

From there we visit Kalywa Tawya Monastery.  At the monastery there are more than 1,000 novices and nuns studying the purity of Buddhist scripture as well as receiving a regular education.

"I am joyous here. I forget to go back to my village."

In Myanmar very young children can be sent to study Buddhism to become monks.  In fact, girls go to the nunnery as well.  Even a foreigner (male or female) can come in on a religious visa and go into the monastery for as long as they desire.  I think my heart is smaller now.  The girls at the nunnery kept a piece of it.  I can’t describe what they elicited in me.  Just hope that the photos illustrate it slightly.

After the calmness and discipline we witness at the Monastery we head for lunch at a local restaurant where controlled chaos is what we encounter.  It’s a “point and will bring to the table” kind of place.

To wind down a little we go to Rangoon’s waterfront and walk on the jetty (the equivalent of a boardwalk, I guess.)

And then for another mind-boggling, amazing pagoda that stores relics of the past four Buddhas:  Shwedagon Pagoda.   The complex itself is massive.  Many temples around the Pagoda.  Pagodas are domes that you cannot go into.  Temples usually have Buddha in them and are places of meditation, prayer, where you ring a bell or a metal triangle signifying you have done a good deed.  People come from all over.  You see monks and families intermingling.  Some meditating.  Some praying.  Some eating. Some changing kids diapers.

Volunteer Sweepers

Monk

This particular pagoda has on the tippy top a 76-carat diamond.  Around it something they call an umbrella –iron hoops around the dome- from which jewelry of all sorts hangs, donations made by its people.  Everything around me seems to blind me.

 And finally, before something in my brain explodes from just way too much to assimilate, we end the day at a restaurant where they recreate the olden days and offer us a show.

ADM=Ay Dios Mío=OMG=Wow!!!

It has finally hit me.  I AM in Southeast Asia!

Categories: Kalywa Tawya Monastery, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Shwedagon Pagoda, Thanakha, Yangon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Mingalarbar

SawasdeeKa (probably spelled very wrong).  Basically a good-morning and hello in Thai.   We are headed bright and early to Bangkok airport for a 1 ½ -hour flight to Yangon, Myanmar (my itinerary booklet lists it as Rangoon.)   I have decided to deal with the “Please, you need to see the doctor for yellow fever shot.” -or with the possibility of encountering any other immigration glitch- with a smile, consider it an adventure, and just have fun with it all.  But I am hesitant and I sweat (which I rarely do) as we head out to the airport.

We are stuck in the worst traffic jam.  It is very early on a Saturday so Benny, our Thai guide, ponders why.  As we inch along we see a horrible accident.  Around the world we are more similar than we think because the accident is on the other side of the road and we are held up by the “looky-loos”.

She tells us there sometimes can be lines at the departure area at the airport that take hours to clear.  We have to go through passport checks upon leaving.  Fortunately, Thailand respects its elders and there is a dedicated line for those over “a certain age”.  The guide looks at me and says that I look too young and I must say that I am one of our group’s caretaker.  Can’t I say that I am with the group?  No, you must say you are taking care someone!  Okay.  Who of?  A really nice woman in our group walks with a cane and, even though she is perfectly healthy and able, I am assigned to her.  We laugh that since there are three doctors in our group I could also pose as a nurse.  As we go to the priority line I am asked who I am and I put a concerned look on my face and put my hand on Pam’s shoulder and say I take care of her.  “Yes.  Please follow her.”  Now I sport an inner smile and in less than 10 minutes we are at the other side of Departures and encounter this. 

 I fill out the immigration form on Bangkok Air (a really adorable plane with fishes all over it) and it asks you to declare anything of value that you are bringing temporarily to Myanmar.  Uh, hold up… this plane has fishes swimming on it.  That sort of doesn’t give me much confidence.  Just a thought, I would prefer it had clouds or birds on it.        Hmm.  Back to the customs form.  Do I have to declare my Mac?  I am told to.  So I list it, along with my 3 cameras and my yet unread Kindle.   At customs I am thanked for declaring my stuff and with a smile told that I didn’t need to.  Please proceed.  We are now at the counter.  A beautiful, very petite, immigration officer takes my passport.  “Please stand back.”  Photo taken.  She looks at my passport again.  Looks up, looks down.  Looks up again at me and seems to scrutinize my face which I am sure is now sporting a very anxious look. “You are an actress?  So pretty.” And then gives me one of the most charming of smiles.  Okay, maybe it’s my relief talking.  Please proceed.

We are met by our local guide Thiha (pronounce tee-haa) who is wearing a skirt called a longy.  He promises to give us a how-to-tie-one lesson during our stay.  All other men are wearing it too. His smile is honest and open.  He greets us with “mingalarbar” (min-gah-lah-bah) that is used as a greeting in Burmese and means “auspiciousness to you”.  How can one go wrong with a country that greets you in this manner?   In less than an hour we have been met with more smiles than in all our hours in Thailand: the land of smiles.  To be fair we did arrive at godforsaken hours there.  I am still very much looking forward to our Thailand portion even when it means going through any other possible snafu at port of entry.

Loads of Kyats!

We go to change money since it turns out that our crisp new dollar bills we were instructed to bring, are less accepted than the local money.  It was true, however, than in Myanmar nothing less than a crisp bill, regardless of its denomination, is turned away.  So I hand a new $100 bill and am handed what looks like a lot of money.  The exchange is 800 Kyats to $1.  So 1,000 Kyats is about $1.25

We get to the hotel and it turns out that it is peak season and the rooms are not ready so we sit, as we are served orange juice that tastes like Tang (a good omen since it brings me loads of happy memories from my youth), while Thiha tells us about his country and his people. He also tells us that Hillary Clinton stayed at the Chatrium when she visited Myanmar recently.  Warns us about numerous power outages that may occur (the room has a flashlight prominently accessible on the bedside table.) Tells us his country is safe.  And gives us our itinerary for the rest of the day.  At 1:00 pm we are set loose and free until 4:30 where we will go for a walk in the park and dinner at a local restaurant.

Teak wood is big in Myanmar. Hence they use it a lot. Foyer to my room.

I go to the room and, after taking a shower and settling in, I look at the clock on my phone and it’s already 4:30!  I rush out and walk down the four flights of stairs. The power is cutting in an out and I don’t want to get stuck in the elevator. Hotel employees populating the inner sanctum (stairs) of the hotel smile.  I am regaled with lots of  “auspiciousness to you”. I am sure I am proving them their daily amusement.  No doubt they are wondering why this crazy tourist opts for walking down.  I go to the reception and it turns out that the clock on my phone is wrong.  Ay, ay, ay!  I go upstairs again and try to change it to the right time and am not able to.  I call and ask to have someone come and change it.  No one does.  I call again.  They will send me the engineer soon.  Upon arrival engineer tries to change the time to no avail.  I am not feeling that inept any more.  So he says he will change the phone.  He returns with an assistant carrying a brand new phone.  He plugs it in and asks me what time it is.  Uh… I don’t know. So his assistant tells him and I now know the time in Yangon!  All this has happened with a ton of smiles interchanged and with the best of disposition.  Don’t think I could ever possibly be angry at anyone here.

We walk to a park across the street.  Don’t know what kind of happy pill these people are on but I would like to commercialize it.  Not one frown to be had.  Is this real?

We go to dinner and at the restaurant there are two wedding receptions going on.   To get to our reserved table we have to go through the greeting line of one of them.  The bride and groom patiently pose for pictures from our group. 

We have a really great meal and I finally am sleepy… at barely 8:30 p.m.!

Nighty, night

Categories: Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Restaurants/Cafés/etc., Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Late Night Arrival in Bangkok… And Early Departure to Myanmar.

So I arrive in Bangkok after 21 hours of actual traveling.  It still hasn’t really hit me where I am yet.  Guess it will when I arrive in Myanmar tomorrow.

The first part of this journey will be with a small tour.  On the Myanmar pre-trip there are only 11 of us.  Traveled on the plane with one of the women on this trip.  Sat next to an aircraft engineer who is married to a Thai woman and who just returned from a year in South Africa.  He was in Hong Kong for a job interview for an American company.  It made the 2½ hour flight go by quick.  He was telling me about Thailand and its culture.  I got a kick out of the fact that he was quite impressed that I was an actress.   I thought being an aircraft engineer to be so much more laudable. Interesting how we give ourselves so little credit instead of recognizing that we are accomplished in our own right.

So I am in line chatting away with the lady I met that will be on my tour as we wait to go through customs.  I let her go first and then I go and the woman at the counter tells me that I need a yellow fever shot.  Oh no!  Mind you I went to a clinic to get all the shots I needed.  Three days before I saw something that said I needed it.  So I call the clinic and they tell me it’s only if I am traveling to South America and I think he said Africa.  Well it turns out that since I have a Paraguayan passport seems like I need one regardless.  Ay!  So she tells me there is a doctor in the airport I have to go to.  “But I am a legal resident of the United States.”  Even so.  I go.  He looks at me and stamps my entry and tells me to go back to the line this time no wait, go to the front.  And so it goes that I enter Thailand.  Joan, on the other side was getting worried she told me.  So sweet.  Now I am worried that this is going to happen trying to enter the other countries and on the next two times I am entering Thailand on this adventure.  Need you all to send good vibes, good thoughts and prayers so that I make it through without a glitch!

So we take our charter mini bus and arrive at the Pantip Suites in Bangkok.  It is 1:00 a.m. and it’s 85 degrees Farenheit.  They say that in Myanmar it will be 100 degrees with 75% humidity.  I am ready.  I really am.  Heat and humidity does not scare me.  Here are some photos of the hotel.   It has a bedroom, kitchen and living room.  The bed is ginormous!  Too bad I probably won’t be sleeping much in it since they pick me up at 5:30 a.m. and I am completely awake and not sleepy at all.  Think it will be another up-all-night nights!

The Football Sized Bed!

I will probably not be able to blog much in Myanmar.  Spotty internet and traveling all over the country these 7 days.  Will take loads of photos and report as soon as I return to Thailand, this time to stay for 3 days.   We are off and running!!  Hope you enjoy traveling with me.

The Living Room. Off to the side is a work room where I wrote this post. Place is humongous!

The Kitchen Which I Won't Even be Stepping In

Categories: Immunizations, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Thailand, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Coming To Terms With My Mortality and Running Out of Time….

I just read the title of this post and it sounded so final that I reversed the order of the thoughts.  Still it remained ominous.  So here’s the disclaimer:  I am not terminally ill or ill at all.  I not only intend to come back alive but to come back revived.  Just had to write-up and notarize some papers that made me think about my mortality.

 I have not slept.  Not from excitement mind you.  I, who said to myself that I would have everything done –be completely packed with nothing to do but blog before I go- is packing up to the very last-minute.  I had been so confident that in the last days I would have little to do, that about a month ago, when a friend had asked me if I wanted to go to the Valentine’s Day, Ellen DeGeneres taping I said, sure.  “Are you sure you won’t be frantic by then?”  Of course not, I said.  Ha!

 I look at the three manila folders containing documents that are to be opened upon my death (again, I really intend to come back). They are neatly positioned in the middle of my writing desk.  They bring me a tinge of wistfulness, yet I focus on how fortunate I am that I have people in my life that are willing to take the responsibility of executing a health directive, a will, and to put my affairs in order.  A final look around and I go to a friend I am so grateful to have in my life.  She is not a morning gal but has woken at the crack of dawn to take me to the airport.

 I have managed, much to my surprise, to fit 35 days of clothes into a compact 38-pound bag.  Within some of the countries I will be flying smaller aircrafts and they enforce the maximum of 44 lbs.  Promise me that when I retell how I wash my clothes with a tiny bar of soap, with hardly any hot water and proceed to try to dry it with a borrowed blow dryer before there’s a power outage, you won’t be saying that I overdid the streamlining thing, okay?

 I arrive 4 hours early so I can relax in the Cathay Pacific lounge so I can write this blog and tell you that in Myanmar internet may be very iffy so I may not be able to post much.  Wait, the girl at the counter is saying my passport is expired.  No, let me show you the extension… See?  Oh, thank you lady.  She talks again.  Lady, no Thailand visa.  Yes, I do.  See?   Where was I?  Oh, I had every intention, as I sipped on a coffee from a real cup, of posting a goodbye and a welcome to the first leg of the trip (15 hours to Hong Kong, a small wait at the airport and then a 2 ½ -hour flight to Bangkok).    But life and Cathay have conspired to prove that nothing really goes as planned.   I had been told that due to my Elite status on AAdvantage I would be able to use the lounge.  Turns out that I cannot.  So I head out to the last gate in the airport where a bus will be taking us to the plane.  A cavernous, really cold gate.  I sit and try to access the Internet.

Just kidding... this is how it really looks.

No luck.  A kid starts crying, then another.  Same family.  Please don’t get on my plane.  Then he discovers the fun of flash photography.  And guess who is his favorite subject?  Me, of course.  On the fifth shot his mommy says:  “No baby, no pictures of nice lady.”  Lady hasn’t slept at all woman and the nice in me is not gonna last me long.   Then the announcement:  All Cathay passengers, please proceed to gate 101 which just happens to be a 15 minute walk away and literally on the opposite side of the terminal.   Then we are delayed an hour.  Turns out that the President is in town and they are working around where he will be.  Or so it is said.   Only good thing is that they check my documents and ask me to please board from the Business Class line.  So I board from that line and as the rest settle into their semi-beds I walk a few more steps to an empty Economy class.  It is now a full flight.  No seats left.

 

 I sit and pass out.  Will write on the plane and hope that I make my connection in Hong Kong with some time to spare to post this.  I arrive around midnight in Bangkok.  Will be at the hotel around 1:30 a.m. after clearing customs and the ride to the hotel (having literally lost a full 24-hours in the process).  Will be picked up at 6:00 a.m. to get on the flight to Myanmar.  I haven’t fully assimilated that we will be landing in the other side of the world.  Day two of my malaria pills and they haven’t made me sick.

The journey begins.  Happy to have you all!

Mom and Dad

My parents are on this trip too.  Was going through some photos and there they were on a plane going to Trinidad and Tobago (I think) so I included them in this post.   Let’s see what lies ahead.  In the meantime I have gone into Zen mode and am happy to report that I will go with the flow from now on.  Narry an angst to be had.  Follow me along, we will have a blast.  Right?

 

Oh, and things are looking up.  Hong Kong International Airport has free WiFi.  Yaaaay!

 

By the way it is 4:43 a.m. (day hasn’t even begun) of Feb. 17, for my Los Angeles contingency, and it’s 8:43 p.m on the 17th (day almost over) here in Hong Kong International Airport.  That just amazes me.  Yep, I get easily amazed.  🙂

 

 

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Hong Kong, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , | 16 Comments

8 Days to Departure. But, Who Is Counting? Oh, I am!

It is 12:30 am and I am awake. Calmly… well, maybe not so calmly but meticulously… yes, carefully making arrangements to… oh gosh no, I will not paint a picture that is not! I sit in front of my trusted Mac with my eyes tired of reading through countless blogs/forums/mails/photos that the wonderful Internet provides me with just a few clicks. I am on information overload and I am seriously considering just going back to my old procrastinating self. After all, how bad can it be to get to my Thailand portion of the trip and have all my hotel reservations done but no flights to get to the wonderful places I will go within the country? Probably really bad! I punch in my dates again. A scheduling nightmare ensues. Why was I so confident that there were going to be flights every 15 minutes?

  My passport has returned. That is a story all in itself, but I will choose to tell it later. I am just relieved that it has come back to safe harbor. It was a thrill to leaf through it and see the colorful visa stamps. For what all this process cost me I would have expected a lot more vibrancy to those colors though! Though Laos has one with a hologram that’s pretty cool.

My rambunctious inner child is still jumping up and down and going “Yay!” (I think she is eventually going to take over and will have me smiling, skipping, and dancing throughout BLT+.)

It was worth every penny, however, not to have to trek to every embassy or to have to FedEx it to one and then to another or keep track of where it was or make sure all the info was right, or… well, you get the idea. No doubt it would not have had a good outcome. When I sent my passport in December my heart was still hurting and my mind was not into details. Now I have absolutely no excuse for not getting all the pieces of this puzzle together.

I don’t usually worry too much about itineraries –I have a backpacker mentality with a gentrified execution to travel- but being it the first time that I am alone on a trip this long I am not leaving too much to chance. Or at least I’m trying not to.

I go back to booking my flights and am sort of soothed by the fact that I am making reservations towards the latter part of March. That’s really far away. The first flight on Asia Air from Bangkok to Chiang Mai seemed really cheap until it directed me to the extra charge for my bag and then more for my seat (yes, really) and then to the meal –I’m not eating- and then to insurance –no again- and then to a place where it tells me that should I not use their internet check in, at the airport they will charge me extra. Once I added an additional $55 in fees I click again and I have at least one round-trip ticket taken care of. Fortunately, Asia Air doesn’t charge you for oxygen since I am hyperventilating and using a lot of it now. Then I have to find a way that when I return to Bangkok I can just go ahead and jump on my next flight to Koh Samui. This island better be worth it ‘cause there are no cheap flights and I proceed to pay what I was not expecting. $320 dollars later I am booked on a barely 1-hour Bangkok Airlines flight.

I have a false notion that I have all the time in the world till departure until I look at my February calendar. Eight days. Only a week-and-a-day before I leave? I still have to stock my antique stores/booths in Orange, CA. My will and my health directive have to be done. I have to meet with friends. Will I manage to do it all?

My new camera lies next to my bed. I swear it stares back and says in a very snooty way “You better get to know me. I’m not that simple you know.” If we don’t get acquainted really fast I will not be able to take all those amazing photos that I promised you I’d post. Time is running out.

Will keep you posted. It’s now 2:30 am and I am going to bed. Sleep is next.
Hypnos, Somnus?

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Uncategorized, Vietnam, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

On Feeling Naked…

Nakedness. There is a part of me that always feared any type of nakedness. But recently I experienced one form of it I did not expect, and my reaction surprised even me.

I always saw many flaws in my physical self so did not have much confidence in showing or seeing myself naked. With a new relationship I gained a lot of weight and was even less happy with myself. Having lost all or most of it (along with the boyfriend), I have now recovered my old self and gained a new attitude towards my body. Perhaps age has finally provided me with a less self-conscious and more accepting me.

I have always worn my heart and my emotions on my sleeve. However, that emotional nakedness has not always served me that well, sometimes leaving me wide open to not always constructive criticism and judgments. I justified it by saying that those who were with me knew exactly where they stood at all times. But if people used it against me or were mean-spirited I was invariably terribly hurt. So through the years I have learned to be a bit more reserved. Or maybe not, since this blog may be proof that I have not progressed much in that sense. Ay!

I am an orphan. Bear with me, the connection with nakedness will soon become apparent. Yes, pun is intended. As I said, I am an orphan –perhaps not too surprising considering chronology. But my mom passed on January 5, 2010 and one month and a day later on February 6, 2010 my father followed her. I am an only child. It was hard to assimilate that I was now truly alone. I was left with a need to still feel connected to them, primarily with my mom whom throughout my life and hers I have had a very strong bond with. I did not want to make a spectacle of my grieving and wear black for a year as traditionally, women did in my country. And as I pondered I twirled my mom’s wedding band in my hand and slipped it on my left hand on the wedding finger. It fit me perfectly and I suddenly knew how to keep them with me. I would wear it for a year in their honor.

A year passed. Then, a year and half, and I told my friend that maybe it was time to let them go and take it off. He said he liked the idea that I was, by wearing it, proclaiming I was off-limits. So I left it on. Two years and a day later, on the anniversary of my mom’s passing, I reached for the ring and took it off. It was time. I thought I had experienced nakedness but until now, I had never felt this naked. I would constantly rub my fingers together trying to find the missing band. Maybe it was not time. After four days I gave up and put it back on. I welcomed it – and them – back. A kind, understanding and wise woman suggested I wear it in another manner. I may try that next…

This blog was started by the desire to take you with me on my exploratory trip to Southeast Asia (BLT+) and it turns out that I am taking you on more than one journey. You are now part of my exploration of self as well as that of the world. Hope you don’t mind.

We are only 16 days to departure on a Cathay Pacific flight. That, at least, I hope you are ready for!

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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