BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar

A Return of Sorts…

Today I had taro frozen yogurt in my neighborhood parlor.  So what does that have to do with my blog?  Simply, the taste took me back to a journey through seven countries I remember with great nostalgia and fondness.  So it seemed so very right to get back to this blog to relive and share the second half of it even when it has been three months since I returned from it.

Last I left you was in Cambodia with a visit to the Killing Fields.   Less somber areas to cover from now on.

We leave Phnom Penh today and head over to Siem Reap.  Thaly –our only female guide- is there to see us off.  People are well into their day.    The road awaits us and it will be an all day trek.  We will go through Kampong Cham and Kampong Thom provinces.   Stupas along the way…  

Of course we must stop at a “happy house” (aka: as bathroom).  I don’t need any more “happiness” so I roam.  There is such peace in this place.  Wish we could just eat here.  

Orchids hang from the balcony.    Reminds me of all the orchids my mother grew in her backyard.  There you go again Asia, a million miles and time period away and you are bringing me closer to my past than I’ve been in a while.

We pass by numerous lotus plantations.  The lotus plant is not only beautiful but every bit of it is of use.  Every part of it can and is used for medicinal purposes. At the side of the road we spot a vendor selling its fruit.  Some in our party are excited to see it since they used it in salads and have not been able to see it any other place outside of India.   

But the lotus flower is so beautiful that one almost forgets the rest.

    

We stop and gawk but must continue on toward spiders and crickets and water bugs and lots more creepy crawlers.   When we get there, one tarantula decides to check the time on Tom’s watch.    Our tour guide approaches me with it and I don’t think I’ve ever jumped back as quickly as I did then.   Some of his species where not as lucky as it was and ended up in this huge pile on the side of the road, fried to a crisp.   Yep, I actually had one –all I could taste was the rancid oil it had been fried in- though I decided to pass on the crickets and water bugs…

A kid, trying to sell us some green mangoes, demonstrates how the crickets are yummy too.  

I wasn’t buying it.  Which says a lot, for this kid could sell you anything!  

He had a way with words and his expressions said so much.    And he had a lovely smile.  Yep, I bought a bag of mangoes.

As we leave a vendor is bagging some tamarind.    

We are back on the bus.  Our next stop is a stone carving village.   No matter what culture, children always like to play.

Carvings are impressive.      

Some oversee the abodes of the ones that carved them.  

It’s almost hard to appreciate the skill it takes to carve them when there are so many together.

But it is a skill passed from one generation to another.  

The larger the piece the more valuable it is and the more skilled the carver has to be.

   

But again, it is the faces that captivate me the most.  What are they thinking?  What is generating that expression?  What is he reacting to?      

After a bit more of a ride we stop at Prei Proh Village where lunch is riverside.     

After which we visit the ancient bridge of Kampong Kdei.   Three things I am particularly fond of photographing: bridges, windows and doors.

I am happy snapping away.

 

Ah, but I forgot:  faces, I love photographing faces, specially when they are not aware of it.

This man waits for a tourist to offer a ride to. And not having found one returns to just waiting.

So does his horse.  

A bit more of a ride and mid-afternoon we arrive at Angkor Home Hotel whose lobby can’t be any more soothing to the soul. 

At night we go to a Angkor Mondial restaurant and show.  The dancers were amazing.  A characteristic that stuck to me of the dance is how the women, while dancing, bend their fingers back so much that it seems that they will break.

Tomorrow we will go to Angkor Wat, a visit I have been looking forward to throughout the trip!

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

Fields of Pain

I wake to no sunset again (at least none that I can capture).  Perhaps it is aptly so, for a day like today.  The Killing Fields.  A confession is to be made:  I am a product of Hollywood and all I can think of when I think of where we are headed next is of a movie I did not see so as not to be depressed.  And now, here I am going towards the real thing and to be forcefully faced with man’s capability to kill, torture, and destroy psyches.  I am bracing myself mentally.

We have breakfast and out the door we go.  Our bus waits in front of the hotel.  A flash of a familiar color attracts my attention and I turn and see my Baby Blue.  Actually not my Baby Blue (aka: my little hybrid, Toyota Prius) but a Baby Blue.  First Prius I see on this trip and it’s exactly the same color as mine.  Suddenly, for the first time, this strong feeling takes over me and I am tremendously homesick.  I’m taken aback by it.  It physically stops me in my tracks.  And then, in matter of seconds it is gone.  As if it had never taken over me at all.

We arrive at the infamous S-21 (Tuol Sleng Prison).  This place, where they executed over 300 people a day, is oddly calming now.  Flowers are in bloom. We are reminded that we are to show respect for what is in effect a burial ground.  

This was not a place of calm.  It was one of death.  Testament that among our race are those who can and will commit horrific acts.

The Chemical Substance Storage Room.  The sign reads: “Here was the place where chemical substances such as D.D.T…. etc. was kept.  Executioners scattered these substances over dead bodies of the victims at once after execution.   This action has two purposes: firstly to eliminate the stench from the dead bodies which could potentially raise suspicion among people working near by the killing fields and secondly to kill off victims that were buried alive.

I am starting to feel quite perturbed.  Thaly, our guide was 10 when it happened.  She tells us of the mystery revolving around what lay within these walls.  Of how her family is one of the few who survived intact.

There are mass graves, some of people without heads, of women and children but in effect the whole place is a burial ground.  We are told that fragments of bones and teeth and fragment of clothes are still surfacing after the floods.

I bend down, incredulous to see it close up.    

And then we reach the “Magic” tree.  There is something horribly wrong about the fact that it is from this majestic tree that they hung loudspeakers to drown the moans of those being executed.     

And that the next beautiful tree we see, is one against which children were beaten. 

I need to inhale a huge breath of air, hoping that the smell of inhumanity and death does not infiltrate it.

We pass by the stupa built to honor the fallen.  

I enter and the different levels are filled with skulls of different age ranges.    The deodorant they use to clean them turns my stomach.  No amount of disinfectant can clean what happened here.  Again I need air.

A mini documentary and some wall inscriptions later and we are on to the Genocide Museum.  The morning is turning out to be one of reflection.

While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all…  

The barbed wire was there so that the prisoners would not commit suicide (the taking of life was to be done only by the executioners and after torture) from the upper floors or try to escape from the bottom one.   

My quota for facing the darkest side of the “human” race and to image the pain inflicted on the innocent is at its max and I tell my group I will take a walk around the neighborhood.

It seems that all my senses return as soon as I step away from the confines of the Genocide Museum. I can feel the sun on my skin, smell the wonderful aroma of coffee coming from a cart that is quite stylish in its “purpleishness”.

But I do not buy my coffee there.  Instead I go to a B&B that I spotted from the bus.   The wall is covered with local art and I think that it has been way too long since I have picked up a brush.  I daydream about painting here.  I sit, I sip, I breathe in life and a smile once again is plastered on my face.  

 

    

The tour has assumed that after such a somber morning people would want to relax.  Their idea of relaxation is taking us to the Russian Market.  But it is a good place to encounter life again.  This market became the foreigner’s market during the 1980’s when most of the foreigners in Cambodia were Russians, hence the name ‘Russian Market.’  The market (aside from not having one Russian item in it) is a busy one and pretty much anything can be found.  I, the non shopper, once again manage to find something that I absolutely need and must buy.      

And, of course, shopping makes you thirsty.

Hello guy… cheap drink here… (They don’t want female business?)

And builds up an appetite, so we return to the bus

and go to a restaurant whose name  translated means Sweet Cucumber.   We have a pretty good meal.

Dessert is taro ice cream, my new favorite. 

At the National Museum of Cambodia we are up close up and personal with history and art.  I buy an offering of flowers –the flowers are as fragant as they come- and I will place it at an altar that moves me. 

The main terracotta building in itself has my attention.  

Ganesh welcomes us.  

And there’s a million shades of green among the leaves in the museum’s garden.   

Which is probably why I decide to present the next photo in black and white as contrast.  

On the way back to the hotel I snap some more photos.    The river flows alongside of us. 

Electrical wires that I do not understand how they are not considered a major fire hazard.  

At the hotel we are left with an evening on our own.  Five of us decide to take advantage that we have a female guide when she announces that she is headed to the salon.  Girls night out!

We walk.  I photograph.  

When we arrive at the local salon, there is only one person there.  She gets on the phone and in matter of minutes helpers arrive one by one on scooter. The salon so reminds me of the ones back in South America.

I have my hair done. Oh, for a full $5!  The girl gives me one of the best massages as she washes my hair.   

The day has ended in the most relaxing of ways.  I sleep like a baby.

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, Phnom Penh | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Oi Goi Oi!

Again my eyes open early though I can’t capture a sunrise on my lens due to the fact that the hotel is in a very busy area of Ho Chi Minh City.  Not much of a sky to see here.

After our morning ritual of coffee, breakfast and climbing on the bus we are all set for our day-long trip to Chau Doc via Cantho.

A few hours in, most on the bus need either a coffee or a bathroom  break so we stop at the Vietnamese version of a Starbucks.   Much more relaxed atmosphere than the chain, with much better coffee!  They use this aluminum coffee filter and place it on top of a glass, one-third filled with condensed milk.  They pour hot water on the filter of ground coffee beans and when the condensed milk and freshly brewed coffee meet, the result is heaven to the taste buds! Don’t know how these people remain thin!     

There are hammocks all over and when you order your coffee they will bring it to your selected hammock.  We congregate around some low, small tables so we can chat.  Again, Vietnam unexpectedly is providing me a flood of memories of my childhood and my country.   Hammocks are a standard in Paraguay.  Rarely will you see a back yard that doesn’t have one.  The shade from the trees they are usually tied to, providing a perfect setting for a siesta and shelter from the brutal sun, while the hypnotic side-to-side swing helps keep the flies away and you sound asleep.  But no time to sleep now.  I do not waste the chance to go back in time and space and lie on one, nonetheless.  I recall, while I do so, that it takes a bit of balance to climb on!  

After a few more hours (observing daily life alongside my window)  

and a stop at a lotus plantation

we arrive to Cantho   and it’s time for lunch near the river.   

Lunch of vegetable soup,  steamed shrimp with mango sauce,

stuffed pumpkin flower   and crispy pork with mushroom sauce, is divine.  Heavenly coffee, divine lunch… there’s an out of this world theme in this post. 🙂

There is a market on the side and I buy yet another scarf and t-shirt.   Our guide has taught me to say “Oh my god!” in Vietnamese and when I exclaim:  “Oi gioi oi!” when a vendor quotes me the price, I get a look of total surprise and the most charming  of giggles  as she calls the other vendors and has me repeat it.  This was me just before I said it.  They are having a ball.  Didn’t get me much of a discount but it did make for fabulous interaction.

A short distance from there we climb on scooters for another of what my tour company calls UFE’s (Unforgettable Experiences).  Scooters and drivers wait for us to take us to a bird sanctuary at the other end of the town, Banglang.    Didn’t spot many birds.

They leave us and we walk through town.  My “inside quietness” surfaces as I photograph their faces, their houses, their town.   


Back to bus.   Karaoke or Internet anyone?  

Long Xuyen is our next stop where we visit the Cao Dai Temple.  Not a promising start…  

Then a surprisingly pretty building…  

Then puzzlement when I see the monument in front with a reverse swastika embedded. Turns out that the reverse swastika, which happens to have a Buddhist influence, is sacred to many Vietnamese.  The swastika (a Sanskrit word) is also a tantric symbol to evoke ‘shakti’ or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness.

Cao Dai is a religion that aims “to unite all of humanity through a common vision of the Supreme Being, whatever our minor differences, in order to promote peace and understanding throughout the world.  Cao Dai does not seek to create a gray world, where all religions are exactly the same, only to create a more tolerant world, where all can see each other as sisters and brothers form a common divine source reaching out to a common divine destiny realizing peace within and without.”  May get my vote on that premise.   I am mesmerized by its colors and by its principles.  About 2 million people practice it in Vietnam.  Persecuted by the communist rule, it gained in the ’80’s its acceptance.

Back on the bus.  Am really liking crossing the countryside.  We are taking this route so as to be near the Cambodian border.  Tomorrow we are cruising from Chau Doc, Vietnam to Pnom Penh, Cambodia on the Mekong River.

On the way we view a bit more of daily life.  School is out and some girls are in the traditional ào dái dress, used as uniforms in the school. They are heading towards the local ferry which will take them home.  A lot of life takes place on the river; they are so dependent on it.  

We arrive to the Dong Nam Hotel in Chau Doc.  I take a shower and again get on the bus to go to dinner at a local family’s house.  It’s actually a bakery by day and at night she hosts small dinners for tourists.  I try taro and rice soup –purple in color with what to me was a pretty strange taste.   Egg noodle with seafood –great.  Stir-fried morning glory (a plant not the same as the one in the US which is not edible) –delicious!   Catfish cooked in a clay pot –good.

When we arrive it was pouring. First downpour in almost 20 days of travel. It reminded me so much of the storms that hit Asunción and used to scare my mom so much. Ay Vietnam, what are you doing to me?  You have generated so many memories!

The rain brings in a visitor that was not invited to the table.    Mom did not like them; I liked them less.  She got accustomed to them; my aversion got stronger.

Back to the hotel.  The rain is steady and strong and turns into the prequel of dreams of times long gone.

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cantho, Chau Doc, Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon, Long Xuyen, Ramblings, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Kob Chai Lai Lai

I am a bit disoriented.  Where am I?  Oh yes, Vientiane, Laos.  It is the capital and its largest city.  Sabaidee@Laos hotel (I promise to have a Review Page on all soon.) I had left the curtains open before I went to sleep and am rewarded with a pretty cool sunrise.  It is still dark.  I grab my camera from my bedside table and snap away as it gets lighter.   

I get up and notice that I have not unpacked yet.  I wonder why and go about doing so.  As I hum a song to myself and go into the shower I realize that I am feeling absolutely, completely well.  Was I really sick yesterday?  Was it a nightmare?  Did I imagine it all?  Definitely not!  My imagination is pretty developed but for good.  Never would have I imagined being so sick.  The main thing is that I am well and ready to go.  Later on I would consult with a doctor friend and he said it was most certainly a case of mild food poisoning, otherwise I would not have recovered in 24 hours.  I wouldn’t call it mild but it is now forgotten. Down to kow sao (breakfast  in Lao). I go with a smile on and a “goooooood morniiiiiing” to all.  It is so nice to find some of the group in the restaurant, remarking that it was good to see the old me come back.

We are taking a tour of the city.   Laos gained its independence from France in 1949.  Vientiane certainly has a “Frenchness” to it.   We pass by the Presidential Palace , which is not open to the public and only used for formal ceremonies, on our way to Ho Phra Keo “Hall of the Emerald Buddha”.  It was there that the Emerald Buddha, taken from Chiang Mai, had its home until King Rama I, repossessed it and took it back to Thailand.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t figure out whether to point my camera at the flowers…

Or at the Buddhas around the museum.   One in my favorite pose of “stop the war, make peace”   

Another in a pose –and attitude- I should adopt:  walking meditation  

In any position (or mudras as they are called) these Buddhas are beautiful.  This one is in the Bhumisparsha mudra symbolizing the enlightenment of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree. 

Or at the Nagas  (mythical serpents, protectors and guardians of treasures) flanking the steps going in. 

 We continue to Wat Sri Saket, home of 6,840 Buddhas.  Some in little niches.  Fascinating to see so many in one place.  

Really sad to see the storage room of the ones damaged in the war.  

But the surroundings are also worth exploring.  This is where I find a Smiling/Happy Buddha.  The story –according to our guide- goes that Buddha was so handsome that many where those he attracted while meditating.  To avoid interruptions he transformed himself into a plumper and less attractive version and therefore happily gained solitude for his meditation.  Looking it up it seems it may have other versions but the constant is that the parasol is for protection. 

Our trip leader finds a nest in a tree, of what is a delicacy in Thailand and Laos:  ants.  He points and pokes at it.      And the ants get angry.  

Then they are really, really mad.     So we leave them alone!

Next is That Luang stupa, said to contain remains of Lord Buddha.  It is impressive.  

The day is brutally hot, there is no shade at all and I can barely stand it, so head back to the bus.  Snapping photos on my way back.

It’s hot even for the monks! 

This building is a Monk’s Center.  The streetlights look very French to me. 

Off we go to Patuxai or Victory Gate.  It was built to commemorate those who fought in the independence from France.  At first sight it is a copy of L’Arc du Triomphe in France and when I ask our guide if he doesn’t find that fact ironic he doesn’t seem to believe so.  It is, however, decorated with mythological Buddhist half female, half bird figurines (kinnari) which makes it quite Laotian on inspection.     

Other details also make uniquely Laotian.    And as I climb steps up to the top on each level there is a mini shopping mall of Lao crafts and souvenirs as well as architectural details that continue reinforcing the Laotian side of this monument.       

The view from above.   

From there, the rest of the afternoon and night is on our own.  I decide to have a mani/pedi since it’s on our way to our hotel.  Will be my first in Southeast Asia.  Unfortunately, though the ambiance was unique the service was not the best.    My feet are happy campers anyway for the little TLC I have provided them.  Little do they know that in the afternoon I will join our guide and some of the group for a walk on Vientiane’s boardwalk and will make them work all over again.

The boardwalk is a surprise.  I am finding that in laid back Vientiane there is much more to see and do than I expected.  Again I wish that I knew how to ride a bike.  Though even as it gets darker the heat is quite oppressive.    
King Anouvong overlooks all this activity.      Giving his back to the “new” aerobics craze and the free class that is held in open air behind him.  
Which I decide to join… for less than a minute. 

I have a feeling he wouldn’t approve of this girl’s attire, an American flag printed on her shirt.  

Alongside freestanding exercise equipment stands this banyan tree, completely ignored by most.  I just stand in front of it awed by its intricacy (and dutifully avoiding –due to highly allergic reaction to exercise- even looking at the exercise machines in front of it 🙂 

At night I join part of the group to eat a pizza, of all things, at a French restaurant in Laos.  Kinda weird, huh?

We leave Vientane, and Laos, tomorrow morning.  I, once again, will be leaving part of my heart.  The Lao people have an acceptance of all things ingrained in them by their religion.  Acceptance… something I should add to my vocabulary and to my life.    Kob chai lai lai (thank you much) Laos for giving me a life lesson.

What will Vietnam (our next destination) teach me?

 

 

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Laos, Uncategorized, Vientiane | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

P.D.R.

I do not want to leave Luang Prabang and am seriously considering letting my inner child take over and let her stomp her feet, throw herself on the floor, little fists in a ball, face streaked with tears and yelling: “I don’t want to gooooo!”  But the adult in me knows that it won’t go well with the rest of the group and primarily, that it will do me no good.  So my bag is packed and out the door.  I delight myself in some local flora and pretend I’m here to stay.  

Laos P.D.R. is the full name of the country.   P.D.R. stands for People’s Democratic Republic though it is also an acronym for the country’s way of life:  “Please Don’t Rush”  I don’t want to rush in its discovery.

But then comes a tuk tuk ride to the bus.  A daylong bus ride to Vang Vieng is ahead of us.  We are warned that most of it will be on a windy, bumpy road.  We are going to stop for bathroom breaks and to visit hill tribes along the way.  Noon will find us at a “pretty for pictures” mountain-high restaurant.  I mistakenly wrote I was on the “death road” yesterday.  Well my mind got things mixed up and it was today.   It is going to take us –on a good day- between 6 to 8 hours to get to our destination.

At the beginning, the road offers the usual scenery.  Fields along the way, houses, sky, mountains in the distance.  Then I doze off and awake to this…     

Suddenly the words “bumpy”, “windy”, “hill”, and “mountain-high”, connect!  I add “death-road”, “vertigo”, “ouch”, “Can I get off now?”  Later I would read that the road was “not recommended for nervous persons”.  There are few to no barriers separating the bus from a vast ravine.  Someone asks if I had fallen asleep because I was too quiet.  No, I say.  I’m just too queasy to talk!

No wonder my head hurts.  It’s been bouncing against the window.  Sort of like the head of those dogs they use for good fortune (the ones that their head bobs on any movement.) Fortunately, my palpitations will be reduced by a walk in the hill tribe village we stop at. 

We are the local entertainment.   

A protective older sister wraps her arm around her sibling and as I press my shutter gives me a look of  “don’t you mess with my sister”. 

We are invited by a local to visit his home.  In all the villages and homes we have visited there is a television and satellite alongside abject poverty.  But these people do not live in misery for they are content with who and where they are.

Kitchen at entrance.    

Our host lives in this home with his wife and 11 children.  He answers all our questions and I see in his eyes wonderment and disbelief in some of the things we are curious about.

There is a strange flickering noise in back of me that is a bit unsettling (Is something alive there?) but I don’t want to be rude, turn and potentially run out screaming if I find a strange animal resides in that corner.   

Other kids join us or come in.   

And we leave.  We are still the entertainment.     

Can you tell who will be the gang leader from this photo?  

After a few hours –many more than I like- we arrive at the restaurant for lunch.  Mr. Peng laughs as he sees my expression of horror as he parks the bus head first, facing the precipice.  Lucky me is in the front row.  Okay, you are close enough, please stop the bus, stop please, STOP, NOW!!!  

We go to “happy place” (local speak for bathroom) first.    

Then a little walk uphill towards the restaurant.  To my left a view of the road. 

To my right, a scene that could be labeled many ways.  My whole being quiets and settles.  

A view of where we came from.  We are at approximately 5,000 ft.  

Reaching the restaurant, a little figure, advertising god-knows-what, seems so out of place that we all gawk at it and name it “little happy laughing girl Buddha”.     

We eat.  Wash our hands.  Explore the surroundings a little more.  and back to the bus for another couple of hours till we stop at a mountain food market.  You aren’t tired already, are you?

We are instructed not to point our cameras at any of the dead animals that are offered (head and all).  Seems that these vendors are fully aware of Facebook and that a photo may go up that will force authorities to come in and fine or confiscate.  They sell some animals that are not supposed to be sold.  Fortunately I see none with a face to it.

There are a lot of “normal” selections of fruit and vegetables. 

Bamboo shoots.  

Banana blossom. 

Taro.  I would later have taro soup and then taro ice cream. 

And something that is nowhere near common or normal in my book.  Our guide points out what looks like a stalk of something and says that it is a delicacy in his country.  I am leery.  Delicacy = very odd, strange, gross, inedible, retching-induced!

Our vendor starts the process.

She peels.  

Almost done.  

And out comes the yuckiest of worms.  It has been cooked in the stalk but that doesn’t make it any more appetizing.   Our guide repeats it’s a delicacy and proceeds to eat it.  Amazingly, so did one of our group who told everyone it tasted like chicken.

Ohhh, the Americans ate the worm!  

Back on a bus that, at this point, nobody wants to be in.   Another hour and another stop at another happy place where, believe it or not, they sell Kit Kats and Snickers. I buy them and eat them both in a nano second!  I don’t even like chocolate but somehow it was appropriate and satisfying to do so. It didn’t stop me from trying the local taro ice cream, either.

A million years more of a bus ride (or so it seemed) and my sore bottom and me arrive in Vang Vieng.  The bus is too big for the city streets so we shall walk to the hotel.  Vang Vieng has the reputation of being a backpacker’s paradise and it lives up to the fame with advertising for tubing, zip-lining, trekking, parties, etc.  I get a kick out of one that is none of those.

Are you over seacall?  Busticker anyone?  

Sign with all the familiar breakfast (at least for the Brits) 

We had seen an ad for a balloon ride in the plane and wanted to do it but once we saw the balloon and how incredibly close he got to that building we change our minds.   

The ever-present temple along the way.  

As I look towards a street vendor, I capture her expression right before she gives me the thumbs up signal.  

Graffiti in Laos? 

Then a road that becomes indicative of the type of resort we are staying at. 

Though it hardly matters where we sleep for this is the view before us.       

We eat well.

Pumpkin soup.  

Remnant of my tilapia.   

After which I dive, literally dive onto my not so soft bed.  Lots of excitement to be had tomorrow!

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Laos, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 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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