Myanmar – Burma

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

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

Reflections on Consumerism and Feeling Naked…

Reflections: “a calm, lengthy, intent consideration”. Can’t quite define my consideration as calm, but lengthy it is, and I am most definitely putting consideration to Consumerism with a capital C.

I am not a shopper. When I travel I rarely buy things. Only a select few may get an “I remembered you” gift that will undoubtedly be small. I don’t even shop for myself. And when I am at home, my attention span for shopping is practically nonexistent, unless I am at an estate sale or thrift shop where I can pretty much be all day and buy a heck of a lot more than I expected. There is nothing like the thrill of a bargain and of discovery. Perhaps that is why I love traveling. I mean for the latter, the discovery. The bargain part just doesn’t qualify my trip any longer.

BLT+* started as a much needed escape from daily life, a way to mend a broken heart, to understand myself better, to overcome fears, and to discover and assimilate more cultures, people and landscapes. Then, well into the process of healing, it started to mushroom unexpectedly. With the infamous “When am I going to be back to this part of the world?” I started to consider staying a tad longer in the area. So I called the tour company and meekly asked: “How much more would it be to change my air portion to remain a bit longer in Thailand and well, maybe Hong Kong too?” I was hoping they would come back with a huge sum so I would discard the option completely but no, the response came back at: “$100 Ms. P.” How could I pass that up? And since I have no middle ground, I added 8 days in Thailand. Surely I could find something to do. And 5 days in Hong Kong -until I saw how much the hotel would cost- then whittled it down to 3, also due in part to people telling me that would be enough. My travel company had a post-trip to Chiang Mai in Thailand but was fully booked so I could not take it. Why not go on my own? I decided to fly to Chiang Mai where I plan to be one with the elephants and tigers. What to do with the next 4 days? My dream had been to go to Phuket -only a flight away. But friends and forum contributors convinced me that Koh Samui (Thailand) was less developed and just as wonderful. So Koh Samui it is. After all, I would need some mental and physical R&R after traipsing all over Southeast Asia. Then I chose the area of Kowloon to stay in Hong Kong. Then, I made no other move. Period. No move at all.

This is where consumerism comes in. 31 days to blast off (I wrote this blog a few days ago) and I have made no reservations. Purchased nothing. Planned nada. OMG! Just do it! Nike: any possibility of a commission? I’m repeating your slogan an awful lot.

I start off making reservations for a hotel in Chiang Mai, then a hotel in Koh Samui, then reservation in Hong Kong (almost), and since I’ll be alone in Hong Kong why not hire a local guide for a day? I call her; I book her after a PayPal invoice arrives. I want to go to Dialogue in the Dark but the website says they have no room. I call and ask for an English guide. I get one, along with a reservation. Skype, I am publicly declaring my love for you! I need to have a safe backpack that safeguards me from pickpockets so I go on the PacSafe site and select one. My Kindle Touch has already arrived ‘cause I can’t carry as many real books as I would like. Bought my first book for it, The Holly Brown Chronicles, some days back so now I buy some more. Haven’t booked the internal flights in Thailand yet and I’m already broke! Checked with PVS International on the status of my visas and only Laos in missing. Am asked if I want to know the running total so far and I say no, just tell me after Laos is done. Ah, the power of denial. Need to book or find out about airport transport in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Hong Kong. Some temples require people to remove their shoes and socks. Need to find one that is easy to slip on and off and very comfortable. Found. Bought. Clark’s, I may start loving you too if you turn out to have a product that does not give me blisters. Did a lot of research on a camera with a power zoom. I speak with a friend that refers me to a camera shop in NY he’s dealt with a lot and that can give me a good discount. I call. They don’t have the one I wanted in stock but suggest another they say is better. I buy. They ship. This non-shopper (even less so through the internet) has just redeemed herself in a grand way!!!! I am drained physically (my fingers are moving hyperactively), financially, and mentally. My head is spinning. Is it absolutely unconscionable that I sport a huge smile on my face, regardless? Ay, ay, ay!! (Don’t forget to infuse a bit of “Latinoess” into that expression.)     Do you think Myanmar -where I am going to first- a land predominantly Buddhist, of quiet semblance and controlled emotions is ready for me, a bundle of strong emotions and powerful voice? Will have to channel my mom, who was so subdued and quiet, to be able to blend in!

Was going to delve into the feeling naked part of my blog but this one has already run too long so I will be leaving it for the next blog which will come in rapid succession to this one…

* Please refer to previous blogs for a full explanation on BLT+

Categories: Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Thailand, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

41 Days and Counting…

It’s Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. So the rest of the world seems to have had enough time to recover and return to real life. For those that read my blog regularly, you already know that I don’t need much recovery since I have had the most relaxing and actually pleasant of holidays. I was starting to enjoy the almost deserted streets. But, alas, everything ends and today as I head out in the Baby Blue (my Prius). I encounter way too much traffic and as I start to walk on one of my favorite streets (Honolulu Ave. in Montrose, CA) there are way too many people.

I go into a new restaurant for me and open my reading material. My itinerary for the first half of my trip stares at me in full color. The photos are amazing and I smile broadly. Maybe a little too much so, since I catch the people at the table next to me stealing perplexed glances. But I don’t really care. This “world traveler” is absolutely ecstatic about this journey. I’d like to be blasé and worldly about it but I am not, not, not!!! I must admit that my heart goes pitter-patter and that my inner toddler manifests itself and jumps up and down

Yay!!

(fortunately figuratively) with glee. Forty-one days till departure (minus 3 days in Vegas with a friend). An eternity. But the adult in me shows up and is thankful that I still have over a month since I have a million –no, a zillion things to finalize before I leave. I have finished the four pills that I had to take to prevent typhoid fever and they are valid for 5 years but I still have the lovely final vaccines/shots to get. The tetanus shot is the one that scares me most. I already am quite averse to needles and to top it off, they said my arm will be sore for a few days.

Today I find Myanmar

Myanmar

in the New York Times list of the 45 places to go in 2012. ☺ I am fortunate that I have gone to a lot of the rest of the places they suggest. Panama, which is on the list, I even lived in. So glad that – even though I don’t believe in bucket lists – I will be able to say that I went to Myanmar before the crowds did. I’m extra excited about the week I will spend there.

I finish dinner and head over to FroyoLife, which I believe serves the best frozen yogurt I’ve had anywhere in the city. I also like it ‘cause everyone there is just really cheerful and helpful. My inner child is asserting herself again and telling me to skip. Actually she is demanding it. Skip! You are happy. Just do it!! (Sorry Nike, my inner child watches way too much TV and has a tendency to repeat slogans.) The adult me is okay with just walking, albeit with lots of darling yellow smiley faces flying around me.

(I really had to give my younger me some concession and I give in to a little childishness.)

As I sit and eat my yogurt, as much as I try to avoid it, I have a laundry list of things to be done that has been playing for the past hour in my head and still I am nowhere near the end. Argh! Will be mentally checking tasks off, as well as in this blog. That way, when we go on this little journey both you and me will know (if you have been with me so far you are my traveling companion) what I managed to get out-of-the-way and what was not accomplished. Hmm, let me restate that. It will serve as a testament that one can do a lot in very little time as long as you put your mind to it… hopefully.

Categories: Immunizations, Myanmar - Burma, New York Times 45 Places to go in 2012, Ramblings, Restaurants/Cafés/etc. | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Immunization = $$ = Needles = :(

I am good at procrastinating.  If it were a class and I were in school, I’d be getting an “A” with no effort at all.   But they say change is good and this is a facet in me that I must make an effort to abolish.  Well, maybe modify.  Perhaps just alleviate?  You see how good I am at procrastinating?  Because I feel uninspired, I am using words to stall (at times I  equate stalling to procrastination) and not communicate what I have come to say.   But, no more.  Here goes.

I have a strong aversion to needles and side effects so I have… yes, you guessed it: procrastinated in going onto the Center for Disease Control website to find out what immunizations (ie: needles) I will need to go to Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong.  I promise I will find a pseudo-acronym for this trip.  I got it!  BLT+ (B for Burma –actually Myanmar- but for this purpose it will be Burma; L for Laos and T for Thailand and the “+” for Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong.)  Phew, no more repetitive typing!

As I have lunch at The Black Cow in Montrose I pull out my trusty computer and get on-line.  Victor, the best server ever, knows exactly what I order so he greets me with a hug and asks “The usual?”  This feels like home.  So I am on the site.  Lazy me can’t believe that she has to go to each country one by one.  No cheat sheet.  I find a link to a Global Travel Clinic Directory that “know all about traveler’s immunization needs.”   So here I am.  I call the first one in Glendale and they are closed.  I leave a message.  I call the next one in Pasadena.  Also closed.  I leave a message.  I try another.  Ditto.  So now I have nothing left to do but wait.  And enjoy my steak salad.

My cell rings and I am told that this is the Medical Clinic for Immunization returning my call.  So she gives me the laundry list of immunizations that are recommended.  This is not sounding good.  Well the Hepatitis A and B (a series of 3 shots) is $170, then the Rabies shot is another $100.  I become restless.  “Could you give me an approximate figure of how many and how much?”  “Well around six of them would be around $800 but that’s without the two most important ones which are the typhoid one and the….” I stop registering anything until she says:  “Those two are $1,600.”  And this is without the malaria pills.  I’m not that great at math but I immediately add it up to $2,400.  I calmly thank her for the information, hang up, and panic!  Are you kidding me?

I get on-line and e-mail, Facebook, go to the OAT Travel site and message everyone if this is even remotely in the ballpark of what others have paid.  Two of my friends whom I know well and have traveled to BLT+ say: “Noooooo, no need for any of that.  Just go and enjoy!”  I have yet to hear from the travel company’s previous clients.

In the process of checking for responses I find a post from a traveler that says that the CDC has just posted a health warning for travelers going to Vietnam due to an outbreak of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, though it seems to primarily affect children.  What the heck?

My cell rings.  I’m starting to feel real important.  My phone is ringing a lot.  This is the Healthy Traveler Clinic in Pasadena.  Me:  “Well, you are calling at a time when I am still almost speechless.  Just got a call from another clinic saying that all the vaccines I need are going to cost me roughly a third of my trip so far.”   On the other side I hear a compassionate voice saying that she understands and she hears that a lot.  She wants me to see the doctor who will go over the priorities, if any, on the shots and pills and that I am at liberty to decline or even go to another clinic to get them.  Things are looking better.   I have an appointment tomorrow morning.  But before I go to the doctor, I must fill out 9 pages of forms. Will be reporting back.

Categories: Cambodia, China, Immunizations, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Beginning!

Paris, France

I chose this photo I took of a sign in Paris to accompany this post because I certainly feel an affinity to it.  It reads:  “Please do not park.  Car exit.”  and since I have never been one to park my mind or my body in one place for too long, it just felt appropriate.  Besides, my little Baby Blue (aka: my Prius) has been the means by which I have done so much of my traveling lately.  Barely 3-years-old and it already has almost 98,000 miles on it!

However, my preferred form of travel has always been by plane. And it is on one of those that I will be, in barely 2 months time, on my way to Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, Loas, Cambodia and China. A trip that will keep me away from home for over 35 days.  A trip I want to take each one of you on and have you delight -or not- in experiencing, touching, smelling, seeing, feeling and hopefully understanding and loving cultures that are so different from ours.

So, setting up the blog is the very first step in taking you with me on this journey.  Of course, considering I am absolutely technologically impaired, it may not be as easy as I had wished.  So I call my friend Carolina Groppa and merely yell (softly): HELP!!  She used to have a celebrity gossip blog and is adept in the blog world.  So here she is with the arduous task of initiating me in this blogging thingy.  We sit side by side, computers in front of us, in The Hollywood Corner while she tries not to be exasperated by my inadequacy in grasping even the basics.  I valiantly say that I think I can do this and we part with Happy Holidays wishes and my inner me thinking “Oh my gosh.  I’ll never be able to do this.” while I am sure hers is going “Can’t help her too much more on this… don’t think she can do it.”

Next frame is me writing my first post and being very proud of how poetic and funny my prose was, and pressing/clicking… the wrong button to publish it!   So my masterpiece is lost in cyberspace and I don’t seem to be able to recover it.   So I laugh at myself and rewrite, though this time in not so brilliant a manner.    If it takes me this long to post things on my trip I will be missing most of the sites due to the need to be indoors trying to get it right!

So I am left with promising you that you will see some pretty decent photos (I love photography and am sort of really good at it).  I promise you that you will read mostly my gut reactions to places and peoples and that I will write mostly from my heart rather than my brain, so I ask you to please disregard grammar, punctuation, and spelling oversights that may occur – something I am usually a stickler for.  Among my many talents 🙂 is that of editing scripts, proposals, treatments, etc.

Wish me luck… I am clicking on another button!

 

 

Categories: Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Vietnam | 6 Comments

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