Monday, July 25, 2011

Viet NAM!!!

I am writing a two minute blog to let you all know I'm still alive and kickin.  I love LOVE LOVE LOVE Viet nam.  The people, aside from the vendors, taxi and ojek guys, are very friendly and helpful.  The scenery has been amazing.  I've seen big city, small city, beach and now hills/highlands.  I can't wait to get back here to see all the things I missed.  I've met killer people from NZ, Iceland, Germany and The States so far.  Han oi was a great place. I spent nearly a week there and got to know some folks.  Then a flight to Da Nang local bus to Hoi An.  I'm glad we skipped Nha Trang in favor of more time in Hoi An which is a fantastic little secret.  Now two days in Da Lat and then on to Sai gon tonight on the bus.
To those in Indo, I can't wait to see you when I get back.  To my family, I miss you always and am finding goodies for you. To my blog folks (both those who read mine and those whose blogs I read) I will get all caught up once I'm back.
I'm at least a thousand photos into the trip, have roaring stories to tell and a tan darker than ever before.
See you soon!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My history with history

I am really looking forward to the history of Vietnam, and Cambodia.  Both the Ancient and the US-related. I've always been interested in and fascinated by history.  The US educational system really falls short by barely teaching kids US history (I never had a class that got past WWII until college), let alone any foreign history. I love to learn it as I travel.  I've thought maybe its because Seattle, though a fantastic city with some interesting stories, is a new city. The whole of the west coast is relative to the rest of the US and the rest of the world.

I went to Washington DC, Virginia, Philadelphia and marveled at the Civil War sights, Liberty Hall and most of the major Washington DC monuments. It was old compared to Seattle.  I felt like I could see the start of the United States. 
The White House and Washington Monument
In 2004 I traveled to London and across France from Normandy to the German border and back. That's old.  Even the smallest towns had churches that were over two hundred years old. The wars, kingdoms, the plague. They'd all left indelible marks on the land and the poeple and helped to form and change the cities and their structure. I couldn't get over the way many of the buildings, especially the churches, had been burned bombed and rebuilt.  You could see the evidence.
A church in Strausbourg, not a big town but a big old church.
Guatemala was next in 2007. I didn't get to the Mayan ruins in the eastern half of the country, but I will.  Even in the western half one can learn about and see their influence.
Ruins at Tikal
2009 brought a trip to Italy and of course Rome. I toured the Colliseum slack jawed.  It's one of the few guided tours I've even gone on.  The clarity with which you could see into the past, the understanding that so much of western culture is shaped by what happened there, made it extraordinary.  I walked through the senate knowing that government proceedings happened over 200 years ago.
The Colliseum
For me, it doesn't get old (ba dum ching!).  I can't say I knew much of anything about Indonesia and it's history before I moved there and only slightly more about Spain.  By living in these countries and traveling from them I learn.  I find points of pride, even as I am a foreigner on a short residence, about the people and their history.  The struggles they fought and battles they won.  The ebb and flow of their power and kingdoms. I share what I learn with anyone who had two minutes and a slight interest. There's still so much I don't know about Indonesia that it would probably fill a small ilbrary, but I'm still working on it.  And adding Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and other Asian countries along the way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I wouldn't expect it any other way

I've said before that my life may be a lot of things, but it's rarely boring.  Not boring can be a good thing, it can also be a stressful, chaotic thing.  Today it was the latter.

If you follow this blog you'll know I am on a big month long journey.  I left Jakarta on Monday. I jumped into a taxi about 17:20.  It took roughly an hour and a half to get to the airport but I was still there in enough time to have dinner of Nasi Gudeg Komplit before I checked in closed at 19:30.  I was there with lots of time, no rushing around, no problems.  I got out to the gate before it was open.  The flight was an hour late leaving (left at 21:30 instead of 20:30) but I wasn't bothered since I had a seven hour layover on the floor of the KL (Kuala Lumpur) airport to look forward to.

I got through customs and got my bag, then picked a nice spot on the hard floor for a snooze. ok, so far so good.  I woke up about 4:30 to check in for my 6:30 flight.  The check-in clerk asked for my Visa for Vietnam. I told her I was planning on doing Visa on arrival. Apparently that's not as clear as the name implies.  In Indonesia a visa on arrival means you show up, pay your $25 and they slap a page sized sticker in your passport. Done.  I had read about preprocessing of visa's for Vietnam but thought it was just an option.  It's not.
They couldn't let me on the plane without the visa.  I had to pay $8.78 for an hour of internet at the airport lounge, $40 for the visa with rush processing and then wait.  The turn around was supposed to be four hours, which is twas.  I then had to print out the letter to rebook my flight.  Of course by then the printer in the lounge was on the fritz.  I found this out after I paid for a ten-hour day pass. The front desk clerk was wonderful.  I politely stressed that I had to have this paperwork printed so I could leave KL.  She had someone bring another printer in and got me the print outs. I then went back to the AirAsia customer service woman who had helped me this morning.  I paid the 473 MYR (malaysian ringgits = $160) for flight change fee and the difference in fare. There were two women who, seperately, were having a go at the staff.  I couldn't figure out what the problem was but they were loud about being unhappy about it.  I admitted that it was my mistake than thanked her for her help.  She seems relieve and broke into a big smile.  A "have a good day" and I was back to the lounge with my confirmation.  It's the same flight number, time, everything as the one I was supposed to be on today, just tomorrow.
Hopefully the part in my passport will look like this when I get there and pay another $25, bringing the total for the visa to $65. Ouch!
The mistake has been an expensive one, about $270 for the ticket, the visa, the lounge and internet fees. I was able to move my hostel booking without issue but the lounge alone has been over $60 but I think I would have gone mad otherwise.  I'll be showering and having dinner in the next two hours as my time runs out. I arrived in KL at 00:30 and have been here twenty hours now.  It's another seven before check in opens and then three more until the flight at 06:30.  I hope I can sleep a bit on the floor to pass the time.  I have slept maybe six or seven hours today but never more than an hour and a half at a time. 
I swear this is Sea-Tac Airport.  I wish the chairs were like this.  The ones here have a fixed armrest between each chair!! Hence, I end up like the guy on the floor.
I am proud to be wearing my veteran traveler badge with pride today.  If this had happened a couple years ago I'd have burst into tears and called my mom in a panic.  Today I didn't cry, I didn't get upset, I just dealt with it. I've been through enough last minute traveling crisis now to know better. Do I wish I didn't have to spend the extra time and money? Yes, but it could have been worse and it's been sorted out now. Money is just money as long as you have enough to get by.  I will have another month of pay coming to me over the holidays but I'm not sure if I can access it from Vietnam in my Indonesian account.

* Update:  Hello from Hanoi! I've arrived in one pieces though exhausted.  I'm very happy to be out of the KL airport.  Just  heading out to check out the city now.

A Vietnam observation

My mom made an interesting observation last weekend before I left Jakarta for Han oi.  As the mother of a 29 year old (I'll let you ballpark her generation) she has a very different relationship with Vietnam that I do.  She is familiar with the names of most of the towns I'm planning to visit.  DaNang, Saigon (Ho Chi minh City), Han oi, Da Lat, My Lai (site of a massacre), the Gulf of Tonkin, Halong bay and the Mekong.  These are all names that were in the news for years while the Vietnam War drug on. 
Her generation was affected by this war.  She knew people her age that went and fought.  Some came back mentally and physically beyond repair.  Others, as is the case in war, didn't come back.  A good number of others stayed in Asia, finding life easier for a multitude of reason or simple because they couldn't readjust back home.  I know I have a stereotype of the now aging baby boomer who stayed here, took a local wife and made a family in Vietnam, the Phillipines, Thailand, maybe even Indonesia.

Mom may not know right off where these places are on a map (I didn't either) but her reaction was distinct in hearing I was heading to these places.  These are towns and places that we don't often hear about in the Western media.  I'm too young for that war.  My memory related to that was was from many years after the US soldiers had departed, the South surrendered to the Communist North and the French had been driven from the country for decades.

I must have been about seventeen when we went to Washington DC as a family.  I remember being excited about the monuments, museums and a detour to some Civil War sights (yes, I was and am a history dork).  At this point in my life I hadn't left the West Coast much.  DC was a long way away and a place with lots more history than Seattle.

One day, I don't know when during the trip, we were walking about the monuments.  The Lincoln Monument, the Reflecting pool, etc.  We stopped at the Vietnam Memorial.  It's a series of black marble panels erected perpendictular to the ground in a long low wall. The names of the service men who died in or because of the war (counting only physical injuries resulting in death, not trauma and dysfunction) or were missing in action are all inscribed here.

I don't know if he saw a name he knew or if it was just being there, but my dad had his head in his hand and cried.  I'd never seen him cry before and it stunned me.  Later we talked about it.  All these years later, he still felt guilty that he hadn't gone to fight.  He was given an exemption as he was the primary breadwinner in a family with two very small children.  While grateful he didn't have to go he felt guilt that so many others did.  He knew men his age that were called up in the draft, and a few who died.

As my generation is embroiled in it's own quagmire of a war, I wonder how many young men may end up feeling the same way my father did.  My ex was in the Army.  His unit was sent to Iraq but he was kept back due to kidney stone and then released when his service was up. I know he felt conflicted about it and it may compound over the years the way it did for my dad.  Will anyone be there to support these soldier and men any better than they were thirty years ago?

*Interesting side note: The Lonely Planet guidebook I've been reading always refers to sites from the American War, which I assume is how the Vietnamese refer to the war.  In the US it's always called the Vietnam War.  I suppose it's easier to identify it as someone else's war and fault than to take a slice of the responsibility.  It had never occured to me that there might be another name for it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

and I'm off!

I leave today for the summer's big trip.  Here's one last post before I go. 
I am very excited to be going away for a multitiude of reasons.  Jakarta is a city that makes for a good port of call and is close enough to many other countries that you can get away.  But in a city like Jakarta you do need to get away regularly.  I can't say I expect some cities I go to (say Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh) to be much better for pollution or traffic, but they would be hard pressed to be worse. I need some variety in the weather.  We had a rain storm yesterday for the first time in a month.  Lastly, the timing couldn't be better to get away from the drama of BoT and that aftermath.

This will be a hard work holiday.  I will be on the move every day or two to a new place, walking to and from sights, buses, boats, etc. I'll be carrying a pack, though a pretty light one at about 10 kilos. It's my favorite kind of holiday but also the kind that you almost need another vacation to rest up from.  I even had half a thought that I might get a little fitter because of it.  I'll also be off the booze.  I doubt I'll drink much apart from a few beers on the trail.  The girls and I have been partying it up here so I might be in trouble when I get back but this mini detox might be a positive.

I am nervous, as usual.  I am getting much better at knowing what to expect in countries I've never been to but i t's still the unknown.  I always have a little knot in my stomach about making flights and connections, getting in to the hostels and checking in, etc.  In a day I'll be comfortable there but until then, the butterflies are bonking into each other in my stomach. I'll have a few days alone in Hanoi upon arrival. My first order of business will be to sort out my sim card and phone, then try some of the food that everyone has been raving about.

Keep your fingers crossed that things go smoothly (for the most part anyway). Aside from a slow day or two I don't expect to blog.  I don't want to be tied to a computer on the trip. I'll be posting on facebook fairly regularly though.  Now I'm logging of to go to the last minute run around!  Take care and catch you soon.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


Warning: I'm going on holiday.  I like holidays to be a time to unplug.  I will email my mother and occasionally update my facebook status but in general I like the fact that it's a good excuse to drop out of the technology rat race. There may be a sporadic post or half dozen but don't expect that.

I'll be away from Jakarta for exactly a month - July 11th until August 11th. I'll be in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. I am proud of this snazzy map I made that outlines my trip.  The itinerary is on the left had side, in chronological order. Red lines are flights, black lines are buses, purple lines are boats and green the green line is unknown (possibly motorbike).    Map link

If any of you have been to any of the places on my map and have advice, I'd gladly accept it. There will be photos and review after.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Korean Translations

Chris, a teacher I work with, has recently given me a new method for hours of entertainment at work. We have an instant message system at work called CoolMessenger. It works as well as a rusty wheelbarrow with a flat.  You can limp it along for ten feet, but anything more is just irritatingly painful.  Anyway. The English speakers can only send messages to other English speakers but the Koreans can, and do, send messages to everyone, usually in Korean.   Chris has found that if you put the Korean messages into Babelfish translator by Yahoo you get back a result that ranges from hilarious to downright gibberish. Please enjoy a few examples.  I'll put my best guesses about their meaning, or what they were in regards to.  If you can sort it out, please share.

#1 - Principal teacher speech substitution conveys. Attendance checking does with photo shoot.
 Something about class photos.  I know that only because of the day it was sent.

#2 - Is a research study schedule ticket which will execute tomorrow. The study ends and to depart immediately, wishes. The room assignment will do the atlas under following common knowledge. Only the pair some preparing the cloth with cold relationship, wishes. Piece which is insufficient is many. Is inconvenient and does not hold in mind but understanding entrusting gives with wide mind.
 I have no idea.  It seems like it was about room assignments but we haven't moved or changed rooms.

#3 - Goodbye does? Is a happy-looking morning. Today [a_lay_wa_kath_i] to guide the teaching staff physical education event condition schedule which will be. Order Time Event order 1 12:00 ~ 12:20 Opening remark and warming-up exercise 2 12:20 ~ 12:40 Female dodge ball (5 minutes, 3Set) 3 12:40 ~ 13:40 Volleyball (man and woman mixture, 3Set) 4 13:40 ~ 14:00 Friendly volleyball (a Korean + circle fisherman, 1Set) 5 14:00 ~ 14:30 Table tennis (man and woman mixture, 1Set) 6 14:30 ~ 15:00 Badminton (man and man and woman mixed doubles) 7 15:00 ~ 16:30 Evaluation meeting (teacher dining room) *1. second medieval times, administrative solid curve lifestyle after finishing the lunch, until 11: 50 Fall in giving to the auditorium, wishes. To 2. game resultant victory teams early rising leaving office circle and karaoke room use circle (hundred full base both sides) come to give.
It was about the Teacher's Sports Day.  We can't figure out how we ended up as fishermen though.  A few bits of this even border on reasonable.

#4 -Goodbye is? Is a good morning. Supports JIKS, from the enterprise which expenses Provision receives Djakarta one day demonstration schedule information.
Another one beginning with goodbye as a question.  As an English teacher, I didn't know that was possible

#5 - [The class sliced raw fish new wishes] Is a sign design which will be established in the school school gate. To select the favorite most, to send a number Will send rightly and if staring will thank. Thanks.
Lastly is a message that came in a mere hour ago. My phrase of the day is "sliced raw fish new wishes!"

Life is never boring here.

Saturday, July 02, 2011


Not the candy bar. The third installment of my delightful series about things in Indonesia that leave me shaking my head.

Jilbob/Jilbabs are the Muslim head covering worn by many women here in Indonesia.  I understand that it's part of their beliefs.  I intend no offense by this post, but I am slightly confused.  If the purpose of the jilbob is modesty then why it is common for women here to wear them with tight, sometimes really tight, clothing. This photo is from the web, not my own, but it's exactly what I see. When their clothes are tighter than mine, that means that I (the westerner) is more modest?
Another note about clothing.  I can only think of three options for why 90% of the population here is in clothes that don't fit them properly.  1 - They only sell mirrors like those in amusement park fun houses.  2 - They take cast off clothes from anyone and anywhere they can find them as a part of the dire poverty here.  3 - They all used to be much fatter or thinner and their brains don't register what they actually look like.  I don't laugh at those in option two.  I realize there is a large part of the population who suffer immense poverty.  It's the ones walking around Grand Indonesia mall (one of the malls with Prada and Burberry) in ill fitting clothing that I don't get.
Half are a bit like this
Half are a bit towards this end of the spectrum.
Many Indonesians are very petite, men and women.  In the US we would think that they would look good in anything (the women) and would find shopping easily. It's always the size 0s, 2s and 4s that are left on the racks. Not only easy to find, but on sale to boot.  Compare that to the bule who can't find anything that fits after visiting twelve shops unless the are foreign shops.  So much for cheap clothing in Asia!
My solution is to print this on all clothing labels!
One more for today.  JIKS is an idiosyncratic place.  I rarely know what to expect one week to the next.  We are given a calendar for the year but it seems to only hold true about 62% of the time.  There are random bursts of generosity though.  Today we were told at 11:53 that we could go home early.  Yeaaa!! Oh wait, our English department end of semester dinner is tonight and most of us are carpooling to get there.  I already cancelled my ojek. We can't take the early leave on Monday instead and of course they couldn't have told us in advance.  Hmmm, maybe not so generous.  They randomly give gifts too.  The school is building a new High school building.  They tore the old one down and when they laid the cornerstone for the new building we all got towels.  They are silk screened with something in Korean and the JIKS logo.  They are a strange size: bigger than a hand towel, smaller than a bath towel.  A couple months later for teacher's day we got soap.  A box of six big bars of Amway produced white soap.  They smell nice but I live alone; what am I going to do with six bars of soap?  The highlight of yesterday was that the grade five mothers brought in a big array of food for lunch for us.  I'm not a huge fan of most of it, but it silenced my growling stomach and helped the previous class fade away.
This exact soap.  The bars are about 5"x3"x1" (12.5cm x 7.5 cm x 2.5cm).