Friday, September 30, 2011

Ex-boyfriends and best girl friends

Not that my best friends are dating my ex-boyfriends.  These are two separate ideas I'll throw out but seem some how similar in my mind. Both have been an emotional pull this week.
Ex's are always a bit tricky.  Three types I figure:
1 - I've had some who I never saw after the final goodbye.  It made things infinitely easier to be able to walk away knowing the odds I'd run into them in the supermarket or at the pool would be low. 
2 - There were a few I stayed friends with.  It's those rare relationships that sort of mutually fizzle out.  You both realize you still care for and like the other, but you don't love them, and you sure as heck don't want them around every day. 
3 -  The ex's you have mutual friends with.  Ex's who frequent the same places you do. You know you'll run into them it's just a matter or when and where.
4 - Maybe there should be one more, the ex you wish you could get back but I haven't had any of those given a month or two's reflection.

My last ex and I broke up at the beginning of July.  I was unsure how things would go down in the aftermath.  He was quite the ass when things ended (well, before that really but who's counting).  I was away on holiday so much I didn't see him until a week ago. It turns out he's trying to grow a straggly beard and looks awful.  Before you assume it's just me, I'm not the only one who thinks so.  A fantastic friend of mine told him as much to his face.  The girls in general agree he's looking haggard.  Maybe you do reap what you sow.  I was surprised I was nervous knowing I'd see him (I did have a guess when I would).  Since he seems even less interested in seeing or talking to me, it easy to carry on enjoying myself without having an awkward "hello, how are you" moment.  The inevitable ex is one of the least fun parts of a relationship.  At least I've had a triumphal first and second sighting and have definitely moved on.
The second part here is about girl friends.  I have a great group of girls here.  Growing up I always seems to get on better with the boys than the girls.  I played and watched sports.  I took shop class.  I didn't fuss about my hair and clothes.  Tomboy. In Spain and now again in Jakarta I've made some amazing girlfriends.  Girls who show up unrequested when the shit hits the fan, who dance with me at 4 am, who go on holiday and buy trinkets for each other.  We share clothes, hell, we share a lot. We're close.  I love them. . . . but there's a tiny part of me that wonders if I wouldn't be better off with some  uglier friends. 
My girls are beautiful and interesting and funny.  We make fun where we go. They always get hit on.  Recently, and unrelatedly, two of my male friends have decided to hit on/be involved/whatever with two of my female friends.  These are guys I knew first and introduced to the group.  About 98% of me is happy for them, but there's this little bit that wishes I didn't feel like the ugly stepsister. And I do. I can't say I never get hit on.  We were at EP on Wednesday and a properly creepy Brit (what is it with them lately?!) not only stole a kiss- I went in for a cheek and he turned into me intentionally- but also smacked my ass.  I'd only just met him. The good looking guys we see in pubs latch on to the tiny Indo-American, the voluptuous American, the feisty Russian, and on and on and on. I don't need to get hit on or picked up every time, but is once or twice to much to ask?  If I do meet someone, it's when I'm without the competition and as of late, they turn out to be less a catch than I'd like.

Enough for the pity party.  I'll move on and promise you all another blog this weekend to make up for not posting much this week.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


If I had gotten this post written an hour ago it would have been glowing and light.  I've gotten little bits of good news the last two days. The first is that a friend is coming to Indonesia from Madrid.  Many of my European friends n Jakarta have had European friends come to visit.  The Americans rarely make it out of the States anyway, let alone to a third world country with a significant flight between.  I won't expound on my theories of Americans and travel in this post. He's going to bring some jamon I hope. And I'll get to see a friendly face from days of old.  I've even got some holiday time when he's here so we can go check out Sumatra together.
I'm excited to see him too.
The second bit of good news is that my evening business class canceled tonight.  I don't mind the class generally but it was going to keep me from a big party.  I didn't feel justified in canceling on them but since they bailed, I'll take advantage.  I wish they'd give me more than seven hours notice (well, six if you count when I leave, but anyway. . .). They wanted to bump to Thursday.  Usually I can be flexible for them since they are my only business class.  While I was trying to arrange my schedule, my point person there announced we were having class tomorrow instead of today.  I made it work but I think it's what started to flip my mood today.

The frustration is in many things.  I am try to schedule other things as my life continues spinning.  My weeks fill up in a heartbeat. Last week Thursday was my only free day and I used it to sleep.  It is my choice.  I have chosen the professional and social obligations that I keep. I could, theoretically, sit around at home every day but then I'd go stir crazy.  It does mean that finding time for everything can be complicated. An average week looks something like this:

Monday: work 7am-3:30pm plus commute on either end, then dinner with friends.

Tuesday: work 7am-3:30pm, directly after work I take a bus from home to central Jakarta for a Learning English Radio show from 5-6pm.  Grocery shopping on the way home or home to cook and then bed.

Wednesday: work 7am-3:30pm, home for a change and possibly an hour nap before leaving at 6pm to get to a business class at 7pm.  Teach until 9pm, then home by 10 normally.
I've become a busway regular for my Tuesday and Wednesday extracurriculars.
 Thursday: work 7am-2:30pm.  This is the day I try to keep free for catching up on sleep, cleaning up, etc. It's also a 'rest before the weekend' day.

Friday: work 7am-3:30pm then home to change, meet someone for dinner, then out for drinks and dancing that can last into the wee hours of Saturday. It doesn't seem to matter how late I go to bed on Saturday morning, I can't generally sleep past about 9am.  Lately Saturday afternoons I'm off to the pub with friends to catch a Rugby World Cup game (more on that tomorrow!!). Then home to change and out with the girls again. 
All Blacks Haka
Sunday is meant to be a day of rest.  Last weekend I invited people over for a pool day.  It was a fantastic one too.  Pizza, beers, teaching Kris water polo, and lounging (not me personally) for about eight hours. Sundays might also include brunches, rugby games, lunch and/or dinner out.
I wish I'd had floaties, but at least I felt the same.
Of course, then it starts again. We (my community here) are going through a spurt of going aways and birthdays lately which adds to the event list.

Life could be worse.  This is all minor stuff so, instead of whining and complaining about the triffles that have ruffled my feathers today, about the rescheduling, the technical difficulties at school, my lazier than #*&% teaching partner, I'm going to take a breath and make a simple choice - gym, salon or nap after school? I'm so zen.

Here's a laugh for the day to boot.  More Korean messages run through babelfish translator.  I think it still needs some work:

  • When being time, try to read… Stands appear to becoming the help in glow Indonesia gain and loss of Prof. Yun Korean foreign language university ocean monk.
  • September 28 (Wed) there is colleague encouragement of learning of one sciences and DARREN teachers. Sciences and teachers and teachers where is time is a many visitation entrusting drip [ni] [ni]. To teacher bind vice-blind circle fisherman liaison entrusting gives. Temporarily: September 28th Wednesday 4 instruction place: 7 grade 1 halves.
and lastly

  • Friday is a temporary schedule. The leggings schedule the charge schedule spring to confirm, to inform. Grateful ~

Thursday, September 22, 2011


As you should know by now, I'm an avid traveler (why are those words always paired?).  I am lucky enough to have many holidays to take advantage of this wanderlust. I am looking to the end of the year and trying to figure out where to go.  I won't be going home for Christmas since I have to work until the 23rd of December.  It would just be silly to rush home for a specific day.  Instead I'll travel for about six weeks. I'd like to hear about places you've been in Asia.  Where would you recommend? Where would you skip? How long do I need to see that place and what are the points of interest?

I've been to most of Vietnam, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, Yogyakarta, Padang, Bogor, and Bali in Indonesia, Hong Kong and Macau.

Where next? Should I just throw a dart?

All suggestions welcome.  Even secondary.  If a friend went somewhere and loved it, pass the word on to me.

I am really considering a return to Vietnam, then Laos and/or Thailand.  What about places in Indonesia? Where are the cheap flights? Cheap hostels? Good food?

I'm still making a decision about next year, but I'll put out an all call that this may be the last time people can come visit.  No guarantee I'll be here next year so take advantage now, or soon.

To Whinge

I use that word now.  It is interchangeable with complain.  Very British/Australian. I thought I knew what I was going to blog about today, but a thirty second exchange changed my mind.

I had to cover the extracurricular ping pong class today.  I'm meant to assist with badminton class but one teacher was out sick today so we had to shuffle around a bit.  I wasn't thrilled.  The class was five boys from grade five and six, playing ping pong.  Aside from hitting the ball back and forth I didn't know what the rules were.  How was I going to keep them busy for an hour and a half?

I arrived and explained why I was the teacher today.  They all nodded along and introduced themselves and the new student.  I introduced myself and a  sixth grader very unconsciously and plainly said "Miss, you're very pretty".  My smile was reflexive.  I got to know him a bit while I officiated and practiced with them.  He seems like a really genuine kid.  His English is good and he's a great ping pong player who took compliments with a blush.
We all still want a pat on the head and acknowledgement.
 It made my day. I was dragging around a bit after two nights of short sleep beforehand.  Instead I perked up and actually really enjoyed the class. It made me think about whinging.  Facebook has just changed their newsfeed/home screen again. The political situation in the US is ridiculous.  The economy hasn't improved. I'm still single.  BUT someone complimented me.  That's what I'm going to remember today. It's not often I have good news from school either.

A friend posted something on facebook a couple days ago about all it took was one unkind comment/email/phone call to ruin a day.  I'll repeat what I told her.  It's amazing how easy it is to be stung, and remember it after.  We have all dwelled on an insult or a sideways comment about our __________ (insert your insecurity here: weight, height, intelligence, skill, family, etc). Yet just as readily we dismiss compliments because they come from a) someone who didn't really mean it, b) family or friends who have to say those kinds of things or c) someone who obvious was blind or retarded. Why not shake off the insult easily and hang on to the compliment?

One of my very unofficial New Year's resolutions was to say more kind things.  I often notice and think to myself how nice a friend looks, or how helpful a student is.  I'm going to redouble my efforts to say those things aloud.  What good is it if I think a compliment but the other person doesn't get the benefit of hearing?

I challenge you all to compliment one person a day for a week.  It can be friends, colleagues, family, acquaintances or strangers. Watch them smile and feel it lift your mood as much as theirs.
I'm adding a PS since another compliment just came through on my blackberry. It too made me smile and will take me through tomorrow. You know who you are babe.  Thanks. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Decision time approaches

 A couple weeks ago my head of department (h.o.d) passed out a simple sheet to each teacher.  It had a space for my name and date and two boxes.  One said "I want to renew my contract"  the other said "I do not want to renew my contract".  I looked at it and put it in the filing box on my desk, still in plain view.  An hour later she said Melissa?  I turned to see her holding up the sheet.  I confirmed I had one.  She wanted it back with an answer, right then.  I'd had a whopping hour to thing about next year. I understand that I am a special case here at JIKS.  I am the only female native speaker and the only American.  I am the only one who is single and one of only three without kids.  I've also been here just over a year.  The other eight people in the department have been here 1/2,1 1/2, 2, 8, 6, 12, 15 and 18  years respectively. You can see that most of the group doesn't move on and the other relative newcomers have Indonesian wives so, 'nuff said.

I have no specific obligations that would keep me here or anywhere really.  For the entirety of my summer traveling I mulled over my options for next year and beyond.  I started weighing pros and cons. I daydreamed and theorized what would happen if I stayed, if I went.  And if I went, where would I go? Back to Spain, or elsewhere in Europe? To the US? I loved Vietnam, maybe head there for work? lots of thought for little action thus far.

I pushed back and said there was absolutely no way I could tell her just then.  "The end of the day then?" She said hopefully.  I just laughed.  I literally laughed in her face.  "No way." She hemmed and hawed. I reminded her that next year's school year didn't start until February.  She said they'd need time to find a suitable replacement if I left.  "five months? You need five months to hire one person?" I said incredulously. I took into account that this is a Korean school in Indonesia but that still seems like ridiculous leeway.  I was assured they did, even though they'd hired me in three week (an emergency situation she said). I volunteered "If I must make a decision I can tell you by Friday" (it was Tuesday) and she jumped on the suggestion.  "Ok, but you have to take it to Mr. Lim (the vice principal) yourself" she added. 

Ok, whatever. I spent a good part of my office time the rest of the day ranting to my native teacher coworkers.  I know most of them stay year after year but that doesn't mean they can short change me on the time I get to decide. One coworker, Scott, reminded me that the most recent hire, Stephan, is wholly loathed and isn't doing a great job.  Maybe that's why they want more time to hire someone.  It was also Scott to rationally talked to the h.o.d and convinced her to give me more time to decide.  I now have until the end of October to give them a decision.

Now comes the tricky part.  Making the decision. Life in Jakarta is easier in a lot of ways than other places I've lived. I have a maid who comes once a week, cooks, cleans, shops.  I never drive anything - taxis, buses and ojeks are plentiful. I can get a cremebath and pedicure for less than $20.  I can travel a lot because I get sufficient days off work and it's cheap to travel in Asia. I make enough to pay my bills, travel and never really watch what I'm spending for food and drinks. My girlfriends here are amazing.  We have a fantastic little community. Work has given me some opportunities - like writing a whole year's curriculum and making the book to go with it.  I'd like to see how it grows and works for the students over time.

Jakarta is a lot more frustrating that most places I've lived.  The pollution is stifling, literally, as the heat can be. There are many transport options but none of them can really subvert the horrendous traffic jams that occur everywhere. There isn't a park, river, lake or walking/biking trail to be found in Jakarta. All we do is eat and drink as there are few other options.  It's more and more difficult to be in Jakarta between trips away. The BS at my school is generally knee deep. The dating options here are worse than slim to none if you aren't into Asian guys, which I'm not for the most part. I can't imagine myself staying here indefinitely, or even still being here in five years. I've maxed out professionally here.  I can't move up to a top tier international school without a degree in education.

I'll take insight, advice, observations and general heckling from you, my blogging community. The opinions and information should vary greatly between those who are here in Jakarta/Asia, and those who aren't.  Between those who know me in person and those who only know my internet counterpart.  Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sumatra, the final holiday installment

Hooray! The end of my holiday (writing). As much as I loved the summer holiday, I have felt the blogging about it was hanging over my head a bit.  I returned to Jakarta back on August 11th and it's taken me over a month to get all caught up.

I went to three small towns/villages on the island of Sumatra on my way back from Cambodia.  I stayed one night in Kuala Lumpur on my way there.  Since I'd been to KL before, and the bus ride to town is at least two hours, I didn't bother.  Instead I splurged and got a room in a three star hotel.  It was the cheapest one available within a half hour and cost more than any previous nine days of lodging combined. It was wonderful to have a room all to myself and a hot shower with some water pressure.
Beach near Padang.  Unfortunately it was only a fifteen minute stop to break up three hours on the motorbike.
My flight to the town of Padang was under two hours. Padang is in West Sumatra about half way between the tips of the island. I'd been put in touch with Jhoni, a guide who is an old friend of a co-worker. He picked me up and we rode off, on a motorbike of course, to his house where I stayed the night.  I saw most of Padang city as we rode around for an hour, but there wasn't much to see. I met his kids and wife, who were all very sweet to me.  We managed to do a lot together considering we only had about five dozen words of shared vocabulary.

Day two was a long motorbike ride to Lake Meninjau.  I saw the beach above on the way there.  Lake Meninjau is in a volcanic crater caused when the mountain blew eons ago.  It must have been a huge explosion because the lake is large. It's a quiet area with the population spread around the lakes edge and up the steep hill of the crater wall on rice plantations. We arrived late in the day, had a walk around and dinner at Jhoni's father-in-laws.  The next day was a hike up to almost the rim of the crater.  Here are photos from the trek up.
First view of the lake.  My trek would take my up the far side.

Rice plantations near the lake.
View of the lake from my bungalow
View most of the way up to the ridge.
After a shower, we were back on the bike.  The road that climbs out of the crater is famous for having forty-four hairpin turns.  What they don't point out is the number of uncounted turns and the turns after breaching the crater.  It's one of the few motorbike rides that made me nervous. I though we were going to hit the gravel on a far side turn or a car on a close side turn and that would be it.  When I arrived in Bukittinggi I was very physically tired.  Finding food was a pain since it was Ramadhan.  I hadn't been hungry all morning but by 3pm I was starved.  Next was a walk around the market.  By the time Jhoni was walking us in circles two and a half hours later I was dragging. I could barely make conversation at his sisters house.  Dinner to break fast (Muslims fast sun up to sun down during Ramadhan) perked me up a bit.  I collapsed into bed.
Only stop to stretch my legs was five minutes here.
Eight hours later I woke up to find that I'd been attacked by bed bugs overnight.  I had several dozen bites, in addition to mosquito bites, and I was very unhappy.  Luckily, I only had on night there planned anyway.  Walking around town in the morning was pointless.  Jhoni took me to a park and a garden that once again turned into a zoo.  I had to use all my self control to not punch Jhoni in the face when he said he wanted another monkey as a pet right after we talked about how bad most of the animals, especially the monkeys, are treated in Indonesian zoos and homes. I hate zoos.  I hate that I keep ending up in zoos.
These were at a park and scavenged the trash for food.

Another two or three hours on the motorbike with a stop to pick up mangosteen from his niece (I felt like I was financing a family tour for him by this point) and we were back at his house.  We took the two younger kids to the beach and had a laugh there.  Back at the house Jhoni and his wife were quite content to let the kids play/pester me until we had dinner.  I stuck out another hour of play after and then escaped to my room. I was very itchy and totally exhausted. I would have been asleep instantly except for the ever-lovin bites!!!

Deas and the mountain.
I woke up in the morning looking like I was ready for transfer to the leper colony.  Between the mossies and the bed bugs I had over a hundred bites (that's when I stopped counting).  Most were swollen and red, some had opened and were oozing clear liquid.  Have I mentioned that I'm allergic to mosquito bites?  Yes, that's possible. I wasn't sure they'd even let me on the plane until I remembered this is Indonesia and I'm white so of course they would. I couldn't get back home and to civilization fast enough. Who'd have thought I'd be happy to get back to Jakarta?
This doesn't even give you a true impression of how bad it was.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Siem Reap

Siem Reap exists only because of the massive World Heritage site of the Angkor Wat Temples. We met no one, we didn't particularly have time.  Our entire two and a half days there revolved around our temple visit. Angkor Wat is technically the first temple in this massive temple complex and it's become the name for the collection of temples, there each one has it's own name.
This is a map.  Also available for through this site.
Upon arrival we went to our hostel and then out to Angkor Wat to buy our tickets for the next day.  By purchasing our tickets the night before we got a free hour to walk around from 5-6pm.  It was a nice introduction to the temple of Angkor Wat, and it meant we wouldn't have to wait in the morning.
In town was a disappointing dinner of Amok, fish and veggies steamed in a banana leaf with a bland curry sauce.  We had a couple beers and went to bed in preparation for a 4am wake up. 

We did successfully wake up for sunrise, though it wasn't to be had.  It proceeded to rain for eight of the next ten hours.  We arrived at the temples in near utter darkness.  We moseyed around until the sky began to lighten.  I expected there to be hundreds of visitors all packed into the same area.  Aside from the main walkway, over the bridge and into Angkor Wat, that wasn't the case.  As we made a right turn to circumnavigate the temple, we were alone.  The corridors were quiet but for our conversation.  The side corridors contain carvings that tell a story panel by panel. If one didn't walk around the center to the outer wall, one would miss all the intricacies of the carvings.
 After a wander around Angkor Wat and a coffee we headed on to the Angkor Thom area, starting with the temple of Bayon. This is tied for my favorite.  It's much smaller than Angkor Wat but there's more vertical space.  I literally climbed all over this temple.  The rain was bringing fine bits of dirt and mud into my sandals and it was rubbing my feet raw so I went barefoot. This temple is easily discernible by the large faces on the top points. 
There are two faces up there.

Here's the face in close up.

Next was Baphuon (no idea how to pronounce it). It's been deemed by some the world's largest jigsaw puzzle.  A French restoration team started disassembling the temple to clean and restore it before the Khmer Rouge took over.  When the Khmer Rouge made it too dangerous to continue, the team left and their notes and plans were destroyed.  The temple couldn't be fully reconstructed. There are still blocks lying all around. 

Pieces everywhere.
We wound our way through a few small temples and alters, including Phimeanakas, which I swear should be in Greece, the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of the Elephants on the way to Ta Keo.  Ta Keo was one of the taller temples.  Just check out all those stairs.

Last was Ta Prom, aka the Indiana Jones temple. The authorities are allowing the jungle to slowly reclaim this temple, as it would with all of them if not for the groundskeepers. There are large trees growing out of and around most of the structures. This is the last major temple on the generally followed route.  It's set farther back from the road and has a very quiet approach through a stock of trees. There was water all throughout the temple and was one of the busiest places.  The only downside were the throngs of vendors out the far side.
I went barefoot at this temple too, and a guide noticed saying "Like Cambodia" and pointing at my feet.  He giggled at the bule carrying her shoes and enjoying the soft mud.
There are three options for temple visitors: a one day, a three day or a seven day pass.  Due to our time constraints we opted for a one day pass and both of us found that to be enough. After a while it all starts to look the same and even with the help of a tuk-tuk to ferry us between the temples, we walked a ton.  It was definitely worth the seven hour long bumpy bus rideseach way from Phnom Pehn. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Phnom Penh

I was told by several people that one only needs a day and a night in Phnom Pehn (henceforth PP).  I am so glad I didn't listen.  I really enjoyed PP.  I spent one night there before heading up to Siem Reap for two nights.  Then back to PP for the last night with Danielle.  I then had three more nights there on my own.  i found a lot of similarities between PP and Ha Noi.  They are both smaller cities in population, and water plays a part in the city flow.  It was esy to meet people and just hang out, moving at a slower pace.  The eats were good aside from the traditional Cambodian food which was generally lifeless. Tuk-tuks are a must for in PP and Siem Reap.  It wasn't like our Indonesian Bajaj which is what I was expecting.
The Mekong river runs along one side of town and there's a big, beautifully paved waterfront walking area. At night the area comes alive with walkers, impromptu exercise/dance groups and food hawkers. In the morning its an easy place to find a cheap breakfast on a restaurant patio just across the street.  The view and breeze are worth the extra dollar the meal might cost.

The hostel I stayed at was one of the best and the worst.  The staff were amazingly helpful in giving information and booking buses, etc.  There was a nice little patio area where I spent hours chatting with other travelers.  The down side was the mattresses which were U-shaped and despite six electric fans running, the room was hot. I slept more poorly here than anywhere. They were understaffed and our room was cleaned only about every third day despite all eight bed being occupied.

In Cambodia it's impossible to throw a rock and not hit a temple.  Wat Thom or Hill Temple was a mere two minutes walk from my hostel and very pretty. The Royal Palace was the only one I saw on this trip.  It was worth the effort as entry times are very specific as is the dress code. The Silvere Pagoda, attached to the palace, was also interesting.
Wat Thom, Hill Temple
Creepy statue at Wat Thom
The eats were cheap, a bowl of noodles with meat and veg for a dollar, beers for fifty and seventy five cents. I found a shop selling handicrafts made by the handicapped.  The sales were good and the products great.  I stocked up on gifts and goodies for myself.
There is nightlife to be found if you want it, both bars and clubs.  One night Danielle and I made friend with four guys from the hostel who because "Ricky, Micky, Martin and Ze German!" Rick and Maarten are Dutch, Miki Chinese and Ze German was, well, German.  I didn't find out his name until after we got back from Siem Reap.  Lars. As a band of heros, we ventured into a dance club after finding four Danes to drag along.  It was an epic night.

My favorite sexy beast, Neil and his other half Nikki, make another appearance in our story here in PP.  The first night Danielle and I were sitting having a beer and talking tattoos when they walked by on the opposite side of the street.  We hadn't seen them since Hoi An.  I literally leapt up and tackled Neil (he's a big guy too). I'm still hoping to hear from them. 

Last big stops were S-21, Security Prison 21 from the reign of the Khmer Rouge and the central market.  It was a harrowing reminder of the cruelty of a regime that was hell bent on remaking Cambodia in it's ideal image, despite the fact it meant killing hundreds of thousands of their own people. It was so silent you could hear a pin drop even though there were several dozen visitors that day. I toured it and Tuol Seng (the Killing Field) with a Welsh couple I met in Ha Noi and saw again at my PP hostel.  We were wide-eyed at the silent reminders of Cambodia's lost generation.

The central market was a fun visit though my shopping was nearly done by then.  Very cool architecture on this building.

The last note on PP adventure.  I met Niall, the British owner of a bar called The Empire (a must go for good grub and chill atmosphere). He and his friends swept me along in their birthday (his) celebrations to a ladyboy/drag show in PP.  How could I say no to that on my last night? So I didn't. 

I was gutted to miss out on their trip to the Kingdom brewery the next day, but I'll know where to go back to.  I skipped Kampot in favor of extra, unrushed days in PP and am very happy for having stayed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mekong Delta

After only two plus days in Sai Gon, I was ready to go. Luckily we were on a tight schedule and booked a three-day Mekong Delta tour.  It's been said to be a "must do" in Viet Nam.I'm goin to take you flying through our trip.
Bus to My Tho. We saw tropical fruit plants, tried local honey, and hear traditional music. Then took a small boat.

To see coconut candy made.  It's really good.  Very coconutty and not too sweet. We went on to Ben Tre for a night at a homestay, which was a series of bungalows outside a family house. We made spring rolls with our very animated host.
 He showed us how the local people clean the water (it's very dirty as you can see above, but not polluted) and walked through the market in the morning. The next day was a ride through the market with the village people - the group of eight from our original tour who had stayed at the homestay instead of the hotel.
Using cute kids as salesmen didn't work on us
That afternoon was boats and buses to see a crocodile farm then the worlds fastest trip through a temple.  The bus stopped and we had fifteen minutes to walk around.  I could add some temple photos  like the one below but instead I have this other photo:
It's a penguin trashcan.  This was a theme in Vietnam.  I saw penguin and orca trash bins in a cave on Ha Long Bay. I saw them at the Zoo in Sai Gon.  I'd see them again and again.  I don't understand but kept an eye out anyway.  We headed into Can Tho for night number two on the tour. Can Tho was generally unremarkable.  We found more Bia Hoi and got two liters for less than a dollar.  Here is the jug being filled.

The next morning was a boat trip to see a fish farm, then the floating villages and a Cham village.  The Cham are an ethnic minority group who are Muslim. 
The border crossing into Cambodia was one of the easiest customs/visa incidents I've had.  We stopped on the river, had lunch, the guide came back out with our visas in passports.  Then five minutes more up the river to a stamping station where we had to walk through ourselves.  An hour plus to get upriver to our landing location in Cambodia!!!  Hurray!  We pulled the tarps to see

a green pasture with water buffaloes in the mud.  Welcome to Cambodia.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Barefoot in Bali

I am struggling to catch up here.  It's been over a year since I started the blog and this is really the first time I'm lacking motivation as I endeavor to begin (again).  I don't know if it's that I'm still trying to write about events that happened over a month ago, if it's because I am feeling a bit apathetic about my return to the routine of life or something else entirely.  On that note, forgive me if I seem a bit lackadaisical.

Additionally, that catch up is going to take one blog post longer.  I went away again.  I feel a bit embarrassed in blogging about yet another place I've gone, though this one wasn't outside the confines of the archipelago. I don't mean to be boasting or rubbing it in anyone's face.  I accept the fact that we get a heap of holidays from school at a price; namely a reduced salary and no vacation days I can choose.  I get so many days via the Indonesian, Korean, religious and school term holidays that I can't put in for any others. My friends working at other international schools get housing stipends, medical insurance, a months bonus at the end of their contract, a flight home.  We just get holidays.  Would that I could split the difference, but alas, no such luck.  Instead I save up and head out at every opportunity.

Monday was Korean Thanksgiving, also known as Chuseok or Harvest Moon festival. Three day weekend! I booked my flight Wednesday for less than a hundred dollars.  This also guaranteed that I got sick on Thursday.  Friday I managed to make my flight and I arrived in Sanur at about 1030pm. Sanur is much quieter than Kuta, home to half the rowdy Aussies under the age of 30 and more than a few rowdy retirees. Kuta has a great nightlife and a better, but always crowded, beach.

The Big Pineapple, my hostel, was a good place to relax and meet people.  Saturday was a solo day taking in Sanur beach.  It's nice because it is so quiet.  There are boats, bikers, walkers, locals, etc.  Lots to sit and watch.  The water was cool but not cold. When the tide went out it went way way out.  I could've walked over a mile and the water still would only have been to my knees. It was that it was a longer walk to the beach.  I stick this in only because by the time I had spent all day there and walked a couple kilometers on the beach the walk back felt like an epic journey. A high note of my day at Sanur was the fresh king prawn dinner accompanied by a drink called an Arak Obama (arak is a local spirit).

Saturday night I met three American boys (Blake, Neil and Tyler) and a Dutchman(Shawn) at my hostel. Minus Tyler, we went out to Kuta for a riotous night. A few big bottles of Bintang kicked the night off.  Next was Sky Garden to catch the pre-midnight drink specials. We broke into two groups and lost each other among the eighty-six mini levels in SG. Ok there are really only maybe nine levels but when you're in there and it's packed I dare you not to think there's more. Shots, drinks then onward to Bounty.  Anyone who's been knows what a riot that is. Utter ridiculousness is all I can say. After that we blundered upon a bar playing Nirvana.  My hopes quickly dissipated when then rock music faded after two songs. A quest for hamburgers ended in a scuffle and we lost Blake.  The next hour was spent searching for him before we gave up and found him lounging back at the hostel.

Sunday brought a 12:30p wake up and quest for Kuta beach. I say quest most earnestly.  Blake and I spent over an hour on the motorbike to get there. It felt like we drove around the entire island.  An hour or so stroll on the beach and then we got lost on the way back to the hostel and that was over an hour too.  Tyler, Neil and Shawn were on two other bikes and we lost them almost immediately. They returned after we did having eaten. Blake and I nearly died in a fiery crash.  I don't know how he managed to go from 80 km/h to stopped without hitting the guy who cut us off..  We knackered from epic drive. By that point none of us could be asked to go out any farther than a Japanese resto ten minute walk from the hostel.

Monday I had an amazing lunch of Tong seng.  Its Chinese influenced Indonesian food.  Beef and cabbage in a dark cinnamon/chocolatey broth. Then a lounge about to watch a rugby game from the World Cup (I've seen 2.5 games already and it just started Friday). Off to Kuta beach for a wee shop (only bought four things) and a snooze on the beach.  I stayed until sunset and then headed off for dinner at TJ's Mexican.  I'd been there last time and it didn't disappoint. I was surprised how much had changed on the main strip in Kuta since I was there a mere eleven months ago.

It's typical of my luck.  I got an ojek to the airport.  We got a flat on the way.  He went the wrong way twice as a road was closed for construction (that's been going on for months) and then he couldn't take me in so I had to walk.  Finally the flight was delayed.  Siiigh.  Oh well.  I got my tan touched up and got to some fresher air for the weekend. Now I'm back, slogging away at work. Aduuuu

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sai Gon

I'm back to playing catch up about the Viet Nam trip.  It's a very good thing too as it will keep me from making a rant about JIKS administration.

The most uncomfortable ride of this whole adventure was the six hour sleeping bus from Da Lat to Saigon where I was in the front on the top row in the middle of the bus and it felt like a roller coaster. On the other buses I'd been able to pick my seat.  Since this seat was assigned, I was outta luck. The bus was meant to be a seven hour trip, leaving at 2300 and arriving at 0600.  Instead it departed at 2300 and arrived at 0430. Danielle and I were both bleary eyed, but managed to get a taxi to our hostel.  We had a booking but it was obviously too early to check in. We dropped our bags and drug around Sai Gon until twelve.  I say drug in the literal sense.  We were literal zombies.  I remember seeing the postal building, the opera house, the outside of some buildings and memorials. 

The postal building is very pretty inside.  Several things in Sai Gon looked like they fell straight out of France.

Like Notre Dame Cathedral. That's it's name.  Just like in Paris.

I acknowledge (esp to Coco who loves Sai Gon) that this may have had an impact on my impression of Sai Gon.   I've heard many people claim that you are either a Ha Noi person or a Sai Gon person, but also that it seems to make a difference if you start in the north or the south.  I contend I am definitely a Ha Noi person.  I loved the smaller town with it's center wrapped around the northern end of the lake.  Sai Gon in comparison has a "big city" feel.  It's geographically and by population much larger than Ha Noi. It was harder to meet people there, though I still did.  The hostels were nothing special (where the one in Ha Noi was amazing).  I think the cards ended up hard against Sai Gon.

During our drag around town, we went into a botanical gardens and zoo.  Now, you regular readers will know how I feel about zoos.  I didn't mean to go to this one.  I thought it was two distinct entities - a zoo and a garden.  We started out alright with a temple, then a fountain and garden.  Without realizing it we traipsed through an aviary and smack into the zoo. I whined and cringed through until back to back seeing an elephant on a 20 ft chain with no water in his swimming pool even thought it was very hot, and immediately after seeing a flooded deer enclosure.  Their paddock was right next to the river and water was seeping in.  There were no trees, no dirt, only mud.  I have seen wild deer.  There are deer native to the Pacific Northwest (of the USA).  They do not live out in the open in the mud.  I drew the line and had to go.  I'll reiterate, I'm off zoos.
The most worth while part of Sai Gon (other than our departure) was a day tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels.  They were made and used my the local Southern Vietnamese and the Viet Cong during the war against the Americans. There were three levels of tunnels; level A was 1-3 meters deep, level B was 3-5 meters deep and level C was 6-10 meters deep.  During attacks soldiers would be on level A, townsmen on level B and women and children on level C.  I walked through part of level A.  Even considering that Vietnamese are smaller than most westerners, it was a close fit. The lower tunnels would flood during the wet season.  Babies would suffocate there as well as the air was too thin. There were examples of the booby traps constructed and used against the Americans.  Just like most of the museums, the propaganda, especially in photo captions, was thick. I was of two minds here.  My heart ached to see the conditions the people endured during the war, thinking it was their only hope to survive. I also was a bit horrified at the trap and snares used against American soldiers,  my compatriots. I don't endorse the use of such methods again anyone.  Just as I was torn in reading about the war when I was in Sai Gon.  It made me reflect.

Tunnel Entrance

With the door in place it was impossible to see there was a tunnel at all.

This was an entry to the upper level of tunnels.  It was about two and a half feet high inside.