Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Five

From RevGalBlogPals

A simple Friday Five for a busy part of the year; indulge me by sharing two fives:
As you look back over 2011 share 5 blessings, they can be as grand or as simple as you like,if you year has been like mine they are probably a mixture!
As you look towards 2012 share 5 hopes- again, anything goes!
Pictures and songs welcome!

Blessings--I have so many it's hard to choose just five.

1. Being alive. A friend wrote of her feelings of vulnerability after being diagnosed with cancer. The way having cancer changed me is to show me in very uncertain terms how fragile life, my own life, is. I don't think a day goes by that I don't think about how close to death we all are.

2. Family and friends. I have so many friends who are there for me, who keep me company and entertain me from a serious and funny clergygroup to my bridge group to friends in Cleveland to friends scattered all over the country. (I am thankful for Facebook, much as I hate its control over with whom I share things.) My family who also love me. A great family wedding, a chance to see my favorite uncle I haven't seen in years and an aunt. Time with a niece and great niece (in both senses of the word). A great time with second cousins in the NC mountains. Catching up with another second cousin at the RevGalBlogPals cruise. I'd rave about my son, but that would embarrass him.

3. Travel. This year has been full of travel. Lots of trips, lots of wonder. Two wonderful dive trips to the Pacific. Manta rays and reef fish. Learning about different cultures. Visiting Vietnam and thinking about the war. Visiting Hiroshima and thinking about war.

4. My house which I love. Though I long to live in San Anselmo or even the East Bay, my house is perfect. It has a lovely outdoor space which I may actually use this afternoon if it doesn't rain.

5. God's world. I love oceans and mountains and quiet trails and noisy cities. Each speaks to me in a different way.

My blessings are pretty much consistent year to year as are my hopes for the next year

Hopes--world peace and thin thighs.

1. That the economic situation in the world improves. That those without work will find work that pays a living wage. That children have enough to eat and the opportunity for an education. That all have access to health--from clean water to medical care.

2. That I can achieve a level of fitness so that I can bike the Danube this summer. And if I am lucky enough to win the Yosemite High Sierra Camps lottery I am strong enough to hike it.

3. That an upcoming get together with second cousins and sisters and first cousins will be as great as this years. I am grateful to Kitty for getting us together.

4. For the health of a new nephew and perhaps more new kin.

5. To find some meaningful way to volunteer. I have missed the work I did as a volunteer and am finding it hard to get connected in Memphis. It's all complicated by the fact that I travel so much and so I can't commit to anything on a regular basis.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Tuesday (Nov 29) We were off to Luang Prabang. I had decided to add Laos to the itinerary simply because it was there. I had originally thought to visit Vietanenne because it is the capital, but several folks suggested Luang Prabang instead. We left mid afternoon, having a morning at leisure to pack and generally lounge around. I think I used the time to catch up on my journal. We arrived at the airport and got through with no problems. The plane stopped in Preske and we deplaned. One American man came up to us and said asked if we were staying here. We said no and he responded that he didn't know why he had a transit sticker and card when he was staying here. We had the presence of mind to ask where here was and he said Luang Prabang. We explained that Luang was not here. We arrived just after sunset and we to our hotel which was next to the Xiemn Thong Monastery. We ate dinner at a nearby restaurant Tum Tum Cheong. The major difference between what I've seen of Lao and southern Vietnamese cooking is Lao has less lime and much, much more lemongrass which I have decided I am not terribly fond of in great quantities.

One of the things I had forgotten to mention is the funeral procession we saw in Siem Reap. We were returning from our first lunch when a policeman stopped up. Instead of turning and going down a different road, we stopped. The procession was led by some policemen, then ranks of school children in uniform. The ones in the first row carried wreathes of white chrysthanthemums with yellow trim. Next were ranks of enlisted soldiers, then the funeral brier. It was a tall structure like a baldacchino with the casket underneath. It was on a motorized cart like a parade float, but 20 or 30 uniformed enlisted men went before it, their hands on ropes as if to haul it. Behind was a tall carriage carrying a lone boy, whom I assume was the son. I did not see women who looked like close family, so I don't know if there were not any or if it is not the custom for women to attend. Behind that was a huge portrait of the deceased. He was an army officer and from the portrait appeared to be in his 50s. Following the portrait were ranks of uniformed officers and then a few Buddhist monks. Behind them were a disorganized, fairly large group of mourners. Our guide said the average life expectency of people in Cambodia was about 60. I realized that I had not noticed a single old person in Vietnam. It was only once at Angkor Wat that I saw an old man.

Wednesday we had a free day in Luang. We wandered among the temples, taking pictures. We ate at Tamarind with local food. Tamarind's menu contained info about local NGOs. One Brother Mouse funds libraries in villages and helps Laotians learn to speak English.

Thursday was kayaking day. We drove to Elephant Village, a tourist trap started by a German. It provides a home for old elephants. One could ride elephants up the river. We got into a boat loaded with our kayak and then motored upstream. We debarked and then got in the kayaks and drifted to a local waterfall. The water flowed freely down the hill. We debarked and then climbed up the hill to the waterfall. It spread over a wide area and flowed down different levels. It looked like something out of Disney or Avatar. The water was aquamarine and the stones of the waterfall were smooth and pale cream colored. After a bit, we clammored back into the kayaks and continued a lazy paddle downstream. We passed Elephant Village and folks riding an elephant in the river. Along the banks of the river, people farmed and set fish traps. The traps are conical and have a door set with a rock on top If a fish enters, the trap is triggered, the rock falls off the door and the door falls over the opening. At lunch we went through one rapid and then stopped at the grave of Henri Mauhout who “discovered” Angkor Wat. The site was littered with trash, lots of plastic. We walked up a hill to a clearing and the grave. Evidently, he remarked to a local guide at one point that if anything happened to him, that's where he wanted to be buried. He got malaria and so he was. We continued downstream on the Nam Khan river until we came to the big bridge. From there we debarked and climbed up the hill. We waited a bit until the van came for us. We went to L'Elephant for dinner which was quite good. From there we went to the night market.

Friday. We arose early to go see the monks on their begging mission. At one corner, a couple from probably Japan waited cross legged. In front of each was a basket of fruit and a huge basket of sticky rice. As the monks walked by, each opened his begging bowl which was surprisingly large. We then walked to street our hotel was on. A group of tourists knelt in front of one of the picturesque temples waiting for the monks to walk by them. It felt a bit awkward and strange as if it were a tourist attraction, not a religious event. Further up the street, a group of residents sat, the older people on chairs or stools, the younger ones kneeling.

A dilemma for me always is photographing religious events. In one sense, it takes away from the sacredness of the time for the participants. During the almsigiving for the monks, though, there were so many tourists with cameras lining the streets that one more seemed to make little difference. And, to some extent, it seemed a bit like a tourist exercise anyway. At least there seemed to be more tourists participating in almsgiving than locals, other than along one block. And so I took pictures.

Back to the hotel to pack and then a walk along the river to yet another temple. A young monk was washing dishes in the yard, using a hose to rinse the stack of dishes. We then walked along the river back to our hotel. Then we decided to go to L'Elephant for lunch. The food in Luang is quite delicious.. We then left for our flight to Hanoi. The waiting room was a crush, with two flights to Hanoi leaving within five minutes of each other. We were a bit late taking off and then arriving. We missed the long line of visa on arrival folks, but then had a long wait for our luggage. We finally collected the luggage and met our ride into Hanoi.

We arrived at the Hilton to a scene of such chaos I couldn't imagine what was going on. Small children thronged the lobby. Parents stood sipping wine and beer. The clerk explained, it was the annual Christmas tree lighting and arrival of Santa. We went to our rooms. Because it was dark and we were tired, we planned to eat at the hotel. As we waited at the elevator, Christmas carols wafted up. We alit on the floor with the restaurants and found a high school choir singing Christmas carols in English. The entire hotel was decorated for Christmas. We ate dinner in the Vietnamese restaurant listening to carols in English. At times I sang along.

Saturday. Off to Ha Long Bay. A long drive, four hours. We waited about 45 minutes in a depressing building until the rest of our boat arrived. Then we boarded and were off. Ha Long Bay is even more beautiful than the pictures. The limestone karsts rise out of the sea, straight up, covered a bit in vegetation. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm with a cooling sea breeze. We settled into our rooms, had lunch and then arrived at an island owned by the company running the boats. We climbed up to a cave with stalagtites and stalagmites. We then went down to the beach and found our kayaks. It was lovely kayaking around the bay, but the guide went much too fast. I was concerned about being lost among the karsts and so I paddled much faster than I would have liked to catch up. I kept stopping for pictures which kept me further behind. When we returned, we sat on the beach for the sunset and then dinner.

Sunday. Off to a fishing village. This cruise is a bit Disney-esque. An island owned by the boat company, a fishing village supported by the company. We got on our tender and then were put on typical fishing boats for a row around the village, then off to another. The company has built a school, funded in part by an australian high school. Three teachers teach there. Each is paid $100 a month and five days a week they share a small room with one double bed.

Ha Long is beautiful and just sitting on the boat watching the scenery is fantastic.

Back to Hanoi in the afternoon. Dinner at Pane e Vino an Italian restaurant.

Monday. First thing, the laundry. So no one spoke English. The sign said the laundry would be back “tomorrow”, but we needed it today. I kept wr iting the time down and the woman lowered the price by a little less than half. Then another woman came and saw the amount and shooed us out. I wrote down the original price and kept pointing to the clock. Finally the woman pointed to the 11 and to the 4. Then off to the Literary Garden. A long walk. On the way, we stopped at a small store to buy a rain jacket for me. Of course, for the 85th time I hadn't packed a rain jacket. The Literary Garden was a bit farther than I had thought, but it wasn't terribly hot, so the longer walk was fine. The Literary Garden is a large park where the first university in Vietnam was situated. It was a Confucian academy founded around 1100. There are four courtyards. The first one is mainly an entrance way. Through a gate is a large central pool with arches. On one side are steles with the names of the graduates. A group of high school students were having pictures taken. The girls were wearing their best dress/pant outfits and the boys were all in too-tight shiny black suits. There were professional photographers, assistants with bouquets of roses and reflectors. As the group of girls lined up, a couple of (I think) Korean male tourists lined up with the girls for pictures. Everyone was taking pictures of the girls and guys. In the third courtyard is a temple honoring Confucius facing the gate and gift shops on the two sides. The final courtyard has a two story building dedicated to other ancient Vietnamese teachers, along with a giant bell tower and a drum tower. We walked back and then went to lunch at a Japanese restaurant. Walking through the alley way, I kept looking for a stall for lunch. No one was serving exactly what I wanted. So, it was the Japanese restaurant.

After lunch, off to the Old Quarter, which was a bit more than I could handle. Traffic and scooters everywhere. All of the honking their horns. I didn't pay any attention to the honking which made it really useless because I continued to walk directly where the motor scooter wanted to go. Along the way is Hoan Kilm Lake. There is a pagoda at the end of the lake with a picturesque bridge. The students from the Literary Garden were there with their photographers. We continued to walk, dodging traffic.

The streets in the Old Quarter are narrow and lined with shops. We entered the covered market where there are no motor scooters, but the aisles were narrow and barely passable for one, not the people loaded with merchandise who wanted through. Back out on the street beside the market was even more impassable. A van was parked in the narrow street, parked and moving motor scooters lined the street. An SUV was trying to get by the space which was too narrow by at least a foot. People wedged themselves through the passageways, wandering from one side to the other as they could find the suggestion of an open path. Horns blared at driverless cars, willing them to move themselves. On the next street, it was no better. Several cars filled with notables were stopped at the market, in the middle of the street, blocking the way for other cars. We crawled through the maze and found our way to an only slightly quieter street. Exhausted and overwhelmed with the noise, we stopped at an outdoor restaurant by the Opera House and I had a glass of sangria. The greenery muted the traffic noise and the late afternoon was warm and sunny. We then rescued our laundry. I got a bit of a scolding from the old woman who did the laundry. She had scrubbed and scrubbed one of my T shirts and the mud still didn't come out. I had a yearning for western food, so we ate pizza at the hotel.

Then, off to the overnight train for Sapa. Not exactly the Orient Express, though we did have a compartment to ourselves. The berth was narrow and I think we were directly over the wheels. The train was noisy and several times during the night, I was jolted awake when the car slammed into another car. I assume the train was adding cars at various stops. Morning came none too soon, though had I had a stable, quiet bed, I would have slept more.

Tuesday. First off to a local market with the Flower Hmong. The women wear pleated, flowered skirts and leggings and jackets adorned with sequins. Other than stalls selling lots of Hmong dresses (being mostly bought by the Hmong) and tourist geegaws, it was pretty much the normal market. A few water buffalo and pigs were being sold outside the market. Lots of stalls selling food to eat and a few selling offal. Nothing more appetizing than looking at intestines and other innards.

After the market we had another tourist experience, motoring down the river. Actually, the river was lovely with towering walls along each side. We saw several waterfalls. The vegetation was tropical rain forest like. It would have been a great kayak.

Then off to Sapa. The day was foggy. We had been upgraded to a mountain view room, but we couldn't find the mountains. We thought perhaps there was something off in the distance through the fog. We ate lunch at Sapa Rooms, Vietnamese dishes. We had a vegetable soup and then spring rolls, fresh spring rolls wrapped in rice paper with some greens (not as many as southern Vietnam), an eggplant dish and the a fantastic pork dish. And garlic vegetables. We walked for a bit. Sapa is covered with stores selling North Face. Since North Face are made in Vietnam, I'm not sure whether these were genuine or knock offs. Lots of massage parlors, too. And restaurants. And Handicraft stores. Just like Gatlinberg, or at least the Gatlinberg I remember. Then it was nap time.

Wednesday. We woke up to a sunny day. We looked out the window and there were high mountains in every direction. (Our driver told us that this was the first sunny day in a couple of months.) We visited three minority villages in the morning. We walked down a steep hill for about a quarter mile. A coterie of women met each group of tourists, hawking their wares and continuing to follow them. I was surprised to learn that one of the women had only two children. Evidently that is usual for her ethnic group. Usually, women are surprised to learn I have only one child and view me with a bit of pity. Not here. We walked along a river. The hillsides are steep and terraced for rice, though they have only one crop a year. Buffalo, ducks and geese were foraging in the rice paddies. One of the women with me was twisting hemp fibers into thread for weaving. Another had green hands from the organic dye. A different ethnic group lives in each of the three villages. Their dress and religion differ, too. They do not intermarry. Fortunately we didn't have to climb out of the valley. Lunch was at a Vietnamese restaurant and was quite good. Our afternoon excursion was to Cat Cat village. We didn't see much of a village. The way down steep and long is lined with shops selling handicrafts. We reahced the bottom and a waterfall and then was the trek up. I had asked the guide if there was up hill on the way back and he said no. but he lied. There was about a half mile of quite steep uphill with some level ways. Did I mention how much I hate going up hill?

Then it was time to go to Loi Cai for the train back to Hanoi. Before we got to the train station, we stopped to see the border with China. I'm not sure why, but it's a tourist attraction. There is a temple at the park overlooking the river border. On the bridge were people pushing carts laden with chinese goods for sale.

We had a day room at a small seedy hotel. We walked over to the nice hotel next to the train station and had coffee and watched the sunset from their 10th floor coffee bar. We walked around a bit more, trying to decide on a place to have dinner. We went back to the hotel and rested and then went out for dinner. As we descended the steps, the order of sizzling beef and onions wafted up and so we ate at the hotel. The beef with onions was fantastic. I wasn't too fond of the vegetables but the spring rolls were good, filled with warm egg. We had banana fritters for dessert and as with any dough fried in grease, they were good.

We were in a four berth compartment on the train which was larger than the two berth we had had on the way up. We weren't sharing, so it was quite roomy. The night was a bit easier than the way up. We arrived in Hanoi at 5:30 am and went to the hotel where they found us a room rather early.

Monday, November 28, 2011

VietNam Journal

VietNam November December 2011

At some point in almost every trip I've taken overseas, I think how grateful I am to be an American. This trip it came much earlier than usual.. About three days into the trip, we were sitting with our guide. He said, “You Americans are so lucky. We work to get an education, then work hard and have no time to enjoy. You work hard and get an education then work hard, and then you get to enjoy.” He was mystified with what I do now that I am retired. He is having an operation this week, minor surgery, and is taking three days off. It will be his first days off in two months. And afterwards, he won't have another day off until the end of January. He doesn't get paid holidays or vacation. He only gets paid when he works. He has a contract with the tour company, so he is guaranteed a certain amount of work. He is more fortunate than free lance guides who have no guarantees. I am grateful for all the unions who worked to modernize the American workplace in the 20s and 30s—40 hour work weeks, paid vacations, an end to child labor. We are fortunate.

After three flights and about 30 hours of travel time we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, which everyone still calls Saigon. After a mixup with the visas (I won' t explain, though I must admit I was afraid I was losing my mind. The explanation is much too embarrassing.) We got to the hotel and collapsed. On Monday, we got up and walked to the main tourist area, about a mile from the hotel. It was hot and humid, as bad as the worst Memphis summer days. We first passed the old Hotel d'Ville, which is now the City Hall for the Communist regime. It remains however, a gingerbread house or as one guidebook put it, (paraphrasing what I remember) the habit of colonial regimes to imprint their cultural values on the conquered people, no matter how inappropriate. (OK, I've exaggerated a bit.) We continued our walk and first stopped at the Post Office. Several groups of students were sitting in front drawing either the Post Office or more modern buildings. The Post Office itself is a long rectangular hallway with iron arches. At the end of the hall is a large picture of Uncle Ho who bears an uncanny resemblance to Col. Sanders. In fact, I often see Ho and think I've found a KFC or at a KFC assume I'm looking at yet another propaganda cartoon. I wonder whether the resemblance has anything to do with the popularity of KFC. I have yet to find my first Micky D's. At the front are two perpendicular aisles filled with souvenir shops.

Back out in the square, wedding couples posed for their portraits. In one, the underlying meaning of which I am still contemplating, a young groom sits astride a motor scooter fitted with a cooler on the back. His bride hangs on the back, wedding gown spread artistically behind her, grabbing the back of the scooter as if for dear life. Other more conventional couples posed near the cathedral. It was closed for the noon time, so we missed the interior. Across the street, students clustered in groups, drawing buildings.

We wandered towards the Opera House, another neoclassical gem and closed. I was getting hot and so we returned to the hotel. We found lunch in a french restaurant and gorged on onion soup. Back at the hotel, we napped.

The following day, Tuesday, if memory serves, we traveled out of the city to see the Chu Ci tunnels, dug by the Viet Cong. Saigon has a population of 10 million and six million motor scooters, all of which were on the roads this morning. Getting out of the city took close to an hour. As we drove through the rural areas, scattered here and there were huge McMansions, two or three story houses with shiny aluminum railings at the balconies.

At the tunnels, the day was already hot. We saw small tunnels with entrances covered by a wooden board covered in leaves. One tunnel had been enlarged for tourists and so we dropped down into the ground and hunched over crawled our way a few yards and our again. It was long enough for me to get a bit claustophobic and sneezy over the dust in the tunnel. Andrew went through a few more. The tunnels included large areas dug into the ground which could be used for various activities—cooking, eating, preparing bombs and booby traps. I was taken with the exhibition of booby traps. Some were simple spring loaded iron spikes which when one stepped on the trap, ones foot fell through and then eight or so spikes trapped the leg. Some had fish barbs which tore through the flesh when one tried to remove them.

One of my recurring thoughts was why we spent so much on this small country. Why did we invent the monster out of people who simply wanted to live as they chose, without being ruled by a foreign power? I thought of the friends who fought here and those who died here for no reason. I wonder why we invent enemies or inflate the danger of the other. We did manage a few years free of boogie men after the fall of the Soviet Union, but we have invented another and until the last week or so, have ingnored a far greater threat to our way of life, probably because china holds so much of our debt.

We then traveled to see a Temple for a new religion founded in the 20s. Our guide said that the religion is a mix of Catholicism, Buddhism and Confucisionism. The temple was built in the 20s. It consists of a long hall with an altar area at one end. Columns wrapped with dragons line two aisles in a fashion similar (tho not with dragons) to the layout of a typical european cathedral. On the central column in each row is a pulpit with steps winding up the column as one would see in old european Catholic churches where the word is preached from the center of the nave, rather than the front. In the narthex, worshippers lined up, women on one side, men on the other. Then at the appointed time, each group marched in according to their position in the hierarchy. Leading the congregation were men dressed in either bright yellow, red or blue. Atop each of the men's heads were hats which looked as if they were made of glossy cardboard. After these patriarchs strode in, the other men and women came in. They were seated in rows. Marshalls kept orders among the tourists, but also among the worshippers. I say one marshall tap a napping worshipper. In the balcony above the narthex, a group of women chanted while men played a stringed instrument. At times, a bell rung and the worshippers, sitting cross legged bowed their heads to the floor. (I was pleased to see at least one woman having as much difficulty with a forward fold as I do.) On the long drive back to Saigon, everyone but the driver napped.

Dinner was at Hoi An. We braved Saigon traffic to make our way to the restaurant. It is among several blocks of restaurants, ranging from Pizza Hut and cheap Indian and Japanese restaurants to places like Hoi An. Hoi An is in an old house. We went upstairs. Wooden panels adorned the wall. The upstairs seating area is divided in two by a wooden railing. Antique appearing chairs and tables complete the décor. We had a lovely Vietnamese dinner.

Wednesday. We left for the Mekong Delta early. We drove for about an hour and a half and arrived at a mall in a small city. During our drive we were never out of the sight of houses. At the mall, we tested our bikes and set off, biking through the rather crowded countryside. So, far, not what I expected. No rural vistas, no rice paddies, no jungle scenes. Just more and more houses and small shops aligned along the way. After about 10k, the heat had gotten to me and I called it a day. We were to start down a narrow road to a village. The van was able to follow the bikes, so I sat in the cool of the van while we went to the village. Of course, I never saw what I expected. More of the same—houses and shops. A few more fields visible through the yards, but we were never in what I consider a rural area. Dragonfruit bushes, trees, whatever grew in neat rows. The shrubs stand on a what looks like a slender tree trunk and then arms like cactus arms flow out from the center in what looks like an unruly haircut. I really can't do justice to the shrub or cactus or whatever and I don't think I have a picture. We finally met up with Andrew and our guide at a Buddhist temple. It had the largest, happiest Buddha I had ever seen. We wandered around a bit and then returned to the city where we had started the bike ride for lunch.

We ate in a small restaurant overlooking a branch of the Mekong. It would be comfortable as a NC BBQ restaurant—a good NC BBQ restaurant with formica tables and checked table cloths (if there are cloths at all). We had vietnamese pancakes—a rice flour, egg batter with chicken and vegetables. The owner served us a huge plate of greens including cilantro and mint. We took a large green leaf, put the pancake in it, added other greens, rolled it up and dipped it in fish sauce. Yum!

After lunch we went to the boat terminal and after repacking some overnight gear left for a cruise on the Mekong. We went around a couple of small islands and then got off with boats of other tourists on a larger island. We walked about a km and then got on a horse cart and went to a place where we had tea and fruit. Then we boarded small row boats. The paddler weilded a long oar back and forth from a standing position. We then boarded our original boat and went off to our home stay. Now, I expected a HOME stay. Where one stays in a HOME. Some's abode, residence. This was a coconut candy factory and green homestay. Green I suppose because there were no sheets, which obviously means no laundry detergent in the Mekong River. The rooms were in one of two buildings set in a L shape. The buildings were made of wood, with a window covered with a lattice made of palm leaf strips. A partition reached about 7 feet above the floor, dividing the rooms from one another. I had seen a communal WC and feared I would be wandering out in the middle of the night, but there were in-suite facilities. Well, a sink which leaked to the floor, a toilet still stuffed with the last guest's toilet paper (who hadn't gotten the memo about toilet paper in the developing world) and a shower head and somewhere a drain. No shower enclosure. A thin mattress of foam lay on the bed. OMG, what had I gotten myself into?

Still exhausted from jet lag, we turned on the fans and napped. In the late afternoon, we wandered out and found a path toward the village. We reached the main road, filled with motor scooters and bikes. We walked to a bridge and then returned to the factory and found a pier out onto the Mekong. We sat as the sun set. We saw a large cumulous cloud which appeared to me to be reflecting lightening. As we continued to watch, the lightening was contained within the cloud. It did not travel down (or up) to (or from) the earth. We could see spikes of lightening from one part of the cloud to another. We continued to watch and found lightening in two more clouds. I have never seen this before.

We had a great dinner at the home stay. Chicken and rice soup and then a chicken salad. The chicken salad was the meat from the soup, shredded and added to cooked vegetables. A dressing of lime juice and a bit of sugar was used. After we finished our dinner, three more courses arrived—a second soup, a beef dish and some more veggies. Really great food.

Thursday. We were to do a bike ride early in the village, but the bikes were in need of some repair, so after going back and forth we ditched the idea. We had breakfast and then boated back to the city where our driver was. Andrew and our guide took off on bikes. They biked down a rural road full of scooters and a few trucks. After about an hour, they reached the point where I would join them. It was a sidewalk sized roadway along a Mekong stream. I was a bit frightened by the narrowness of the roadway, particularly when scooters were coming towards me. This was a “village”, but houses lined the roadway. Some were particularly large and beautiful. The large rural houses are mostly two stories with a wide veranda. They are built with bricks and faced with stucco. I noticed that the bricks are not solid. They are about the length of our standard bricks but square on end instead of rectangular. The bricks are not solid but contain four hollow cores about ¾ inch wide and deep, running the entire length of the brick. All the materials for these houses are brought in by motor scooter, or I suppose by river. The village was filled with mostly modern houses. We crossed the river by ferry and then rode some more, crossing again and meeting our van.
Lunch was at a local restaurant. The restaurant was basically the porch area of a house. In the “villages” new houses are four stories or more with the first floor being a shop or restaurant. Again, the new houses are very opulent. I asked our guide who owned the houses and he replied “rich people”. I asked how they became rich (Vietnam is after all a communist country). He said they were farmers or owned a boat. Some were Vietnamese who worked abroad and built a house to live in when they came back home. The restaurant was not in an opulent house. The first floor (I went inside looking for the toilet only to have the grandmother shoo me outside) was a room about 12x12 feet. Behind that was a hall way with two small bedrooms off that. Behind that was the kitchen with an open back porch area. Along the side of the house were a line of hammocks where tour drivers rested until time to pick up their tourists.

Lunch was red snapper. The best red snapper I have ever had. It was served with fish sauce and greens to wrap it in. The second major course was duck, served over rice with a vegetable soup to finish the meal. Really fantastic food.

After lunch we continued our drive toward Chou Doc where we would spend the night. We never reached what I would consider a rural area. Houses or businesses lined the entire way. Lots of seafood processing plants and in one area a plethora of brick making plants. Andrew tells me that Vietnam's rural areas are the most densely populated in the world. Nowhere that we visited came close to what I had expected from the Mekong Delta. But, that's one of the reasons to travel—to find where one's assumptions are wrong. We spent the night at the Victoria Hotel there. I soaked in the tub, still a bit sore from biking. We had dinner at the hotel—recommended as the best restaurant by Lonely Planet and one that was the most appealing in the D-K guidebook. The food was a bit flat, though.

Friday. We awoke early (as usual). Had breakfast and then boarded a small speed boat (7 passengers plus luggage plus two pilots) for Phoem Penh. As we eased out into the water, we saw houses built on stilts. Further up, there were more small houses arrayed along the river. As we ventured further upstream, we saw more small houses around rice paddies. Huge electric pumps were pumping water from the river into the fields. Fishing boats plied the shores and boys were fishing with lines and nets. With only a few exceptions, the area did not seem to be particularly poor. We reached the Vietnamese border point after about an hour. We got off the boat and the guide took our passports and did the paperwork while we meandered about the office area. Back on the boat for about 20 minutes until we reached the Cambodian check point. Andrew remarked that he didn't want to make a snap judgment about the economic disparity between Vietnam and Cambodia based on a few steps into the country, but. . . We climbed up the bank and then walked among small houses. We reached the checkpoint. We were all visa on arrival clients. The guide disappeared with the paperwork, while we watched puppies cavorting in the dust. A man in uniform came out with a dish and put some food up in dish in a niche about 18 inches above the ground. The mother dog happily ate while her pups clammored for scraps. Our guide appeared, handed out passports and then we went to the immigration check. For some reason the clerk I got took forever. I'm not sure what he was doing; I think he was just slow. Back in the boat for a 3 hour trip.

The land here was much more what I had expected to see in the Mekong in Vietnam. Small houses surrounded by banana trees, a boat along the shore, cattle grazing, a few rice paddies along the way. Many, many fewer people with houses further apart.

We arrived in Phoen Penh just before noon. We went to our hotel. Then off to find lunch. We stopped at a schwarma place owned by a Lebanonese man. He made us lime juices and fairly good schwarma. Then off to the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. One of the things I have learned is that a pagoda is not a pagoda. Here, a pagoda is a temple, not a tower with curved eaves at every story. As we wandered down the street along the river, we looked for a restaurant for dinner. We never quite found anything appealling. They all had the look of cheap, plentiful food aimed at tourists—western food intermixed with “Khmer” cooking all in the same establishment. As we approached the Royal Palace, the tutu drivers (tutu are motor scooters with a two seat carriage in the back) told us the Royal Palace was closed today. We continued to walk and discovered that it was indeed closed, but would reopen at 2:00 a mere five minutes from then. We waited in line and then waited again for tickets. There was a large group of women who were buying tickets and then arguing about change with the ticket seller. We finally entered.

I found the Royal Palace grounds to be lovely. The architecture is much like that of the temples in Bangkok, but less glitzy—little gold, the color more judiciously applied. It is less crowded, too. The Silver Pagoda is a temple within the grounds. It is called the Silver Pagoda because the floors are silver (though mostly covered by rugs) and somewhat tarnished where they are uncovered. A central Buddha figure is the focal point and is surrounded by other Buddhas including one adorned by thousands of diamonds. It was hot and I was tired, so we didn't get to the National Museum, but walked back by a different route. We went by the market which was filled with stands selling just about everything. It was certainly a quieter experience than being constantly accosted by tut tut drivers.

We found a place for dinner near the hotel, at least in the guide books, but couldn't find it. The area looked a bit dicey so we opted for a Halel Chinese restaurant. The food was OK, but certainly not what we were looking for.

Saturday. We had a morning flight to Siem Reap. We arrived and were whisked away to the hotel. It is an amazing place. It's new, but retro and looks like a hotel from the colonial period. The exterior is yellow stucco trimmed with dark wood which is used extensively throughout the hotel. The lobby area is bisected by a long carp pool with four large planters. Two central staircases to the second and third floors. Two old fashioned cage elevators also make the journey. Our room overlooked the pool which is huge, lovely and tiled in dark blue. We met our guide and went to lunch at Kanell. Now I don't like included lunches because they are invariably designed for the most indiscriminating tour member. No spices, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing particularly tasty or indigenous. The owner walked by and sounded German, another bad sign. It was a set menu, too which I'm also not fond of. The first course was beef lab and was wonderful. The beef was minced and cooked with garlic and onion and ginger. The owner came over and chatted with us. She was French and owned a restaurant in Paris. She hated the rain and gray in Paris and loves the weather here, except when it is really hot. She loves Luang Prabang which is our next destination. The rest of the meal was good, though I didn't like the fish in the amok.

In the afternoon we visited the oldest ruins in the area, the Romolos group. For dinner we ventured out to Happy Herb Pizza. It was not as I expected. (The happy herb is supposedly marijuana, but that seems to be mythological.) It was basically a family run hole in the wall. I expected to see aging and not so aging hippies, but there was only one group of ex-pats there.

Sunday. We visited Bayon in the morning. At this point, it all seems to run together. It's a flat temple, as I recall. We did visit the Lara Croft Tomb Raiders room with the tree growing over everything. There were some interesting butterflies as well. On one column is an 8th C (I think) bas relief of a stegasaurus. Really. We then visited another temple in the area. I was sweltering from the heat and we returned to the hotel for lunch. In the mid afternoon, we went to Angkor Wat. It is huge, surrounded by a moat. Of course it was crowded. Bas-reliefs telling the story of Vishnu line the wall on the lower floor. Some are original, some were put up in the 1600s. The temple has been repurposed as a Buddhist shrine. The complex is huge and it was difficult for me to imagine what it might have looked like with all the carvings and paint in place. Almost all the surfaces would have been carved. At the base of columns were meditating figures. Above were Sanskrit inscriptions. We climbed to the top level and mostly avoided our guide who didn't climb along with us. In the center is a shrine to Buddha. We waited until sunset for pictures. The sky to the west was lovely, and Angkor faces west so there was not brilliant sunset behind the building.

Dinner was back at the hotel and the food was fantastic. I had a vegetable curry and Andrew had a beef salad and then red snapper.

Monday. Today we went to the last temple. I was having a bit of someone's revenge and so we cut the trip short. The temple was exquisite. Red sandstone and much of the original pediments and lintels in place with some statuary remaining, too. It is hard to describe the buildings.

After lunch we visited the Angkor museum.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Five--Seeking what?

So Jan posted on RevGalBlogPals
I was struck in our weekly Lectio Divina group by a few verses from Psalm 105:3-4:

. . . let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually.

Seeking is rejoicing. Rejoicing comes from the seeking, NOT the end of glory, heaven, enlightenment, or whatever. Seeking is the journey--RIGHT NOW!

So for this Friday Five, list what you are seeking, whether it is trivial, profound, or ordinary--whatever you would like to share! List 5 and add a bonus if you feel like it!
I have two thoughts to share of what I am seeking. Or perhaps only one because they are related, or now that I think about it three.

One of the things I struggle with, particularly post cancer, is how to live my life. I mean LIVE my life, not going through the motions, not dulling my senses with surfing the internet. How can I live intentionally each moment. It's a difficult task. It is much easier to waste my time on the internet or with computer games. It's easier not to feel the emotions that sometimes come up--fear, regret, sorrow, sadness, loneliness. When I stuff those feelings, I don't leave room for joy, companionship, happiness, exhileration.

Yesterday a friend asked me "Where do you find meaning?" And the answer is beauty. And I (mis?)quoted I think Keats (?) "Truth is beauty, beauty, truth. That is all you know on earth and all you need to know." As I have thought about what draws me to photography it is beauty--beauty in flowers (my current photography passion), landscape, cities, people, places, nature. I've posted a link on my FB in the last couple of weeks to Dewitt Jones, a photographer who has also done some amazing motivational videos. (A couple were used for a new pastor retreat in Lake Michigan presbytery.) He also writes a bimonthly column for Outdoor Photography. He has started a discipline of finding something beautiful to photograph everyday.

Beauty is what I seek. And I want to share that. And so my latest idea, project, is printing my flower photographs on fabric and then making art throw pillows. A friend made some fantastic suggestions which bring together my love of textiles and color with the photographs. And so I am thinking seriously about melding these together into a "business" to sell my art pillows.

I've also been playing with an idea for a stole for a friend--it's a much guttsier stole than I have made before but I am in love with the idea of piecing together beautiful silks and satins into a stole that (abstractly) tells a story that we both connect to.

Where I am today.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Authenticity and Integrity

I was intrigued by an article in the NYTimes on authenticity. It's a big word today. Everyone wants to be authentic. What I hear when I hear authenticity is being true to one's self. Being who one is, not wearing a mask.

When I was growing up the word was integrity. Integrity is a lot like authenticity. Integrity is about being true, being true to one's word, following through with what one has promised, being able to be trusted.

Authenticity and integrity are related--both are related to truth. But, they are polar opposites. Authencity is inwardly focused--being true to who one is, what one wants. Integrity is outwardly focused--being true to others.

I'm sure I don't want to be authentic. I want to be different depending on the circumstances. I am not the same person with my son as with my bridge group. And believe me, my son would not want to be around me if I were the same person with him as with the bridge group. I am not the same person in a cathedral as I am watching a bad movie. I was not the same person as a pastor as with my clergy friends. Each of these masks are me, but they are different.

What I can hope to be in all situations is a person of integrity. I can keep my word, I can be honest. I can not take advantage of people. I can be true.

To some extent, I am feeling a bit cranky and old. I feel like one of those really old cranky people who is constantly saying how things were better then. One of the things that concerns me, though, is our current self focus. What do I want is the important question, not where is the common good. And I am as prone to this as anyone. What has shifted is that selfishness, selfcenteredness is now the accepted norm. I think people have always been selfish and self centered. Moral norms though encouraged people to consider others and the common good. Selfishness was discouraged. Now, it seems everyone has taken Gordon Gekko's "greed is good" seriously. And greed is not good. It is certainly not good for society, free marketeers to the contrary notwithstanding. (And Adam Smith recognized that even in a free market, there must be concern for the common good.) Greed is not good for the individual either. Greed can never be satisfied. There is never enough. There is one more shiny toy. Greed is a deep well that can never be filled. Greed encourages long hours and using people. Greed is not good.

Well, I've wandered around a bit. My thoughts for a Saturday morning.

Friday, April 15, 2011


April is a month of family birthdays for me: Today is my mother-in-law's 80th birthday and on Sunday my third child's 26th birthday, so I am thinking about birthdays. Easter would have been my mother's 93rd birthday, but she died when she was only 72 years old.

I love to celebrate birthdays, but I know others don't like to as much. My second child doesn't care about birthdays that much.

How about you? What do you think of birthdays?

1. What are your feelings about celebrating birthdays, especially your own?
I like birthdays! I love celebrating. I'm less happy about the accumulating years. I'm ready to start counting backwards (but only to a certain point--say 30)
2. Do you have any family traditions about birthdays?
Actually, no.
3. Is it easy to remember friends' and family members' birthdays? If so, how do you do it?
NO! My Dad's birthday and my first cousin's (who lived in the same town and is three weeks older than I am) are a day apart. I have no idea whose birthday falls on the 20th and whose is the 21st. My sister gave me a hard time when I gave her daughter an old computer and my sister found my calendar alarms on it with birthdays and I still managed to forget her birthday! The only birthday that is easy for me to remember is my son's. His birthday is Valentine's Day. I assume that even if it wasn't such a memorable holiday, I'd still probably remember that one.
4. What was one of your favorite birthdays? (or your unhappiest?)
My 50th. I invited all my friends to my favorite restaurant and we ate (and drank) all night.
5. Post anything else you want to share about birthdays, including favorite foods, songs, and/or pictures.
Can't think of anything I'd like to post.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ethiopia Pictures

A long slide show of my pictures is here

You can speed up the slide show by moving the cursor and a speed menu will pop up