Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monkeying around


If you look closely, these little guys are everywhere.

In the trees...

On the rooftops and fences...

... and on our balcony.

This morning we opened our curtains and six gibbons were snaking on Snickers and Pringles (from our neighbor's minibar, no doubt). 

They showed absolutely no fear of us.

So we sat on our porch this morning with a pack of monkeys and drank some coffee.



Monday, January 28, 2013

Wind and sails and bliss

Sweet, small, perfect moments.

Railay is full of them.

Close your eyes and feel warm sunshine bathe your freckled face.


Listen closely and hear the soft rustle of palm trees in the tropical breeze.

Look up for the briefest of moments and see monkeys gliding through the trees.

Moon light peeking through the fluffy clouds.


Azure water lapping at the side of your boat, sea spray freshening your face.

The gentle rocking of  an anchored sailboat.

Drinking, laughing with friends by the deserted pool at night.


Lighting bright red paper lanterns and watching them float off through the dark sky.

Drinking coffee with your sailboat driver while everyone else climbs big rocks.

Meeting other travelers and sharing stories of months spent on the road.


It's these moments where life is the most perfect, most beautiful and I'm so thankful to be alive.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Caves, kayaks, and morals




So we're not backpacking.

We're luxuriating.

What does that entail?

Well, it starts off with a resort and spa.

Yup.

Then, it encompasses $30 meals and money to spare for shopping and flights.


It's way different from our norm, which usually looks like us staying in $10/ night guest houses and eating street food and taking overnight trains and buses to span long distances.

Both have their value.

I mean, I am here to relax for a short(ish) amount of time. I actually didn't come to see and do as much as possible. Truthfully, I've been waking up at 10 every day and have not been able to pull myself away from the pool before noon.

But one thing that has been bothering me on this trip is the complete and utter disconnect between my experience as a westerner in Railay versus the people who live, work, play, eat, and raise their families in Railay.



We may as well be experiencing two completely different worlds and I'm not sure how much I like that. I mean, part of what I love when it comes to backpacking is really getting into the daily grind of local life. I mean, when you sleep in their homes, eat their food, and take their buses, you get a real glimpse into what it means to be someone from that place.

Here, well, I'm sure loving the pool and the food doesn't suck either but I am looking forward to strapping on my backpack next week and heading north to Laos where I'm sure there won't be smooth sailing but the best adventures are always a wee bit choppy.

Until then, we've been having our own mini adventures beyond the beach and pool:



Monday, January 21, 2013

Languid Bangkok

No secret here: Sean and I have never had much love for Bangkok.

In fact, I can reasonably say that in the eight times we've been to the city we've actually grown to quite loathe it.

Traffic and scams and humidity and sprawling, sprawling city and pollution and poverty...

Well, you get the picture.

However, when our flight from Macau landed in Bangkok we found ourselves, in spite of our past experiences, quite smitten with the place.

Why?

Well, it could have to do with the fact that we now have some money so we were not staying at an $8/ night shit hole where invariably some drunk bastard tries to break into our room at 3a.m. so drunk and high he really, truly believes we are in fact in his room. Been there and done that.

Yeah, that didn't happen this time at our hotel with its panoramic views of the city and rooftop pool.

It probably also helped that we were staying just five minutes from the river so instead of taking cabs or the MRT we hopped on water taxis.

Is there a cooler and easier way to see this city?

No.

So we spent two great days visiting wats and night markets and eating really good, I mean hard to believe so good, street food and sipping on Thai iced coffees.

Bangkok, you may have just redeemed yourself.














Sunday, January 20, 2013

Packing

I think I finally learned my lesson:

Pack light, I'll be hoofing around everything on my own back.
Pack comfortable, I'm not exploring the world to look "good" in the pictures.
Pack smart, chances are I'll be cold at some point in time.
Pack necessity and leave everything else behind.




So, what do I bring?

Here is a list:

3 pairs of shorts
1 pair of jean
2 pairs of sandals
3 bras
5 pairs of underwear
3 tank tops
3 tee shirts
1 bathing suit
1 camisole

Deodorant
Afterbite
Insect repellent
Hair ties & clips
Brush
Sunscreen
Lip balm
Asprin
Pepto Bismal
Toothbrush
Toothpaste

Laptop
Camera
Video recorder
Nook

Passport
Debit Card
ARC card
Copies of all those

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Broadening horizons



During second quarter, our focus for social studies was Africa.

How did I know this?

I had a nifty piece of paper tell me so.

The textbook had exactly two chapters on ancient Africa, which included a total of six completely unrelated lessons covering the entire continent.

Basically, for 10 weeks worth of class I had about enough (ineffectual) work to last maybe three weeks.

So, I took a step back and asked my kids the most important thing:

What do you already know about Africa?

After much deliberation, my incredibly bright and curious kids were able to list three things:
Zebras
Hunger
Hot

That was all it took for me to decide that it was useless to study ancient Africa unless they had some concept of modern day Africa. Thus we embarked on a 10 week journey during which we studied each and every country on the continent. We viewed pictures and videos, we read articles and statistics, we wrote research papers and created image maps.

We looked at the continent in a balanced way, looking at both its problems and steps forward. We tried to wrap our brains around how large and diverse it is.

Here are some of their image maps.

The students were to choose 1-2 images per region (five all together: northern, western, eastern, southern, and central) that represent their new knowledge and on the back of these maps they had to explain what their images meant.


A lot of the maps have some repetitive themes: Arab Spring, blood diamonds and child soldiers, unique and threatened wildlife, racism and apartheid, inflation and austerity, AIDS and drought, piracy and conflict between Arab Muslims and African Christians, failed states like the Central African Republic and Somalia, etc.

I thought it was important to look at what is going wrong, because solutions are only found from recognizing problems and understanding them.

However, I also tried to balance the overall "lost continent" image with good, every day news. Students kept tabs on the Web site "Africa: The Good News" and analyzed why so many prominent news stories never make it on CNN or Fox News.




Then, to get ready for next quarter's argumentative writing I posed a question and made them create a well thought out skeleton for a debate.

Is Africa a continent of hope?

We had done a lot of reading about the western world's lack of knowledge regarding this continent, about how the average American, Canadian, Australian, Brit, etc, had about as much understanding of the continent as they did at the very beginning, and how that was harming Africa's chance to become the stable continent it could be.

We talked about how the general public has the conception that Africa is hopeless, mostly due to how it is covered in the media, so I wanted to pose the question to my educated, well informed students to see what they thought after two months of looking at this continent from many angles.

Here is both sides of the story:




I told them there was no right and wrong answer; we had just spent 10 weeks trying to gain a holistic understanding of the continent so now they had to look at the big picture and make a choice.

Answers varied, which is what I was expecting and were overall very well thought out.

Now, time will only tell who was right and who was wrong. 



Saturday, January 5, 2013

A post-it, a wrench, and a new water heater


The other day, Sean and I came home and found this on our front door.

It reads: "Hi. Call Min. If there is someone in the house, don't worry. He is not a bad guy."

We open the door, and voila, there is a man in our house.

He was installing a new water heater.

You see, we had not been getting any hot water for a few days.

Min is our awesome fix-it person.

When we are having a hard time navigating something in Taiwan, whether it be opening a bank account, making a doctor's appointment, or finding out how to fix the water heater, he's our go-to person.

So we were very thankful he jumped on getting us a new water heater, and very thankful he left this note on the door so we knew this poor man was not burglarizing our apartment.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

A wee passport snafu


Well traveled idiot here.

Cool fact: we're going to Thailand in 17 days.

Another cool fact: Thailand requires all U.S. passports to be valid for 6 months past the entry date into the country.

Cool, no?

No.

As we were checking into our EVA Air flight from Seattle to Taipei, something the receptionist said caught my attention.

She told Sean he would have to pay a hefty fee upon arrival because his passport was not valid for six more months. But we whipped out our trustworthy A.R.C. (alien resident cards, yeah, its got a snappy name) and the crisis was adverted.

Phew.

Until I sat up in bed three days later, vague recollections of reading entry requirements for so many countries on all of our backpacking trips rolling around the back of my head, wondering:

Does Thailand have a similar rule?

Nope.

It's way worse.

You see, Thailand won't let Americans into the country if their passport won't be valid for six months post entry.

I had this terrible realization on Wednesday December 26.

Then I had another realization: Taiwan does not have an official U.S. Embassy because, you know, the U.S. does not officially recognize it as a country.

So then, after much panic followed by a second dose of even more panic, Sean and I discovered the American Institute of Taiwan, a quasi-U.S. embassy. But then we also discovered you could not just pop by and take care of business.

No, you had to make an appointment.

And they were booked.

So we called.

And they spoke Chinese.

Sometimes, living in Taiwan makes the simplest tasks absurd challenges.

Finally, we (who am I kidding? I) discovered how to book an appointment  online (for two days later because they were booked thank you very much) and then poor Sean had to ride the HSR and MRT alone to get to AIT.

As it turned out, they would not or could not rush his passport because at that point we were leaving in less than three weeks and the average processing time is four.

So, we basically mourned the loss of our Chinese New Year vacation because let me tell you, when you live in the 8th most densely populated country in the world and said country only gets one extended vacation, every airline is sold out months in advance.

The best part?

We didn't get flight insurance.

You see, we never do even though every time we travel we learn from experience that I am a horrible planner and should not be allowed to come up with these mischievous ideas with insuring them... but do we learn?

No.

Bye bye $$$.

So then when we got a phone call (in English too) tonight from AIT saying Sean's passport will be delivered tomorrow we were:
A. Hysterical with relief
B. Incredulous... huh?
C. Peeved that they made us think it wouldn't work
D. Giddy with excitement
E. Suddenly very tired of this extended Asia moment
F. All of the above

And, for our future travels, will we have learned anything valuable?

Knowing us, probably not.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On doing New Year's right (finally)

This is our third New Year's eve/day spent overseas.

Our first was on an overnight train from Rome to Paris. In a six person bunk car. With a snorer (who was also naked). 

Our second was on the (wrong) bus from Malaysia to Thailand. We were dropped off in a seedy border town at midnight. With no reservations. And paid $40 USD to stay in a room with a rat.

This year, however, was perfect.

Not that those first two weren't; I mean, they offer us plenty of opportunities to laugh... but this year's experience was so much less painful.

In fact, it was just plain fun!

Here's a look at what we were up to in our 30 hours in Taipei:

Sean had heard of this great bouldering gym in New Taipei City (not to be confused with Taipei) so we embarked on quite the long metro journey to this random, middle of nowhere place and proceeded to walk down completely desolate, dilapidated streets in the pitch black at 9p.m. Suddenly, there was a pig slaughter farm and then... the gym. Bizarre. Suffice it to say, I will not be eating pork anytime soon. Sean loved it though.


Then we rushed and hopped back on the MRT, hoping we would make it to Taipei 101 in time for the fireworks. To say the MRT was crowded would be an overwhelming understatement.


We made it with 30 minutes to spare so we wandered around the night market. Sean bought food. I bought hot pink, glowing, polka dot ears. I know, you wish you had a pair.


We pushed and shoved (quite literally) our way to the front of 101. The crowd and TV crews were immense.



And then it started. The fireworks were spectacular and actually created a beat. We made it back to our funky hotel around 2a.m. after fighting and stampeding our way on to the MRT.


The next day, we checked out and went in search for Bongos, a great expat restaurant our friend Conor brought us to earlier in the year.

We asked for a table for two but were given an extra special table mate: this adorable snoozy feline. She was in Sean's chair so we had to get another.

We ate (real) salad, delicious poutine, and Mexican food.



Then we braved the rain and hopped on the MRT headed way out of town toward the rolling hills.


From there, we rode gondolas through the rain and mist.

Perfection.





Here is a video of the Taipei 101 fireworks:

video

Hover to Pin