Sunday, March 16, 2014

a favorite place.

I’ve mentioned the park across the street from my house on a few occasions. It’s been the site of festivals, fireworks, concerts and gatherings of all sorts. But it’s a happening place every single day. There’s a walking /biking track along the outer edge that is packed with people every afternoon. Along the fringes there are yoga and aerobics classes, food vendors, cheerleader practices and pick-up soccer games. The streets bordering the park are lined with shops, restaurants, homes and a temple. Inside the park is a large amphitheater, stage, several bridges, more vendors, a couple of playgrounds (with really fun outdoor workout equipment that needs to find its way to America), statues, gardens, street musicians, the lake (filled with creepy, monster fish with teeth! that people are always feeding), and countless people playing various lawn games.

I’ve seen bocce, lawn bowling, a game that crosses hacky sack with soccer and volleyball and another that is a mash-up of soccer and basketball (but reminds me a bit of quidditch) and regular soccer. There are also usually a few crazy fishermen (I wouldn’t eat that fish if you paid me! Though, in all reality I probably have :)) You can rent bikes of all varieties, get a massage, take your picture with the giant rubber duck, have a picnic or just people watch. There’s not much you CAN’T do here. I spend an hour or so here nearly every day walking or running the track and many of my weekends have been spent napping under its trees or celebrating with the locals. It’s one of the things I’ll miss most when I leave.

Friday, March 14, 2014

the end of a long journey.

I’m down to the last stretch here. It’s crazy to think that six months is nearly over. The time has flown by. We’ve finished up the last of the assessments at school and are working on our dance for the big Pride Day program on the last day. I’ve started packing things up and cleaning things out. We’ve got one more road trip planned and I’ve got a list of people I still need to buy gifts for. I’m officially out of here on March 22 but I won’t be back in the States til April as I’m heading home by way of Australia and New Zealand. I don’t know that I’ll get a chance to post again until after I’m home but I’ll have a lot to share once I do. Thanks for sticking around with me on this crazy adventure. I’ll see you on the other side!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

a road trip.

This past weekend a few of us teachers decided to take one last road trip. Lao is only about an hour north of us so we headed that direction to get one more stamp in our passports before our time together ends. Friday night we got on a bus to go to the city of Nong Khai where we stayed in a darling guest house, Mut Mee, on the Mekong River. We wandered through a night market/festival for a couple of hours eating some delicious food, watching a volleyball/soccer game (I’ve never been able to figure out what it’s actually called) and doing some shopping. Then we went back to Mut Mee and spent a couple of hours in the floating bar getting eaten by mosquitoes and visiting with the bar keeper, a young British girl who had come on vacation a few weeks ago and ended up getting a job and staying, and enjoying the cool breeze off the river. The next morning we had a delicious breakfast overlooking the river and then set off to cross the border.

It’s always a gamble when you have to deal with various government agencies, especially when you don’t know the language and aren’t quite sure of the procedures. Things aren’t very clearly marked and I have yet to meet an Asian person who truly understands the concept of a queue. But we’d gotten some pretty specific instructions from the owner of the guest house so we made it through to Lao with very little complications. (Coming back was another story!) We stood in line to pay our fees, get our visas checked, get our pictures taken, and board the bus to cross the bridge and then do the same on the other side. We exchanged some money, found a taxi and we were off.

Our taxi took us 15 or so minutes into the county to the capital city, Vientiane. There’s not actually a lot to see but the goal of getting our passports stamped had already been accomplished so we were free to wander and explore without any real pre-conceived ideas or expectations. Lao had been colonized by the French at one point so it has the benefit of some of that influence to this day including architecture, and more importantly, food! We had some amazing bread (the Thais don’t do bread so well and oh, how I have missed it!), French pastries, a smothered baked potato with real cheese and sour cream (the Thais don’t do dairy well either, aside from ice cream), a salad with amazing feta, some pizza, crème brulee and a breakfast bagel. It was a carb-lover’s dream!

We visited the Asian Arch de Triomph (actually called Patuxai Gate and never completed but modeled after the one in Paris with a few obvious Asian touches) which was beautiful. We climbed up to the top for a pretty great view of the city, fountain and gardens in one direction, tree-lined streets in the other. Inside the building itself every corner was crammed with tables and stalls selling fabulous (dripping with sarcasm) souvenirs.

In between our bouts of eating we saw the presidential palace and a few other beautiful and huge buildings we couldn’t identify as well as a few temples and an ancient stupa. We walked along the river (which was almost non-existent in some places due to its being dry season) and through some shops and enjoyed an evening concert at the base of an illuminated fountain.

The next morning we were back across the border after our breakfast but since we hadn’t had the step by step instructions from anyone it was a little more complicated this time. But we made it with relatively little problem, just a lot of waiting in line and not having the correct forms and such to make it a little longer and more stressful than the day before.

Back in Nong Khai we made our way to a large sculpture garden, Sala Keoku, which was pretty impressive. It illustrates many of the tenants of Buddhism which I would love to explain except it was all in Thai so I’d have to just guess. But I’m sure Wikipedia can tell you more! It was all carved by the same man, who is lying in state under a glass dome in a locked room along with a host of his worldly belongings, a myriad pictures of him and even one of his bloody tissues from his final days (yep, kind of creepy.)

Then it was back to the bus station and back home where we all got together for dinner and a viewing of Frozen which none of us had seen yet (it only showed in Thai in the theaters here) but had heard a ton about. We found a DVD copy for about $1 in one of the markets and decided it was worth the splurge! What a fun show. We all laughed and sang (and maybe even cried a bit) all the way through it. It was the perfect end to a fun weekend but a bittersweet reminder that we’ll be done here soon and who knows when we’ll see each other again. I’m going to miss these faces!!!!

volleyball/soccer game
breakfast view of the Mekong

the missing Mekong on the other side
ancient stupa in the middle of the road
the arch
the view from the arch
massive loaf of bread (the two on the right are a little larger than what you'd buy at the grocery store!)
delicious coconut macaron
Sala Keoku

Friday, March 7, 2014

a delicious snack.

One of the great comforts in life is food. I know it shouldn’t be. But darnit, I’m an emotional eater. And when I’m feeling homesick, one of the few things to really make me feel better is a little taste of home. This week I splurged at the import store and bought a box of microwave popcorn. I’ve actually tried to wean myself off of the stuff since it’s full of all kinds of chemicals and who knows what but sometimes you just have to give in.

I’ve also been hording a bag of Reese’s Pieces that my sister brought me at Christmas. I’ve rationed it out pretty well and still have about half the bag left. Since I’ll be leaving soon I decided I could let myself eat two treats at once and I indulged in one of my favorite guilty snacks.

Pop one bag of popcorn and let it cool just a bit. Then pour in some of the Reese’s Pieces. Shake the bag and let things settle for a minute and then enjoy! The salty popcorn balances the sweet candy perfectly and if you time it just right you can keep the outer shell intact but the heat will make the middle all melty. It’s salty/sweet/crunchy/gooey perfection! And if you’re really wanting to walk on the wild side you can throw a few m&ms in the mix. Mmm, good stuff!

What are some of your favorite concoctions? I’d love to add to my list of vices!

By the way, you know you're in Asia when the microwave has an 'Instant Noodles' button but you're on your own for popcorn! :)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

a gift card playlist.

As the internet here is a bit sketchy its hard to stream things so my music selections have been limited to those I brought with me. However, I got an itunes gift card from a great friend for my birthday this year and I’ve had a blast picking and choosing a few new pieces to add to my collection. Some are new releases, some are older. Some I picked to use for school, some were purely personal. Some were randomly chosen from the small snippets you can hear before you buy them, some from the blogs or recommendations of others, of those, some heard in their entirety and some not heard at all. The finished product is this fun playlist.

Anything great I’ve missed while I’ve been gone that I should add to the next round?

Firework-Katy Perry
Let Her Go-Passenger
Counting Stars-One Republic
Hard Times Come and Go-Pokey LaFarge
Poor Man's Son-Noah Gunderson
A Crooked Road-Darrell Scott
Brave-Sara Bareilles
Have You Met Miss Jones-Chet Baker
Made It Up The Mountain-The Wood Brothers
(If) You Want Trouble-Nick Waterhouse
Let It Go-Idina Menzel
Just Give Me a Reason-Pink
Morning Song-The Avett Brothers
Come Out of the Woods-Matthew and the Atlas
I'll Take You Dreaming-Danny Kaye
Battle Hymn of the Republic-Red Nichols and his Five Pennies
Blue Ridge Mountain-Hurray for the Riff Raff