Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An MR340 Help Solicitation

As some of you know, the most venerable Norman Bates and I will soon be foolhardily participating in the MR340. This is a 340 mile paddle race from Kansas City, MO to Old Town, St. Charles. The event starts on Tuesday, July 27th and we are projecting to finish sometime on Friday, July 30th.

All along the 340 mile route, there are checkpoints that we must stop at and check in. The checkpoints also serve as a place where we can replenish our food, water and perhaps even grab a few moments of shut eye before shoving off again.

What I am wondering is if anyone may be available to meet us at a checkpoint or two during the week. We wouldn’t require much, perhaps a sub sandwich or two, snacks, some water/energy drinks and maybe the pleasure of your company for a few minutes to provide some sanity in the madness. There are a total of 9 checkpoints mostly equally spaced along the route. Closer to St. Louis, we will be stopping at Jefferson City, Hermann and Washington. We are roughly projecting we’ll hit those areas early Thursday morning, Thursday night and Friday morning respectively (who really knows until we get out there!?).

Let me know if you might be interested and we can give you many more details. The St. Louis Adventure Group (SLAG) also has a few people participating in the race, including Bend Over Granny, and is also sending support teams to meet its members at the checkpoints. We may utilize their services, but I would love to see if we could count on a hash contingent as well. (I am going to send this to Dos Hixxies and the KC hasher crew as well as there are other checkpoints a lot closer to them.)

Regardless of the support we can solicit from you during the race, the 27th running of the Tumbling Dice Full Moon Hash will take place on Friday night, July 30th, in Old Town St. Charles, which is conveniently where the MR340 will be finishing. It promises to be a festive atmosphere as all the teams finish the nearly 88 hour race in various states of delerium. More details will be provided on the hash.

So if you have a few spare hours (or days) to spend driving around the gorgeous country roads of middle Missouri and helping out a couple of crazed thrill seekers, just let me know. It promises to be a fun time checking out the race and meeting other race and support teams. Our appreciation would know no bounds if you took some time to come cheer us on.

I will also try to post updates somewhere during the race to track our progress.
Norman and I sincerely thank you for considering this insanity!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Denpasar to Amed, Trafficking in Tourists

I arrived in Bali with 5 free days ahead of me. After arriving in Denpasar the night before very late and catching the first half of the Champion’s League final and a few hours sleep, the plan was to get out of the noisy chaos of Bali’s largest city. Equiped with a 10 year old edition of the Lonely Planet Indonesia straight out of the St. Louis Public Library, I spotted my destination.

According to the book, the tiny beachside town of Amed lay on the northeast coast, quite secluded but surrounded by some of the best dive and snorkeling sites on the island, and also a stone’s throw from the largest mountain/volcano in Bali, Gunung Agung. The only question was how to travel the 150 or so miles to get there. Without a reliable bus service, one option was to rent and drive my own transport. With the previously stated Indonesian rules of the road in effect, I wasn’t about to consider that. I could have hired a taxi to take me all the way, but ruled it out on account of that breaking the bank, likely a hundred dollars or more. So I opted for the public transport method, an auspicious start to a seriously long day.

What is a Bemo?
One of the fascinating things about almost any Southeast Asian country is the unique public transport vehicles. The Tuk Tuk in Thailand, the Cyclo in Cambodia, the always extravagant Jeepneys in the Philippines, Double Deckers in Hong Kong and of course the Bemos of Indonesia. Here we have an older model extended van, dusty vinyl bench seats on the inside with little padding and certainly no AC. Used mainly by locals, the traces and scents of agricultural products, livestock and gasoline is readily apparent on most Bemos. And the thing about Bemos is when you locate the one that you thinks is going to your destination, they will sit and wait at the origin until the Bemo is almost full before departing. There are no schudules, planned stops or strict routes for that matter. And after today, I learned that usually, there is not even a defined destination.

I got an early enough start and prepared for a long hot day. Acting on a tip from a neaby travel agent, I walked up to the corner to locate a waiting Bemo which I was told would take me to Ubung bus station where I could board a bus directly to the transit town of Amlapura then on to Amed. I skeptically got on the Bemo and told the driver the name of the bus station. A smaller Bemo, I was among several local women hauling their treasures of the day and we were quickly away. A short 20 minute ride to a bus station, not my bus station. As always in these situations, the tourist was quickly approached by another driver who promised to take me straight to Amed for an exhorbitant price. I quickly walked away, found a motor scooter driver and had him drive me 5 minutes down the road to the correct bus station, Ubung. Two rides down, who knows how many to go…

After circulating through the bus station, I was finally pointed to a waitng Bemo that would take me to Amlapura, another small town from where I could get a direct ride to Amed. This being a larger Bemo, I was only about the third person waiting, so we were in for a wait for remaining passengers. With the hour wait, I managed to locate a power outlet and with a newly purchased converter, I was able to charge my blackberry, find a connection and check the news of the day. Finally, with almost a full Bemo, we were off. We headed north into the countryside, city fading into suburbs, then to fields, mountainsides then coastline. I tried to make friends with a couple of small boys who got on at one stop, one of whom was holding a box of dull knives. Soon the passengers started getting off and soon I was alone on the Bemo. We rounded a corner, the driver yelled to the driver of another Bemo parked on the side. It seemed I was being bartered for. I was soon ejected from my original Bemo and passed to the waiting Bemo. Ride #3 to #4. I managed to only give the driver about 80% of the agreed upon rate, which was about 5 bucks. Our destination in this Bemo was apparenlty Amed. My skepticism remained. This was a long bus ride, I even managed to catch some uneasy shut eye, sleeping through the endless bumps in the road, the rude honking of horns and steamy afternoon heat. When we got nearer to Amlapura, the driver stopped just behind another parked Bemo. Hmmm, I know this drill…

Sure enough I was passed off to another driver, paid the previous driver less than the agreed upon amount then negotiated hard core with the new driver. We were close enough now to Amed that I was sure this, #5, would be my last ride of the day. We took off into the foothills, traversing winding roads. All of a sudden we were coming down a hill, a gorgeous volcano in the distance, rice paddies all around and a crystal clear view of a sparkling ocean straight ahead. This was Amed, my home for the next 5 days. The stress of 6 or 7 hours of hectic travel and haggling faded into utter relaxation as I arrived on Amed beach, secured a cheap room to stay in, filled my stomach with a hot meal and a cold Bintang beer. The sunset over Gunung Agung was, well…

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Indonesia

The conference for work ended on a Wednesday and Thursday I was to travel from Hong Kong to Surabaya, Indonesia. The very cheap China Airlines flight I had booked showed a connection in Taipei. Little did I know there was also a connection in Singapore. All told, the flights took about nine hours when a direct from HK would have been maybe three. But hardly worth the expense. I arrived close to midnight in Surabaya and was scheduled to depart Indonesia exactly seven days later. Instead of a running play by play of the trip, I chose to summarize the week’s adventures more topically.

Road Rules, Volume 1


Some of the great adventures to be had in countries such as Indonesia occur on the back of a scooter, riding a lumbering ferry or stuck on a stuffy slow bus. Traveling overland in a country where reliable public transport is few and far between and where traffic laws don’t really exist can be daunting, time consuming and most certainly a frustrating experience. Yet it is highly entertaining and definitely the best way to see the people, places and things that define a country.
Planning a trip with this in mind, my flight into Indonesia brought me into the country’s second largest city, Surabaya, Java. My flight back to the states was from Denpasar, Bali: 300 miles, one island and 7 days away. What is typically a 4 or 5 hour easy drive on a luxurious interstate in the US is quite a bit different in any developing country.

My plan was to spend a day or two at Mt. Bromo, a scenic volcano and national park area in between Surabaya and Bali. After spending a sticky night in a cheap hostel, a helpful gentleman named Danu loaded me up on the back of his scooter, took me around town to few stops and then to the bus station.

Danu and I tackle the streets of Surabaya:
video

At an extremely chaotic bus station, here is my view of what happens: People who have their destination in mind walk down an aisle of buses and screaming gentlemen, all trying to get you to ride their bus, or the bus company that is slipping them a few rupiah to recruit passengers. All the while for some reason, someone on stage is singing loud horrible Indonesian music. In my case, Danu told them I wanted an air conditioned bus to Probolinggo, from where I’d get another ride to the top of the volcano. It was a rather pleasant and uneventful ride, until I got to within a few blocks of the bus station in Probolinggo and was prompted off the bus for the transfer to Bromo. Sure enough, they dropped me at a special ‘tourist’ office obviously friendly with that bus company. My new good friend Koko told me I could wait an hour or two for a public bus take to two and a half hour ride up the mountain or I could pay a little bit more and hop on the back of a scooter for a 45 minute upward burst. So I took the bike.

Flying up the mountain on the back of a bike:
video

About halfway up, the clouds closed in and it was soon raining. Luckily I had a jacket to protect my bag, but no cover up for me. It was soon a heavy downpour. A picnic it is not when the rain is hitting your face and eyeballs on a scooter going 50 mph. My friendly driver seemed not to mind either. Soaked to the bone, we passed the rain line, everything was dry, I had not a dry spot on me. I was dropped at another hotel that was obviously friendly with the tourist company. I had opted to pay for a standard room but suspected I was given an economy room, most likely with my good friend Koko pocketing the difference. One must learn to take the good with the bad, make lemonade and give in to the fact that gentlemen will do what’s needed to work the tourists to make a few extra bucks. I’m not a sap, but I’m also not one to make a huge stink over a couple bucks here and there.

After about 24 hours spent exploring the volcano and surrounds, it was on to Bali. I was told the bus would leave from Probolinggo at 12pm, take the 8 hour bus ride/ferry connection to make it to Denpasar, Bali by 8pm. What followed was just incredible. With a few other European tourists, we waited in the hot afternoon shade for the bus…11am…12pm…1pm…finally 1:45, the bus came. We hopped on, only to be taken to a bus repair station, the gas station and finally on the road out of Probolinggo by 2:15. The busiest thoroughfares are narrow two lane roads traversed by everything from massively overloaded big rigs down to the piddliest motorbikes…and more motorbikes. Here’s how we navigated the Northeast Java coastal road: We’d approach a slow moving truck. The bus would straddle the center line so the driver could see oncoming traffic, which was usually significant. If at some point there was a break in traffic and the drive could see far enough ahead, he’d swerve the bus into the passing lane, oncoming motorbikes be damned, accelerate like hell and swerve back into the lane usually just in time to avoid another oncoming truck. All the while, motorbikes would pass up on the right or left, every single vehicle honking almost constantly to notify others of their presence.

When a motorbike would be coming from a perpendicular street and entering the crowded coastal road, driving etiquette was not to stop, wait for a break and pull out, but to make a tight turn onto the dirt shoulder of the road and eventually inch over onto the pavement and into the flow of traffic. At one point I was looking out the window, and man driving a scooter with a woman on back (both dressed in traditional Indonesian Islamic garb), approached from a cross street. The man pulled the bike out almost right in front of the bus. We swerved a bit and the bus driver threw him a honk. The man over corrected and dropped the scooter on its side, the man and woman went sprawling! Horrified, I looked back and tried to see if they were okay. But we sped ahead and I was left to guess at the result of the minor crash. I also noticed that not one other person on our packed bus had been looking and noticed the accident.

A monkey does a nice pole dance at a rest stop on the road from Surabaya to Denpasar:
video

The ferry we had to take on this journey would take us from the island of Java to the island of Bali. By 9:30pm, we had finally reached the ferry. We had to wait about a half hour then they drove the bus straight onto the ferry, then the five Europeans and I went topside to exchange travel stories during the leisurely hour long ride. Back on the bus, for the home stretch to Denpasar. We reached the city by 12am only to have to pile in the back of another van to get to the tourist area where there were some welcoming, cheap beds for some tired souls.
Transport in Indonesia had already exhausted and awed me, and some of the more interesting rides were yet to be undertaken.

More fun to come on the roads of Indonesia.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Bizarre Foods, Hong Kong

Living in Hong Kong in 2007-08, I had the chance to try some pretty interesting food. But with our Asia conference going on and the opportunity to share various meals and excursions into the city with both local and US based co-workers, the table was set.

The first night of the conference, we had a wonderful dinner at the Hong Kong Jockey Club overlooking the horse race course that comes alive every Wednesday night with races and gambling. Things were a bit quieter on a Monday. The meal consisted of ten courses, mostly a large dish shared among the ten diners at our table. In addition to the local staples – roast chicken, duck, pork stomach, shrimp, fried rice, soup, we also had the chance to get our lips around the goose web – basically the foot of a duck. I’ve had chicken feet before and this is fairly similar – like eating a chicken wing with no meat on the bones.


The next night a few of us headed out in the city for some local surprises. We first ducked into a small tea shop and shared a few cups of extremely potent 24 grain tea and turtle shell jelly. Both of these have medicinal properties that I understand to A. help your love life or B. help your body overcome the ‘heat’ caused by too much spicy food and alcohol.


Next on the menu came street meat. These little stands are a very popular snacking destination throughout the city and we sampled the grilled fish paste balls.


I mentioned to my co-worker Alan the one with light meat with an orangish outside looked pretty good. His reply, “Sure, that’s pig intestine.” So we dutifully got a skewer and each tried a bite, none of use really enjoying it. The texture was pretty bad and the taste wasn’t much to speak of. Alan also chose to tell us at this point, “You’re lucky, that’s pretty good quality intestine. Sometimes the cheaper stuff hasn’t yet been ‘cleaned out’. Awesome.


Eventually we ate an amazingly filling and tasty dinner at a Shanghai dumpling restaurant then were eager for more culinary adventure.


Throughout the trip, we had been talking about Durian, the most pungent of fruits found mainly in Southeast Asia. I have often had the chance to eat it, but have never mounted the required courage. The thing about Durian is that it smells…terrible. I’d say it’s a cross between old sweaty laundry and a not so recently dead animal. We located a stand in one of the many surrounding shopping malls that offered ‘Durian Pancake’. With three forks and the pancake in hand (of course the only local, Alan, was having no part of this), we sat down. I was the first to take a bite and replied that it wasn’t so bad, although I admittedly got mostly the cream topping in my spoonful. Justin and Mike tried it, grimacing and nearly gagging but finally washing it down with some Coke. I went in for a second bite, this time sure to get more of the fruit. It was indeed horrible, with the gag reflex kicking in. It is rather unfortunate that I did manage to keep it down, as we headed to some local drinking establishments after that and the inevitable hours of Durian flavored belches and aftertaste was not an enjoyable experience.


The last night in Hong Kong, we went to a Sichuan Hot Pot restaurant with a good group of co-workers. You have a large circular table where they then place two boiling pots in the middle: one a lighter chicken flavored bullion and the other terrifyingly red with chilis and peppers floating in the heavily spiced liquid. We then proceeded to order dozens of small plates of different kinds of meats, vegetables and noodles to place into your desired soup mixture, boil briefly then consume the goodness. Our meat selection included beef, lamb, chicken, eel, emu (exquisite!), beef tongue, beef tendon.


One highlight was watching Alan bravely eat a gelatinous tendon then had been sitting at the bottom of the hottest soup for the last hour then watching him turn various shades of red and sweat out 90% of his body’s fluids.


Say what you will about the spiciness, it is indeed a great way to get customers to drink a lot of your beer in a futile attempt to extinguish the fire on their tongues.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Travel Travesties and Another Hong Kong Typhoon

In September 2007, I arrived in Hong Kong on a rainy windy night, which I was told was the recent aftermath of a passing typhoon. Fast forward almost two years exactly to find me waiting in the same Kowloon station taxi line, being told that taxis were scarce because of the typhoon. This time, the typhoon was to arrive that night and early into the next morning.

Setting out from St. Louis, my original itinerary had me getting a flight to HK in Chicago, then catching a ferry directly from the HK airport over to Macau, where I am working for two weeks.

(Stories that I care not go into more detail on regarding this flight: Getting lambasted at by an uppity United agent for checking in to my flight only a half hour early. Guy, I may have done this travel thingy a time or two...in the end that not mattering because...getting into HK 24 hours later than expected due to fog in Chicago, but getting to spend the extra day with relatives and my new nephew, not bad. The movie system malfunctioning on the 15 hour flight, leading to hours of silent contemplation, I suppose that's not bad either. Shortly after take off, the lady next to me put on a large skull cap and a big breathing mask. Then she decided to sleep and put on the blindfold, now only a small patch of her upper neck was dangerously exposed to the open air. Not bad at all actually, I laughed at her to pass the time.)

After arriving Monday night HK time, I may have made a rookie mistake which in the end didn't matter, as I passed through the terminal exit which I was told by an untrustworthy tour operator that once out, I couldn't go back in to get the ferry.

Said untrustworthy operator tried to sell me an ~$85 taxi ride to the HK city ferry terminal, no thanks, I opted for the $10 train connection. When I got the ferry terminal, I find out that all ferries are canceled during a T8 typhoon indicator, which was the current state. My only option was to get a hotel room for the night and hope service resumed Tuesday morning, so I could get to Macau where I was expected for some meetings.

Being pretty jet lagged, I slept mostly off and on through the night, also waking to the wind and horizontal rain from the passing storm. I watched several billboards get shredded during the course of the night as well as some nicely flooded streets. I had been up for a couple hours already when I went down to the ferry at 6am to try and get on 7am ferry. No luck, still T8 outside. Back down there at 8:30, nope, 10, nope. Finally around 10:30, the TV channel devoted to posting the current typhoon level told me we had gone down to a T3. I ran down and got a ticket on the very next ferry, 11:30am.

The ride was rough when we got out into the open sea past Lantau Island and the airport. I saw several older Chinese women make their way to the back of the boat with tissues over the mouths. Sick. I was busy laughing my ass off to a Louis C.K. album I had just downloaded.

I finally arrived in Macau, got a quick cab to the Venetian and made it in time for the start of our afternoon session. Exactly 1.5 days late, 1 for Chicago fog + .5 for Typhoon Koppu. Estimated door to door travel hours including a 24 hour delay: 72 hours, what? That can't be right. I need a beer.

And what's the news out of St. Louis today? Massive flight route cuts, fewer direct flights, more transfers through Chicago's O'Delay airport. Why in the hell is getting to other places seem to be getting so much harder?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mannequin Shop


Mannequin Shop
Originally uploaded by KumamotoMark
Just reviewing some photos from Hong Kong. Thought this was one of my finest.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Heinz Field & PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

Tuesday afternoon, I had the chance to tour Heinz Field and PNC Park in downtown Pittsburgh as part of the PAFMS conference in Wheeling. Great stuff, but there were no events going on this day. The Penguins were gearing up for Game 6 across town, however.

To see all the photos on my flickr site, click on this.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Schönbrunn Schloss, Vienna

Spent a gorgeous day in various areas of Vienna. One of the finest spots was the Schönbrunn Schloss. Amazing castle and gardens.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Europe 2009 Photostream

I'll be posting photos on my flickr site here.

In the mean time, enjoy a photo of a German rat enjoying a take out dinner.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Karlsruhe, Germany

Some random notes on a journey from St. Lous, MO to Karlsruhe, Germany:

A co-worker Elliot and I arrived on the 8 hour flight from Chicago to Frankfurt at about 11:15am local. The baggage took quite a while to come through after waiting to get the passports stamped. So we walked down to the train station from where we would get a direct train for the two hour ride south to Karlsruhe. At precisely 11:55am, we purchased the tickets at a machine. The train we bought the tickets for was set for an 11:57am departure, little did we know the ticket machine was still a ten minute stroll from the platform.

Needless to say we missed it, so enjoyed a fine Bitburger Beer in the station before catching another train two hours later. We finally arrived in Karlsruhe at around 3:45pm. We managed to spot the street where our hotel is located on the tourist map outside the station, which was luckily a short walk away.

We checked into the Novotel then headed out for a much needed dinner at a local eatery. Some odd occurrences in Germany on a Sunday: As we were to later hear from those in the know, i.e. Germans; Germans like nothing better than to eat tons of ice cream and desserts on Sundays. We tried to eat at 4 or 5 different places, only to realize every table in the place was filled with Germans stuffing themselves with ice cream, strudels and other sweets.

German towns being exquisitely designed to be bike and pedestrian friendly, many were on the bikes enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. Elliot and I glanced over and saw a young couple rollerblading down the street...not an altogether rare site. But in their hands, heaping scoops of ice cream in large waffle cones. This, my friends, is Germany.

More to come from the Fingerhut motherland.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

48 Hours in Chiang Rai

After a pretty long week of work in the hecticity that is Bangkok, I was more than ready to get on a flight that took me 1 hour North (11 hours by bus, with or w/o AC) to the small town of Chiang Rai. I'd previously visited nearby Chiang Mai, but had heard Chiang Rai was smaller, a bit more laid back and offered more access to the moutain areas.

Arriving in Chiang Rai from Bangkok aroung 8pm on Friday night,I had more than enough time to check in to a local $10 a night hotel, walk around town and find a quiet place to enjoy some Tom Yam soup, some fried rice and a cold beer (on ice, of course) along with the well needed and much deserved foot massage.

Chiang Rai offers a lot of the basic tourist stuff: trekking in the mountains, visiting indigenous hill tribes, elephant rides, visits to tea plantations and Buddhist monastaries, etc. But I was only here a short time, I wanted to see as much of Thailand's northernmost province as possible. It didn't hurt that I had basically experienced the list above in the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai a few years ago.

So Saturday morning I was up early. I arranged to rent a 125cc Honda scooter for the day. Total cost? About 6 bucks plus gas. I set out not really with a plan, just to get to the mountains off in the distance to take some windy roads at a high rate of speed. I reacquainted myself with a manual bike transmission quickly and was soon doing upwards or 100km/hr on the country roads. I followed signs to a waterfall about 20km away. Dodging slower trucks, sleepings dogs, and grazing cattle in the road, I evetually made it to the waterfall and a pretty nice lookout point on top of a mountain. I had beaten the Saturday crowds, for as I was leaving, a group of Thais, with Chang Beer in tow, made their way to the falls to enjoy a liesurely Saturday. There was also a hill tribe village/museum nearby, but I had to get on the road, no time to linger.

Having to retrace my steps back to Chiang Rai then follow a busier route north out of the city, I navigated a six lane thoroughfare whose occupants certainly didn't mind the lane restrictions. At one point, I slowed to a police checkpoint. I assumed that this being the Golden Triangle, an area that has been notorious for opium/heroin smuggling for the better part of the past fifty years, a checkpoint or two is to be expected. I was somewhat nervous as the police thoroughly checked the id and registrations of some local motorbikers ahead of me. (I didn't have my passport with me as this was the only collateral required by the gentleman who rented me the bike.) The Thai policeman took one look at me, muttered 'ah, farang' (oh, foreigner) then ushered me through the check point. The Foreigner Card, it's everywhere you want to be.

I eventually made my way to Mae Chan, a small town from which quite a few roads split off towards the mountains to the West and the Mekong River to the East. At this point I broke down and had to purchase some sunglasses from a local gas station to combat Thailand's late morning sun. I contemplated heading north for another 40km or so to the border town of Mae Sai. From Mae Sai, farangs (only) are permitted to cross into Myanmar to stamp their passports and purchase trinkets from the locals. I comtemplated doing this to get that Myanmar passport stamp (would be my second, actually, but realized I didn't even have my passport to get stamped). Plus the road to Mae Sai promised to be more of the same: busy and flat. Instead I hooked a left and headed towards the mountains.

Soon I was heading up into the foothills switching between second and third gear on the trusty Japanese made machine. I stopped off at a few roadside overlooks for some photos of the scenery. I was following a route on a map from the 1999 edition of the Lonely Planet Thailand guide book which I borrowed from my hotel for the weekend, but the map took up only a quarter of a page and was limited in its attention to detail. Secure however in the fact the all roads lead somewhere, I continued towards Mae Salong, a town with a pretty interesting history.

From LP's web site, read the full article here:

Mae Salong was originally settled by the 93rd Regiment of the Kuomintang (KMT), which fled to Myanmar from China after the 1949 Chinese revolution. After futile intermittent rearguard action against the Chinese communists, the renegades were forced to flee Myanmar in 1961 when the Yangon government decided it wouldn’t allow the KMT to remain legally in northern Myanmar. Crossing into northern Thailand with their pony caravans, the ex-soldiers and their families settled into mountain villages and re-created a society like the one they left behind in Yunnan.

The stomach started growling before I reached the town, so I turned into an interesting place called the Flower Hills Resort Mae Salong. Perched on a mountainside overlooking the hills, this place offers luxury cottages amid manicured gardens and colorful topiary. Even during lunch hour on a Saturday, I was the lone diner in an expansive dining room which I doubt gets much use these days considering Thailand's recent designation as a travel risk. Please. I enjoyed a Chinese style lunch of grilled pork, rice and a steamed bun along with some tea grown on site, while also thoroughly enjoying watching a small army of Yunnanese workers erect what looked like a new lodge at the resort.

Off once again, I took my time navigating the town of Mae Salong, noting most of the signs in Chinese even though still in Thailand. A few stores had large sheets spread out from with tea leaves drying in the sun. The smell was fantastic for a tea lover. Just before leaving town, I decided to stop at a small museum, dedicated to the Chinese martyrs of the aforementioned 93rd KMT regiment in their struggles with the Chinese communists and subsequest relocation and expulsion from Burma. This place also documented and expressed gratitude for Thailand's continued aid and dedication to make the displaced Chinese a part of Thai society.

A little low on gas, I began descending hoping to find some fuel and afternoon relief from the heat. Luckily, I managed to find both. A roadside home with a 55 gallon drum of gas out front quenched my Honda while another waterfall site allowed be a brief walk amid the locals splashing and cooling in the mountain waters. I also stumbled upon a nearly abandoned cultural village which a sign explained was built to share local cultures of inhabitants of the Mekong Valley with the rest of the world. Not a lot of sharing going on these days.

I finally made my way back to Mae Chan. The police manning the checkpoint heading back to Chiang Rai didn't do much to stop me from going through, after all it was late in a hot and humid day, plus I'm a farang. Getting back to my hotel around 5pm, I had put a total of about 200km on the scooter.

After getting refreshed for a bit and nursing some severe forearm sunburn, I headed out to the night market, where I perused the wares of both urban and rural vendors. I happily stumbled upon the dining section of the market, where I got ahold of some skewered squid, fish paste balls and a bag of fresh spring rolls. I sat down in the public square at a table with some gentlemen who were quick to offer me some of their peanut/sprout salad dishes. I think Mr. Noi explained that they were Hmong, one of the local hill tribe minorities. Fully satisfied, I soon headed back for a night's sleep.

I woke up this morning to a steady downpour. I had no plans, which was just as well with the heavy rain. I lounged and read a bit, checked the internet in the lobby, disappointed that the Bulls/Celtics game 7 didn't go into overtime. By the time the rain moved off and the sun came back, it was about 11am and I headed out to explore Chiang Rai on foot. Finding relief from the heat in a covered market, I bought a few Thailand essentials: avaiator glasses, beer t-shirts, cds of some local music, fresh pineapple and a cheap bag to carry it all. I walked the peaceful grounds of a few local monastaries and had some noodle soup at a sidewalk eatery. Ducked into a few stores and malls to cool off in the AC, but mostly just walked, looked, taking some photos as well.

Which leads me to 5:48pm. Back in the lobby using the internet, accompanied by the sound of a late afternoon downpour. An 8:20 flight to Bangkok awaits, but not before a (hopefully) delicious Thai dinner and a tuktuk ride to the airport. It's back to work in Bangkok tomorrow morning. All in all, I must say it was a most expleasurable weekend.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Yoshino

Last post was June '08. Wow, serious backsliding.

As of 1 hour ago, there is a 12ft Yoshino cherry blossom tree in my front yard. I had the inclination to have one of Japan's finest trees ever since sitting beneath the snowing petals on the grounds of Kumamoto Castle. I couldn't help but think as I bought, transported and planted the tree about all the great memories I have experienced under cherry blossom trees, whether it was with fellow gaijin laughing, drinking and enjoying spring weather, or watching one Adam Yoshida wrestle sumo style on his birthday, or enjoying a hanami with the Ishizukas or some of my teacher friends. But I also thought about the future. Sitting under my tree in the front yard a year, two three, four down the road. Joe, Michiyo, Hiroki, Lynn, Katie, mystery niece/nephew #2, 3, 4...

I read that people like to plant trees when they have a kid or on the occasion of their kid's first birthday. I guess I didn't have the excuse, just the motivation to be able to stand at my front door and watch this thing grow, bud, flower, snow, develop leaves, then lose them in the winter.

Over the next few months, it looks like I'll be going to places near and far. The short list is shaping up like this: Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Germany, Vienna, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Wheeling, West Virginia.

Perhaps there will be more posts here in the near future. Photos of the Yoshino or of Wheeling. No telling what the future holds.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The House in Dogtown

Recently, I've put a contract on a house in Dogtown. My closing date is June 27th. I had the inspection last Saturday and other than a few dead Brown Recluse spiders, everything looks to be in pretty good shape.

I'm going to work on filling out all the loan information and barring any unforseen obstacles, I will soon be joining the proud ranks of American homownership.

Also, I've begun to accumulate some furniture/household items as I am basically coming into a completely empty house. I've recruited a roommate who may or may not be able to make rent every month. Any little bit helps, I suppose.

Hopefully I'll get some pictures up as soon as I can get some good ones. Stay tuned for the move in party info.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Where's the motivation?

These days, I'm not extremely motivated to post very much in this space. I've beeen spending quite a bit of time house hunting, looking for that really good deal in this weak market. But I'm pacing myself, waiting for the good one, then I'll pounce on it.

Other than that, I've been hashing quite a bit and have actually been involved in founding a new hash group here in St. Louis.

I don't think i've snapped a photo with my camera since my last night in Hong Kong. I guess it's the old Asia hangover again. We'll see if I can't find some motivation this summer...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

1000 Words on HK Hashing

Browsing some various friends on HashSpace tonight, I came across this one from Hickey Slut. I am not sure who took this photo, but thank you whoever you are. If there is one photo that embodies the hashing experience in Hong Kong, this has to be it. Classic!