Archive for January, 2006

Now From Thailand

30 January 06

Finally I have made time in my hectic beach schedule for a little bit of blogging! I am on the island of Koh Chang and it is so amazing!! Really, I do not want to leave!!

We survived Cambodia and arrived here the day before yesterday. I have some tales to tell you about our river boat trip, though. Remember how Gilligan set off on the Minnow for a 3 hour cruise? Well, ours was supposed to be 4 to 6 hours. Almost 11 hours later we arrived at our destination. More details will be coming soon. I’m hungry now and need to go find some delicious Thai grub….

Just wanted to let you all know I am in Thailand now and doing great.

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Temple Overload and Tired Feet

26 January 06

Ever heard of temple overload? We’ve just spent the last two days visiting the temples of Angkor Wat – ancient Khmer temples, a mix of Buddhist and Hindu ideologies. I have to say that they are every bit as impressive as I had heard. Very simply, they are something that should not be missed if you visit Asia. I can say that of very few places in the world. Niagara Falls, Angkor Wat and the Pyramids of Giza are perhaps the few famed monuments that I have seen that have not disappointed.

The complex is huge and covers over 40 km. We must have seen about 10 temples, although there are many more still to be seen. We were driven around the complex in a tuk-tuk, which is a little different from Thai Tuk-Tuks, this one was a motorcycle pulling a little rick-shaw like trailer. It was very comfortable and saved our energy for climbing the temples. Some of the steps up the sides of the temples were incredibly steep. I’ll be posting an album of photos when I return to China.

We’ve decided to head south tomorrow, taking a boat down a river to Battambang, in the Southwestern part of the country, and from there on to the Thai border and south to the island of Koh Chang, in the Southeastern part of the Gulf of Thailand. The boat ride is supposed to be one of the most scenic in Southeast Asia. I’m looking forward to it. The area around Battambang was one of the most heavily mined in all of Cambodia, during the reign of the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent civil war that ravaged the country for 30 years. Evidently, the Khmer Rouge had their headquarters in the area as late as 1994, when they pretty much disappeared.

For now, I must head back to the guesthouse, pack and get ready for our journey tomorrow. With any luck, I will be at the beach tomorrow. (The drive from Battambang to the Thai border is supposed to be even worse than the drive we had from Thailand to Siem Reap!!)

We are in Cambodia

24 January 06

I’m writing this from an internet cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We arrived this afternoon after a harrowing journey down some of the worst roads I’ve seen in quite a while. Imagine the roads I’ve described in China, but with pot-holes the size of small cars and everyone driving at crazy, inappropriate speeds!

This is probably the most unprepared I’ve ever been for a trip. We spent all weekend in Beijing – I’ll be blogging about that soon – and arrived home late Saturday evening. I went to sleep early thinking I would have all of Monday afternoon to pack (Our flight was supposed to leave at 7PM.) Well, Monday afternoon at 3PM, DH calls me in an urgent tone telling me to come home, that bad weather is rolling in and if we don’t try to catch an earlier flight, we will not make it out of the airport that night. So, I literally pedaled myself nearly out of breath all the way home, threw a pile of clothes into my backpack and ran to the airport all within 20 minutes. I figured whatever I forgot I could buy. I did pretty good. The only thing we forgot was perhaps the most important – the battery charger for our camera. Here we sit, minutes from Angkor Wat, with a drained camera battery.

Maybe five years ago I would have been a stressed-out mess if I had to pack and go in 15 minutes. We didn’t really have anytime to plan this trip, either, so we don’t even know where we are going, staying, nothing. We are just going. I’ve learned something over the years. Wherever you are, there you are. What does that mean to me? I’ve had some pretty interesting things happen to me lately, and I think I have taken them in the best way I could, which is just to accept what life brings and live it, no matter where you might be or what might be the circumstances. The DH and I are together, enjoying life and that is all that matters to me anymore.

How did we end up in Siem Reap? Well, we arrived into Bangkok at 1AM, and since we didn’t have a hotel booked yet, we thought, what the hay.. Let’s go to Cambodia. We took a taxi to the bus terminal and took the first bus to the Cambodian border, which left at 3:30AM. We arrived at the border at 7:30. We passed through all the immigration within an hour or so, and then spent 3 hours being jostled down a dirt road for 3 hours before arriving here.

The journey was tiring, but so fascinating. We passed all kinds of little thatch huts with the requisite pig, cow, chicken and dog laying around out front. I’d hoped to have pictures, but as I said, we have no camera battery. And poverty? Well, this does make our Chinese village seem a bit like Shangri-La. There are a lot of tourists here, mostly from Korea & Japan, but quite a lot of Europeans and North Americans, too.

I’ve always heard that the Thai are the nicest, most genuine people in all of Asia, and perhaps the world. So far I have to say that the Cambodians are also very nice people. When I think of all that these people have suffered over the last decades, it is difficult to believe that they could be so optimistic and happy. But things are improving for them now and I do hope that they continue to do so.

We will spend two more days here and then head back to Bangkok where we will meet up with our Spanish friend, M, and his girlfriend. From there, who knows!? I will be updating as frequently as I can. Internet cafes seem to be de riguer in most parts of the world these days, so I don’t forsee any problems.

Not sure what Angkor Wat looks like?

Click Here for one photo – Not mine, unfortunately.

Spring Festival Planning & Trips to Beijing

19 January 06

Here is just a quick update of the blog. It’s been a while because I have been busy. Seems when you get 10 days off for a holiday, you always have to work like mad to get ready for it. You heard me right. 10 days. Our Spring Festival/Chinese New Year vacation grew from 7 days to 10 days, and we are so happy. It is high time we had a vacation. Now, I know some of you are thinking, aren’t you two already sort of on a permanent vacation? Well, you know, everyone deserves a break.

So I announced a while ago that we were planning on going to Cambodia. I think I jiinxed us, because we couldn’t get tickets to Phnom Penh. (Wow that is a difficult city to spell.) So instead, we are going to Thailand with the idea of maybe crossing overland into Cambodia, to see the amazing temples of Angkor Wat. (If you saw Tomb Raider the movie, it was filmed there.) From what I have been reading, the trip across the border is quite a trip in and of itself, as it takes all day and you end up driving down a crazy, pot-hole filled dirt road for 4 hours. (Good news – the risk of landmines in the area is practically nil!)

We also want to spend a few days at the beach, snorkeling for me and scuba diving for the DH. Then, we will probably head to Northern Thailand to the Chiang Mai area. On our flight back to Shijiazhuang, we will spend a day and a half in Chengdu, which is a city in the Southwestern region of China called Sichuan – where all the spicy food comes from in China. The DH has a student from there who we may meet up with. Then, it’s back to glorious Shijiazhuang.

It has snowed a few times over the past week and everything is coated in a lovely layer of white snow. It is interesting riding a bicycle through the snow. It’s not that hard because there are legions of Chinese workers who take to the street everyday to clear a little bit of the ice and snow away with shovels, handmade brooms and shovel-like contraptions made of plywood. Who needs a snow-plow when you have a billion people in your country – now that is manpower. Actually, we’ve had very little snow so there isn’t much to clear away.

Tonight the DH and I are taking a train to Beijing. We both have dentist appointments tomorrow. Just because you are on permanent vacation doesn’t mean you can neglect the teeth. I’ve been having some pretty extreme sensitivity pain in one of my teeth and it is getting so bad that I am practically begging for a root canal. Because we are going to be in Beijing anyway, we’ve decided to finally visit the tourist sites. Sunday evening I should have posted some photos of the Forbidden City, Tianenmen Square and the Temple of Heaven. We may go to the Great Wall, but more than likely we will wait until next month or March when it gets a bit warmer.

So have a good weekend, wherever you are. And stay warm! Or cool, I guess depending on where you are.

New Restaurant Menu Chinglish

13 January 06

Oh, I completely forgot to tell you about the incredible Chinglish on the menu at the new Western Restaurant. It was great!

For example: I ordered the Buddhist Ritual Preparation Onion Soup and Curry of the Fried Rice. I can’t remember what DH, T and the others ordered, but theirs were even more absurd. It will be difficult to get photos, but I am going to try my hardest because it must be seen to be truly appreciated.

Happy Friday the 13th!

13 January 06

So far I have escaped any sort of bad luck today, but there are still 2 1/2 hours to go.

Not much new around here, nothing too exciting to update. Tonight, with a few friends, we went to eat at the new Mansion Hotel’s Western-style restaurant. It was pretty good, but I have to admit that their Biological Restaurant is much better. We went there last weekend and I was just blown away by how delicious their sweet & sour pork was.

The sauce was so yummy and fresh is tasted like they had made it with real mandarins. Normally the sauce tastes like it might have come from a bottle, or that at least a bottle of sugar had been added to it, but this sauce tasted of orange and was a bit acidic. I’ve actually been thinking about it way too much this week. I might go bio if I don’t get it again soon. (Going bio must be something like going postal.)

Turns out that our Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holiday has just been extended by a few days, (we now have 10 days off!), so we are thinking of flying from Beijing to Bangkok, Thailand and spending some time in both Thailand and Cambodia. I am really excited. We are really cutting things close, though, because we haven’t bought our tickets yet. I would say that we just love living on the edge, but I am actually quite stressed out by all of this! What I need is some relaxing time on the beach! Just two more weeks!

Wiki Page

13 January 06

Mindsay has created something new called Wiki Pages. You can access my Wiki Page from my main blog page, just below my picture, you will see the Wiki Page link. Evidently we can create the page anyway we want, with photos and text, etc. I decided to start with a FAQ, so if you have any questions you would like answered, just let me know!

New Bicycle

8 January 06

A week has passed since our trip to Beijing and finally I have had an opportunity to update the blog.

Now I am back to blogging about the mundane daily activities of life at SJZ airport. Today I went to the village to buy a new bicycle. I bought the same model I had before, but in a different color. It is great to have the freedom of wheels again.

There was a big street market going on in the village, which we explored for a while. After a short time I realized that while I was walking along looking at all the goods for sell, the village people were walking along looking at me, whispering and pointing with their friends. Ah, to be a celeb again. This has been a really productive holiday season – a new laptop and a new bike.

cwb

Catching Wind Bird store in the village

Beijing – Sunday

8 January 06

After another restless night thanks to the bear exhibit, we all woke up cranky, tired and wanting more sleep. But, the checkout time had almost arrived so we pried ourselves up and out to find some food. I knew right away that we would not be making a trek through the Forbidden City that day. I felt way too lousy, stuffy and coughing, with a full blown cold.

Instead, we walked a few streets over to a mall that has an enormous food court. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It had a bunch of fast food places and a Chinese style cafeteria, with all kinds of food. We had some Japanese style grilled food (Think Benihana’s only way cheaper).  Afterwards, all I wanted was some good coffee and a couch to rest on. We had 2 hours to wait before heading back to the train station.

If you ever find yourself in an international city with some time to spare, and you just want to relax but you don’t know where to go, here is a tip for you – head to the nearest 5 star hotel. They always have fabulous lounging areas with couches and coffee!! We spent our last 2 hours in Beijing at the Hyatt sipping cappucinos.

Back in SJZ that night, we were surprised to find our academy director outside of the train. Seems he had been in Beijing on business and took the same train as us. When he saw all of us on the train, he called to have our school van meet us at the train station. (We had all planned on taking taxis back to the airport.) As we drove out of the city we realized that we were heading towards the backroads. Evidently, there was so much fog that the highways had been closed, and soon we knew why. The backroads were also enveloped in thick fog. We were driving at about 20km/hr. The trip usually takes 40 minutes, but that night it took almost 2 hours. Thank goodness for our director, because we surely would not have found a taxi willing to drive us home.

It was a really fun weekend.  Even though we didn’t go to any of the usual tourist sites, we still have plenty of time to return and see it all, including the Great Wall.

January looks like it is going to be a good month. On the 26th, Spring Festival starts and we are off of work for one week. A group of us are planning on spending the week in Cambodia. We are working out the details now. I am really excited about this. I have wanted to see Cambodia ever since I watched “The Killing Fields” years ago.

Beijing – New Year’s Eve Out

8 January 06

For our New Year’s Eve dinner, T. suggested we eat at a Spanish restaurant he had been to before, Tapas. Seemed appropriate since half of our group were Spaniards. It was a really nice place. There was a mix of Westerners and Chinese dining. We had some really excellent food and wine. I wish I had felt better but it was fun anyway. In Spain, it is a tradition to eat a grape at each chime of midnight, so that you end up with 12 grapes and your mouth completely full. We tried to do that, but the waiter had not brought enough grapes. We left after 1AM to meet up with the rest of the group at a nearby dance club.

Here we are at Tapas: DH, Myself & M. and T., DH and Myself:
DH, Myself & M at Tapas T., DH and myself at Tapas

At the dance club I began to realize that many of the things I had noticed about Beijing were very different from the experiences I had had in Shijiazhuang. I guess I had a bit of an epiphany where I realized – Huh, all my students were right! (Many of the students had told me that Shijiazhuang is a very small city and very rural and not as fun/nice as their hometowns.) I just thought they were more partial to their hometowns. I’m not saying anything bad about the people in Shijiazhuang, but I guess I had unconsciously decided that all of China must be like it. Well, maybe it is, but Beijing sure isn’t. For example, we were not nearly the celebrities we are back in SJZ. In Beijing, people didn’t stop everything they were doing to stare at us. They must see so many Westerners that we are not so special.

Another thing is that in Beijing there are a lot of bicycles, but nothing like in SJZ. The whole city seems more like a city. The streets are wide, the sidewalks clean. The air is noticeably cleaner, although there is still a great deal of pollution. The traffic is not as crazy, although still chaotic. It is the capital, I suppose it must be bigger, more modern and better than a provincial city, right?

I think that I really needed this trip to remember that I am living in one very small part of a very big country, and I have much to explore!