Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hiking in Kodaikanal, India

We should have known to book ahead during the holiday season. Instead, I found myself running from hotel to hotel in Kodaikanal, India, looking for a hotel that had hot water. Hot water isn’t usually a big deal for us, but Leslie wasn’t feeling well, and had actually been diagnosed with strep throat. She was staying in the hotel, down in bed while I ran all over the mountain town trying to find somewhere for us to stay.

Eventually, I found Yagappa Resort, which was on the high-end of the area and had hot-water through Christmas. We booked, and spent the next few days hanging around the hotel, hoping Leslie would recover.
We didn’t do much, but did try some “specialty” Kodaikanal chocolate, which wasn’t too good and became regulars at a shop on the corner, run by a woman named Kala.
Tea in India is a regular occurrence, and usually served out of stalls on the side of the road. A burner is constantly going with a large pot of warm milk. The warm milk is mixed with tea and a large helping of sugar. It’s poured back and forth between a small paper cup and a metal cup a few times to mix it and is then served. On one of the many stops by Kala’s we learned that her brother ran hiking trips around the area. We told Dos we didn’t want to go trekking once, twice and another time on Christmas.
The day after Christmas we tried to track him down, with no luck. Instead, I found myself drinking tea at Kala’s while waiting “just five minutes.”
After about fifteen minutes I headed back to the hotel to pack, as it was our last day in Kodaikanal. I started thinking that we’d head to the internet cafe, find a route and head into the woods on our own.
The phone rang, which had become a regular happening. We have never been in a hotel that called us as much as this one. They called to tell us they were starting breakfast service. They called to ask if our hot water was still working. More than once, they called and said something in such a thick accent that I couldn’t understand. This time, our guide was at the desk.
We finished packing in a hurry and went to meet Dos. Dos was Kala’s brother. Their family had been in Kodaikanal for at least three generations. He was a very small man, standing about five feet tall. He had a slim look about him that could only come from spending the majority of your life tromping around the mountains. He walked with a slight limp, but was surefooted and could have left the rest of us in the dust without half trying.
Our small group had grown a bit as an American ex-patriot family living in Singapore joined us. David, Joy and a seventh-grader named Ian joined us on what was going to be a half-day hike.
The six of us headed out over the cattle-guard that kept the free-ranging cows out of the hotel parking lot and across the street. The value of Dos as a guide became immediately apparent as he led us down a small path that we had walked past a dozen times without noticing. Turns out, that little path was the beginning of a wonderful hike.
Two seconds later we were walking a small dirt path in the Western Ghats that had been used for millenia by the locals. Coaker’s Walk, a common walking path was only ten feet away and swamped with Indian tourists, but the six of us had the path all to ourselves. If we hadn’t known about Coaker’s Walk from two days before I would have though there was nobody but us around.
To our left, a massive valley spread out. Dos began pointing out the different fruit and vegetable farms that would bring their foods to market. He then reached out and grabbed a plant that looked like a weed. Crushing it in his hands released the unmistakable smell of lemongrass. The stuff grows wild all over the mountain. On top of that, he also reached out and plucked eucalyptus and “lemon”. The “lemon” didn’t smell like lemon. Ian thought it was actually another spice commonly used around here… kefir lime.
We stopped at the first “view point,” and one of the best views of fog I’d seen in a long time. It was gray, misty and everywhere. It was disappointing until Dos pointed out a rustling in the trees.
I don’t know how the rest of us missed it, but standing there grazing was a massive bison. At first, I stood back, trying to use the zoom lens to get a good picture, but Ian used the “manual zoom” lens and just moved up close to the beast.
It must have weighed at least 800 pounds and had no fear of humans. Two massive horns curved over the top of its head, almost touching in the middle. Dos told us that it was older, based on both the size and the fact that it was moving relatively slowly.
Dos pointed out a better way to get pictures and soon, Ian and I were backtracking to get closer to the beast. “You can get close,” said Dos, as we moved closer. “It not dangerous, you fine,” he said, as we got closer. We got some good pics and were probably about ten feet away when the demeanor of the bison changed.
It looked up, directly at us and snorted. It then started shaking its head back and forth in a way that said, “Hey, you! I’ve got some big freakin’ horns here!”
“Don’t get close to bison!” said Dos. At this point we beat a hasty retreat and shared a laugh, leaving the bison to it’s meal.
We moved along the path, and found another wonderful view point. Looking out, we saw a huge wall of gray. The next viewpoint saw the angle change and saw more of the valley open out below us, but again the entire valley was filled with mist.
Dos did a good job of keeping us entertained with the local flora as he crawled off the path and came back with a couple four-leafed clovers. All the clover here is four-leafed.
We saw a nice little waterfall and continued on our way to find some rock formations jutting out into the valley below.
The first looked a bit like a bottle-nosed dolphin, and we both went climbing out onto the “nose”. The “nose” was about three feet wide and stuck out about ten feet into the abyss. The mothers would not have approved.
Dos then took us down another little path, to another rock formation. Again, this one jutted out into the abyss. This one had two pillars. The first pillar was easy to get onto, but descended at a sharp angle before a foot-wide gap separating it from the next pillar. There was a ledge about ten feet below. If you fell and got lucky you’d land on the ledge and maybe break a bone or two. The fog kept us from seeing the bottom of the fall if you missed the ledge. Suffice to say that if you fell that way it would be unlikely that your body would be found any time soon.
Naturally, Ian and I braved the pillar-jump. Honestly, it wasn’t too hard, but the added risk factor made it nerve-wracking. After we made it back Leslie realized how cool the picture out there would be, so the two of us jumped back onto the furthest pillar and Joy took a couple snaps.
We waited for awhile, hoping the fog would clear and got a glimpse of what the view would have been like, but unfortunately, we never got a clear view of the mountain.
Dos did a good job of getting us to the viewpoint, we just didn’t get the right weather.
Still, I’ve never had such fun going to a view of pure gray.
We made the hike back and parted ways with our new friends as it was time for us to go get on a night bus and leave the mountainous Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Next stop, Mysore.

Best of Southeast Asia

It’s been awhile since we’ve done our best of awards, so this is Best of Southeast Asia. To recap the trip: Bangkok, Thailand – Koh Tao, Thailand – Koh Phangan, Thailand – Haad Yai, Thailand – Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia – Pulau Tioman, Malaysia – Melaka, Malaysia – Yangon, Burma – Bangkok, Thailand – Pakse, Laos – Tad Lo, Laos – Don Det, Laos – Bangkok, Thailand.  Of course, there were some other cities there, but these are the ones where we stayed overnight.


Hunan BBQ, Yangon, Burma

Our friends Chris and Chelain showed us this place and we loved it. Choose your veggie and meat skewers from the cold counter and go to your seat. Then the place will BBQ them for you and a steady stream of BBQ’ed food comes to your table. To top it off, you could order big slabs of back-bacon that were hanging on meat-hooks. The BBQ cheese pieces were really popular and I tried the baby sparrows that came on the skewer. I’m glad I tried them, but I don’t think I’ll eat that again.


Mai Pen Rai, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Hangs down, bar none. Mai Pen Rai bungalows were amazing. “Mai Pen Rai” is southern Thai slang, meaning “Hakuna Matata” and the bungalow definitely felt like that. The bungalow was anchored on rocks that were about thirty feet from the ocean. The bathroom was in the back, and the back wall of the bungalow actually was the rock. Tons of geckos helped keep the bugs down while monitor lizards roamed freely. To top it off, we could open the window and watch beautiful sunrises from our bed, or go to the porch and sit in the hammock.


The Place We Want to Forget, Haad Yai

We were late leaving Thailand, so were doing our best to make it from Koh Phangan to Malaysia in a day. We didn’t make it and ended up in Haad Yai at 10pm looking for a place in the pouring rain. We found a place, but it was horrid. Dead cockroaches littered the floor while big piles of garbage sat around the upper floors. To top it off, they wanted us to walk around barefoot. Um…. no.


Chris and Chalain, Yangon Burma

Ben Franklin famously said that houseguests are like fish. They both start to stink after three days. Well, we went past a little bit fishy and turned into some rotten, disgusting maggotty fish as we spent three weeks with Chalain and Chris in Inle Lake Hotel. That said, they had couches, peanut butter, American television and a nice group of friends we got to meet. We were very tired, but got a great chance to recharge the batteries for the next phase of the trip.


Bangkok, Bangkok, Bangkok

The Blackhole award goes to the city that sucks you in, whether you want it to or not. Our first time in Bangkok was because the cheapest flight from Istanbul to Asia was to Bangkok. Then, we ended up staying while we sorted out the Myanmar Visa. After heading south, we ended up flying back to Bangkok from Yangon as we wanted to go to Laos and Bangkok was the most convenient way to get there. Finally, on our way out, we found the cheapest flight to Chennai, India from Bangkok. It’s a good thing we like the city, because we just couldn’t get away.


Koh Phangan, Thailand to almost Malaysia

We loved Mai Pen Rai and we really wanted to squeeze one more day out of it, so we didn’t leave until the day our Thai visa expired, then it was on. We rode in the back of a pickup to the port, grabbed a bus, followed by a mini-van that we were hoping would get us to the border, but eventually ended up giving up and spending the night in Haad Yai. We ended up overstaying our visa in Thailand and paying a $30 fine.


JoJo Patthai – Bangkok, Thailand

There was a monsoon our first few days in Thailand and we ended up eating at JoJos while the flood came up around our ankles. Jo hung out with us and became our buddy as we commiserated the terrible start to the Arsenal season. To top it off, the man and his wife made some killer Pad Thai that could be had for $1. Leslie loved that she could top it with as many peanuts as she wanted. He remembered us on our second and third trip back to Bangkok. Unfortunately, we never got to celebrate an Arsenal victory.


Fish Sauce – EVERYWHERE!!!!

I’m not exactly sure how fish sauce is made, but I think it’s by taking bit of fish and letting them ferment. Imagine letting a fish sit long enough until it begins to let off juices, taking those juices and putting them in absolutely everything. Bleh.


Kayaking, Don Det, Laos

We started at nine and got back at five. The group was large, but we made some friends and it ended up being a blast. A few class 2 rapids was as exciting as it got, but the rapids combined with some interesting maneuvers from the kayak in front of us combined to dump Leslie and I into the Mekong. We ended up seeing some of the Irrawaddy river dolphins, paddled into Cambodia for lunch and all in all had a great day.


Motorbike + Cow, Tad Lo, Laos

So Tad Lo is in a very rural area. Dogs, cats, ducks, geese, chicken, water buffalo and cows are all over the place. Most of these have a good concept of “road”. All the animals know to get out of the way of the vehicles coming down the street… except the cows. We got dangerously close to a high-speed motorbike-cow collision. I don’t think the cow noticed.


So we’re going to nominate two places from this stretch, one from the beginning and one from the end.

Hat Sadet, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan is famous for the full-moon parties that are full of drugs, drunken backpackers, theft and dangerous characters. Good for them, but for us, Koh Phangan will always mean the isolated beach of Had Sadet. There were about thirty people on the beach total, with only one restaurant. If you’re looking for stuff to do, this isn’t it. If you want to relax on a pristine, isolated beach, far from civilization, then this is the place.

Don Det, Laos

As the Mekong rolls into Cambodia it gets very wide. Four thousand islands exist in the middle of the river, with Don Det being the one we stayed on. Its definitely a backpackers haunt, with a plethora of restaurants and cheap lodging right on the river. The people are dense, as are the chickens, dogs and buffalo, but the vibe is laid back and there are plenty of things to do. Kayaking, fishing or just riding ten-year-old fixed wheel bikes around the remote island quickly chews up days. I doubt there’s a paved road on the entire island, but when you’re looking for island adventures, paved roads are not needed.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everybody!

We’re in Kodaikanal, India for this one, which is a relatively small mountain town in the western Ghats.  We thought it would be quiet, but the constant horn-honking means I haven’t heard a single bird.
Still, it’s a nice little town.  We’re recognized by Kala, who runs one of the street stalls selling chai tea and have gone boating on the lake the last few days.  That’s been fun, but our “fans” are beginning to get on my nerves a bit.
We heard that we might draw some extra attention as white people in India, but on the lake, it was a bit ridiculous.  Groups of other boaters came paddling over to us just to take pictures.  We weren’t exactly sure how to react at first, but decided to just go with it, as it seems better than telling people to go away. 
A mother explained that a kid wanted a picture with us on a walk, so we posed for a picture with some random kid we didn’t know.  Groups of boaters, usually young men would paddle up to us, talk for a few seconds then start posing for pictures.  It must have happened a half-dozen times in an hour on the boat.
Today, we were trying to get out and into the dock when a person on the shore decided he wanted to get pictures of us, so he angled us, and pushed us back out into the lake… twice.  I started to get mad, but Leslie reminded me to calm down and just go with it. 
The food has been interesting.  We’ve twice tried western places in our last few days in Kodaikanal, but have been disappointed both times.  The Indian food has been supurb.
Our two favorites have been the Astoria Veg hotel, which has an all you can eat “thali” for lunch.  That means you get a big metal plate that’s a bit like a pie tin, complete with walls.  Eight to ten small metal cups have different gravys and there’s a big pile of rice in the middle and a six inch round, crispy chip-type thing.  The gravy’s all look rather foreign, but are made out of familiar foods once you learn whats in them.  “Masala” is one of the most popular.  I met a personal chef in the hotel, who told me masala is tomato based with lots of onion, garlic, tumeric and chili powder.  “Aloo” just means potato, so Aloo Masala, is potatoes in tomato sauce. 
Back to the thali…  there is no silverware, but all restarants have a washing station.  You wash your hangs then pour gravy into the rice, mix it up and eat.  Use your right hand for sanitary things.  Your left hand is for…  unsanitary things.
For Christmas eve, there was a bonfire at our hotel, and we met a nice Indian man who taught us a lot about India.  40% of Indians are vegetarian, and the restaurants reflect it.  Lots are vegitarian-only.
“Flavours” is not.  According to the guidebook, the locals claim this place has the best tandoori chicken in South India.  It was a great spot for Christmas dinner.
A “tandoor” is a bit clay pot with hot coles in the bottom.  The Indians use it as an oven and cook flatbreads and meats in it.  We ordered half a chicken and I must say it was the best BBQ I’ve had in a long time.  Flavorful, crispy and just the right amount of burned-to-black on the skin.  The chickens are smaller here then in the USA.  We ended up ordering some with some other food as well.
Nothing says Christmas like mushroom masala.
Love and Joy to you and yours!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Into India

“Don’t arrive after dark,” said our Lonely Planet guidebook, but our plane ticket had other plans.  We landed in Chennai, India around 9:30 after a three or four hour flight from Bangkok. I don’t really keep track of how long the flight is anymore. It just doesn’t seem to matter. 

Chennai runs a neat pre-paid taxi service, where you go up to a little desk, pay a fixed price and take your little ticket outside.  It still felt like Asia, but everything was a bit different.  Gone were the yellow cabs, replaced by British-style bobby cars that looked brown on bottom with white on top.  The inside was covered in a flower pattern.  The Tuk-Tuks on the other hand were yellow, much less exposed to the elements and are now called “auto-rickshaws”. 
Soon, we were racing down the freeway toward our hotel, which was recommended and cheap, according to the Lonely Planet.  We’ve been in some pretty crazy traffic before, but Chennai has to take the cake.  We were swerving all over the road, dangerously close to crashing.  The brakes got slammed on a few times, including right next to huge trucks in the middle of traffic.  At one point I stopped looking out the front window.
We were dropped off at Chandra Park hotel around 10:30 and ended up getting a deluxe room for $42 a night.  It’s a bit expensive, but Leslie has a sore throat and isn’t feeling good.  A clean room with multiple movie channels, included breakfast and air-con has become our base for the next few days while she recovers. 
Breakfast is a buffet of Indian food, which is absolutely amazing.  Various spiced sauces are put on the plate with a ladle along with some rather bland cakes, breads or rice.  Then, you mix the bland solids with the very flavorful sauces.  About 2/3 of the people eat with their hands. 
Our laptop finally gave out in Bangkok, so we got a new one and I needed to rebuild the machine.  I found a little place that rents cubicles with hard-wired internet for Rupee 30 an hour, which translates into an office cublice for about $5 a day.  I got the necessary stuff working, but when I got back to the hotel room, Leslie was locked inside.
We got the front desk, and once they understood the problem they sent in a few maintenence guys through the window.  We’re on the fourth floor, and we’re still not sure how they got there, but after a half hour and the atention of a dozen hotel staff Leslie was freed.
Day two started with a trip to the pharmacy after breakfast. The mission was vitamin C, ibuprofen,  and some throat drops.  It was the furthest into the depths of the city I’ve been.
The first thing I noticed is the attack on your smells  Wonderful, disgusting and ever-present.  The first might be a wonderful spiced dish or samosa smell coming out of the restaurant, but two minutes later it smells like poop.  Then comes another restaurant, followed by garbage.  T
The second thing about walking the streets of India is that your preconceptions of personal space have to change… immediately.  Your personal bubble is constantly violated, and you can’t back away without running into someone on the other side. 
To top the entire thing off, people are quite well dressed.  I’m wearing a polo shirt, but that was pretty casual.  Ninety-five percent of the men were wearing button-up shirts, including the homeless. About 70% are wearing slacks, with no shirts.  Most of the men were wearing dress shoes, with a few wearing leather-strapped sandals and some barefoot.  I saw more than one barefoot in a dress shirt and slacks.
Third there’s the traffic.  Lanes are optional at best.  In most of Asia, you have to walk into the street where there’s motorbikes, trusting the motorbikes to go around you.  You just have to avoid the less-mobile vehicles, like cars.  Cars are more numerous here, so they’re harder to avoid.  They’re joined by commercial vehicles and everyone is always honking.  Crossing the street becomes a harrowing experience. I went with the old standby method… walk in a local’s hip pocket.  I was a bit more nervous than normal, so stood rather close to whoever I was following.  Fortunately, that’s normal.
After fifteen minutes or so, I found the pharmacy that I’d identified on Google Maps.  The first man inside didn’t speak English, so I had to wait for the proprietor to get off the phone.  His English was quite good, although he spoke with too many polite phrases, as the Indians are wont to do.  “Hello, please, sir.  Tell me, please what him want, please, sir”. 
Vitamin C, Ibuprofen and a bottle of water set me back rupee 47 ($1 = 54R).  At first, I though he said 600R for the vitamin C, which I told him was way too much.  He laughed and asked me where I was from, smiling when I said USA. He then went into a short speech about how great the Indian medical system is.  “In American, you pay, pay, pay,” he said. “India is the best in the world for good care for cheap.”  I’ll agree it was cheap, but he didn’t have the soar-throat drops I wanted.  
Walking back was another assault on the senses.  A homeless man with a wounded hand started asking for money. A man in about my age was sitting next to a garbage can eating a sauce and rice mix off a plate on the ground with his right hand while holding a toddler in his left.  A whole in the sidewalk let my nose know that the sewer ran right underneath.  Every forty yards, another dumpster shared its aromas with the world.
I reached the hotel room, gave Leslie what I had, then decided to make one more attempt at the corner convenience store. 
Immediately, I was followed by a shorter man with curly black hair.  “Where you going, where you from?” he asked.  I ignored him, and went about my business, but he followed me into the open-air corner shop.  The store was about ten by fifteen feet, with counters ringing the store.  I asked one man behind the counter if he spoke English and he kinda shrugged.  So far, India has very diverse English skills.  Some people are perfect, others know very little. 
He directed me to another counter, which had a six-inch deep apothecary cabinet that took up the entire wall behind the cabinet, like bookshelves.  It was made out of glass and hard-wood and was surprisingly beautiful.  It looked custom-built, and very old.  Both men behind the counter were busy, and the small man who was following me was looking up at me with puppy dog eyes, so I decided to deal with him.
“What do you want?”  I asked, directly and forcefully. 
He hemmed and hawed for a little bit before asking me, “marijuana?”  I chuckled a little bit.
“No thank you,” I said.  He looked relieved to have asked his question as he smiled and turned away.  “Good luck!” I told him.
Soon, the apothecary had given me the drugs I wanted (12 pills for 20R) and I was heading home. 
I was the only white person on the street, although I did see another traveller who I think was Japanese, so I stuck out like a sore thumb.  I was actually stopped and had a short discussion with a man from Sri Lanka in what I believe was monk roads.  He is on his way to Varanasi tomorrow, which is one of themost holy places in India, where people deposit dead bodies into the holy Ganges river.  We chit-chatted for a bit before I headed back to the hotel room where I found Leslie in bed watching a Pierce Brosnan/Sandra Bullock RomCom. 
Not a bad place to be sick, but hopefully, we’ll be on our way soon. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Home Sweet Burma

I was really looking forward to seeing Chris and Chalain in the country they’ve been living in the past three years, and also being at a “home” for a couple weeks. Also, I was looking forward to getting to know more Burmese people since the Burmese people we encountered in Thailand were some of the kindest people I had ever met. Many work in Thailand on the islands since most Thai people do not find it enjoyable to be at the beach and can’t understand why anyone would sunbathe on the sand in the sun.

We took a taxi to Chalain and Chris’s home, also known as Inya Lake Hotel. Yep, they live in a really nice hotel and receive all the services offered, including toilet paper, water, and cleaning services. How awesome would that be? The apartment has a fully functioning kitchen and a huge living area, bedroom, and bathroom. So nicely decorated, too. It was good to have a home for a bit.
The first day we simply relaxed, watched movies, and went to a traditional Myanmar BBQ with Chalain, Chris, and many of their friends. All the food was displayed raw on a stick for people to pick out what they wanted barbecued. It was so good, and my favorite had to be the barbecued cheese and mushrooms. Bryan would probably say something completely different and it mostly likely includes red meat. The place was a huge two story outdoor restaurant with several locals and foreigners throughout.
The next day we went to the pool and then later made our way over to Shwedagan Pagoda which is a 2500 year old massive and beautiful buddhist temple. Together, Chris and I took about a million pictures before went to eat our first Mexican meal in a long time. Not the cultural experience by any means, but Bryan and I really had been craving our staple food from home. I was not expecting it to be as good as it was and it really hit the spot. I had tacos and a burrito and hadn’t felt so full in a long time. Good ol’ Mexican.
The following Monday Chris and Chalain went to work as teachers at the International School of Myanmar. Bryan and I stayed home and watched movies. It was so nice to sit on a couch and know exactly where we were going to eat breakfast. Chalain and Chris have a wonderful cook, Shelia, who prepared fresh fruit for us to eat throughout the day. It is very inexpensive to have a cook, and they treat her well. She comes to their place about three times a week and prepares delicious food. It was nice to be able to enjoy homemade cooking while we were there.
Through out the week I enjoyed yoga right off the lake with Chalain, went to a very informal and fun art gallery, and got a pedicure. Unfortunately, towards the end of the week I started to feel down in the dumps. This was especially unfortunate because it was right at the beginning of a fun birthday party that I really started feeling like crap. Their friends organized a party at a yummy Thai restaurant, and they were paying for all the food and wine. Thankfully, Chalain was willing to leave the party early in order for me to go home and go to bed. The next couple of days the symptoms turned from fever and chills to a really bad headache and neck pain. Later, I found a huge dent on my forward. I had no idea how I got a dent or why I had a headache for the following two weeks, but I really thought I had a brain tumor. No worries, everyone. I went to a doctor in Bangkok and he insisted I didn’t have cancer. Although, he was kind of a jerk and he barely looked at me, so….
The following night, Bryan and Chris, went to the hotel bar to watch open mic performers, among the performers included Chris and Chalain’s friends, Michael and Jim. Apparently, it was really fun, but I wouldn’t know as I spent the evening on the couch. Most of the following days in Burma were spent watching movies in the apartment and trying to recover from whatever disease I had acquired. Although, we did venture out onto the beautiful hotel grounds a couple times to take pictures. They live in a very big city, but it sure didn’t feel like it. The hotel sits right next to a beautiful big lake surrounded with palm trees, verandas, and all sorts of beautiful plants and animals. It was quite peaceful and relaxing.
One night, we were talking about whatever happened to Dave Chapelle, so Bryan went and looked it up on wikipedia. At the same time, I looked up and noticed a freaking humongous spider. It was so big I couldn’t find the words to communicate this to Bryan and Chris. My intention was to point and say spider, but instead I communicated this with a very deep and loud gasp. Bryan thought I was surprised about the fact that Dave had a mental breakdown, and then he realized what my gasp meant. Chris immediately called for help at the front desk and the guy came up with a paper towel. As soon as he saw the spider he ran out of the apartment and a minute later came back with a very huge bath towel and a can of poison. As he was spraying the spider, the spider sort of swung back and forth and we all screamed. Well, I know Chalain and I did, but I’ll have to watch the video recording of the scene to see if Chris and Bryan did too. It was pretty hilarious. Chris said he had never seen a spider that big in all the years they’ve been there.
During the second week of being in Burma, Bryan and I decided to extend a week in order to spend Thanksgiving with Chalain, Chris, and several of their American friends. This also gave us the opportunity to get our India visas there instead of Bangkok. Chris and Chalain were so kind to let us stay a whole other week as we weren’t quite ready to leave our temporary “home.”
While we were there Obama visited. He is the first US president to visit Burma and all the Burmese people we talked to were very excited. Burma has had a tough and sad history, but with the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi, a powerful, peaceful, and influential female political figure, and the newly elected President, Thein Sein, things are starting to look up for the Burmese people. It was fun to see all the painted murals of Obama around the city.
We also went to school with Chalain and Chris for a day. Chalain teaches 1st grade and is a very good teacher. It was fun to see her interact with the kids. Bryan and I participated by teaching them about passports. Bryan also taught them a few Moroccan Berber men dances. They soaked it all up. Later, we visited Chris’s preschool class and he is also very good with little ones. The kids were so incredibly adorable it was ridiculous…and so well behaved for the most part. Initially, they were quite shy to meet Bryan and me, but they soon warmed up to us. Chris is also a high school basketball coach, so we were able to see him in his role as a coach. His team dominated the game.
We also attended international day at their school which was a day for people from all over the world to represent their countries. There was food, parades, a talent show, and adorable kids dressed in traditional outfits. Bryan and I really enjoyed the Pakistani food….so good.
Thanksgiving was a blast. Their friends Rue and Ara prepared the Butterball turkey, yes I said Butterball and the most amazing stuffing I have ever had. When I asked Ara what the secret was he said butter. “If you think you need more butter, then you do,” he said. Also, lots of garlic and green onions. Bryan made his famous homemade mac and cheese, and I made deviled eggs. Thanks to everyone for a fun and memorable Thanksgiving.
On one of our last days in Burma, Bryan and I made our way over to the circle train and what an experience this was. I had no idea what to expect and only knew the idea was to ride the local train around the city. It was so much more than this. The trains were colorful, usually blue, orange, or green. The seats ran sideways on both sides and it was mostly filled with local Burmese farmers. At one of the stops about 50 people got on the train and completely filled it with bags filled with produce all the way to the top of the train. This made it impossible for people to get off without having to climb on the huge stacks of produce. At one point, the nice Burmese lady and her little girl we interacted with needed to get off, so one by one the local people handed the little girl down the aisle to her mom. It was quite cute and it was fun to see the community work together to help. The train smelled of all kinds of interesting things, including food which was prepared by ladies who would sporadically come on the train. They sat on little chairs and made noodle type dishes using gloves and their hands. They then held the big bowls of ingredients on their head without using their hands…while on a moving train. Pretty impressive. It took about 3 hours before we made it all the way around, and even though the seats were uncomfortable, it was hard to look out the window, and it smelled of who knows what, I’m so glad we were able to see what it was like to be a local Burmese farmer. It is not an easy job.
The Burmese people were wonderful. So kind, thoughtful, honest, and loving. For example, we went to a garden party at one of their friends place and one of the guys left his beer in the taxi. Ten minutes later the taxi driver brought the beer back. It was wonderful to be surrounded by people like this.
The day had come where it was time to let Chalain and Chris have their privacy and apartment back. All and all, their place was the perfect spot to relax and recover from the world of backpacking. We were ready to be adventurous again. Thanks again, Chalain and Chris, for allowing us to invade your place for three whole weeks. We definitely did not go by the old Ben Franklin saying, “house guests are like fish, after three days they start to stink” idea, and you two never once made us feel awkward or unwanted for staying so long. You’re going to make such good parents, and I can’t wait to meet your little baby girl in the summer. Love you two.