Saturday, April 30, 2005

Finally on the move again 

The day has finally come to head out and get moving again. And none too soon. The last few days have been a bit torturous and slow. I am anxious to get to Hawaii and start my job and my 'work'.

Can you believe it though? After 31 weeks abroad, I'll be back (technically) in the US in less than a day. Pretty wild. I know I won't be home or anywhere familiar, but I won't have to exchange money or worry about language difficulties (maybe) or any of that stuff. Not exactly sure what I think about that.

But don't worry. I have one trip in mind and am working on another that may be squeezed in ahead of the first.

Any one want to gift me some money?

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Day 3 on the river 

Sorry these accounts of my river trip are so disjointed. Once I get thru all 4 days I'll run them together and put them on my "stories" page (I think that is what I called it).

Day 3 came at us quickly. Loathe to hang around the house and continue to be an inconvenience, we arose with the family and were out and on the water by 6:45am. Unlike the previous night, we were not presented with a bill and in fact were not asked for any money, though we gave some. And unfortunately, we had to provide our own breakfast which consisted of the last of our hard boiled eggs (which were a bit funny after being wetted by the Nam Ou for a couple days) and some peanuts.

Low hanging gray clouds threatened rain as our paddles dipped into the silent river, shoulder and back muscles sore and tight, no words breaking the silence. A set of rapids woke us up, and we then began to worry about the weather as well as distance left before us. Our food supplies were about depleted which would have been ok since we were along the road and food could be procured. Only our money supply was also dangerously low. Our water supplies were non-existent and boiling the river did not seem sufficient to filter out all the crud. To make matters worse, the people in the village told us that Luang Prabang (our destination) was still a couple/few days of paddling away. This weighed heavily on all our minds, though noone spoke of it.

Almost two hours into the day we pulled off near a small village to look for water. We were told by a guy from the village that they had a shop across the river that had water. Loading him into our boat we paddled across; leaving the girls to watch our things we headed uphill and among the huts to buy some water. Which is when the rain started. A chilling torrential downpour that we barely escaped by ducking under onto the porch of the little shop. While waiting for a let-up we chatted with our friend about the village, it's 'moving' across the river (much hated by most villagers) and life there. Good guy. Finally the pour slackened, we bought some water and headed back to the boat. Fortunately the girls had good ponchos and didn't mind the rain. It gave them a chance to talk to some locals who expressed worry for our sakes at the upcoming rapids (echoing what we'd been hearing). Everyone told us how bad the rapids were, most tourist boats capsize (our friend leads kayak tours on that part of the river), and whoa! What were we thinking?!?! These comments prompted the girls to rethink the day. Cold, hungry, tired, scared and Quebecian, they began to think that grabbing a bus was preferable to continuing on in the boat. Allen was still game to continue as was I, so we parted ways. The girls took all our stuff, with the exception of my small backpack within which I kept our raingear and the last of the food. Against the expectations of everyone around us, we figured we could make the Pak Ou Caves, a popular tourist destination at the convergence of the Nam Ou and Mekong rivers (Nam Kong). Once there we could tie up the boat and hitch to town, or more hopefully tie our boat up to one of the slow passenger boats and tow it into Luang Prabang. These caves, by our map, were maybe a day's paddle from town. We hoped that was all since they were about the midway point to Luang Prabang from where we estimated ourselves to be.

The girls left and in a light mist we took up our paddles and headed toward the dreaded rapids! And boy we were disapointed (for now)! They were not nearly as bad as others we had seen and were handled easily. Soon after the sun came out and it got very hot. Rapids came up now and then, but nothing too tough. More laughter reached our ears from the locals as we were now only 2 people in our enormous boat. Quite a sight! Finally we began to see the rapids of which we were warned. Worse than any we'd come across, it was good the girls bailed. Water continuously broke over the bow (like we needed another way to get water into the boat!), we were tossed around, rocks whipped past on both sides, and locals watched intently to witness whatever outcome lay in wait for the funny white boys. With a lighter boat it was easier to avoid (thanks more to the water flow than our efforts) the boulders mid-river that towered above us; the shallow rocky bits were handled decently since we displaced less water than before; the excitement was greater not only due to the bigger whitewater, but also because we no longer had to worry about dumping all our stuff into the river.

Lunch was eaten on the boat as we drifted sideways down a slow patch. Very nice and relaxing, and helped give us a better picture of how tired we were (though again, we said nothing).

Soon after, trouble began.

Growing more and more tired as the day slipped by, it was only the adrenaline produced by the rapids that kept us paddling consistently (there were rapids all day long). The set which found us after lunch were almost our downfall. We'd been paddling for about 7 hours by now on minimal food. The sun was overhead which created terrible light for seeing underwater obstacles before hitting them. The first set we hit showed no smooth spots thru which to shoot them, so I guessed a strategy and Allen from his seat 2 miles behind me agreed it looked the best. Not so much. It was our first run over a 'waterfall' (only a couple feet) and as soon as I saw what was coming and that we had no choice, I was sure our boat was doomed. Very long and semi-sturdy, I figured half-way across we'd crack in half. Miraculously we passed over without so much as touching the rock or hearing any funny sounds. Elated and confused glances were shared, and we refocused on the task at hand. Unfortunately, a similar obstacle presented itself only this time our luck ran out; after I crossed the rock the Apocalypse Brown halted, and cracking noises hit our ears. I immediately jumped out and began manouvering the boat off the rock. Allen joined me and we were able to get resituated and moving again. Jumping back in and passing out the last of the turbulent water we agreed on the need for a damage assessment. A sandy bank appeared on our right and we stopped. The leaking was much worse than it had been before so we shoved cut up bike tube strips (remnants of my bike ride thru China) into the cracks. It slowed but did not stop the flow.

A rest was needed. The food was finished and we meandered around not saying much. But agreeing that with the next passing passenger boat (we'd actually been looking for one the last hour or 2) we'd beg for passage and if necessary, maybe leave the AB. Not the ideal, but we still had no idea how far we had left to paddle.

Exhausted, we reboarded and shoved off. I was done. Worn out and ready to burn the damn towel. I found out later that Allen felt the same. Fortunately, neither of us spoke these words because it would have been our undoing. So we paddled. Slowly and intermittently.

Half an hour later we rounded a bend and came up on some towering limestone cliffs on our right side (The Cliffs of Insanity!!). The river pooled below them; it wast deathly silent with only cicadas for noise; on the far side it appeared as though the river ended. Giggling a bit hysterically, I tossed out this idea and commented on how funny it would be if we made a wrong turn somewhere. Allen didn't laugh, only said that he was convinced that we had reached the caves. Not wanting to allow disappointment to knock me down, I refused to believe it. On we paddled.

The river did continue. As we passed the far end of these cliffs (only about 100 yards) the river widened and a passenger slow boat appeared behind us! As they began passing on our right, we waved and yelled out. They waved back and kept going. Bastards! However, I watched the boat as Allen cussed and noticed that they headed for the left bank and pulled over. Could it be? A sudden burst of energy hit as I noticed another boat on the bank.

"Allen," I yelled, "let's go maybe we can catch up before they head off again!"

Furiously we paddled, desperate for deliverance (hehe). It was Pak Ou! And the riverbank was full of boats, and there was a restaurant!!

Relieved, we ran the boat up on the muddy bank and before it came to rest I had leapt out to go and talk with the boat drivers. All scoffed at our request for a tow into town; which in retrospect made sense. There was no good place to tie off and why would they want to rope our piece of shite behind theirs? One man said yeah, he could do that, but he couldn't take us! All these boats acted like charter boats; they were hired for the day and some carried only one or 2 people though they could easily have handled a dozen or more. And no one seemed inclined to want to share with us. I can't imagine why! Allen went into the restaurant to check out the scene as I secured the boat and kept asking (begging) around. The looks of disgust he received made him furious! Damn tourists!

Our final decision was to pull the boat up and tie it securely and finish paddling to town the next day; grab our stuff and get a tuk-tuk into town. Finally, after much wrangling we got one for less than a major rip-off and headed into town, sharing the ride with 2 Australians who didn't seem put out at all by our dirty and stinky appearance (thank you).

The girls told us where they were staying (previous reservations) and saved us a room. As we stumbled into the place with our bag, 3 paddles, bucket and rope, machete and water bottles, they rejoiced at our being alive!

Time to relax.

Allen hit the showers. I found 2 big BeerLaos and knocked on the door and gave him one, earning me his undying devotion. I took my shower and with the girls we headed off to dinner to eat and retell the day's adventures (they were not upset to have missed the day, especially when hearing about the near halving of our vessel).

Good times. Only one more day to paddle!

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My parents would be proud? 

When I left the States back in late September, my hair was short and as fashionably cut as Supercuts could make it. Clean shaven, clean and unratty clothes, and a newly gained Professional Engineer's License in hand (well, in an envelope in one of my unmarked boxes). Now I am approached by almost every random I walk past in an attempt to sell me ganja. Or in the most recent case, cocaine. Haven't had any opium offers since I left Laos though. It's constant! I feel like I am squandering some hidden talent to look disreputable or something. Haven't taken anyone up on their offers so don't worry, ma. Bad lungs, no desire (beer is enough), and seeing the inside of a jail isn't on my list of things to do today.

It makes me chuckle!

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Sea Monster 

Ok, let's try this out.

Here the scenario. On Taveuni. It's been raining for days and neither R nor I have done anything remotely active in literally weeks. This particular day saw some instances of sun and we took advantage and ran down the hill from our room to snorkle. Unfortunately, no good rentals were to be found on the island. R's mask worked, but my head was too big for the available mask ("It's like Sputnik! All round and pointy!") which I found out as soon as my face hit the water. No matter. We walked out into the crusty water (lot of shtuff afloat), across the dead coral and around the weeds. Eventually R decided to strike out to the far reef and check things out. I walked over to some nearby rocks and sat atop one so as to get a better view of R to make sure she stayed ok.

As she paddled around, I watched sea snails wander around the rock I was on, offering encouragement and advice; which they promptly ignored of course. The tide began to come in as I sat there, and my perch was slowly overrun with ocean water despite my plaintive cries to be spared. Fortunately, that is when R decided to come in and tell me about all she saw: the huge blue starfish, a sting ray, lots of pretty fishes, some nice coral and tons of dead coral. Not fabulous snorkling, but not the worst.

So we walked towards shore. No big deal, right? It wasn't until we were maybe 50 feet from safety. All of a sudden I felt something grab my right foot (we were both wearing sandals) and something slam down onto and into the top of my foot. Un-man-illy I let out a yelp while yanking my foot out of the water, losing my sandal in the process. A bit freaked I quickly made my way to shore while incoherently muttering about my lost sandal, it floating away, asking R to go get it and then changing my mind as she'd have to pass the demon that attacked me, and something about firetrucks? R meanwhile realized quickly that I wasn't playing around and got a bit freaked out and followed me ashore.

Out of the water I saw the blood flowing and I limped back to our room and onto the deck where I sat and bled, calming a little, as R looked for one of the people running the place. I never saw what got me and wanted their opinion on how worried I should be. In my mind it took 12 hours for R to come back and grab my first aid kit-I meanwhile left bloody footprints all over the wooden deck. Oops. Help arrived, looked at my foot and declared that I had nothing to worry about. Only snakes were poisonous and that is not what got me. She mashed some leaves together and put them on the wound saying they'd help stop the bleeding. As I sat there bleeding, my mind's worries eased, she proceeded to tell me how small a wound I had and how much worse everyone else got hurt. R asked if a hospital visit was necessary and was told no and that no Fijian went there for anything less than almost death. Which of course meant that I would not go either for so trifling a wound!

Slowly, however, the pain increased. Maybe an hour after the attack I couldn't sit still from the pain and it was now decided that maybe a hospital visit was necessary. In my defense, I still was not worried; I simply wanted something for the pain. My decision only worried R that much more as I never seek medical help at home.

The ride to the hospital lasted forever (maybe 30 minutes), the driver (the other caretaker of our guethouse) stopping constantly to pick up and give rides to almost every Fijian we passed on the road.

Eventually we pulled up to the emergency room and I hobbled in. No one was there. Quiet and empty. A nurse eventually arrived and inquired as to the problem. My foot was pointed out. She talked with the caretaker; she talked to the janitor and some other random guy. No preceivable haste in any of her movements. Why? Probably b/c I was not missing a limb; I think only tourists show up there with problems that are really not problems, and she knew there was no great danger to my health. Or so I assume.

I was cleaned up, given a booster shot. She smiled when asking about the leaves covering the mini-gash. A request for pain killers was answered with some weakly pills. No gas mask or shot of morphine or anything. Bummer!

Back we went. Hours later the pain still had not eased. 4 Advils (taken right away) and 2 of the pills from the 'hospital', and nothing. Worst pain I've ever been in. And since it never let up it was that much worse. Like my foot was in a vice. Ouchie. Finally, around 8 or 9 (maybe 5 hours later?) it eased up. Dinner and sleep.

Since then, not much pain. Just huge bruising and swelling. Ankle down, still swollen. It's getting annoying, esp since I start my new job in a few days!

Hm. No embellishment. Either I'm grown up or not in the mood....


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And another thing! 

Thanks to the recent full body blow, my brain has been kick-started and my inner eye washed out.

Thoughts of the future are no longer being supressed and ignored. In fact, they are causing some excitement. Granted, another stint at Uni may not be the most immediately lucrative concept, but in the long run a good one.

Strange, this newfound tingle. Living in the moment is a grand thing, but now I'm seeing that it doesn't necessarily have to supercede future considerations. Who knew?

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First the good news 

My flops were at the hostel when I arrived back yesterday. Which is nice, but also bad b/c it's removed my excuse to wander the country barefoot. So it goes.

Also, one of the Fijians at the hostel had an mp3 he wanted to sell (it was given to him by a Canadian) because they have no mp3s in this country and he can't find a charger for it. So for $50 Fijian (about $30US) I got me an RCA Lyra Jukebox. 40gigs of storage, tho a little bulky. But a steal for $30US when it sells for over $300US.

Since I am back to being on my own, I have reverted to my solitary eating habits. Coffee for bfast, a big veggie curry lunch, and 3 Fiji Bitters for dinner. The beer was a good end to the day, as it temporarily calmed me and stopped the trembling hands and shaking person. Don't worry, not a habit, just a temporary salve. I thought it would also help me sleep, but that was not to be. Good thign I function well (in my mind) on little to no sleep.

So it goes

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Can I brag a little now? Maybe I do still know a bit of english...

You scored 100% Beginner, 92% Intermediate, 93% Advanced, and 80% Expert!

You did so extremely well, even I can't find a word to describe your excellence! You have the uncommon intelligence necessary to understand things that most people don't. You have an extensive vocabulary, and you're not afraid to use it properly! Way to go!
Thank you so much for taking my test. I hope you enjoyed it!

For the complete Answer Key, visit my blog: http://shortredhead78.blogspot.com/.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

You scored higher than 67% on Beginner

You scored higher than 26% on Intermediate

You scored higher than 46% on Advanced

You scored higher than 78% on Expert

If you liked my test, send it to your friends!

The Commonly Confused Words Test


h/t Zombyboy

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Not today 

Sorry, but I don't know that I'll be recounting any past adventures for a bit. Not in the mood.

Foot is still swollen and seeping. Feels ok though. I'm going to try and get a bed in an ocean-side hostel and lay in a hammock until Sunday when I fly out.

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Dawn spread across the sky, pouring
warming rays across the land.
No light seeping into the corner
in which I lay curled and broken.
For years the chains across my chest
impeded forward progress.
Unchecked, untested and unbroken
holding me fast, allowing no motion.

The fleet set sail, yet my anchor
allowed me no release.
Leaving me to float here, alone,
regretful and mournful.
Now I scurry about, checking
for chinks or defects, a way out.
Falling further and further behind.
Hope for a gusty, gusty tailwind.

For now I lay curled in my berth
Broken hearted.

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Add some insult to injury 

To make this morning a worse affair than it started off, after having my coffee brushing my teeth and moving into a dorm room I walked outside to put on my flip flops and walk into town only to discover that they were no longer there. Which leaves me with only my shoes to wear, which my swollen foot is in no mood for. I am told that "Big Joe" is probably wearing them.

So I am in town, barefoot. Kinda cool I guess?

The first time we stayed at this hostel I left somehow without my Chinese mp3. The second time, my whicker ball from Thailand stayed behind. Now my shoes.

Yes, I plan on staying somewhere else after tonight.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Guess who's back? Back again. Corey's back. Tell a friend 

Yes, it's true, I am back and accessible once more. After a week on the remote, and very beautiful island of Taveuni, we are back on the mainland.

Unfortunately, this means that R's flight takes off for LA in the morning. Leaving me solo in Fiji for 4 days lamenting my loss.

But that also means that since I will have pretty much nothing else to do, I'll probably spend entirely too much time on the internet before I fly out on the 1st.

You may be asking me: "Corey. You are in beautiful Fiji. Why would you spend 3-4 days sitting at a computer instead of taking in the sights?"

Well, let me answer you. Because it's been raining for about 2 weeks now. The sun is out at this moment, and I am afraid to venture outside because of it. And if this trend continues, I don't fancy myself wandering about in a deluge.

Also, it's because I am half crippled. Thanks to a sea monster attack a couple of days ago I find myself with a foot that looks like a burrito and toes that resemble Jimmy Dean sausages and an ankle that looks....fat. Hence an inability to be mobile.

Yes, it is a decent story (I promise not to embellish too greatly) but you'll have to wait. Other things to do right now.

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

On the River in Laos, Day 2 

Per usual in Asia, my consciousness for the day began with roosters. Cockadoodling way too early. Hate them. Stupid birds who can't even figure out when it's appropriate to provide their annoying wake-up call (no, 2am is not correct. Neither is 3am, or 4am....).

Anyway. Up we arose to breakfast. Like dinner the previous night I have no idea what the food actually was, but it was excellent. Done eating, we packed up and began moving our stuff down to the boat, talking amongst ourselves how much money we'd offer for staying the night. As Allen and I returned to 'our' home, the girls came out of theirs and told us that they'd actually been given a bill. For 80,000 kip! That is about $8US. Outrageous, since most hotels were charging no more than $5US for a double room-with bathroom and lights, etc. And those were the expensive places! Knocked a bit off-kilter, Allen and I entered our home and then realized that the small slip of paper we'd been given over breakfast was indeed a bill (we thanked them, having no idea what it was). Our offer of 40,000 kip was rebuffed and 8 fingers were held up. I handed over 80,000 kip, miffed, and was shocked silly when our host mother who had been nothing but smiles and laughter and warm-heartedness, motioned that she wanted 80,000 kip for EACH of us! I looked at Allen with my mouth hanging open and saw him at a loss for words as well. Both of us began sputtering "no"s, which is when our little buddy (who'd been swapping language lessons with us) stepped in and let us know that all was fine, we could go. Annoyed now, we returned to the boat and the girls; finished loading up and set off, waving goodbye to half the village though now annoyance was superceding the giddy feelings from the night before.

As we paddled away (it was ~7am), our silence gave way to complaints about the outrageous bill and the dawning realization that maybe this river is not as tourist-free as we'd thought (as it turns out, there are guided river trips run along this stretch of river from out of Luang Prabang. I am thinking that we may have ended up at a village that sees these tourists often. Oops). Our discourse was cut-off as a set of rapids greeted us almost right away. Once we'd cleared them (successfully), our frustration had dimmed, and we discussed the night before, breakfast and the rest of the morning, and focused on only the good. Afterall, it was an incredible experience and there was no need for us to spoil it over only a couple of dollars.

This day was not like the day before. There were rapids most of the day which kept us alert and busy. By the time 4 hours had passed we were a bit tired, waterlogged (the boat was definitely taking on more water than the day before) and hungry. An island popped up ahead of more rapids so we pulled over to rest. The wet gear was laid out to dry; I pulled out more of the food I'd been carrying since China (raisins, peanuts, chipate [sp?]) as well as the bread and eggs we had left. A decent meal. After, I napped for a bit in the shade while the others....did something. How do I know? I was asleep!

Rest time over we loaded back into the boat and set off.

A quest for a boat name began the day before. Three or four incarnations went by before a very fitting name was finalized on this, the second day. The Apocalypse Brown. Why is that fitting? Check out the movie Apocalypse Now. Picture boating up a Laotian river during the Vietnam war. While there was no war going on around us, and we had no mission of assasination, it was quiet. The cicadas had a very eerie buzzing (which I loved) and.....it was Laos! Hence the name. Not to mention the possibility for disaster that hung over our heads (though I ignored/repressed it) the entire time.

One fun stop we made about an hour into the day was to buy a paddle. Our 2 were pathetic; one looked as though a shark had taken a bite out of its side and the other had its fin held together with fishing line. It was decided that a back-up was probably long overdue. Picking to disembark onto shore near a guy working on building a boat (seemed like a good idea), we used hand signals, poorly spoken Laotian, and a sight of our paddles to get across what we wanted. Eventually we made it into the middle of the village to an old dude who pulled out an awesome oar. Large, sturdy, and effectivelooking-for only $2! Good deal! With many thanks we took our leave. Such nice people.

As I mentioned before I knew virtually nothing about this trip. The only map I had was a road map of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia that I'd traded for some raisins at the China/Laos border. Accuracy in depicting the rivers was not their main goal. Which left us pretty ignorant of where we were and how far we had to go. The people in the village we stayed in had said that Luang Prabang was very far. Not too much help. There was one large man-made object that we had been looking for which would give us a vague indication of where we were. A couple hours after lunch we spotted it-the highway! There was much giggling and cheering when we saw it, as it let us know that we were at least half way.

The next spot on the map that we were looking for was this town, Bon Thop Tiet (I think). It was on the map so our guess was that it was not that small and would have somewhere for us to buy food and water (our supplies were running very low). A brief stop at one village allowed us to meet a Lao guy who told us that the town for which we were questing was only another hour or 2 upriver. An hour upriver, another person told us another hour. At this point we'd been paddling for about 8 hours, mostly Allen and I (the girls kept offering, but steering leverage is pretty much non-existent mid-boat, so we'd end up going from one side of the river to the other. Besides, in rapids, we had to pretend to have control....), and we were exhausted. Deciding to suck it up we ate a few handfuls of peanuts for energy and took off at a quick clip. Unfortunately, the sun was behind the hills and it was getting dark. Our energy did not last long. As we pulled up alongside a village, our enthusiasm waned. Everyone from the village appeared to be clowning in the river. A few older kids were sitting on some rocks mid-river checking us out. They said that the town we looked for was close. So we began paddling....and then pulled off. The sun was getting very low and we were too tired. One of the guys from the rock came over and we talked with him. A student in Vientiane, he was visiting his uncle, the chief of the village. His brother came over and they figured it'd be ok if we stayed with the uncle (after discussions that lasted way too long and filled our hearts with fear that we'd have to paddle on).

Thanking them profusely, we grabbed our gear and waddled behind them up the bank and into a good sized village. Our abode for the night was a concrete number; this village had more concrete homes than bamboo and more of a 'modern' feel than many of the villages I'd been in thus far. Passing thru the entrance hall/kitchen/hall to the bathroom and shower, our stuff was dropped into a large heap in the corner of the living area. Another corner housed a staircase upstairs to the bedrooms (I assume. No one was invited up). A quick changing of clothes and washing of hands/faces preceded collapsing in exhausted heaps on the ground. While we sat and chatted with our new friend, his uncle came in and introduced himself (Very nice and smiling man)then sat off to the side and listened to his nephew speak english with us. At one point, a man in maybe his 40s came running in, said hello to all of us and ran back out again. No idea who he was but he made us giggle. Almost hysterically giggle (we were exhausted, remember?). Then the food came out. Sticky rice and a bunch of other stuff, I forget what. Excellent food once again and we ate until full, more or less. Allen and I could have eaten more but it's rude to leave an empty plate. Fortunately there was a lot of sticky rice so we rolled balls of it and dipped it into a bowl of chili spices for flavor. Mmm!

As the food portion of the evening was wrapping up, a few monks came in; done up in the traditional way with shaved heads and orange tunics. The youngest, 20 yrs old, spoke good english and we chatted with him for a while until they had to leave to go back to their temple. Fascinating chat and another notch in the belt of amazing events.

Our new friend had been studying english for 6 months; the monk had been studying english for a year. Both understood most of what we said and were able to express themselves very well. Impressive. I was going to brag about being able to count to a hundred in Laotian until they told me how long they'd been studying. I stuffed food in my piehole instead of talking.

The ability to be social with our buddy (I wish I could remember his name!) lasted a couple hours until we finally had to call it quits and go to sleep. Mats were rolled out in the common room and we fell fast asleep.

Day 2 over. Another stellar day

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Time flies. Too quickly. We've been in Fiji for a little over 2 weeks now. It's been wonderful being with Rachelle again and even though we've done nothing we've had a great time hanging out, sharing stories and catching up.

But it's already almost time for her to fly! In less than 2 weeks she leaves for the US while I head off to Hawaii. Sucks. We have to go thru that whole leaving, missing each other thing again.

To make things worse, this means that Rachelle's trip is over and mine is close. The last several months have flown by! Not fair

Not that I am trying to bring down the mood or anything....

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While we're on the subject... 

Since nothing is open today (Even the ground is closed. I'm not kidding. One of the parks has signs posted saying: "GROUND CLOSED") R and I have done a lot of walking. She is constantly asking me to tell her a story and I remembered one that she said I had to post on here. I may have done so already, but I don't feel like looking in the archives so it's coming back.

In China, when I was visiting my sis, I needed to get some passport photos taken in order to get my Laos visa (I have no idea what these countries do with these pics, as they are not returned with the visa. They simply vanish...). A local store could provide this service so over we ran (it was cold as hell, remember) to get something accomplished.

A quick reminder: in China, image is everything. Vanity is a birthright and is practiced indiscriminately.

Which is why the photog made me don a shirt and tie and jacket for the picture! I wish I had had one of my last visa pics-unshaven, tshirt, not looking my best. And now they insisted I dress up. Of course my sis only laughed and did nothing to persuade them that I didn't need to look nice. On went the shirt, tie, and jacket. Then she made me comb my hair. Oof.

Pictures were taken, the quantity desired was stated and a pick-up time the next day was established. The next ten minutes were filled with my sis continuously telling them not to 'fix-up' my pictures; not to adjust them in any way. Seems strange, yeah? Well, they'd already started 'improving' me almost before the photos were downloaded onto their computer. Take out the freckles, lighten the skin, etc, etc. Vanity. Unbelievable. My sister actually had problems getting one of her visas because they'd changed her photo so much that the embassy folk didn't believe it was her. They couldn't understand why the problem and our unwillingness to look better.

This, my friends, is the culture that will soon take over the world.

Sidenote #1: Some new friends of mine told me that in one of the Canadian provinces (I am pretty sure it's Quebec. Forgive me for forgetting!), they are trying to make it mandatory to learn Chinese as a second language! Yeah, it's gotta be Quebec. Learn French and then Chinese before even english!! Why? There are quite a few Chinese immigrants there. But can you imagine? When most of the world is learning english as a second language, a part of North America is trying to make Chinese #2?

Sidenote #2: My analogy for China in the world today:
The card game "Hearts" is the basis of this analogy. For those that don't know, here's the basics of the game. Every card of the 'heart' suit is worth one point. The queen of diamonds is worth 13. You don't want points. Aces are high. One person lays a card, and all the rest follow suit with the highest card taking the 'trick'. If you don't have the suit played, you can throw any other card. Lowest score wins.

However, if one person gets all the hearts and the queen of spades then they 'shoot the moon' and all the other players get 26 points (the total number of points possible).

Usually, it takes a bit before the other players realize that one person is trying to shoot the moon. Sometimes you can catch it in time and prevent the bloodshed. Other times it's realized too late and the moon is shot.

China is the player trying to shoot the moon. People are catching on and realizing that the new Chinese culture, mindset, and govt are not what this world needs. The only question is, will enough people (countries) catch on soon enough to prevent....bad things? I hope so.

I realize this may sound racist, but they scare me. The culture has become so self-serving, materialistic, history has been erased, there is no long term analysis (except in terms of making money), and all they seem to care about is image and wealth. Granted, this is not everyone Chinese. It's scary though. Our (the US) consumption of raw materials doesn't compare to theirs, nor does our wastefulness. There is little to no concern for non-Chinese peoples and the environment is ignored.

Ok, enough of that. I'm not in the mood to rant. My point (if I have one?) is that in the quest for cheap products, a good trading partner, and all things good for bank accounts/economies, can the situation to which we are contributing be ignored? Yeah China produces cheap goods, but are these goodss worth it (human rights abuses also factor in to this pondering...)?

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Protests, we didn't notice any protests... 

China. Gotta love 'em, yeah?

They want an arms ban lifted. But they toughen their talk against Taiwan, and now their country is full of violent anti-Japan protests (with the police action so very quiet, quelling very little of the protests). Seems counterproductive to their desires (lifting of the ban) doesn't it?

And as far as their protests, that Japan has whitewashed their wartime atrocities.....how can govt officials in a country whose textbooks teach, for instance, that 1949 was the beginning of the Xinjiang region (whose history extends back just a tad further), make such claims with a straight face?

Living in reality is overrated though, ya know?

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It was just brought to my attention (Thanks, R) that I never posted the pics from my second trip thru China. Well, now they are on the list.

Eventually, when I suck it up and pay the money (can you believe they want $10US to download my pics onto a cd? If I had my own cd, it'd still be $7US. That's robbery!)(this is why the pics are still on the camera. Why do things cost so freakin' much??) I'll get my Laos pics and the Fiji ones as well downloaded. Hmm, maybe I'll just wait until we are getting ready to leave Fiji and do it then. Makes sense, yeah?

I'm a g-e-n-u-s.

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Back to the 'real' world 

Yes, we have returned to the backpackers life. After a week in a fancy resort (thanks again, Mom and Dad) we made our move back into the mainstream this morning.

It was a rough week. Reading, sleeping, cards, eating, napping, laying by the pool....but we did go for a couple of runs on the beach. That was exciting. And we swam just enough to not drown in the ocean or pool.

There were a lot of families there with very loud little kids. I had this wonderful idea that R supported, as did the dad of this little girl. Seems little...whatever her name was, is a thrill seeker already at 6 years old. Lots of energy and a strong set of lungs.

Since she likes fear, I decided to take her out to the ocean (the pool was too small), grab her by her feet, spin like a discus tosser, and send her head over teakettles into the ocean. Mommy was getting a massage and a worn out looking daddy thought it a great idea. Off we went. Did she know what was coming? Not really. We told her I was going to throw her around in the ocean. Her bored pouting face sealed the deal. Out on the sand I told her to lay down (a crowd had followed us and the balconies at the resort next door were filling. Why? The little imp was yelling how bored she was and....what was I doing?) and then grabbed her feet. Moving in slow circles I waded out to mid-calf level and sped up. In 2 circles I felt momentum had gained enough of a hold and I let her fly out towards the deep end. Her shrieking increased as my speed picked up and when I let go....whew! The island breathed a sigh of relief when she hit the water and went under. It was the most ungraceful flight ever (head over feet, no form, splayed limbs and whirling hair) but it worked. She surfaced, bellowing now, and she chased me down to do it again. Three tosses later I ran for the room as soon as her feet left my hands. For the next 3 days I had to hide or feign sick slothiness to avoid her. Insatiable!

Now we are in the town of Suva, where everything (except this internet place) closes by 3pm on Saturday, not to open until Monday. So my blog may get fully updated by the time we head out again.

Monday we plan to book a place on another island where the plan is to actually do something. Snorkel, hike, bike, eat.....I'll let you know how it goes.

Question: is buttery movie theater style instant popcorn bad for cholesterol? R made me eat a few bags. I didn't want to, but I didn't want her to eat alone....

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Heading down river 

The morning of our launching finally arrived. The entire crew was in town and anxious to get moving. I began the day by heading to the riverside and bailing the boat out with my newly acquired bucket. Beautiful sunny day, slight breeze, my belly all a-flutter with excitement. After buying some food (not much to be found in town. Some rice, eggs, and bread) and loading up and pushed away from shore while random other friends watched and shook their heads, wishing us luck in not sinking, capsizing, or dying. Thanks, I think.

What an amazing day. I took a seat in the bow; my duties involved scouting out rocks and trees and any such obstacles as might cause us to capsize/crack apart, paddling, and napping when necessary. Allen was in the stern. He has more canoe experience so he got the steerage job (though the damn boat was so long that I needed to move the front end while he moved the tail end). The Genvieve's took up positions in the middle of the boat where they paddled and from time to time bailed water.

Silence, except for the paddling oars, buzzing cicadas (a very eerie sound), singing Allen and the occasional "sa bai dee" ("hello" in Laotian) to people on shore or in passing boats. High hills surrounded us; some lush and green, others burnt brown. Now and then we'd hear loud booms though we never figured out what they were. Cows and water buffalo lined the banks and they'd turn their heads and stare blankly (as any good bovine does) at our greetings to them. We started later in the day than desired (just in time to paddle during the hottest time of day), 11amish! No realy problem since we could reach out and soak outselves. Allen dove off the back of the boat after a couple hours and almost cracked the poor girl in half trying to clamber back in.

We stopped for lunch after a couple hours and ate in the shade, enjoying the quiet while watching a couple of Laotian men fishing. Their version of fishing entailed dropping out a net, then whacking the water with 10-foot poles to scare the fish into their nets. This explained some of the booming we had been hearing, as the poles made a resounding WHOMP on the water. The booms reverberating thru the hills were never explained...

My 'seat' was a 2-inch slat of wood that was nailed in at an angle that left me struggling to not fall back into the boat. As a result, I ended the trip with a severely bruised bum as well as mangled toes (sitting cross-legged with my feet crushing into the wood). No matter, it was worth it.
The boat did indeed leak. Nothing substantial (yet), but enough to warrent a good bailing every now and then
Seeing 4 white people paddling an oversized boat down the river with a large pile of luggage in the middle was an amusing break in the day for every Laotian we passed. Can't imagine why they so thoroughly enjoyed it?
The people in Laos are very very nice. As we trundled by villages, little kids, adults, shy teens, and even their dogs would run out to the river banks to yell "sa bai dee" and wave to us. Once or twice a couple kids began swimming out to us (they were already clowning in the river. And they scared us. Not that their size was intimidating, but because we were afraid the boat would collapse if they grabbed on to the sides). All fun and games.

There were not too many rapids on this first day, and the ones encountered were handled relatively painlessly. A shout to people on shore on in nearby boats, pantomiming our request for direction, gave us the 411 on how to approach and shoot the rapids. Very helpful advice as it kept us afloat.

Ok, to be honest, there was one small incident. Late in the day (which means poor lighting. Without fancy polarized sunglasses, you can't see thru the water. Hence unseen rocks tend to sneak up. At least that is my excuse) we came up on some whitewater ahead of a large bend in the river. A small motorboat ahead of us showed us the way. Now for those of you who have spent any time in watercraft, you might know that navigating obstacles in a 10-foot motorboat is much easier than in a 34-foot rectangle of a boat propelled by matchsticks. So no, we were not able to follow the motorboat's path which resulted in us getting high centered on a rock. I saw it too late and grimaced as the rock hit the bottom of the boat, making the old wood shudder. Turning sideways and making as if to tip (though thankfully it didn't) we came to a stop, hung up on a large boulder. No one appreciated my giggling; not until I jumped into the river to get us moving again did the moans and shrieks end. Allen jumped in to help me out; we backed the boat up and pointed it in the correct direction then jumped back in and manned the oars before going off course again. It was fun (to me), and we came out with only a minor increase in leakage.

As the sun sank behind the hills, our thoughts turned to finding a place to sleep for the night. A couple small villages passed us by and we decided that a larger village was a better idea, as maybe then we'd be less of a nuisance/drain on the locals. Finally, 4 hours after setting out, one came into view. The banks of the river were loaded with screaming/jumping/running children and bathing women (to bath in Laos, they hit the river and wash there. No nakedness, they always have a sarong [women][wrong name for the cloth, I know] or some kind of covering). A perfect place to alight. As our boat sauntered up to the bank and we unbent ourselves to get out 2 women came up and I asked them: "Nybon mi," ("Where is the chief?")? I don't know how the heirarchy worked there, but one woman took me and Allen and the other took the girls; the children unloaded all of our stuff from the boat and brought it to meet us at our homes for the night. No 'chief' ever made an appearance. Unless one of the women was she? No idea. Unless they could have filled me in using only the numbers (that was all the Lao I'd learned up to that point) I would not (did not?) have understood.

This was a very nice village. Nice homes (all up on stilts of course), clean, dressed kids. The home Allen and I were placed in had a little common area by the door, a narrow kitchen, and back room that we never saw. To start off the festivities, I showed them the pic I had of my family, and using my phrase book I explained who everyone was. For some reason they looked from the short haired, goateed, nicely dressed picture of me to the grungy, long-haired (though clean shaven!), stanky real life me and all giggled. Odd. They loved seeing the picture, however. Gave them a huge kick. With my Lao phrase book and the help of one of the local kids (9 yrs old. Reads Lao, but has no english) we ran thru a lot of language lessons (he'd tell me how to say a word in Laotian and I'd reciprocate with the english version) and had a great time. Surrounded by little kids, bigger kids, adults, everyone full of smiles and very very warm. After play time we went inside and had some tea with the family-and a dozen other kids. I pulled out the digital camera and we took some pics. Allen pulled out his cd player which they adored. Everyone took a turn listening; I think the Beastie Boys was their fave-especially when Allen belted out a couple songs.

Then dinner arrived. I have no idea what it was (except for the sticky rice. That I figured out) but it was the best food I ate in Laos. Allen and I ate while the family (and half the town) looked on.

After dinner we headed outside to find a toilet, but ran into the girls first. They were embarking on the same mission and had had no luck thus far. Using the phrase books, we pointed to and said "toilet" in Laotian, and the kid who'd been helping us earlier repeated it and obviously understood the word. Yet when we looked confused and pointed around he laughed. And the "Pee Dance" made the gathering crowd laugh even harder. In the end, the girls wandered off into a bush while us MEN distracted the crowd. Then A and I took turns distracting the crowd for each other. We assumed that the river is the toilet for the town? That was our guess since we never saw one. So it goes.

Toilet duties taken care of, we 4 stood and talked amid a large crowd whose interest in us seemed to be waning. This was our sign to head inside and by 7:30pm we'd been ushered behind a mosquito net and into 'bed'. Two of the kids got in with us and pretended to sleep (I felt like they were keeping an eye on us for some reason). The one kid, who'd been my reading advisor throughout the night was next to me and we worked on teaching him how to count from 6 to 10 in english (he had 1-5 mastered; we're not that cruel). Fun times. Then we laid there and listened/watched the family run thru what appeared to be school lessons and various learning activites with the little kids by candlelight. Reading stories, reading practice, activities, pointing, giggling, a tangible familial closeness and love. It was amazing to be able to watch as though a fly on the wall. I loved it. Blissfully happy would accurately describe my feelings at that time.

Eventually I fell into a sound sleep and I am not sure I woke up very much during the night (A rarity for me).

One hell of a first day on the water.

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Wait for it... 

I know, I know. You are all waiting in suspense to hear about the baot trip down the Nam Ou (the river in Laos). But, you're going to have to wait. Right now I am trying to catch up on emails and stuff. Internet has been hard to find (and expensive as hell) up until now. And my efforts to convince anyone to bring me a laptop with wireless internet to the hammock in which I lay were fruitless. A bummer I tell you.

Yes, I am in Fiji now. Rachelle met me at the airport (a few hour wait preceeded that reunion as her flight touched down long before mine). What greeted her? A stinky and hairy and fogged me. After 22 hours of travel and 36 hours of waking time (one day I really need to learn how to sleep on moving vehicles) I disembarked into a new country.

It was a journey. My flight path took me from Bangkok to Sydney to Nadi (Fiji). I almost didn't make it out of Sydney. No, it wasn't the view of the skyline or ocean from the airport. It was my brain. It almost exploded. Now I know this will sound funny to most of you, but the culture shock I hit in the airport almost did me in. Being unslept for a day didn't help (they have been playing the Bellamy Brothers in this internet cafe for a while now. I love it!). After 6 months in countries where english is broken or non-existent, and white faces (which I'd been desperately trying to avoid for months, as they denote tourists typically. Yes, I am one as well, but that's not the point) were everywhere! The announcement were in english, everyone around me spoke english....strange. It was so bad that I found a Chinese tour group and followed them around begging them to spit, hack, push, yell, whatever they could to give me a sense of normalcy. Eventually they got a hold of security; I saw them coming and skittered off to a dank corner before they could talk to me. So strange.

However, my problems began on the flight from Bangkok. Apparently they speak english (they claim) in Australia so the flight attendants also spoke english. I couldn't interact. My requests came out in very broken stuttering english (haven't been served by an english speaking person since last September) as I couldn't convince myself that they fully understood the language.

It's been the same way here. I'm still speaking very slowly and clearly and using simple words, despite the fact that english is the national language here. Crazy.

And let's not even talk about the prices. I went from paying $2US a night to sleep and maybe $1US for meals to paying $15US for a dorm room and $8-15US for meals. The first few days I really was pretty stressed out about it. I'm settling though. A little

Fiji is beautiful. The people are amazingly nice and friendly and the islands and waters and underwaters are entrancing. Right now we are staying in a time-share provided by my folks (thanks, mom and dad!) which is a relief to the bank account. End of the week will see us heading off to another island somewhere (we are on the mainland right now). Last week I spent most of everyday in a hammock on the beach, watching the ocean and reading. It took a couple days for the rope marks in my back to fade (no joke). Very relaxing. I feel like I am actually on vacation, instead of traveling like I felt in Asia. Making me a bit antsy....don't you feel bad for me?


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Name: Corey
Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I'm on a journey with no destination. The path is constantly changing direction but there are always adventures to be had. "Never" and "always" have left my lexicon.

WWW http:/www.jimspeak.blogspot.com