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crafty patch

July 3rd, 2011 at 02:28 am

Now with July 1, it turned quiet on the accounting/ pledge processing front again, probably because most of the people that I would have had to slap took Friday off as a 4 day weekend.

I seem to have entered a crafty patch. Here's what's on deck:

At work: helping write a storyboard & screenplay for a 20 minute video about our department.
At work: troubleshooting my main database to get it to play nice with Office 2010. (creative, but not so crafty)
At home: painting frames and framing some of my more interesting pictures.
At home: picking some of my Vietnam and Cambodia, and perhaps even the Paris pictures to blow up, frame, hang on the walls.
At home: potluck dish for the 4th party and fireworks.
At home: finishing up the mosaic I've started on. Glass has to be glued in the mesh and the mesh has to be mortared on my board by July 29. July 30 I learn to grout.

Bought the last ingredient to make my mosaic - the glass - today and began to do some more gluing. Still having fun and I've gotten a couple of complements on what I have so far.

still sick...perfect for talking about trip costs

April 19th, 2011 at 03:23 am

Well, I'm still sick. Although I am on the mend, I wasn't mended enough for work today, and I'm only mended enough to do what I call the on/off routine: one hour of resting/reading, one hour of light cleaning of a room. No cleaning too heavy, no scrubbing, no intense cleaners (like bleach). But the schedule was nice - a tidy room, several chapters and a bit of a snooze, another tidy room, more chapters, third tidy room... and hung two red/brass plaques that I got from Cambodia.

ceejay asked about the trip costs, and also gave me cover, talking about spending a bit on fun. I hesitated a bit to list the costs, but I seem to average a big expensive, passport-using trip every 4 years or so, its not so bad. Also, I spent for a 100% good result. Next time, as I develop more experience and risk tolerance, I might cut some bits.

Original cost of trip $5995/person. (This covers most everything once we got to Hanoi, including the tour guides and the prof's three lectures (he threw an extra lecture in for free) and it even covered some of the costs for leaving - a ghost room so we could stay the day at the hotel and to store our bags while we waited for our night flight, the van ride getting to the airport. However, plenty was not covered:
Travel insurance $400 (I booked and planned the trip before talking to my boss, so I needed the "cancel just because clause")
Plane ticket to Hanoi $1100
Plane ticket back to Seattle $1050
Visas for each country $200 (sister had to get the passport, so she added another $125)
Travel medicine/shots $50 for hep A, typhus, antimalarials, and anti-diarrehials. (didn't use 'em so thank heavens I cheaped that out)
DEET Bug spray, travel alarm clock, pyrethrin spray for clothes, suntan lotion $60 (got enough for two - gave a lot to sister for use at the farmette)
Camera and a couple more SD cards $100
Incidental trip expenses - $250 (souvenirs, cocktail before dinner, airport meals)
Clothes bought during trip - $120 (my Seattle summer clothes were not summer-like enough)
Siem Riep exit fee - $25

So about $9400.


April 4th, 2011 at 04:32 am

This is the last picture show of the trip. For the Vietnam parts, click

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Cambodia, compared to Vietnam, was a challenge to understand. Compared to it during the Khmer Rouge year zero, it's improved ... but that's not saying much. Vietnam, not free, yet with an allowable free market and its corruption carefully hidden, gave us a handle for understanding. Cambodia, "free and democratic" in name only (Hun Sen is a dictator), is still desperately poor. Siem Riep is a tourist area (aka tourist trap), with the tourists providing most of economic activity. Our tour guide trained as a pediatric nurse, yet was paid so poorly that when tour guide came up, he leapt at it.

All of the temples had 20 or so small children (5yrs and up) come up to us, no one in school. They did try to sell us something, but then switched quickly to simple begging. A thousand years ago they were part of an empire of technical virtuosity and power. Now it's a "dollar dollar please madame".

Silk worm farm – these little workers munching away are about a week from cocooning. About 10% of the cocoons are reserved to develop into moths to lay eggs and generate more worms.

Silk worm farm – silk cocoons being spun into raw silk. Phooey, I ran out of batteries.

Angkor Thom: the face tower of Bayon. The inner temples were Hindu; when Buddhism swept in, later Khmer kings added Buddhist carvings on the outer gates. All temples were constructed in several parts. Core and foundation blocks were laterite – soft to carve, but when exposed to the elements it turned rock hard. Sandstone blocks were set in and used as the finish. Intricate carving was done in situ – carvers went to work after the sandstome was set in place. Incredible!

Angkor Thom: An impromptu temple inside the gates.

Ta Prohm: Jungle growth, anyone?

Angkor Wat: Khmer dancers in the inner courtyard. FYI - no bare shoulders in the temple. In other words, those tourists are NOT dressed properly.

Angkor Wat: The towers were a bit of a terrifying climb if you were afraid of heights (like me), but a view like this awaited you. Remember, all the carving was done after the finished block was set in place.

Banteay Srei: Incredible detail that was done after the finished block was set in place. I asked the tour guide what caused the black marks on the red sandstone. "Soot from burning" was the answer, which puzzled me. When we left on the bus, a sign about a 1/2 mile down the road stated, "This area is being burned as a first step to clear land mines." Turns out that this area was one of the last holdings of the Khmer Rouge.

Vietnam: Temples

March 28th, 2011 at 03:58 am

Some people love pictures, others less so. Big Grin And a picture show isn't particularly fiscal. I plan two more picture posts: temples of Vietnam, and some of the Cambodia pictures.

One of the surprises of Vietnam was the religious life. There was plenty of it, something unexpected in a socialist country. In the north and during the war especially, it turns out that religion was restricted 'softly' using old-fashioned peer pressure: it was considered uncool. In other words, your grandmother went and wasn't harassed, but no one else in the family went. Now all the temples are busy with "customers" of all ages and offerings galore because you just never know who should be appeased. I missed the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, where Ho Chi Minh is preserved (like Lenin was in the Kremlin) and on display. Too bad for me, the mausoleum is definitely a temple for a socialist true believer.

Vietnam has a large number of Confucian temples, a legacy of a thousand years of Chinese occupation. Emperor worship belonged in that also – you worshiped hierarchy starting with your father and your ancestors and your Emperor was top dog in that. In addition to the Confucian, there are large number of Buddhist temples, a smattering of Catholic Churches, and then a couple of big outliers – Hindu, Angkor-esque ruins at My Son dating from the 9 – 14 century or so from when mid and south Vietnam was the Champa Kingdom, and a Cao Dai temple.

Its painting with the broad brush, but in general it seemed to me that the north is more Confucian and the south is more Buddhist, Catholic and Cao Dai. Cao Dai is a new one for me – it is a Buddhist inflected religion that began in the 1920s, stressing the relatedness of all religions – those temples are generally found in the south.

Hanoi: Temple of Literature. If you scored well on the mandarin exam, not only did you serve the emperor, you got your name on a stone stele resting on a stone turtle symbolic of perseverance, and stored in perpetuity at the temple of literature. There is a Confucian temple inside – offerings are plentiful, varied, and recent.

Hue: Ma Thien pagoda, a Buddhist temple.

Hue: The Citadel, the French name for the Vietnamese emperor’s version of the Forbidden City. Once crocodiles swam in the moat.

Hue: Inside the Citadel, showing the long expanses inside. The Vietnamese tour guide told us that when he first came, they were still cultivating rice along these straight-aways.

South of Hoi An: The My Son ruins. These were very reminiscent of the Angkors of Cambodia. Quite a bit of destruction occurred during the war – there were bomb craters everywhere.

Saigon: The neon blue Virgin Mary in the Saigon Cathedral of Notre Dame. The little plaques are the especially generous donors.

Saigon: This was another shot from the 20th floor of the block below – minarets and the square is a Muslim temple.

Outside of Can Tho: The ‘eye’ in the center between the two steeples defines a Cao Dai temple.

Cao Dai Temple: the inside is just as brilliantly colored as the outside – Walt Disney color scheme, I joked. The pillars are especially interesting. Greek Corinthian on the top, Confucian Chinese on the bottom. Note the center blue area at the front top of the altar.

Cao Dai Temple: Zoomed in on the center blue area on the top of the altar. No burning bridges here. You have Buddha, a couple of Dao priests, Jesus with a reddish beard, and Confucius.

Vietnam: Cities

March 19th, 2011 at 03:31 am

The two big cities we visited were Hanoi (6 million) and Saigon (9 million). Actually, there are no words in Vietnamese longer than 1 syllable, so the official names are: Viet Nam, Ha Noi, Sai Gon (boy that last especially looks weird). If you are a member of the Communist party, you would say Ho Chi Minh City, otherwise it's Saigon. We drove through Da Nang (800,000) early in the evening and flew out through there, but we didn't see much. Can Tho sounds like a small town, but it has over 1 million! Viet Nam, at 89 million and ranked 13th largest, is a "small country" only if you are comparing it with China.

Hanoi: Scooter parking lot behind the hotel. There was no such thing as empty sidewalk in a city in Vietnam. Its business space, cafe space, market space, parking lot and, if necessary, alternate scooter lane.

Hanoi: a fairly typical street scene, with plenty of red communist flags. The electric poles were just wild. Anytime I flipped a switch had the light come on and no one get electrocuted was a miracle to me.

Hanoi: This is the worst picture but an instructive one. The yellow building at the left is the last remnant of the infamous "Hanoi Hilton".

Hue: This is a gate fronting Ho Chi Minh's high school. Ironically, Ngo Diem Dinh, president of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963, also graduated from there.

Saigon: The front of the Saigon Post Office, designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame.

Saigon: If you asked me to pick just one picture that says everything about Vietnam, it would have to be this one. This is the inside of the Saigon Post Office - French infrastructure, with Ho Chi Minh looking out (benevolently, blindly?) over a very large tourist shop. Would Ho Chi Minh be upset over these changes, or would he welcome them? I never got an answer, and frankly, there isn't one.

Saigon: Scooters coming at ya! Jump!

Saigon: In the South Vietnamese presidential library, on the 3rd floor of the presidential palace, perfectly preserved under glass, exists a blue book - a sign that no matter where you are in life, you might need money for a second career. Who knew? This picture still makes me laugh.

Vietnam: Vistas

March 13th, 2011 at 02:31 am

Decided that I had plenty of great vista pictures, so I decided to split Cities and Vistas into two.

Vistas in Vietnam, at least the ones we went to, involve water. We sailed in Halong Bay – part of the South China Sea - for afternoon and overnight. If you see a river going through Hanoi, it's the Red (honest!), in Hue it's the Perfume, in Saigon it's the Saigon, in Can Tho it's Mekong. The Mekong delta is further subdivided into the upper and lower Mekong. And the Mekong is broad enough and close enough to the sea to have 2 tides.

But enough of that – here are the pictures. I didn't get any interesting picture of the Red River, oh well.

Halong Bay: View from our boat, The Bhaya.

Halong Bay: This is the most dramatic one I have. The mountains are limestone, so the water eats away at bits of it. We used 4 person boats for a side trip.

Hue: The Perfume River. I took this picture in the afternoon the day before we sailed on it to get to the Emperor's Tomb.

Hoi An: Beautiful reflective water is incredibly filthy water. Had to hold my breath as I snapped this picture.

Saigon: Morning over the Saigon River, taken from a hotel window on the 20th floor. Saigon is 200 square miles, so even from a great height, the vista will be: city.

Saigon: The similar scene at night. Shipping never sleeps. Using the 10 sec delay function on the camera really helped with getting the night pictures.

A boat ride along the canals and channels along the upper Mekong.

Can Tho: Boat on the lower Mekong hauling sugar cane. Boats with eyes are passenger or cargo boats. The eyes are used to ward off evil spirits. Fishing boats have no eyes – fishermen assume that the eyes would ward off fish.

Vietnam: Crops and Markets

March 9th, 2011 at 05:50 am

It turns out that as a general rule for rice growing that Southern Vietnam is richer and more productive than Northern Vietnam, and both are a bit more productive than Central Vietnam, which is narrow and mountainous. In the North, one could get 2 crops of rice per year off the land, in the South, an astounding 4! Astounding because it means that in the south, every 3 months/ 12 weeks, rice is planted, grows, and is harvested. As we were traveling, it happened that the North was beginning its crop, central it was growing, and the South it was being harvested.

Outside of Hanoi: Woman was bundling seedlings to be transplanted into the main paddy.

Outside of Hanoi: They grow more than just rice. Lettuce here. I saw, but couldn't quite photograph, crops growing between the road and the railroad tracks. One got the feeling that if the crop was short enough, people would seriously entertain growing something IN the railroad tracks.

Central: a field with a scarecrow in it.

South: Rice being cut and dried. After its dried, it's threshed. The stalks are used for fuel, the stubble in the field is burned, the land is left fallow for a couple of weeks, and the whole cycle begins again.

South: This is a rubber tree field. The diagonal slashes along the trunk are cut marks where the latex is harvested.

Saigon: Exotic fruit in the main market.

Saigon: A thoroughfare in the main market. I tried getting a shot of someone delivering breakfast pho, but the deliverers are way too fast.

Mekong: DH, like Monkeymama, told me about the 10 most venomous animals that live in Vietnam. Well, if life gives you lemons, make proverbial lemonade. Turns out the venomous animals are caught, killed, and pickled in rice wine – called snake wine. I had a shot of this. It tasted brown.

Vietnam: people

March 7th, 2011 at 06:36 am

I figured to make things easy that I'd split my pictures up into big units – people, crops and markets, vistas and cities, temples.

Hanoi: they mean it when they talk about sidewalk cafes.

Hanoi: two Imperial crowns. Not sure if the Emperor of Vietnam traded them off or one was worn every day and the other formal. Smile FYI – this was definitely a surreptitious picture. Museum setting on the camera!

On the way to Halong Bay: a farmer with a water buffalo, plow, and yoke. Yet to be planted rice paddies in the background.

Hue: Bun and oven guy heading home.

Hue: Dad and baby in a scooter. Scooters were everywhere and would come up within inches of the side of the bus.

Saigon: I’m available for weddings and bar mitvehs! Smile Turns out that Sunday morning in the park by city hall is a popular wedding picture setting.

Cu Chi Tunnels are a historical park for the Vietnamese, serving much the same purpose as Gettysburg might in the States. A Vietnamese park ranger demos how to get into a tunnel. Tunnel entrance is rectangular - you have to raise your arms so your shoulders clear, and you need to turn your head so it clears.

Can Tho floating market: The pho lady comes to you.

Vietnam and Cambodia: a few words about the trip

March 7th, 2011 at 06:06 am

Before I start with the pictures, a few words about the trip. Sister and I flew Seattle to LAX, LAX to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Hanoi to join the rest of the tour. It turns out that I misinterpreted the schedule - the first afternoon read like a simple cyclo ride, something to do while everybody got there. Well, that was the case sort of but it turns out that we missed a bit of old-quarter Hanoi sight-seeing that most got.

Big lesson 1: don’t over-interpret the tour schedule.

If you think of Vietnam as a big "S" we went from the top inner curve (Hanoi, Halong Bay), went down to the middle (Hue, Hoi An), then went to the bottom outer curve (Saigon, Can Tho).

From a full day in Hanoi, we drove about 60 miles to Hai Phong to Halong Bay. Buses could only go about 40 miles/hour tops, so one really had to slow down. It made things relaxing for those who could slow down, but it meant that the schedule itself got re-arranged often and we had to be flexible about it.

Big lesson 2: Be flexible

From Halong Bay we drove back to the Hanoi airport to fly out to Hue (pronounced Way), a day in Hue, then a drive from Hue past Da Nang to Hoi An, another day in Hoi An and the Cham site in My Son, then a flight from Da Nang to Saigon, a few days in Saigon, with a side trip to the Lower Mekong at Can Tho, then back to Saigon to fly out to Siem Riep, Cambodia.

Big lesson 3: you see a lot, but you will definitely see that lot from a bus seat and from a plane or two.

Nearly every day we had three meals – a full breakfast (or rather, a buffet breakfast that took a rare amount of self-control to not make full), a fixed 5 course lunch, a fixed 5-7 course dinner. Yikes! Who eats like this anymore? The food was good, but tamer than I had hoped…and it was fixed. Beer was generally considered part of the meal; it turned out that beer was cheaper than bottled water.

Big lesson 4: treat your liver extra nice after the tour.

Since we did many meals, another strain on me was small talk. I wish I was better, or rather in some cases, I wish I didn't have to do it. I enjoyed about 97% of the trip – I saw everything that I wanted to see, learned a tremendous amount of culture from the Vietnamese and Cambodian tour guides, learned a lot history from the professor and his son who came with us, got some exciting souvenirs and stories.

My 3% dissatisfaction came from the fact that I was being immersed into 3 big cultures: Vietnam, Cambodia, and the culture of the type of person who could afford the trip. Smile My thought was that many on the tour broke my big rule of travel: eyes open, mouth shut. Sister and I seemed a bit at odds sometimes with a few of the rest of the group. Sister and I were a bit younger (not terribly though), I was a bit quieter, neither of us brought our electronic toys (which often worked, wonder of wonders), and we both decidedly didn't want to play keep-up-with-the-Joneses like many others did. However, sister and I did have farm skills and since Vietnam was still mostly a rural society, playing guess-that-crop on the bus was an asset. That being said, about 1/3 were cool, 1/3 could be taken in regulated doses, and the other 1/3 we wanted to avoid. I suspect others felt the same way, but they had their strategies in place to avoid the folks they wanted to avoid. And several told me that the group dynamic was reasonable – no one got sick, no one was chronically late, no one shopped 'til they dropped slowing everyone down. It could have been actually bad instead of 3% dissatisfied!

One woman shared with me that she felt the same – at odds - when she began going on tours and gave me some good advice about it. In a nutshell, she defined what she wanted to get out of the tour – in this case, she wanted to learn about the culture of the country. If she made friends on the tour, fine, but that wasn't her goal and she was all right with that. She told me it was perfectly okay to be quiet, and as far as small talk was concerned, get your lunch partner to talk about their grandkids and you'll never have to say a word. Smile!

All in all, I think I would go again, but I probably would on tours if the culture was edgy enough that I'd prefer the bubble. A couple of the women went to Iran, which I think would be perfect for a tour. For Europe, I wouldn't bother – the mechanics of the tour and the probable Jones-ness of the others on the tour would put me off.