December 10, 2012

Same Same but Different

The air was cool and heavy with moisture when the rooster finally quit his song. Fog lingered on the limestone cliffs and the thatched roof tops dripped with dew for most of the early morning hours. Eventually the sun would greet the peaks and spread through the fog like fingers reaching in water - rippling and rolling the fog until at long last, the green of the jungle was visible.

Over the past two weeks, I woke up every morning to that beautiful beautiful sight.
 Morning view of the Mt to the east 

Almost the exact same view 3 hours apart
Just to the west, less than a mile as a crow flies, lies the forbidden lands of Burma. And for some, both students and orphans alike, that land just beyond the narrow river, was home.
look it... it's Burma
These last few weeks with my students from NEED-Burma proved to be one of the most memorable times with them. Well, previous students now. Before arriving to the training at Grace Garden with BGET, I began mentally preparing myself for the end of the contract. I left 5 days before the students to return home briefly before meeting them again at the training site. I had hoped leaving early would orientate me to a quieter less hectic life. 

But, when I met up with my students at the training, I realized that I enjoyed the constant intellectual discussions at random hours of the day. I looked forward to hearing "Teasherrrr" without the 'ch' because it is too difficult for some to pronounce. I enjoyed the communal meals and latest gossip in a language I couldn't understand and I loved seeing the students transition into educators. 

The latter is one of the greatest moments in teaching. Watching a student who, just three months before was too afraid to say "hello" in their native language, teaching a room full of students in English - a skill I wish I could claim as having taught them. 

In the past two weeks, I am certain that I witnessed what all educators around the world hope will become of their students - confident, capable, compassionate human beings with a desire to better themselves and the world around them. As an educator, I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn from my students. My brief time with NEED-Burma turned out to be life changing. It is kind of funny really, those who go through BVP always say that their placements are life changing. I guess I am 'same same but different'...?

November 15, 2012

Experiments of light

Photo set 2 of NEED-Burma.  Now that I have a real camera and not just the ipad for photos (which all of photo set 1 came from), I have an NEX-5 take proper pictures of my workplace. Oh yes, be jealous - this is where I work. :-D Enjoy.

Only one of these photos has been altered. Can you find it?

1) Morning light

2) Jupiter

3) Micro

4) Glamor shot?
5) Ethereal San Htay

6) Starlight
7) Experiments with Light

8) 6:30 am

Papaya in the Sun

I stayed up late to experiment with the camera and night shots. When I finally fell asleep at 2 am, the gods must have thought it funny to wake me so soon at 5:00 am.  I figured this was a sign that I needed to get up and photograph the sunrise.

However, one major difference between here and taking photos at the oceanfront where I grew up is the lack of mountains at my childhood beach. Rather than the typical sunrise at around 6:32am, which the weather channel suggested it would rise, the sun appeared at 7:10. Why you may ask... well the mountains kinda make the sunrise a lot later. So much for needing to get up at 5:00 to see the sunrise.

Please let me know what you think of the images and which you think was altered and how.
If you get it right, you'll get a high-five. Metaphorical of course, because I won't actually high-five the screen nor will I expect you to receive it by doing the same. Cheers.

October 05, 2012

Worth A Thousand Words

Some people say that a picture is worth a thousand words; well, here are a few:

September 14, 2012

King Chao Anouvong

Vientian turned out to be an absolutely beautiful place. The waterfront is an amazing stretch of boardwalk that looks out onto the Mekong River and Thailand just beyond the waters. It is beautiful, so long as the viewer can ignore the cost of development. While development is a necessary process, especially in Laos, the cost for the waterfront was oddly negotiated. The stipulation China made for funding was to give Chinese citizens property to then rent to Laotian residents, effectively preventing Lao citizens from owning property in specific parts of the city. 

This is at least one version of the story. I haven't had the opportunity to research this subject because I have been engaged in a slightly less important research topic: a bronze statue of Laos' final king Chao Anouvong, arm outstretched waiting for a friendly gesture and eyes looking longingly at the Thailand boarder.

The story I was told is a bit depressing. A once upon king of Laos looks to Thailand for peace and economic partnership. When the Laos was ready to take the next step and was prepared to start a life long friendship with her neighbor, Thailand abruptly stops, turns away and leaves the Laos king on his shore waiting. A few hundred years later, Vientian erects a statue in honor of this king. The statue is to forever face Thailand waiting for his counterpart to accept his friendship. Maybe one day, Thailand will put up a statue on their shore with the king accepting.

Well this is how the story goes anyway. After a few quick searches, I found absolutely zero to corroborate it. The true story, has more to do with conquering, rebellions, and a sad tragic death. Read Marc Albert's story of the statue. According to the research, it is more correct than mine. Click here for his blog

Anyway, the statue is magnificent really. And while I may never live in Laos, I will gladly be your friend King Chao Anouvong... if my retelling of the story were true anyway.

August 31, 2012

Running for a Visa

This is my first ever visa run. I'm not accustomed to being in a country under a tourist visa with the expectation of leaving every few months just to cross a boarder, get a stamp, and then return still with a tourist visa. But apparently that's what ya do here.  Well, those of us who don't officially have sponsors.  Before I get too far along, I wanted to post a video that shows life in Mae Sot. It is excellently filmed and the music is beautifully composed. I do not take credit for the video, it was done by Allyse Pulliam and song is called "Blood" by The Middle East Awesomeness: Mae Sot, Thailand

So, that is Mae Sot for you... but back to this visa run thing. Every few months we will be in this same situation - visa expires in about a week, plan to cross some boarder for a day or two, then travel all the way back home.

We leave Mae Sot for an overnight 8 hour bus ride back to Bangkok where we will buy a bus ticket to cross into Laos (another 8 hour ride). The trick is to arrive in Laos early enough to get the visa process started before 2pm, which means the ride to Laos is another over nighter. Bam! 39 hours gone simply getting to the visa place. It takes a minimum of 24 hours to get a new visa assuming you arrive early enough (63 hours). If we turned around and went directly home, this is another 39ish hours giving us a grand total of 4.25 days of traveling.

Imagine having to do this every 30 days. Fortunately 60 day visas exist and there are rumors of 90 day visas, though I've never actually seen one. Also, fortunately for me, Aileen and I are staying in Laos for a few extra days. This is a nice thing about the visa run scheme - I'll see Laos for the first time, in a few months even Cambodia, Burma, and may take a trip to Malaysia. So really, there isn't much to complain about except for long bus rides. I'll get to travel and add new stamps to my passport (which if I hadn't lost my first... second... or third.. maybe even fourth, eh I've lost count) I would have a filled passport by the end of this adventure.

August 27, 2012

Mae Sot

By: Aileen Rhodes
   It is hard to get back into the swing of things. My nearly 2 month long hiatus makes coming back to blogging difficult. China, with all it's glorious censorship made blogging impossible. Hence nothing new has been posted.  But, we'll skip all the traveling to Thailand and jump on into how life in the new town is going. (If you are really dieing to hear about our travels, and they were amazing with wonderful pictures, check out Adventures of A Nerdy Nomad - Aileen, my wife, is an excellent story teller).

    Aileen first described Mae Sot as a frontier western town. I immediately pictured shanty like wooden shacks with dusty roads and an even dustier post office. I imagined a single intersection maybe with a brothel or a saloon and a small police station with two cells.  I even pictured a tumble weed rolling  down the road - made of coconut husk shavings of course; I mean, we are in Thailand after all.

By Aileen Rhodes
     Well in truth, Mae Sot is very much like a frontier western town. Just across the water you can see Burma. But not in the way I imagined. I mean, the police station may only house 2 cells and there are only 2 stop lights on the main, rather dusty, road. The feeling of frontierism actually comes from the strange collection of people that flood the town. There are International NGO workers, volunteers, professionals, missionaries, activists, refugees, tourists, and locals from all walks of life. Everyone is coming here to see the world or to change it. Not that this is a bad thing, just different.

    Thailand is famous for its easy going kinda life. It is easy to see why people flock here. It is even easier to see why people simply stay. One of our favorite food places is called Canadian Dave's. An expat operated (with the help of his Thai wife) gastronomic wonder. It is a place where access to great ingredients make for great food. Here one can get nearly any western food.

   Just yesterday I met a German girl who returned to Mae Sot for a second year work with a music school. And her friend, he plans on staying for 2 more years at least. So, I must admit... I like the idea of frontier life. Unless I'm sent to Burma for work, I can see myself in Mae Sot for at least a year - or 2.   

July 09, 2012

Here we go again

    A few years have passed since my last posting, but here comes another adventure. I can't seem to keep myself in one location. As of right now, I am about to head to Moscow. But lets play a little catchup:

  • so far I have moved to Washington DC and left;
  • lost loved ones, but gained a sister-in-law, 2 nieces, and amazing friends;
  • started and finished my M.S. program at American University in Environmental Science;
  • worked for the DC government followed immediately by an extended unemployment history;
  • got married to the girl of my dreams;
  • began a vagabond life nearly a month and a half ago... still continues; and
  • finally began my honeymoon and move to Thailand.
 That about brings us up to the present.

    Helsinki, Finland (about 36 hours) was a beautiful place. My first trip to a real European city and my first step on the continent. As a friend of mine would surly agree, Helsinki is the best  European city - granted my only one. And for those who like fish, you can't go wrong in Finland. They have fresh fish, salted fish, pickled fish, cured fish, smoked fish, fish all sorts of ways - think "Bubba gump shrimp" situation here. Food was good!

    We took a 3 hour archipelago tour of along Finland's coast from Helsinki to the second oldest town in Finland (Porvoo), spent a few hours wondering the streets and eating food, then took a 3 hour tour back by boat to eat an amazing buffet.

    Some things to remember about Finland, the sun almost never sets in the summer. We had 18 and 1/2 hours of sun with the rest being a constant twilight. Also, if walking through old town, be ready to trip constantly on cobble stone streets, don't wear high heals (not that I do), and look out for bikers, drivers, and trams. They each have their own lanes and one can quickly find oneself in a perilous situation.

    We left Helsinki and trained to St. Petersburg, Russia. I'm not going to lie, at first I felt intimidated. I guess the cold war propaganda still lived strong in my view of Russia. We arrived mid-day simply to realize we didn't know where the Hotel was or how to speak Russian to find where to go. Fortunately, we found a coffee shop with internet and these fascinating brochette things that were clearly meant for the Russian palate.

    St. Petersburg is a vary curious place. On a walk home at sunset (2:30ish) we were witness to a revers high speed chase. Picture this, St. Petersburg police pull over beside a car with red and blue ablaze. A man quickly flees out of the back of the police vehicle, flies into the parked car, exchange a few yells in Russian (which I am assuming were 'I'll catch you!') with the officers and then speeds forwards. If this wasn't weird enough, the police do a quick U-turn and speed off with lights and sirens going crazy. And right behind them... that driver from the back of the police car, chasing as if in a high speed pursuit. Ohhhh Russia.

    I do like it here. The people have been very pleasant, and the food is better than the expected main courses of potatoes and vodka. Beet soup, salmon crap things, potato bread, and other delicious foods have been a treat.

Next... the train to Moscow, visiting the red square(whose meaning is different that I thought), and the 6 day journey to Beijing!!!!