Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quick Plug

I just read a post about God is Red, a book I've been hoping to read and suspect some of you might be interested in also.  Also, spend a little time exploring the rest of Seeing Red in China, which has had some great content lately.


When I was in Thailand, I saw a lot of skin.  (Those crazy Europeans and their string bikinis and low-slung speedos and geriatric topless beach-walking!)

In seeing a lot of skin, I saw a lot of tattoos.  Skin became the canvas for pretty ladies, cutesy cartoons, demons roaring from biceps, and Chinese characters popping up on ankles and jawlines.  Most of the tattoos struck me as cute, cryptic, discouraging, or just inane.

But when I was standing in a line somewhere, I was struck by a single word that a girl had inked in black script on the back of her neck: Beloved.

If I was going to permanently display any message on my skin, I think it would be that word: Beloved.  I want to be cherished.  I want to be chosen.  I want to be loved deeply and permanently in spite of my selfishness.  I was thinking about this the other day, and God brought this verse to mind:
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Colossians 3:12)

Everyone needs to know they're beloved, not just me.  We can never be reminded too often that each day we are chosen and dearly loved by the One who knows us better than anyone else.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Winter [Wrap-Up] Holiday

Today is the last travel post, featuring fun facts and favorites.

My favorite photo of the trip:  The Luang Prabang night market at dusk

First, my one-word impression of each location visited:
  • Yangshuo, China:  Misty
  • Dali, China:  Sunny
  • Lijiang, China:  Cool+Touristy
  • Tiger Leaping Gorge, China:  Awesome
  • Phuket, Thailand:  Beachy
  • Koh Phi Phi, Thailand:  Paradise+Touristy
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand:  Conference
  • Luang Prabang, Laos:  Thought-provoking
  • Pakse, Laos:  DailyLife
  • Tour in southern Laos:  Waterfally
  • Vientiane, Laos:  Delicious
  • Beijing, China:  AlmostHome

Overnight in the Bangkok airport

Here are a few fun facts:

Cheapest hostel:  Tie between two $1.25 nights sharing beds in basic Lao guesthouses
Most expensive lodging:  Basic Thai guesthouse with monkeys on roof in Koh Phi Phi (about $20/night)
Travel methods: flights (7), inter-city bus (6), overnight train (2), taxi, van, tuk tuk, motorbike, bicycle, ferry, and boat
Favorite locations:  Tiger Leaping Gorge and Laos
Best food:  Thailand
Best weather: Not China

Want to be a millionaire?  Come to Laos and get 8000 kip for every one of your dollars.

Me on an elephant

The water really is that blue and clear in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Lao waterfall

Laos as seen from our tiny Lao Airlines plane

A new kind of tuk-tuk for me, attached to the side of a motorbike in Laos

Sunrise at the Wat Phou ruins in Laos.  We were the only ones there.

Sunset near Koh Phi, Phi, Thailand

That's all!  Classes start in three days -- time to hit the lesson-planning.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Winter [Culture] Holiday

You can't travel in Southeast Asia without seeing religion practiced in every sphere of public and private life.  Thailand and Laos are both strongly Buddhist; typical scenes include temples old and new, monks everywhere (especially in Laos), and spirit houses in every yard.

An example of how religious practice and community life are basically the same thing is when we happened upon a village festival.  It was held in the temple yard, with pop music playing and a variety of snack stands and games.  There was a table near the temple where I saw people stop by and do some kind of bowing or offering, and monks were milling around the fringes of the celebration. 

Spirit houses in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Temple with a cool ceiling in Vientiane, Laos

Offerings in Luang Prabang, Laos

A Buddha for every day of the week -- really!  They were labeled "Monday Buddha," "Tuesday Buddha," and so on (in Luang Prabang, Laos)

We couldn't go ten minutes without seeing a monk when out and about in Laos (this photo from Luang Prabang)

Temple/Museum in Luang Prabang, Laos

These are common at temple entrances.  I think Lonely Planet says they are representations of some kind of snake ghost that was feared and worshiped in earlier times.

Sunrise over Wat Phou, ruins of a temple built by Hindu Khmers from Cambodia and later re-purposed as a Buddhist site

Our Lao companions washed their hair in holy water from a spring at this Wat Phou shrine

Champa trees and flowers lined the stairs up to the temple complex

Families gather around to listen to traditional singing at the village festival




Just outside the festival, looking into the village

The airports had helpful posters to keep tourists from being obnoxious.  This one tells you not to use feet for anything but walking.

Explaining proper behavior toward monks

Attention backpackers: "Lao people appreciate clean and neatly dressed visitors."  Haha.

Winter [Animals] Holiday

Just a few photos of the creatures we made friends with in Southeast Asia.

Dyed chicks in a pet market in Kunming, China.  All the animals were packed in this close.

Feeding the baby elephant in Phuket, Thailand

He poses for photos with legs crossed and trunk raised.

Snorkeling at Koh Phi Phi was amazing and this above-water photo hardly does it justice.

Morning visitors at our hostel in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Rescued bears near Pakse, Laos

Elephant ride in Laos.

No offense to my elephant, but she had really big feet.

Chilling out with the elephant that gave me a ride.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Winter [Food] Holiday

What would travel be without eating?  Today's post is featuring some of the food and drinks I encountered in China, Thailand, and Laos.

Before diving in, it occurs to me that maybe I should say a few words about the reason I take and blog about these long trips each winter.

First, I know this type of "Hey everyone, look at my vacation photos!" post doesn't have a very broad appeal, so if you're not interested, come back next week.  I have one or two more travel posts I'd like to do and then it will be back to China life.  If nothing else, this is a good way to show photos to my family.

I also hope I don't give the impression that I take lavish, unnecessary tropical vacations at the drop of a hat.  The winter holiday is a time when everyone in China goes home -- it's the largest migration of humans in the history of the world (several hundred million), and it happens each year.  Crazy!  This leaves the foreign teachers with no work for two months, but it's not practical to go to the U.S. because it's so expensive and because our organization hosts a required annual conference in Thailand.

For me and my friends, the clear solution is to see as much as we can, as cheaply as we can, on our way to and from Thailand.  It's also a time to connect with and encourage friends from our organization, as well as others we meet along the way.

All right -- let's eat.  Get ready for a lot of rice noodles, and some other tasty treats.

Rice noodle soup in Guilin, China

A different rice noodle soup ("Over the Bridge Noodles") -- my birthday meal in Kunming, China.  (You're supposed to eat noodles on your bday to give you long life.)

Mango smoothies -- one of my favorite things about Thailand

Banana pancakes: a Thailand tourist staple.  That's not frosting, it's sweetened condensed milk.

Sara and I took a Thai cooking class!

Pad Thai (a stir-fried rice noodle dish with eggs, peanuts, and awesomeness.)  I made this one, with a lot of hand-holding.

Grinding peppers and spices to make massaman curry paste

Sara and her curry

My massaman curry, cashew chicken, and rice.  Thai food is SO GOOD.

Our last dish: Fried spring rolls and some Thai iced tea (which I LOVE -- sweetened condensed milk makes another appearance)

Now we're in Luang Prabang, Laos, where this riverside restaurant served up a chopped chicken dish called lap (loaded with cilantro and lime juice), a very fishy/spicy papaya salad, and sticky rice.  Use your hands to use the rice to pick up your food.

A Lao rice noodle dish whose name I forget -- reminded me of Vietnamese pho

The cone-shaped baskets in the very front bottom are used for steaming sticky rice over the fire.  Then you put it in little containers like those at the very top (or smaller) to serve.  Sticky rice is everywhere in Laos.

Visiting a coffee farm.  (Interesting note: They are trying to build the coffee industry to replace one of Laos's former cash crops, opium.)


Tea.  I ate a leaf.  It was not delicious.


One memorable food experience was trying snacks at the village festival we happened to visit one night in Laos.  It was just like fair food -- lots of things on a stick, tons of fried treats, and beer everywhere.  My friend got a surprise when she bit into a boiled duck egg and realized it was the kind with the embryo still inside.  Yikes!