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Another Year Goes By

Yes, Happy Birthday to me again, as another year passes by all too swiftly. It’s my ??th birthday, but I couldn’t really celebrate it today, since I had to go to the school for a bit this afternoon, and I have to get up around 5 a.m. tomorrow to get ready to go to classes, so it’s early to bed tonight. I’ll probably do a later party tomorrow.

We did do up a birthday cake. Here it is.

My ??th birthday cake.

My ??th birthday cake.

Now, if you really want to know how old I am, try to count the candles. I tell ya, it was horrid. Before I finished lighting all the candles, my fingers got stiff and I went through several books of matches. To top it off, wax was everywhere, which made the cake almost inedible. Though it’s been decently mild here lately, the build up of heat from the candles forced us to turn on a couple of fans to cool us down. As a matter of fact, we needed three fans set very close to the cake and turned up high to get the candles blown out. Well, at least it didn’t start a fire. (See previous birthday posts here and here.)

All in all though, I’m happy I made it through another year. It’s certainly better than the alternative! Thanks everyone for your well wishes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just want to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all my family, friends and readers in the United States. I hope you all enjoy the day with friends and loved ones, wherever you might be.

It’s just a normal work day here in Laos. I’ve seen one advertisement from a restaurant/bar that is serving a special Thanksgiving meal, but it’s during my classroom hours, so I won’t be going. I probably wouldn’t go anyway, since I don’t like riding my motorbike at night unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Again, hope you all have a great day and I hope the weather hasn’t messed up your travel plans. More later.

Snake in the House!

Talk about a bad Monday. I was sitting at a table in the house reading “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell, a fairly engrossing book. I happened to glance up, and I noticed something moving in the shadow of one of the dark corners of the room. I stood up and walked a step toward it. I stopped. It was a snake wriggling around. It was about a foot-and-a-half long, small in body and dark-colored. It was moving slowly and hid behind an old suitcase when it noticed me approaching.

I was the only one in the house, but Nai was next door at his sister’s house. I didn’t want to lose track of the intruder, so I didn’t dare run over there to get help. If it had gotten away while I was gone, it might still be hiding here. My phone was on the table, so I rang Nai. Luckily, he had his phone with him, and he and his sister came running over to the window. A friend of the family came in through the front door with a five-foot bamboo pole in hand. I pointed out the snake to him and with a couple of jabs, he killed it, picked it up with the pole and tossed it out the door.

Whew! Nai said that a snake bigger than this one had come in a few years back. This was fairly small, but some of the deadliest snakes are not very large. This one looked more like a common garter snake than like anything that might have been deadly, but I sure wasn’t taking any chances. And no, I didn’t need to change my shorts after the event. Overall, I think I prefer frogs in my shoes (see previous post). More later (but, not snakes!).

A Few Odds and Ends

Frogs

I’ve discovered, uncomfortably, that various large bullfrogs (perhaps it’s the same one) like to take up residence in my sneakers. A few times I’ve jammed my foot into them only to come up against an obstruction in the toe of the shoe. After a few times of inadvertently squashing the Kermits (not harmfully), I started to look into the shoes before putting them on. Several times I found frogs hiding in the inner recessess. I always go outside and shake them out and send them on their way, but they always come back. Now, I fold down the tongues and stuff the dirty socks into the heel. That’s kept them out, so now they’ve taken to hiding in Nai’s shoes. I haven’t told him yet that they’re doing that. He hasn’t worn this particular pair of shoes in quite some time, so I’m waiting for the day he puts his feet into them and makes a surprising discovery! I can be a stinker, sometimes.

This is kind of what the frogs look like.

frog2

Perhaps I should buy them their own pair of customized shoes.

frog shoes

 

LoTRO

Yessss! I’ve discovered that I CAN play Lord of The Rings Online from The Farm. The connection is very spotty and I lose it quite often while I’m playing, but at times I can play for several hours without a glitch. The slow connection means that there can be quite a time lag, with the action on the screen being very choppy, and at times unplayable. But, still, it exceeds my best hopes and better still is that there isn’t that big of a download; most of the graphics are already on the main game that I downloaded a month or so ago. Addiction, thy name is LoTRO.

Frogmorton in the Shire at night from a nearby ridge.

Frogmorton in the Shire at night from a nearby ridge.

The far northern region of Forochel with the Aurora Borealis glowing brightly.

The far northern region of Forochel with the Aurora Borealis glowing brightly.

The forbidding Barad Gularan in the Angmar region.

The forbidding Barad Gularan in the Angmar region.

Rain on Friday

This is supposed to be the dry season, but a few Fridays ago, I got severely drenched from a long downpour as I rode the motorbike into Vientiane to work. It looked like it might rain before I left The Farm, so I packed an extra pair of socks and underwear, just in case. I’m glad I did, because I couldn’t have gotten wetter if I had jumped fully clothed into a swimming pool. I always keep a set of “teacher clothes” at my desk, so, after changing, I left the wet blue jeans, shirt and sneakers in the motorbike basket. The very heavy rain continued for a couple of hours, as much of a downpour as anything we had during the wet season. It hasn’t rained since then.

LoTRO Ecstasy

I’ve written before that I’m, more or less, an addict of the Lord of the Rings Online (LoTRO) role-playing game (See the Blogroll on the right). When I worked in Korea, I played, if work didn’t interfere, up to 3 or 4 hours a day (longer in the cold winter months), and I at least logged in just about every day. I really immersed myself in the 6 characters that I created. I was living life in Middle Earth as, variously, a couple of elves, a couple of men, a hobbit and a dwarf. The graphics in the game are incredible, the best I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t in a hurry to try to get to the highest possible level because the immersion factor and the attention to the details of Tolkien’s books are superb, in my opinion. In other words, it wasn’t the destination, but the journey that was important.

Hobbiton

Looking at part of Hobbiton, The Shire.

Michel Delving

Another part of The Shire. Michel Delving, I believe.

I knew, however, that when I moved to Laos, a country with poor Internet conditions, I would probably have to give up the game. The download speeds would be slow and connection would be spotty. For the most part I was right. Recently, however, I’ve discovered that there are places where the download speeds might be fast enough to play the game. I thought that I’d give it a try.

My first big concern was downloading the game files to my laptop. My old computer, with the game already on it, had been stolen about a month after I got here, so I had to get the files to my new laptop. The game is huge, and a complete download is 13.5 gigabytes. With a slow connection that was going to take a LOT of time. Perhaps, I thought, I could go into Thailand, where speeds are faster, and download it there. Then I discovered that the school’s wi-fi connection allowed speeds of up to 1 Mb/s (megabyte per second) when there weren’t too many other teachers around that were using the connection. That would be early on Saturday mornings and during the weekdays. I tried it, and after a few weeks I got the complete download this past Tuesday!

The other concern was being able to actually play it. It’s very graphics intensive, so I still needed those quick download speeds. Now, I’m not about to sit at my desk, in full view of all the other teachers, and play LoTRO in my spare time, so I needed to find another place to play. I wondered if the various cafes and restaurants that offer free wi-fi would have good connections.

I went to a coffee shop near the school and, after getting the wi-fi password, I logged into the game. I was quite nervous–is the connection fast enough, will other stumbling blocks show up? After a few minutes, voila, I was in. All my characters were still there with all their upgrades I had earned along with the house I had purchased with in-game (not real) money. Yes, you can buy a house in the game to store all the trophies and loot you’ve found, and you can decorate the inside and outside with a variety of Middle-Earth furniture and lawn decorations.

My house in Middle Earth

My house in Middle Earth

View from house

Looking out at the view from my house.

I am in Seventh Heaven! I won’t be able to play every day, and I’ll only be able to play for a couple of hours on those days that I can play. For starters, that’s good enough for me.

Eventually, though, I know I’ll want to increase my playing time. The Internet that I’m able to get at The Farm sucks, in a word. I’m barely able to read email and check the weather. But, Nai’s brother, Pui, works for one of the providers that install the Internet into homes. I talked to him several months ago about the feasibility of installing it at The Farm. He said it could be done, but it would cost around $450. That was too expensive, in my opinion, but now that expense seems smaller in light of the fact that I can play LoTRO again. I’m going to talk to him again the next time I see him and ask about monthly fees, download speeds and download limits. If everything is even just minimally optimal, I’m going to have it installed.

At any rate, for now, I’m ecstatic! Are there any LoTRO players among my loyal readers? Let me know with a comment, please.

By the way, the game is free to play (F2P). There are options to pay real money (not that much) for some nice enhancements, but if you’re not inclined to do that, you can still get an amazing game experience without paying a dime. I’m sure that if you’re a fan of the books, you’ll be quite impressed, and even if you’re not a fan, you may still be bowled over.

Rivendell

A view of part of Rivendell

Old Cars in Vientiane

I’ve spotted quite a number of old cars in Vientiane recently. Usually I see them while I’m riding my motorbike and they’re moving along a block or so from where I’m at, so I don’t get a good look at them to see what make and model they are. However, I have seen quite a few old VW “Beetles,” the originals from what I guess would be the 1960s. Most of their exteriors looked quite aged, but they were still running.

Over the past few weeks, though, I saw these two old-timers, one parked on the side of the street and the other passing close by a few days later. I didn’t have a camera with me, so I’ve taken these photos from the Internet. While not exactly the same color, both of the old autos resembled the photos.

First was a cream-colored Studebaker Lark convertible with a black top. While not in “classic car” condition, it still looked like it was being carefully kept in good shape. Perhaps it belongs to an expat, maybe an embassy employee. My former boss in Morocco, John, the Regional English Language Officer at the American embassy, had his car shipped over, a 4-wheel drive Subaru, which he believed was the only one in Morocco. He told me that embassy personnel get a shipping allowance of 20 TONS! Small wonder that he’d brought the car with him.

John and 4-wheel drive Subaru.

Here’s John and his 4-wheel drive Subaru, the only one in Morocco, as far as he knew.

Here’s the Internet photo of the Studebaker. It’s a bit lighter colored than the one I saw, but it’s still a good resemblance.

Studebaker Lark Convertible

The other oldster that I saw was a Pontiac Tempest, sporting a faded and chipped pale blue exterior. It didn’t look nearly as well kept as the Studebaker, but it was still running. I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for other old timers now that I know there are at least a few on the roads in the capital. I wonder where they get the parts to keep them running? Here’s the Internet photo.

1966_pontiac_tempest_side_view

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

The rainy season has finished and the Mekong is receding, so we’re into, what else, the dry season. Those are the only two real seasons in Vientiane, though there might be a decent autumn farther north in the country, but nothing like New England, for example. It will start to get quite cool at night next month, a faux winter compared to more northern climes, but if you’re used to low temperatures in the high 70s, then the low 60s and mid 50s seem quite chilly.

Though there are more boat races leading to the national championships in Oudomxay (far north of here) in November, the big Vientiane Boat Racing Festival was held on Thursday, October 9th. Almost all of the city shut down for the day: the banks were closed; the Laos government offices were closed; the public schools were closed and even the U.S. Embassy was closed. I say almost all, because at least one institution was open for business as usual-Vientiane College. Yeah, we had to work that day. I was deeply disappointed by the college’s decision to not take the day off. It wouldn’t have been all that difficult, in my opinion, to tack on an extra day at the end of the term to make up for the lost time, but that wasn’t done. I still enjoy working there, but my formerly high opinion of it has gone down a few notches.

Despite that, I did spend a few hours at the festival area along the Mekong before I had to show up for my classes. It was hot, noisy, crowded and dirty, but I enjoyed it. I didn’t actually get to see any races, but the spectacle wasn’t confined to the boats. Fa Ngum road, the one-way street along the Mekong, is usually congested with vehicles, but on this day, and the preceding three, it was closed to normal vehicular traffic, leaving pedestrians the freedom to stroll on the pavement.

Well, not quite. It was extremely crowded, so a stroll was more like a crawl. On both sides of the road, vendors of all sorts of products were allowed to set up under awnings to display their goods. Many sold mundane items like shoes, shirts, hats, brassieres (!), and housewares, while others noisily hawked cosmetics, cell phones, computers and various items of high-end fashion. The cacophony of the hucksters and ear drum-busting music coming over the high wattage speakers was almost unbearable in places. It took around thirty minutes to make the half-a-kilometer-long walk.

Brassieres for sale

Brassieres for sale along the main road of the festival. Other items for sale included purses, handbags, book backpacks, wallets, watches, clothing and umbrellas.

Food vendors on the main street

Vendors sell grilled chicken, beef and fish, corn on the cob, noodles and other food along the main street of the festival.

Balloon popping booths at the festival.

There were quite a number of carny-style balloon popping booths set up. They all had yellow balloons, which may or may not signify something.

There were a couple of good places to view the races. One was the VIP viewing area, closed off to all but high-ranking military personnel and government officials. The other good spot was at the roof top Bor Pen Nyang bar, four floors up, overlooking the river. However, 50,000 kip (about $6.25) was being charged to go there. I think there were a couple of drinks and snacks included in the price. I suppose I could have paid and sat up there in the shade for a few hours, but I wanted to walk around the festival area. I did manage to persuade the two guys collecting the payment to let me go up for a few minutes to take a few photos.

VIP pavilion at the race

The VIP pavilion at the boat racing venue. Mostly military personnel and government officials, I suppose, were seated in the shade here. It was one of the more comfortable areas to watch the race.

Overview of festival

This is a general over view of the festival from the Bor Pen Nyang bar.

The main street of the festival.

Looking east down the main street from the Bor Pen Nyang rooftop bar. I had to lean over the protective railing to get this photo and the one below.

The main street of the festival

From the Bor Pen Nyang rooftop bar, looking west down the main street of the festival.

At another area of the Mekong, a bit removed from the race area, a few stages with seating in front had been set up. On one stage, a band composed of westerners was playing rock music to a full house sitting in the shade of umbrellas, and on another a Lao band was performing Lao pop music.

People sitting under umbrellas to watch a band

Quite a few people sat under umbrellas and ate food or drank beer while watching the Western rock band perform at the festival.

People watching a Lao band perform at the festival.

Other people were enjoying a Lao pop band under the shade of an awning. Of course, you could buy food and beverages while enjoying the concert.

Past the stages, a carnival midway of sorts featured various rides, including four bumper car setups, two small ferris wheels, a small kiddie roller coaster and other attractions.

Carnival rides at the festival.

This is part of the carnival rides area at the festival. There were a couple of ferris wheels, several bumper car tents, a merry-go-round, a small roller coaster and a few carny-style game areas.

Children ride small roller coaster

Not many kids are riding the small roller coaster, probably because there’s no shade. I imagine it was much busier in the evening.

I don’t know when the festival will be held next year since it is scheduled according to the lunar calendar and is held near the end of the Buddhist Lent period. The race itself is held on the day after the end of Lent. This year the final day of Buddhist Lent, Boun Awk Phansa, was on Wednesday. During this final day of Lent, most people visit the temples, bringing food for the monks, and make “fire” boats with banana trunks and leaves, flowers and candles to float at night on the Mekong. I have some photos of these small boats which I’ll put up on my next post in a few days.

Still Bloggin’

Yes, I’m still around, but I’ve been way too lax about blogging. I suspect that many bloggers come to a point where they lose interest in blogging, at least for a short while. Some, however, just give it up altogether. I’m of the former group. It’s been quite a while since my previous post, but I’m not giving up on blogging. This blog, for better or worse, has been active (more or less) for more than ten years, and I hope to keep it going for at least another ten. So, loyal readers, both of you, stay with me. I’ve got a post or two coming up about boat racing on the Mekong, including the big one, the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival. I’ll try to get something more substantial up in the next few days. Thanks again for reading, and, as usual, more later.

A Dark and Stormy Night

A few weeks ago I thought that perhaps the rainy season was finally coming to an end. We’d had a string of mostly dry days and the Mekong had begun to recede. However, the past several days have given us some torrential rain and intense lightning, and last night was a real doozy.

It started raining hard around 7 p.m. and continued coming down in buckets for almost two hours. The lightning wasn’t bad at first, but it eventually became quite a light show. I stood on our wooden stairs and opened the shutters of one of the open-air windows to watch. The din on our metal roof was deafening, and the rain cascading down the neighbor’s furrowed roof was a waterfall as the lightning began. I like to count the number of seconds between the flash and the thunder, thereby getting a general idea of how far away the lightning is striking. (Six seconds equals approximately one mile.) So, one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, etc., up to, say, 18 seconds. About three miles away, near the main road to Vientiane.

It was difficult to keep up with all the flashes, they were coming so quickly. Then, a brilliant flash, one … two … thr … BOOM! Our wooden house (and I) shuddered under the sound wave that hit. It was right in our backyard, so to speak. Then another and another. I had a fleeting thought that it might be possible to lose your eyesight from white-hot flashes of lightning. The power went out, but, surprisingly, only briefly. Sometimes these storms knock it out for hours.

Around 9 o’clock the heavy rain and lightning diminished and eventually stopped, though we had a slight drizzle throughout the rest of the evening and into the early hours of the morning. As I rode to work this morning, I noticed that the Mekong had risen enough that two of my three island markers were under water. The third, larger than the other two, looked like it could be submerged any day. Luckily, the forecast into next week seems to show that rainfall here might be lessening, though any heavy upstream rain could have an impact here, of course. The Mekong still has a ways to go before it comes calling, so, “rain, rain, go away . . .” More later.

Uncommon Rainbows

I was lucky and thrilled to see a somewhat rare weather phenomenon a few days ago here at The Farm. Iridescent clouds form, according to this website,

When parts of clouds are thin and have similar size droplets, diffraction can make them shine with colours like a corona. In fact, the colours are essentially corona fragments. The effect is called cloud iridescence or irisation, terms derived from Iris the Greek personification of the rainbow.

You can read more on the website. A few other sites I checked mentioned that although these types of rainbows are not extremely rare, they are rather uncommon.

It was lucky that the clouds broke from being overcast earlier in the day. I took a few photos of the rainbows, which were quite close to the sun. The disc of the sun was blocked by other clouds, but the glare was still intense, so I had to drastically underexpose in order to capture the colors in the clouds. The rainbow on the right in the first photo below was highlighting a pileus cloud that was on top of a cumulus cloud. The same website has a simple explanation of a pileus cloud. It lasted about 15 minutes, whereas the iridescent cloud on the left coloring the cirrocumulus clouds persisted for about an hour. These pictures, unfortunately, don’t give a true rendition of how beautiful the event was.

Iridescent clouds

The one on the right appeared only briefly, but the one on the left lasted for an hour.

Here’s how the cirrocumulus cloud appeared from the second floor window of the house at The Farm, followed by a close up view using the telephoto zoom lens on my camera.

Cirrocumulus Rainbow

From the window of the house at The Farm. Our neighbor’s house is the dark shape at the bottom of the photo. I wanted to give some scale to the photo, so I didn’t crop it out.

Iridescent cloud close up

A close up taken with the telephoto zoom lens on my camera, approximately 150 mm.

There were some other interesting cloud formations that day. The first one below is the cumulus and pileus clouds as they appeared after the rainbow dissipated. The other photo shows some rain clouds off to our south, moving toward Thailand. I converted these to black and white to add more drama, in my opinion, and as a change of pace from the usual color photos I post. There wasn’t much color in these to begin with, so I think B&W is appropriate.

Pileus and cumulus clouds

The pileus cloud sits atop the cumulus. It looked like a strong thunderstorm might develop, but it fizzled out after awhile.

Storm clouds

Looks like a heck of a storm heading for Thailand.

Finally, here’s a sunset that was captured the day before the above photos were made.

Sunset

Lots of nice sunsets lately with all the moisture in the air.