MontanaRon

Just another ordinary English teacher eclectic expat blog about nothing in particular.

USA Trip–In Oregon

 

Introduction

I’m finally getting a few posts up of my visit to the United States in August. While there, I spent some time in Seaside, Oregon with my brothers Randy and Rich, who lives in California. Then Randy, his daughter Whitney and I flew over to Great Falls, Montana, where we were able to hook up with brothers Bob, from Great Falls, and Doug, from Ft. Worth, Texas. Finally, I ventured alone to Las Vegas, Nevada, Sin City in the desert.

Off I Go

In this post, I’ll write about the first part of the journey, to Oregon. I flew out of Vientiane to Bangkok on a Thai Smile Airlines Airbus A320, which carries about 150 passengers. On this particular trip there were only 25 passengers (I counted). If this is typical, Thai Smile must be losing a bundle of money on this 55 minute flight to Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok.

From Bangkok to Taoyuan airport in Taiwan aboard an EVA flight took about three and a half hours (the plane was quite full) and the EVA flight to Seattle took about 11 hours. Again, the plane was full, but at least I had an aisle seat so it was easy to get up and walk around. Best to try to avoid deep vein thrombosis on these long flights. Seattle to Portland was basically a short hop, about 30 minutes in the air.

In the Beaver State

Earlier, when planning this trip, cheapskate (thrifty?) me looked for the lowest-priced tickets I could find that had reasonable layovers. So, I got into Portland a little after midnight and stayed in the airport until 10 a.m. because Randy couldn’t pick me up any earlier. No problem; I’ve spent longer times than that in worse airports. (The Portland airport is a wonderful facility, especially if you have to spend a long time there, which I would do on a later flight–more on that when I get my Vegas post up.)

Meeting My Long-Lost Brother

Of course, after an 11-hour flight, I was pretty bedraggled as I headed down to a lower level of the airport to get my checked baggage, so I was unaware of just about anything that was going on around me. My mistake! After hanging out at PDX all night, I waited outside the terminal for Randy, who pulled up just around ten o’clock. I went to toss my bags in the back seat and when I opened the door I got a shock. There was a fellow back there holding up a sign with my name on it. What the hell! It turned out that this was my older half-brother Rich, whom I’d never met before. It turns out that he had planned a surprise for me and had been at the airport around midnight holding up that sign as I arrived, but I hadn’t noticed it. He didn’t see me either, since he thought I’d be wearing a NY Yankee baseball cap, which I didn’t have on. He had reserved a room at one of the local hotels, so I could have stayed there instead of the airport. But, I totally ruined his surprise, much to my chagrin.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get much time to hang out because he had an early afternoon flight back to California. I’m grateful that we got to spend an hour or so together–he’s a great guy and I really thank him for the time and money he spent to go up to Portland to meet me. The next time I’m able to get back to the ‘States, I want to make an effort to hook up with him for some quality time together. We had a couple of beers at the hotel, getting to know each other, then it was time for him to go and time for Randy and I to head over to Seaside, a 90-minute drive. Sorry, Rich, that I ruined your surprise.

Randy, Ron and Rich

From left to right: Randy, Ron and Rich.
Taken from Randy’s iPhone just before we dropped Rich off at his hotel. Unfortunately, he had to catch a flight back to California.

Fishing on the Mighty Columbia

I spent four days with my brother and his daughter, Whitney, at his beautiful home in Seaside. He had promised to take me out on his boat to do some fishing on the Columbia River, so after buying an Oregon fishing license online, I found myself at his boat dock at a marina near Astoria early the next morning, around 7 o’clock. A friend of his, Vern, would spend the morning with us out on the choppy river, trying to hook into a salmon or two or three.

A very strong tide was working against us, though, dragging us toward the Pacific ocean. We went with it for a while, then headed back upriver until Vern caught a nice fish, though my brother, who mainly handled the boat, and I were skunked. We called it a day around noon and put back into the marina. The next day we started out a little later to avoid the outgoing tide and the water was less choppy, so the ride was much easier. Joining us were John and Don, a couple more of Randy’s friends. This day, John would get a nice-sized salmon, but the rest of us were shut out. I had one on my pole, but it spit the hook out just as it was about to be netted and hauled into the boat. Sigh. There was quite a crowd on the river, with dozens and dozens of boats joining the hunt. Again, we put in about noon. I like to joke that I came half-way round the world to catch a Columbia River salmon and all I got was one lousy picture of a salmon. Sheesh. Maybe next time, whenever that will be.

Fishing boat

This is my brother’s fishing boat. It’s larger than it looks here, but I wouldn’t take it deep-sea fishing. Notice the color scheme and other little details? Yup, he’s a huge University of Oregon Ducks fan.

We’re heading out to the Columbia from the marina. Lots of boats docked here. The marina is about 30 minutes from my brother’s house.

Fishing the Columbia

This is the second day out. I believe that’s Don on the left. As you can see, there are lots of boats trying their luck/skills.

Cleaning the fish

Back on the first day, Randy and Vern are cleaning Vern’s fish. Kind of an unwritten rule is that you share your catch with your boat mates, so Randy got a nice filet and we ate salmon for dinner.

Early Morning Surprise

Anyway, I had a great time with my brother and my niece. We drove around and took in some of the sights, though the area was very crowded with tourists. Randy said that after Labor Day, Seaside and the surrounding environs would be back to normal, a situation he could hardly wait for.

Oregon coast

This was taken at Ft. Stevens State Park, the most north-western point in Oregon. Beautiful afternoon!

My brother and his daughter

Still at Ft. Stevens, my niece, Whitney, and my brother Randy.

I spent a few relaxing days at his home, which has a beautiful back yard with a very large vegetable garden, so we ate delicious fresh veggies, salads, salmon, clams and other local delights; my brother is, seriously, a wonderful cook and a great all-around guy. He even forgave me for setting off his house alarm early one morning. (It’s quite loud, believe me!)

A Bigger Surprise

The one surprising (to me) thing about Oregon is the state’s liberal marijuana laws. You can legally smoke it in your home and you can grow up to four plants in your yard as long as they are hidden from public view. Head shops (dispensaries) abound, but many tokers are baby-boomers who grow it in their yards and roll their own. Awesome. I didn’t have the chance to try any, and I’m not sure I would have, even if I had been offered some. It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve partaken of the herb, and I’m not sure if I’d want to start again. But, who knows?

OK, that’s Oregon. Next post I’ll write about the few days I had in Montana. See you then.

Drought Over? Not so fast

Not long after my previous post, it started raining. It turned out that a tropical storm/depression, Wipha, was possibly heading our way, after hanging out around Hong Kong, bringing several inches of rain with it. We had a lot of rain last night, but when I woke up this morning and checked the forecast, it turned out that Wipha was turning in a more northerly direction, toward southern China. The forecast had changed also, with rainfall predictions quite a bit less than previously forecast. Right now, Thursday morning at 10 o’clock, it’s sunny with partly cloudy skies here in Vientiane. Oh, well, any amount is better than none. Will keep you posted.

Bigtime Drought

Although it’s raining heavily this morning, Laos and the rest of Southeast Asia are in the middle of a terrible drought, with the Mekong River in some places at its lowest level in a century. Not only is the lack of rain during the monsoon season affecting the level of the Mekong, but some are also blaming the upstream dams in China and in Laos itself.

Whatever and whoever is to blame, the water level in Vientiane is near record lows and farmers and fisheries are suffering. Here’s a chart of the current level on the Mekong River Commission website. Let’s hope this much-needed rain continues.

Photo Art — Breaking Out

Here’s one of my newer pieces of Photo Art, which I’m calling “Breaking Out.” The “demons” are from a photo I took of a wall mural in a Buddhist temple in Thailand some years ago. Sorry, but I don’t remember from which temple it was taken. In Photoshop, I extracted these guys from the rest of the photo, stuck them in a frame, while erasing part of the boundary to give the appearance of them breaking out, added a background texture and some shadows, and incorporated a few other minor techniques to increase the contrast a bit and enhance the colors. This is what I ended up with. Hope you like it.

Buddhist temple wall mural

Breaking Out

Photo Art-Clean Sweep

Here’s another piece I’ve been working on. I don’t feel that it’s complete yet and it needs some refining, so I’ll keep working on it or come back to it at a later date. I like letting these pieces sit for a while and then, later, I can view them with “fresh” eyes.

This is supposed to be a minimal work, a challenge from the Photoshop Artistry group to use only one of my images of a household item (the broom, obviously) and another image to establish context. The challenge also specifies that we are to use certain textures, frames and vignettes, which I haven’t added yet. I’ll get to it eventually. But, this is it for now. Entitled “Clean Sweep.”

Clean Sweep

Desert Interlude

This is my latest piece of digital art. I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to what title I might give it, but for now I’m calling it “Desert Interlude.”

This started as a browsing trip through some of my photographs. The city is one of my photos of Meknes, Morocco, where I taught for a year back in 2005-2006. I added a desert scene from Pixabay, threw in a shot of the moon that I had taken, added some birds across the face of the moon with a “bird brush”, some texture to lighten things up a bit, a color lookup table and a few other odds and ends. In my next post, I’ll show you how I did it. As always, right click to enlarge the photo.

Desert Interlude

Digital Art–Book Cover Project

I recently joined another digital art group, a subgroup of another group I’m in. This new group, Kaizen, gives its members an optional monthly project to participate in, along with tutorials, training and gigabytes worth of royalty free content. One of the stipulations of the projects is that we can’t publish our project outside of the group until the project is deemed completed and closed. It closed recently, so here’s my contribution.

The project was to make art based around one of our favorite books, while trying to incorporate, if possible, an image of the book itself and elements that might relate to the content of the book. I had just finished reading an exceptional novel, “All the Light We Cannot See”, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner for fiction written by Anthony Doerr. I highly recommend it. So, here’s my effort. I included my favorite quote from the book inside the image and the bottom quote is the first line or two from the novel. The various other elements in the image relate to the contents of the book. Hope you like it.

Baseball in Laos? Yes!

Although in it’s early stages, baseball has been gradually growing in popularity in Laos. This past weekend there was an international tournament played in Vientiane, with 10 teams from 5 countries competing for a trophy and other prizes. The teams were from Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and Korea, which had the most teams here.

An article in the Vientiane Times yesterday gave a nice overview of the sport in the country. It seems that this was actually the 5th annual Korea-Laos International Baseball Tournament, but it’s the first I’ve ever heard of it. The tournament was played at the football (soccer) field, an all-grass setting, so no infield dirt or pitcher’s mound. However, the article stated that through funding from Korea, two new “stadiums” will be built before the end of 2019. I imagine that there won’t be two stadiums built, but, rather, two fields at a new baseball complex with seating. You never know, though.

So, I went to the football stadium this past Saturday to check it out. Here are a few photos from the event. One note: the sight lines were terrible, so I was unable to make any good photos. The “dugouts” were opaque plastic boxes which you couldn’t see through, the officials’ and umpires’ tables were directly behind home plate, there was a large schedule board blocking the view from another angle, and a concessions table also blocked the view, along with various protective nettings. I hope the new fields will not include these kinds of encumbrances to viewing the games.

The Times didn’t have the results of the tournament in yesterday’s edition, but I’ll check in today’s paper. I’ll update this post if there is any further news about the event.

UPDATE: The Tuesday Times reported that the Laos team tied for first in the tournament with a team from Seoul, South Korea, with each getting 33 points. Hmmm, I have no idea what the points represent. Run differential, perhaps? Anyway, congratulations to both teams.

(A further note on the photos. For a better view of an image, right click on the photo and select View Image. To get back to the post, you’ll have to click the Back Button on your browser.)

Laos baseball
Players from one of the Korean teams do a few warm-ups before their game. There were very few interested spectators at this particular game. The stands were mainly populated by friends of the players or by players from other teams. The Laos team was scheduled to play later in the afternoon, but I left before that particular game. Perhaps there were more people watching then.
Laos baseball
Kids are getting more and more interested in the game. I hope, eventually, that the sport becomes much more popular.
Laos baseball
Girls are involved, too. Check out the very long hair on this young lady.
Laos baseball
Because there is no pitcher’s mound built into the field, a portable mound was used. I’d never seen one of these before. Also, because of the grass infield, there weren’t too many stolen base attempts. Players were sliding into the bags, but I think they were using plastic-cleated shoes, not the metal spiked ones, which would probably have stuck in the grass, allowing for potential injuries.
Laos baseball
It’s a hit! Or was it? I think this guy knocked a single. They were using metal bats, which I hate, but, due to the cost of breakable wooden bats, I suppose the metal ones are a necessity.
Laos baseball
A minor collision at home plate. It was a bad throw, so the runner was safe.
Laos baseball
The Laos team was getting a pep talk from their manager or coach before their game, which was an hour or so from starting. I took off before then, so I didn’t get to see any of the action.

Recent Hoi An Trip

My friend Nai and I had a short holiday in Hoi An, Vietnam last month, and we had a decent stay. The UNESCO old town was interesting, even though we didn’t see much of it, and, being beach bums, we thought An Bang Beach was quite nice.

The biggest factor preventing full enjoyment of the trip was that my debit and credit cards weren’t working all the time. In hindsight, I should have taken more cash with me. The ATM machines weren’t much help in telling me why my debit card wasn’t working. The language they used was very confusing; mostly, it was something like “This machine cannot complete that process.” Why? Is the machine out of cash, is my card blocked? No idea. After we arrived at the hotel on Sunday evening, I walked quite a way to find some ATMs, but the card worked in none of them. I called my bank the next day, and, yes, they had blocked the card, even though I had told them I would be using it in Vietnam.

So, unblocked, it worked fine the next day and I was able to get some cash. Unfortunately, two days later, it again didn’t work. Called the bank again–something about a 48 hour exclusion. Couldn’t get it to work until the final day of the trip. Too late. Fortunately, a restaurant on the beach, La Plage, accepted credit cards and mine worked fine there each day. (That’s where we hung out; it’s a nice place to relax, if you’re ever out that way.)

Then, we checked out of the hotel on Saturday morning, and there were a few extra expenses to take care of. I had little cash left, but the credit card’s working, right? Wrong. It didn’t work at the hotel, for some reason. I think their connection was screwed up. I had called the bank again earlier that morning about my debit card, and they told me the card should be working again, but it was too far to get to an ATM before our ride to Da Nang airport, so I used up my remaining cash to pay the hotel. Got to the Da Nang airport, and the debit card worked fine; got back to Vientiane and the credit card worked fine. Go figure. Next time I go, if I go to Vietnam again (which I might), I’ll take plenty of cash.

Anyway, the trip was OK, despite the cards and despite the huge amount of tourists in the Old Town, which is why we didn’t explore it more (along with the cash problem). Here are some pics, along with comments.

An Bang Beach
Monday, our first full day in Hoi An, was overcast and quite windy, with a smattering of rain. We decided to go to the beach anyway. There were very few people there, and the beach was littered with debris and trash, brought in by the ocean during recent storms. Few restaurants were open, but we found The Deckhouse, where we got a seat at a table protected from the wind and occasional rain.
An Bang Beach
A few people at The Deckhouse braved the wind and rain for a brisk experience.
An Bang Beach
As you can see, the beach on Monday was practically deserted. Things changed, however, when we went back later in the week on some very nice, sunny, warm days.
An Bang Beach
OK, this is more like it. Sunny and warm, and better people watching. We lay under a cabana and watched the waves crashing off shore, or snoozed, or read a book, or walked along the beach. (Drank a few beers, too.) That’s Da Nang on the horizon, about 12 miles away. You can follow the beach all the way up there, if you’re so inclined. Also, of note, all the trash and debris had been cleaned off the beach. Very nice.
An Bang Beach
Here’s the view looking south along the beach. I ran this one through a Topaz Labs filter to try to give it a more painterly look.
An Bang Beach
A couple of Korean ladies, modestly attired, enjoy the sea breeze and sun. There was a very large Korean contingent at La Plage this day.
swimming pool
I suppose we could have stayed at our hotel, the Jade Hotel, and gone swimming in the pool. It looked clean, but the water was too cold. By the way, the Jade is a great bargain if you ever stay in Hoi An. It’s a bit far from the city center and it’s a ways from the beach, but the taxi fares (metered) are very cheap–a few dollars to the beach each way and about the same into the town. It has a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor and it’s a well-earned rating (except for the credit card hassle on the last day)-very clean and an exceptionally friendly staff. Oh, and did I mention it’s only about $20 a night!
swimming pool
This is a view of the pool from inside the small restaurant. The room rate includes breakfast, which includes coffee, tea, juice, fruit, bread, croissants, cereal and anything off the menu. I usually had fruit, toast, fried eggs and pancakes, and coffee every morning.
Tin Tin Restaurant
We sometimes took our lunch and evening meals at the Tin Tin Restaurant, just around the corner from the hotel. Great food and very cheap as well.
Nai at lunch
Nai is having a fish hotpot, I think, for lunch this day.
Hotpot
And I’m having a shrimp hotpot. I gotta say, Vietnamese cuisine is remarkably delicious. We never had a bad meal, though I did get overcharged at one place, due to a misprinted menu. It wasn’t that much, but it kind of soured me on the place. The Tin Tin, however, is a great place to eat.
Hoi An Old Town
Finally, we went to Hoi An Old Town, a UNESCO cultural heritage site. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of it due to tiredness from lounging at the beach (HA!), hordes of tourists (like us) and my dwindling supply of cash. Here’s a view of some of the buildings from the other side of the Thu Bon River that runs through town. It seems that most of the buildings are this burnt-orange color, painted this way on purpose, I presume.
restaurant
One of the small restaurants in Old Town. There are many places to dine or have a coffee around here. I noticed that most of them were quite full.
bridge
A small, quaint bridge takes people to the other side of town across the river.
boat
You can hire a boat to take you on a river cruise.
boat
You can get a smaller boat that carries two passengers if you don’t want to use one of the large ones.
Thu Bon river
Looking along the river. I might have liked to take a float, but, again, low cash supply.

So, that was my first journey to Vietnam, and overall, it was OK. If I were going to give it a grade (and I’m not LOL), I’d give it a B- due to various reasons, like wrong time of year (we got lucky with the sunny days), too many tourists, and money problems. I’d like to go back again and stay in Hanoi and see Ha Long Bay (very famous, Google it), but it would have to be at the right season, probably spring or summer, before the rains set in. See you next time.


High Water in Vientiane

I went into Vientiane a few days ago to see how far the Mekong was from topping the embankment (levee?) that was constructed after the big 2008 flood. It has quite a way to go before it gets that high, but it is flowing through some sluice gates and other channels to flood the park that’s on the city side of the road that runs along the top of the levee. I watched a video of the effort to pump water out of the area, and you can watch it on Facebook here.

Though it’s not going over the embankment, the river has flooded the new addition to the night market in that area. Here are the new vendor stalls that sit, usually, right above the river. Someone who did the planning must have thought that the river would never get this high again. Tell that to all the sellers who had to move their goods to higher ground.

flood

Night market vendor stalls under water

flood

More night market stalls under water.

We had no rain yesterday and there’s none in the forecast for today or tomorrow, but the water level is forecast to keep rising for the next few days, according to the Mekong River Commission daily bulletin. (If you click on their link, check out the Nongkhai report–it’s only a few miles downstream from the old place where I used to live and is much more relevant than the Vientiane report.)

The river has crept nearer to the old place, but it’s still safely below the houses. However, if the water does get higher over the next few days, that situation could change. Thankfully, many of the houses are built on stilts or on foundations that are several feet above the ground. More later.

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