Calendar

October 2014
S M T W T F S
« Sep    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Categories

free counters
Free counters!

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.

A (Premature) Sigh of Relief

I had to attend a workshop at the school this past Friday, and as I was riding the motorbike back to The Farm, I noticed that one of my island “markers” for the water level in the Mekong had shown that the river level had dropped substantially. We’d had several days of little or no rainfall, so I inwardly sighed that it appeared there would be no flooding in our area.

Riding into Vientiane today for classes, I noticed that the same marker now indicates that the water level has risen substantially, perhaps up to a foot more, so my relief has flown. It appears that flooding is possible, perhaps probable, because the forecast is calling for a high chance of rain throughout the upcoming week. We had fairly heavy rains for a short while last night, and it briefly rained heavily in Vientiane this afternoon. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the river stays within its banks until the rainy season ends in a few weeks. There are still a couple of feet to go before the muddy, caramel-colored mess visits our doorstep, so I’m hoping to stay high and dry until then. More later.

A Few Sunsets

My view of the western horizon really isn’t too good here. There’s the wat on one side and a house on the other, both of which intrude into the second-floor photos from Nai’s house I take of sunsets. Walking up to the small road that runs through the village doesn’t offer any better views. I’d have to ride my motorbike a couple of kilometers to some rice paddies where I would have an unobstructed view. It’s hard to predict, though, if the sunset is going to be something special that would reward my ride over the washboardy, pot-holed village road. For now, I’ll content myself with the view that I have.

So, here are a few nice sunsets we’ve had over the past month or so. Please forgive those two buildings that make the scene less than ideal.

Sunset in Laos

Sunset with the house intruding.

Sunset in Laos

Sunset with the wat intruding.

Sunset in Laos

Sunset–where are the house and the wat? I took this one with the telephoto zoom lens, which avoided the two interlopers.

Dragon Boat Racing Begins

Our timing was quite bad last Saturday in going to see the first dragon boat races of the season, which ends, I believe, sometime in late October or early November. We arrived at the National Cultural Park, which is a few kilometers from the Friendship Bridge, around 3:30 in the afternoon. We were just in time to catch the finish of the final race. Not that we were able to see much, since the banks of the Mekong were packed with spectators. This is the only photo I was able to take of the competitors. The near boat is from Nai’s village, and though they usually finish at the top, this day they took second place.

Dragon Boat Racing

And the winner is . . . the boat at the top, just barely.

Crowd of people along the Mekong River.

It was difficult to get any kind of view of the race due to the large number of people lining the Mekong riverbank. That’s Thailand on the far bank.

The races usually take place on Saturday, but since that’s a working day for me, we can’t get to the events early enough to secure good viewing spots. However, during the major, important national championship race later in the season, the college is cancelling classes on that particular Saturday; not many of the students would attend. That race takes place in Vientiane, so there will be quite a large turnout, with a myriad of activities, parties and what-not. I can hardly wait.

There’s always a carnival- or festival-like feeling at these events. Plenty of food, beer, live bands and other diversions can be found at the site. In fact, just as we left the area around 7 o’clock, we stumbled upon a bumper car ride, and, of course, we had to give it a try. I haven’t smashed around in bumper cars since I was a teenager. Tons of fun. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos; kind of hard to do while your bashing and getting bashed. Here are some other photos from the day.

The House of Horror

This must be a “fun” house type of attraction, the “House of Horrors.” It’s one of the first sights at one entrance to the Cultural Park.

The crowd at the boat race

Part of the throng at the Cultural Park for the first boat race of the season.

People eating and drinking and listening to a live band.

Other folks were taking in the live band and eating and drinking with their friends and family.

Dragon Boat Racer

One of the racers was happy to pose for this photo. I believe his team finished in 3rd or 4th place.

Grilled squid

Lots of food at the event. Grilled squid, anyone?

Roasted grasshoppers

If squid isn’t your thing, how about some roasted grasshoppers?

Laos food for sale

This type of food is more to my liking than the squid or the grasshoppers.

Grilled chicken

The grilled chicken was outstanding. I ate of couple of “sticks” of it.

The Cultural Park is a bit run down, with a very small zoo that includes monkeys and ostriches, some dinosaur statues and a display of traditional Lao houses. I was previously there in 2007. Now, a large swimming pool with an encompassing restaurant (it literally surrounds the pool) has opened right next door. I think most people are more attracted to the swimming area than to the park, but the park is still worth a visit, in my opinion. I think there’s a small entrance fee of a dollar or two.

I was disappointed that I captured only that one photo of the race itself, but there will be plenty more races later. I’ll try to attend as many as I can; they’re quite fun, and if you’re in Laos between the months of August and November, try to take one in.

Mekong Rising

Yes, with all the rain we’ve had, the river is steadily rising, nearly covering a few islands that I use as benchmarks to measure how high the water is getting. Hopefully, it won’t come up to our doorstep. That did happen some years back when Nai’s house had about three feet of water soaking the first floor. Here’s what it looks like when the Mekong decides to visit. These were taken on August 14, 2008 and posted on the blog here:

Children playing in flood waters

Children having fun in the flood of 2008 at Nai’s house.

Nai surveying flood

Nai surveying the flood waters at his house in Laos.

As you can see, the children were having a good time, but Nai was none to happy about the situation. The family helped him move everything up to the second floor, but cleaning up afterwards was quite a chore, he told me.

Yesterday was beautiful, with mostly clear blue skies and NO rain! I hope that continues. The first boat race of the racing season is today near the Friendship Bridge that links Laos and Thailand. We might go see it since it’s so close to The Farm, but rain is forecast for later this afternoon. More later.