MontanaRon

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

Month: December 2009

Happy Holidays to All

I forgot to say Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Solstice or Happy Whatever You’re Celebrating this time of year to everyone. And, Happy New Year to come!

I’m spending the next few days in Nong Khai, Thailand before returning to Laos to finish out the vacation. I should be able to put a few photos up soon, so stay tuned.

The Snake Hunt and the Wedding

I’m just kind of hanging out in Vientiane right now. The SEA Games have finished, but Vientiane is still very crowded, especially with traffic. It’s quite difficult to cross some of the main streets at rush hour except at stoplights–I think the sleepy days of yore are at an end for the still-small city. I suppose that’s good news or bad news, depending on your point of view. Good news for local merchants but bad because of all the negative impacts of increased tourism. The Lao government is actively pushing for more tourism, but I hope they do it right and don’t import some of the problems that Thailand has, especially the sex industry, increased crime, etc.

About the only events of note lately are the snake hunt and the wedding of the title of this post. “Snake hunt?” you say. Yeah, someone spotted a snake at Nai’s house, so he and his sister, Nui, tracked it down to a junk pile nestled up against his house. They dismantled, carefully, the pile, while I supervised from the top of the outside stairs and kept an eye out for the intruder. They found it and ingloriously dispatched it with a bamboo pole and a hoe into its next life (or whatever). It was a thin, green thing, about a foot and a half long. I asked Nai if it was poisonous, but he didn’t seem to know. I sure wouldn’t want to find out the hard way.

Then, a friend of Nai’s had a wedding reception for his daughter, to which I was invited. I’ve met the fellow 3 or 4 times, and he’s a teacher in one of the local schools. Among the subjects he teaches is English, so we can communicate with each other pretty well. He also has an English teacher friend who was invited, but Nai said the guy had to work until 9 p.m. and wouldn’t turn up until then. Well, he turned up about 8:30, completely smashed. I talked to him a bit and what I could get out of him is that he decided to cancel his class because he started drinking earlier in the day and just kept imbibing. So much for professional integrity. Anyway, it was a good reception and I made some new Lao friends. I have some photos, but can’t get any of them posted at the moment. There isn’t much different from a typical U.S. reception–lots of dancing, drinking, eating and other merriment.

So, we’re either going to Vang Vieng or Nong Khai tomorrow, but we haven’t decided. It’s kinda like the Beatles sang on Abbey Road: “And oh, that magic feeling–nowhere to go.” More later.

Soccer Match and Some Photos

Well, it was pretty quiet last night after the Laos-Malaysia soccer match. Yes, unfortunately, Laos got beat 3-1. Malaysia scored about 15 minutes into the game on a spectacular over-the-head scissors kick. It stayed that way until the second half, when Laos put on charge after charge toward the Malaysia goal. They finally broke through about halfway into the period, tieing the game at 1 apiece. It was bedlam when the goal was scored, with all the Laos fans (and yours truly) screaming and shouting with joy. Hope had been restored that the unexpected might happen–that Laos might play for the gold medal. Alas, Malaysia stormed back with 2 goals to win the game. Not all is lost, though–Laos still plays for the bronze against Singapore this coming Friday, I believe. Viet Nam squares off against Malaysia for the gold.

Below are some photos I’ve taken recently. None of them have been optimized and I won’t be able to do any postprocessing work on them until I return to Korea. But, I suppose they’ll do until then. Enjoy.

Here’s a shot from yesterday with a few of the Viet Nam fans sporting their colors. I took this from a tuk-tuk, so the sharpness isn’t probably all that great.

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Here’s another shot taken last night while we watched the soccer match. We usually eat at one of the outdoor restaurants along the Mekong, and this one is our particular favorite. Here, a couple of the guys are busy cooking up some goodies. I love the big fish you can see on the grill. They’re stuffed with some kind of herb and coated with salt, which gives them their white color before they’re browned. Yummmm.

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To continue with the food theme, here’s the view of the Hotel Lao’s charming courtyard, where breakfast is served. As you can see, there’s an empty chair at my table. Care to join me?

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We’re heading out to Nai’s house today, so I’ll probably be out of contact for a while. But, as always, more later.

Laos Excitement

As expected, Vientiane is packed with people visiting for the Asian Games and the streets are filled with excitement. It looks nothing like the sleepy capital I’m used to seeing. Nai and I took a tuk-tuk back from one of the shopping malls and we passed one of the stadiums where the soccer matches are being held. Viet Nam had just beaten Singapore and the streets were filled with proud Vietnamese waving their national flag, all wearing red shirts with a big star on the front and red headbands. Tonight, Laos plays Malaysia in a semi-final game and I expect all hell to break loose if the Lao team wins. Nai and I are going to sit at one of the outdoor restaurants along the Mekong and watch the game there. Tickets are impossible to come by. I’ve taken some photos, but probably won’t get them posted soon. Anyway, more later.

In Hanoi

I arrived in Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport with nothing extremely noteworthy happening on the flight here. Viet Nam Airlines still leaves a lot to be desired–just so-so food and absolutely no in-flight entertainment. (They said that the system had a mechanical/electrical failure of some sort.) Mostly the cabin attendants were polite and attentive, but one guy was having a bad day. A couple of older Korean guys sat in the seats in front of me, and they seemed a bit goofy to begin with. The attendants handed out Viet Nam immigration forms to fill out at the beginning of the flight and, a bit later, one of the Korean guys tried to hand his passport and form to the aforementioned attendant, for what purpose–who knows? The attendant waved him off and went about his duties. About ten minutes later, the fellow again tried to give his papers to the attendant, who got a bit perturbed and told him (if hes gestures and tone of voice were any indication) that “I don’t do this–You
do it! Don’t ask again.” The Korean guy didn’t.

Then, one of the female attendants handed out lunch menus and about 30 minutes later our previous male attendants came along with the meals. Only then did the two Korean gents open their menus and proceed to discuss the choices with each other. I imagine the conversation was something like:

“How about the fish?”
“I don’t know. You hungry for fish? The beef might be ok?”
“Maybe. What does the beef come with. Let’s see . . . hmmmm.”

The attendant was really getting impatient by this time.

“C’mon fellas. Order already. Why didn’t you look at the menu before? I only got about 150 other passenger to serve. And look, the bald-headed guy behind you is laughing at ya.”

It was humorous, I thought, but I wasn’t laughing out loud. Really.

The Koreans finally ordered their meals and even managed to choose what they wanted to drink after only a little hemming and hawing. The attendant was surly the rest of the flight.

The Sky Cafe in Noi Bai looked the same as last Christmas. See the post below. (I wonder if they keep the decorations up all year round.) However, the rest of the transit area has changed.

I posted previously about the construction at Noi Bai. It’s finished and they opened up some of the usual duty-free shops–Tobacco/Liquor, Confections, Watches–and the rest of the ample concourse went to souvenir shops. But, every . . . single . . one . . . of them is selling the exact same stuff at the exact same over-pricing. What a waste. Another restaurant or two would have been nice; perhaps an Internet Cafe, bar or whatever would have upped the interest factor, but as it is, nobody used any imagination. Ah, well–on to Vientiane.

I’m Outta Here

As I wrote in the previous post, I’ll be heading up to Incheon Airport tonight, on my way to Laos. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to post in the next three weeks, but if past actions are any indication, it won’t be often. I always have good intentions to keep the blog updated when I’m out and about, but it’s not always that easy to do. Still, I’m going to bring along my memory card reader so that I can upload photos here and try to keep everyone up to date. Hopefully, I can make at least a few posts. Vientiane and Vang Vieng have many internet cafes, but if I end up out in the sticks, my chances of finding a good connection might be somewhat less.

Here’s an article from Voice of America about the SEA Games going on in Vientiane. Like I stated in the previous post, I hope to see some of the action. I’d like to take in a soccer game featuring the Laos team, but tickets might be hard to come by. Before a packed house last night, they and Singapore played to a 0-0 draw, which means that both teams advanced to the semi-final round.

In baseball news, the Yanks got Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers in a trade a few days ago. It was an excellent deal for the Yankees, and, with the re-signing of Andy Pettitte, it should only strengthen their chances of repeating as World Champs in 2010. It certainly puts the pressure on Boston. Hmmmm, maybe Major League Baseball should just hand over the 2010 Trophy to New York already. 😉 More later.

Laos Pride

I just called my friend Nai in Laos. The entire family was gathered around the TV, watching the opening ceremonies of the Southeast Asia games and they (and probably most of Laos) were very excited about the event. As far as I know, Laos has never hosted anything like this before, so the country has been quite proud that they’ve been selected as the host country. I hope to take in a few of the events when I head back there on Saturday. The Games run through the 17th or 18th, so I should have a good opportunity to do so. I’m sure Nai will be happy to watch some of the sports, especially his favorite, volleyball; he wouldn’t normally be able to afford a ticket, so I’ll buy. What the heck, I’ll buy tickets for the whole family! It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime event for them, and I wouldn’t want them to miss out on the chance to attend if they want to and if I can get tickets.

Actually, some of the events are free–cycling, golf, billiards, and track and field are some of the freebies. The soccer games, badminton, swimming, boxing, volleyball and others aren’t, but they’re not all that expensive, at least not for the “rich” westerner. 😉 Between 4-6 bucks. It should be a good time. Here’s a photo from 2005 showing Nai, a.k.a., Volleyball Slayer, trying to spike the ball. Notice the smiles and laughter from the spectators. (Click on the photo a couple of times for larger views.)

Volleyball

Pretty much all of my classes have finished the semester and I’ve got most of my administrative duties completed, so the next couple of days I’ll be packing and preparing to go. I’ll be leaving here on Friday night on the 11:10 p.m. (and only) bus to Incheon Airport near Seoul. I’ll get there about 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and then wait around for my 10:30 a.m. flight to Hanoi. That flight arrives at the Noi Bai Airport around 1:30 p.m. and then I have another 3 1/2 hour wait until the 5 o’clock flight to Vientiane. Long night and day, but for the most part I love traveling and hanging around airports.

Incheon is one of the best airports in the world, but Noi Bai leaves a bit to be desired. However, the last time I was there, a lot of construction was going on in the transit area–it looked like a lot of new shops or restaurants were going to be opening, so I’m certainly curious about what developments have taken place. You all will be the first ones to know, since I’ll probably write a post from one of the restaurants there that has internet service. More later.

Noi Bai Restaurant from last December

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Beach Dreams

I’ve been preparing a packing list today and looking around for items on that list to include in my bags for the upcoming vacation I mentioned in the previous post. While doing this, I’ve been listening to free internet radio site Live365, where you can find all kinds of music. I’ve had the Dominicana Digital station from the Dominican Republic grooving me all afternoon with merengue, salsa, bachata, reggaethon and other hot Latin music. With the cold, blustery weather in Yeosu right now, I sure have a yearning to be sitting in my former Weekend Office, but, alas, it’s too far away and too expensive to get there. No, unfortunately, that’s not where I’m going on winter vacation. Here’s a shot looking toward the Boca Chica lagoon from my old Weekend Office.

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And, looking further down the beach . . .

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Someday I hope to return for a visit to the Dominican Republic and Boca Chica, but it’ll be in the summer, when the Yankee baseball camp is in full swing. Until then, I’ll have to settle for the warmer climes of . . . Laos and Thailand, next weekend. I won’t be going to any Thai beach areas, but at least it’ll be nice and warm there and in Vientiane. Can’t wait. More later.

End of Semester

As I suspected, I haven’t kept up my posting pace of the last few weeks, but then again, I’ve been pretty busy with final exams and end-of-semester paperwork. Right now, students in my classes are giving final in-class presentations, with most of them finishing today and others on Monday. I allow them to talk about almost anything, as long as I pre-approve it, either doing a monologue or working in pairs. I get some interesting stuff, such as interviews of famous people (the best so far has been an interview of Michael Jordan and why he thought he would be a good baseball player–unfortunately, everyone declared their topics before the Tiger Woods brouhaha. I think a few of my more creative students could have come up with some very interesting presentations on that subject.)

The other assessment that I have to make involves a 5-minute interview with each student in a conversational setting. I ask them personal questions and try to ascertain their level, how much they’ve improved and their overall capability. It’s somewhat of a less-than-ideal situation, since the result comprises 20% of their final grade, whereas their presentation is only 3.5%.

Next week and the week after they all take their final online listening exam. That’s computer-based and I have no involvement in it. After the presentations finish, I put all their attendance records and test scores (except for the computer testing) into the database and the computer spits out their final grades after the final listening exam. So, most of what I have left to do is “paperwork.” Though my first class today doesn’t start until 11 a.m., I’m going into the office early to start entering some of those scores. I’m supposed to show those scores and attendance records to the students next week and have them sign off on the data, so that if there’s any question about anything, discrepancies can be handled before vacation time begins, when I won’t be available to approve of any changes.

I could work in the office tomorrow morning (Saturday) when it’s quiet and there are fewer distractions, but I want to go to Gwangju to look for a new camera bag and a surge protector for my laptop in case I decide to take it with me on vacation (I probably won’t, but there’s a small chance I might). “Vacation? Again?”, I can hear you exclaiming. Yup, three weeks off, beginning December 12th and running through January 3rd. Let’s see, where to go? . . . hmmmmm . . . where to go? You get three guesses and the first two don’t count. More later.

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