MontanaRon

An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Category: Miscellaneous

Pink Invaders?

We’ve had a lot of rain recently, leaving the area back of the house with several inches of water. I’ve noticed that on the cement wall in back there are these weird-looking pink “things” that have been clinging to it. What the heck are they?, I thought.

Apple snail eggs

These are apple snail eggs, pink “aliens” clinging to the low wall in the back of my house.

So, I did a search on Bing (I don’t like using Google, for various reasons). Are they animal, vegetable or mineral? I eliminated mineral, so animal or vegetable. The word mollusk popped up in my mind, so I did an image search for pink mollusk. Bingo! Got it right away. These appear to be the eggs of the apple snail, which lays its eggs above the waterline, according to this Wikipedia article. Mystery solved. Thankfully, they’re not space invaders.

USA Trip — In Las Vegas

 

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas Sign Las Vegas, Nevada

Howdy

Howdy, folks. Come on in (to our casinos), pull up a chair (in front of our slots) and sit a while (and feed the machine with cash).Photo by Ron

Las Vegas. Sin City. Lost Wages. The Entertainment Capital of the World. Disneyland for Adults. Fabulous Las Vegas. No matter what you call it, LV is unique. It’s in the desert. It’s dry. It’s hot. It’s expensive. You can lose everything there, or, improbably, make a fortune. It’s exciting, vibrant, bizarre, surreal, . . . And the list goes on. I love it! One thing I can say about the city’s effect on me–ever since I returned to Laos, I have found everything to be b-o-r-i-n-g. With a capital B. Boring. Everyone should visit Vegas once in their lifetimes–gambling not necessary.

I didn’t take that many photos of my trip there. Thousands and thousands of photos have been taken of all the Vegas highlights–The Strip, Downtown, the casinos and hotels, and all the other things that make LV famous, so I’m not going to bore everyone with the same old photos. Do a Google search for any others. I did take a few photos of something that surprised me–it’s a very artistic city. I stayed downtown near the Fremont Street Experience area, and I found a number of paintings and artistic graffiti adorning the walls of various buildings and strange sculptures filling empty spaces. I’ll show a few of those at the end of the post. Other photos are from the Internet, mostly with a Google Creative Commons license or from free photo stock websites. Any other photos have been attributed to me or credit given to others where credit is due.

El Cortez Hotel

El Cortez Hotel, my home away from home for five nights. It’s a nice enough throwback to the “old days” of Vegas and fairly cheap. I recommend it.

Rather than give a daily account of what I did, I’m going to write about what impressed me and what I didn’t do that I want to do the next time I visit the city. I stayed at the El Cortez Hotel and yes, I gambled and drank a few beers at a few bars I wanted to visit out of sheer interest, which I’ll detail further on, and I walked around a lot, despite the 114 degree heat during the day while I was there. (I spent a lot of time staying cool indoors, of course.)

Gambling

Not everyone who visits Vegas gambles or goes there for that purpose. I didn’t go there to gamble; I went to have fun, which I did. However, I did set a gambling budget, I’ll call it GB$. Once I hit that dollar amount, I wouldn’t gamble anymore. As it turns out, I only spent about half of the GB$. I wouldn’t call that a win, of course, but I didn’t feel too bad about the money I lost. Some days I did OK, others were kind of pffft. But I had fun losing the money. I guess that sums up the gambling experience in LV for many people–have fun losing your shirt. HA! (Luckily, I didn’t lose my shirt.)

So, with gambling out of the way, here are some other observations.

Most Interesting Bars That I Visited

Atomic Liquors

Imagine sitting on the roof back in the 50s and watching the beginning of the end of the world.

Atomic Liquors–This bar is a few blocks down from the El Cortez, away from the Fremont Street Experience. What makes it fascinating is that while atomic bomb test explosions were being held above ground in the Nevada desert in the 1950s, bar patrons would sit on the rooftop to watch the bombs going off. Wow! I wonder how many people died early due to doses of radiation they might have gotten. Also, the Rat Pack (Sinatra, Dean Martin, et. al.) used to hang out here on occasion. It’s a nice place with a mostly local crowd, friendly bar tenders and a decent selection of craft beer. Cool and comfortable inside, it’s still going strong, but sans A-bombs.

The Griffin

The Griffin in Las Vegas

The Griffin is almost right across the street from the El Cortez, and there’s a green neon-lit griffin (duh) that’s easy to spot at night above its mostly unnoticeable entrance. I went during a bright, sunny afternoon and walking inside was like entering a dark medieval castle, something right out of the Game of Thrones. It’s dimness and stone walls are part of its attraction, as is an open fire pit in the middle of the floor, used during Vegas’s sometimes chilly winter evenings. The place wasn’t very crowded, so I sat at the bar and drank a craft beer, a local hefeweiss, I believe.

Another patron of the bar, with shoulder-length hair and sporting some tattoos, came up to order some drinks and started yelling, not in a bad way, how people shouldn’t be rude. I think he was jabbering at his three friends, but he turned to me and said in a loud voice, but not in a bad way, “Right, man? People shouldn’t be rude!” I whole-heartedly agreed with Sir Rude, and he asked me my name, where I was from, etc. and then he proceeded to talk with the bar tender (“Don’t be rude. It ain’t right!”). One of his friends came over a few minutes later, and Sir Rude introduced me. I started chatting with the friend and found out these guys had driven over from Los Angeles to spend a few nights, and they were going to meet their friend, the drummer in the band Cheap Trick, who were playing on Fremont Street the night after. They said, not in a bad way, that I’d better go there to watch the band, and I said “Of course I will. I’ll see you there.” I took my leave, since my beer was finished, and escaped into the hot afternoon sunlight. They were interesting guys, and after talking with them a while, I figured they were just getting started for the evening, but not in a bad way. Unfortunately, I never made it to the concert, where I would have been just another face among thousands watching, so I’m sure I wouldn’t have seen my new friends. Too bad.
Anyway, the Griffin’s OK. It’s unusual, interesting, and exciting, depending on the patrons. Stop in when you’re in Vegas. You never know who you’ll meet.

Don't Tell Mama

A nice little piano bar, located at Neonopolis.

Don’t Tell Mama is a cozy, friendly, and relaxing piano bar located in Neonopolis, very close to the Fremont Street Experience. I stopped in a little later at night, since it doesn’t open until 8 p.m. There weren’t a whole lot of people there, and the piano player was crooning some show tunes and other light favorites. It’s a nice place to take a breather, but I was told it gets quite crowded later in the evening. I’m not much of a night owl anymore, so I missed out on all the late night action around town, which is probably a good thing. ( aside: I was always up at 5:30 a.m., my usual wake up time, though I was occasionally up past my normal 10 p.m. bed time , when most of the parties are just getting started in LV, I suppose. My bad.)

Main Street Station hotel

Main Street Station hotel. It and the California Hotel are more or less attached to each other.

Also worth mentioning were a couple of hotel/casino bars in Main Street Station, the Triple Seven Restaurant and Brewery, and the Boar’s Head Bar. Triple 7 brews their own craft beer on premises, and large plate glass windows give patrons a view of the big vats the beer is brewed in. I spent Saturday afternoon here watching the Yankees-Dodgers game, surrounded by Dodger fans from LA. Unfortunately, the Yanks lost this game, so I took a lot of good-natured ribbing from the Dodger section. (I was wearing my Yankee cap.) There’s an awesome restaurant here, too, so you can chow down on snacks or meals. I hear the burgers are delicious.

The Boar’s Head, playing video poker at the bar, watching the NY-LA game, again having to put up with Dodger fans, except the Yanks won this time, so it was my turn to return the jeers. (Not in a bad way, of course.) Sitting next to me was a high school teacher from LA, a pleasant fellow, and we had a good chat about teaching in general. The Boar’s Head bar is covered with video poker machines, but you don’t have to play them. If you do, you’ll get your beer or mixed drinks for free. Also, if you play the machines and get either four-of-a-kind or a straight flush, the casino will give you a scratch ticket that could be worth up to $5,000, if I’m not mistaken. I hit a straight flush (worth $100, which I eventually cashed in for) and got a ticket. Scratched it off with some excitement and found out that I had won . . . wait for it . . . $2. Woo-hoo! Anyway, these two bars are worth a visit, inside Main Street Station hotel and casino, as is the Garden Court Buffet.

Garden Court Buffet

This was the only buffet I ate at, a couple of times for breakfast, and once for the champagne brunch on Sunday. It’s a great place to get your fill; there’s a large selection of breakfast items, and brunch features carved turkey, roast beef, fried chicken, and other goodies, along with breakfast fare. The food’s great, there’s plenty of it and the price is right. I think I paid, if I recall, around $12, though I think the champagne (actually, sparkling wine) was a few bucks more. Great place to eat. I usually filled up here, and didn’t have to eat a full meal the rest of the day.

Berlin Wall at Main Street Station

Part of the Berlin Wall that you can find in one of the men’s restrooms at Main Street Station. I don’t know how the hotel got hold of it, but it’s a nice point of interest. (Photo by Ron)

Oh, also at Main Street Station, in one of the men’s restrooms, you can relieve yourself in urinals that are attached to a section of the old Berlin Wall. (Main Street Station is an awesome hotel/casino–might stay there next time I go to LV.)

Junk Food

First, the junk food I didn’t care for was White Castle burgers (sliders). I’d heard about White Castle for a long time and many people give it rave reviews, but I’d never tried it. So, I was looking forward to getting a takeout at this iconic restaurant. Unfortunately, White Castle on Fremont Street just didn’t do it for me. I found the sliders pretty tasteless and they looked very unappetizing as the raw meat waited to be cooked. (A sickly-looking pink color.) Maybe other locations are better, but this one didn’t make it for me.

On the other hand, I found a perfect late-night, up-all-night-drinking (though I didn’t do that) junk lover’s gourmet delight. It’s American Coney Island Hot Dogs located inside the D Hotel (and casino, of course) overlooking Fremont Street. I popped in there the next afternoon on my quest for a perfect junk food snack after my disappointing stop at White Castle the evening before. There’s a pretty basic menu, and I tried a dog with chili, onions and mustard. That’s it. It was, in my opinion, perfect. If you like hot dogs, this is the place to go. Give it a try.

The only other restaurant at which I ate with some frequency was Siegel’s 1941 inside the El Cortez. They’ve got a great prime rib special ($12.99) which isn’t on the menu, so you have to ask for it. It’s quite good, with a choice of potato and a veggie. The spaghetti’s not bad, either. A nice, cozy, somewhat upscale restaurant.

Also located in ElCo was Naked City Pizza, (they’ve shut down in ElCo because of family time concerns), a Vegas institution (four locations around the city, I believe). Very good pizza, great for a late night snack. I ordered a couple of small ones, pepperoni, during my stay and I ended up with leftovers for a pre-buffet snack. (Did I mention that I probably ate too much in Vegas?) I’m not much of a cold pizza lover, and, since there are no microwaves in most hotels in Vegas, I set the room hair dryer on high and waved it over the pizza for a few minutes. That did the trick, pretty well. Give it a try next time you have leftovers in your hotel room.

Best Free Entertainment

Fremont Street Experience

Freemont Street Experience. Crazy place. Fun place. R-rated, at least.

Just walk down the Fremont Street Experience during the later hours of the evening. Street artists, performance artists, acrobats, buskers, free stage shows, women (and men) wearing outfits that leave little to the imagination, fat middle-aged men wearing speedos, women in dominatrix outfits, costumed performers (Spiderman, Batman, et. al.) and on and on. Bizarre, surreal, weird, risque, entertaining and definitely not an area for young children. You’ve been warned! There is a large police presence there, so it’s quite safe (beware of pick pockets, though) and there is no overt sexuality (you know, like nakedness). It’s all in good fun. Also, there is the famous Viva Vision Light Show on the overhead canopy that runs down Fremont Street for about five blocks. It takes place every hour, on the hour, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., so you have to time it correctly, as it’s only 6 minutes long.

Places I Didn’t Visit

The Mob Museum, the Neon Museum, the Arts District, the Slotzilla Zip Line that runs high above Fremont St. and others. I’ve got to save something for next time, right? I also didn’t get out to the Strip, but next time I’ll probably go there just to see the Bellagio Fountains and take a ride on the High Roller Wheel. I spent a lot of time wandering through various casinos without gambling, just taking in the decor, but there are many more I didn’t visit.

There is a lot more that I could write about my trip to LV, but I feel this post has gotten too long as it is. I hope you’ve read this far. It probably comes through that, yeah, I really love Las Vegas and plan to go back again sometime. Viva Las Vegas!

The trip back was uneventful. Vegas to LA to Taiwan to Bangkok to Udon Thani to Nongkhai, where I spent a few days with Nai visiting our friend Toom, who has a restaurant/bar there.

One thing about being back in the ‘States: It was good to be back in a country where things function, for the most part, as they’re supposed to function, unlike here in Laos.

P.S. In case you’re wondering what my gambling bankroll was, the GB$, well . . . What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!

Bye

Good-bye folks. Thanks for your money, uhhh, I mean thanks for visiting. Hope to see you again, real soon. (Photo by Ron)

Here are a few miscellaneous photos and photos of things that I found to be artsy, odd, or both, all taken by me.

Early morning

Early morning from my hotel room, looking east, more or less.

Early morning

Another shot from the room, a little later in the morning.

Elevator hall

This is looking south toward the Stratosphere, from the elevator hall.

New Circa Hotel

This is the new Circa Hotel going up on Fremont Street. It’s supposed to open in 2020. I dare say prices for a room will be quite high, compared to some of the other hotels in the area.

Baseball player statue

Uh, what the hey? Yeah, a statue of a baseball player lying on the ground. Las Vegas isn’t famous for baseball (yet), so I don’t have a clue what this was or is. Take a guess.

Machine

The fall (or rise?) of the machines. What was it? I don’t know–it’s just lying there. Close to El Cortez, kind of.

Empty Club

How long has it been empty? What kind of club was it? Why is it empty? Did the machine (see previous photo) have anything to do with it being empty?

Ferguson's Downtown

Ferguson’s used to be a motel on Fremont Street, but it’s been turned into a neighborhood meeting area/market place. This creation is on the grounds of Ferguson’s.

Wall Art

This photo and the five following it are pieces of wall art that I found interesting, all of them along Fremont Street or nearby. My regret is that I didn’t get down to the Arts District to see many more artistic works. Next time.

Rainy Season Arrives in Force

The days and weeks of rain are definitely here. We had a couple inches of rain last Sunday, and there are about four inches in the forecast for today and tomorrow. It’s been raining steadily since last night, and everything is quite wet, of course.

It’s cozy and dry inside the new house, but outside it’s a different story. The house is built up from the ground by a couple of feet, so parking our motorbikes in the large kitchen area out of the rain (and away from potential thieves) is a bit of a chore. The owner first built a wooden ramp that we used to get the bikes inside, but it was too narrow. The first time I tried to ride up it, I fell off and my bike fell on top of me. Fortunately, no damage was done to either the bike or me. Nai tried to ride up it, but he had a heck of a time getting in the door.

So, we asked the owner to come up with an alternative, if he could. He piled up a truckload of dirt that is much easier to get up and get into the house. (See the picture I took in a prior post. Look to the left side of the house, in the back.) Unfortunately, when it rains the dirt turns into a quagmire of gumbo. When I came back from work last night, I parked the bike outside and went in the house through the front door. First, though, I took off my wet shoes (I forgot to take my sandals with me) that got soaked from riding to the house through the sometimes-heavy rain. Luckily, I had my poncho with me, so I didn’t get too wet, except for the shoes. I went to the back area and put on my sandals, unlocked the back door, went back out the front door, grabbed the bike and pushed it through the gumbo, giving it some gas in second gear to help it along, and up the dirt into the house.

Unfortunately, my sandals got caked with at least two inches of mud on the bottom, so I felt like I was walking in high heels. The motorbike tires were in equal straits. I cleaned the sandals this morning, but the tires will only get clean as I ride to work today.

Nai’s going to ask the owner to try to come up with another solution. The wooden ramp would work fine if only he’d make it wider. The owner, Kay, is a great guy, so I’m sure he’ll come up with something. Until then, we’ll just have to hope for some sun later in the week.

Muddy path

This doesn’t look too bad, but it’s very soft. It’s not like quicksand–it’s more like “quickmud.”

Muddy tire

This will be rough riding until the mud sloughs off on the paved road. Until then, though, going out and down the back ramp is going to increase the mud build-up. Hope I don’t get stuck!

Leaving, Arriving

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but it’s also quite a hassle. Packing for a three-week vacation is troublesome. Should I bring my swimming pants that are three sizes too small? How about my sunglasses? I’ve never worn them before, but maybe it’ll be really, really bright this time and my retinas might get burned out. There’s this outside chance that I might get asked to do a bit of juggling, so I’d better bring those yellow tennis balls that I “found” at the court. Right? So many non life-threatening decisions to make.

Moving permanently is a different beast altogether. In a way, it’s easier. After you’ve packed everything, you just look around your abysmally small apartment to see if anything you’ve accumulated over the past five years, including dust, food droppings, sticky notes with meaningless phone numbers written on them and your passport are still lying in hidden corners of your room. If they are, pick them up and either toss them in the garbage or keep them. There should be nothing remaining. Everything important should be in your 1995 vintage Kelty backpack or your hand-me-down suitcase, given to you by Rob, a Scottish colleague who returned home six months ago.

But, before packing, I have to decide “Do I keep it or haul it out to the trash bin?” That old, moldy coffee maker has to go of course, as do all the condiments in the ‘fridge, including the five year old jar of what used to be pickles. Incense? Gone. All that old scratch paper? Gone. Garish polyester shirts that I bought in the Dominican Republic? Hmmm, they sure pack nice (wrinkle-free) and they kind of make a statement and I sure like the day-glo colors. Keep ’em.

It was problematic, but I finally packed everything that I thought I needed to have for a permanent change of location and life. I finished all the obligations to the university, like paying my final utility bill and cleaning my apartment, and I left. For good. Never to return to South Korea, I waved it a more or less fond farewell. I hopped on the overnight bus from Yeosu to Incheon Airport with no regrets, no tears of farewell and no looking back.

The bus departs Yeosu at 11:10 pm and arrives at the airport at 4 am. Usually, I can intermittently doze off, but I never arrive at Incheon refreshed. As a matter of fact, I always need a transfusion of caffeine. You really have to experience the vast emptiness of Incheon Airport at 4 in the morning. It’s like the Sahara of Korea. Dry. Unoccupied. Trackless. Except for KFC and McDonalds restaurants. They’re open at that ungodly hour. I don’t care for fried chicken for breakfast, so I always order a McDonalds Big Breakfast. I hate McDonalds. Really, I can’t stand it. I live for Burger King, but the BK at Incheon doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. So, the Mac breakfast has to tide me over. Especially the Huge Cup of coffee. I embrace it.

So it was, then, that I checked in at China Eastern Airline, and left Korea for Bangkok, with a brief stop at Shanghai. Four thirty in the morning is dark, of course, but the sun eventually rose on a smoggy, hazy, foggy, misty morning. What was it? Smog, haze, fog, mist. Seoul, and nearby Incheon, had been experiencing a lot of smog and dust blown over, I suspect, from China. The morning was not illuminating. Here’s a shot of the airport.

Incheon Airport smog

It’s a hazy, misty, smoggy morning at Incheon International Airport.

The plane ride to Shanghai, the only stop, was uneventful, but the view from Pudong airport wasn’t any different from Incheon. Indeed, smog seems to be taking over all of east Asia. The atmosphere seemed to be a mix of fog, mist and smog, but the rising Sun couldn’t dissipate the smog.

Smoggy Pudong Airport in Shanghai

It’s quite smoggy at Pudong Airport in Shanghai around 10 a.m. local time.

I had about a two hour layover at Pudong Airport, so, as I always do in an airport that I’ve never been to before, I walked around the concourse. It’s a stunning-looking area, but the main concourse goes on forever. I would guess the straight-line walk from end to end is at least a kilometer long and maybe closer to two. Lining almost the entire length are duty free shops, where you can buy Chinese-themed items. Stuffed panda bears? Check. Chinese tassels? Check. Chinese tea? Check. Restaurants? Not many. I didn’t go into any of the restaurants or coffee shops, mainly because I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t have any Chinese yuan on me. The businesses will exchange dollars, but the exchange rate is cruel.

Pudong Airport Concourse

The main, very long concourse at Pudong Airport in Shanghai. Walking up and down this duty-free lined passage will give you plenty of exercise.

Stuffed panda bears

Cute cuddly pandas on sale in the Panda Store at Pudong Airport in Shanghai.

Stuffed panda bears

More pandas at the panda “hangout” in Pudong Airport, Shanghai.

Chinese tassels

Chinese tassels, thousands of them, can be found at the duty free shops at Pudong.

Chinese tea

Chinese tea for sale at the duty free shops. All kinds, all tastes.

From Shanghai, it was a four-and-a-half hour flight to Bangkok. China Eastern definitely isn’t the greatest airline in the world. No in-flight movie that I could hear or understand even if I could hear it, and no great food, but the service wasn’t bad, and I had a window seat, which I always enjoy in the daytime. And the flight was on time–extra points for that.

When I stepped out of the climate-controlled, stale, dry air of the plane cabin, I knew that I was in Bangkok when the heat and humidity enclosed me in a suffocating cocoon, but I loved it after the winter temperatures of South Korea. Welcome to Thailand! More on Bangkok later.

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