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First Boat Race

The first boat race of the season in this area was held last Saturday. It was in the village where I live, the first time I’ve been to a race here. It was hot and crowded, and the view of the race was not very impressive. I didn’t get a lot of photos of the race itself, but I got a few interesting, I think, pictures of other things. Nai and I sat in an open-air tent and watched the races from there. The start line was far to our right and the finish was a ways past us, so it was sometimes difficult to see who the winners were. Still, it was enjoyable, despite the heat, the crowd and the music blaring from a loudspeaker not more than six feet from our table. Here are a few sights from the race.

Sithanthai village boat racing team

The Sithanthai village boat racing team relaxed between races under an awning just next to us. This is usually a very strong team, and they finished 2nd to the winning Hom village team in this race.

Boat paddler relaxing in water.

One of the Sithanthai paddlers cooling off in the water after the race. I watched him for awhile until I finally decided to take a photo. He stayed in the water for about 15 minutes.

Bowsprit of dragon boat

This is the bowsprit of the Sithanthai racing boat. On every boat there is a small spirit shrine dedicated to Buddha, which you can barely see at the far left center of the picture, behind the protruding bowsprit. I asked Nai about the colors, if they had any meaning. He said that they were merely decoration, to make the boat more beautiful.

Boat racing

Yes, there really was a race. This is one of the few pictures I was able to capture of the actual racing. It looked like this team won their race, but I’m not sure what village they were from.

Fried grasshoppers

Anybody for some freshly fried grasshoppers? They go great with BeerLao, I’m told, Any takers? No? Me neither. I’ll pass, this time.

Our long break is over and the final term of the year begins today. The break was relaxing, but boring at times. We don’t get any paid vacation here, so I’m grateful to be making some money again. Back, happily, to the grind.

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.

Laos-Thailand Trip Report: Nong Khai

So, if you read my previous posts about Wat Traimit and Bangkok, you probably know that I took the overnight train to Nong Khai, in northeast Thailand, just across the Mekong River from Laos. If I recall, this train used to run, more or less, on time; perhaps it was late, but usually no more than 30 minutes or so. However, the last couple of times I’ve taken it, it’s been 2 HOURS late pulling into Nong Khai. It departs from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station at 8:30 p.m., but this trip, it didn’t pull into Nong Khai until 10:30 a.m. Hmmm, don’t know why it was so late, but perhaps the railway authorities were being cautious and slowed the train down because of possible damage done to the tracks due to the widespread flooding a few weeks before.

Anyway, I made it to Nong Khai OK and was met at the station by Nai. We checked into the Pantawee Hotel and stayed a few days there. The Pantawee had hung some new, attractive lanterns in the trees at the hotel since I’d last been there. I don’t know if they’ll be permanent decorations or if they were only seasonal, but they added a nice ambience to the property.

Pantawee Hotel Lantersn, Nong Khai, Thailand

Christmas Lanterns at Pantawee Hotel

Detracting from the usual peaceful ambience, however, was street construction going on right in front of the hotel. I usually like to sit at the outdoor patio in the morning to eat breakfast or just have a cup of coffee or two. The extreme noise and dust made it impossible to enjoy a quiet morning outside; sitting inside wasn’t too bad, though, and, occasionally work would halt for a short while, with the temporary silence standing in sharp contrast to the noise.

Nong Khai Street Construction

Street construction in front of the Pantawee Hotel

Another peaceful spot in Nong Khai is the promenade along the Mekong River. It’s quite pleasant to take a stroll, to sit in the shade of one of the gazebos, or to eat in one of the many restaurants. We usually have lunch and/or supper along here. Below are a few food photos of tom yam (tohm yahm), a spicy and sour soup, with fish, and fried rice with chicken. Nai and I shared the tom yam, and I had the fried rice. Both were delicious and cheap.

Tom Yam Thai Soup

Tom yam with fish

Thai Fried Rice with Chicken

Thai fried rice with chicken

You could also take a short excursion on the Mekong. Below are a couple of photos of boating leisure. The first was taken in Nong Khai and the second was taken last summer in Yeosu, looking down from the Dolsan Bridge. Which one would you prefer? I like both of them.

Taking a boat ride on the Mekong River

Taking a boat ride on the Mekong River

Lazy Day Fishing in Yeosu, South Korea

Lazy Day Fishing in Yeosu, South Korea

Probably the biggest highlight of the whole vacation was the chance to attend a live concert of Isaan music. Nai and I did just that on the evening of December 23rd. We enjoyed a 3 to 3 1/2 hour concert featuring traditional and modern Isaan music. Isaan is a region of northeast Thailand that features various aspects of Lao and Thai culture, including language, music and cuisine. I didn’t take any photos, but I did take about 50 minutes of video with my point-and-shoot camera. (I didn’t take the big DSLR with me on this trip.) The area in front of the stage was too crowded to get close, and I was handholding the camera in low light, so the videos aren’t all that great. But, I’m going to try to piece together the best bits into one video and get it posted here eventually. So, tune in for that and for a few photos of my visit to Laos. More later.

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

The Vientiane Dragon Boat Racing Festival is one of the events marking the end of the Buddhist Lent period, which is called Ork Punsa in Laos and Thailand (read about it at the Buddhism Inter blog, at this Laos travel blog, or at Lao Voices). The race was held this past Thursday, Oct. 13th, along the Mekong River in the capital. Check out this video posted on You Tube to see some of the racing and some of the other goings-on along the riverbank. Lao Voices also has a short article on the history of the boats.

Nai told me that his entire village was celebrating because many of the young men on the winning team, including one of his brothers, are from his neck of the woods. I’ve watched these guys practice and race before, and they are an amazing sight to watch. The You Tube video above will give you some sense of the strength and team work of the top crews. Wish I’d been there. Someday, perhaps.

Out and About in Yeosu Part II

Here are a few more shots of various Yeosu scenes. I suppose this post’s theme could be buildings and construction. There’s quite a lot of construction in the area as Yeosu prepares for the 2012 Expo. Naturally, most of the construction is centered around the Expo site, but there are other areas experiencing hotel and apartment building projects.

One of these is the Ocean Park Resort, out near the Soho Yacht Marina. The hotel being built on the property was originally supposed to be about 660 feet tall, which would have made it the tallest in Yeosu. I think that it’s been downgraded due to construction costs beyond the original estimate. You can see the original design and some early photos of its construction at the Skyscraper City website. Originally schedule to be open this year, it now appears that it won’t be finished until 2014. Here’s the most recent photo I took.

Here’s another shot from the Soho Yacht Marina.

Farther left in the photo above, out of the shot, is the Ocean Park Waterslide area. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day I rode my bicycle there. It’s fairly large and I’m told that it gets a lot of use. Here’s just a small section of it.

Back down the shoreline a bit is another hotel under construction. This one’s kind of isolated with not too much going on around it and it’s more than a few kilometers from the Expo site. Still, if it’s finished in time, it’ll probably get a fair amount of business.

And another view.

This apartment building near Lotte Mart and the Dolsan Bridge has been under construction ever since I arrived in Yeosu three years ago, and very little construction has been done on it. Recently, though, things have been picking up. I think the original outfit that was building it went under and a new owner took over. The original artist’s rendering of the complex has changed, as well as the complex name. Maybe it’ll be finished soon, but who knows?

And, just a few more shots taken on a walking trip. The first one is a view of the harbor where many of the fishing boats are docked.

Finally, there’s no sense wasting roof space above your house. While your laundry is drying, you can also dry a few crops up there, too. More later.

Boats and Churches

Hmmm, boats . . . do I mean arks? No, not really. I was just going through some of my older photos, kind of cleaning the cobwebs out of the attic, so to speak, and came across a few shots of some boats I took. First up is one taken at the Tall Ship Festival that was held way back in May. Here’s an article about the festival, which was held in conjunction with the annual Turtle Ship Festival. I wrote about the turtle ship as part of my Field Trip post of November 7th this year.

This is a lineup of some of the ships, including a modern-day Korean naval vessel, taking part in the festival. The two tall ships, the Pallada and the Nadezhda, if I’m not mistaken, are from Russia.

Ships_in_line

Here’s a replica of a turtle ship, also displayed at the festival. It features armor plating and sturdy wooden planking, and, to deter enemies from boarding, sharp metal spikes studded the deck. By all accounts, they were very effective in staving off Japanese invasion fleets in the late 16th century, though there weren’t many of them, according to this Wikipedia article.

Turtle_Ship1

Hiding in there somewhere is the Korean training tall ship, the Koreana. Here’s a photo of it at the Soho Yacht Marina, a photo I played around with in Photoshop to give it a somewhat antique look.

Koreana_Antique

Also in the marina area is an interesting Korean church. There is no shortage of unusual, strange and downright bizarre Christian churches in Korea. I could probably publish a coffee table book of them. (Hmmm, there’s an idea.) Are these churches established in existing buildings or are they built from scratch? I imagine it’s a bit of both. The first shot below is a church near the Sindeok Beach area. To me, it resembles the prow of a ship (the ark?). What do you think?

Church2

Now, here’s the one that’s not too far from the marina. If the church above resembles a ship, what does this one resemble? What’s its theme or motif? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below, if you’d like.

Church1

[NOTE: Added these photos and one more of me (as if anyone would care except my mother :-)) to the Yeosu Photos section in the Photo Gallery.]

Lazy, Lazy, Lazy

Well, at least it seems that way as far as the length of time between posts lately, but I have been fairly busy writing lesson plans and teaching the classes. I finally have a few classes where all the students will be staying here throughout the summer, rather than shuttling between here and Tampa. Thus, I can plan a systematic progression of lessons for them. Come the first part of April, whoever is remaining and whoever returns from Tampa of the earlier group will also be staying here for the summer, so I can plan for them also. It’s keeping me busy. But, for the next couple of weeks, most of my classes will contain players who are going to Tampa the first part of April.

Then comes the good part. The first week in April is Semana Santa, or Holy Week, the week before Easter. The Yanks are putting us up again at Juan Dolio, this time for 10 days, so the rumors say. More beach time! As promised, below are some photos from the previous visit to Juan Dolio at the Decameron Resort Hotel.

Here I am piloting our catamaran back from Saona Island, steering my way easily through the calm waters. Nothing to fear, fellow passengers–the captain knew what he was doing when he entrusted your well-being to Cap’n Ron. Hey, where did those rocks come fr. . . .

Capn_Ron

A shot of the beautiful Saona, which, unfortunately, is no longer as pristine as it once might have been, what with the dozens of tourists (myself included) who visit there every day. A power boat took us out to the island, where we played volleyball or lounged in the sun. Included in the price of the trip ($50) were a barbecue and beverages, but the most fun was partying on the slow catamaran back. A group of American doctors and nurses, most of whom are from the Flint, Michigan area, was doing volunteer work in nearby San Pedro de Macoris. They were staying at the Decameron, so they made the tour also, and were quite prone to whooping it up in their offtime–a lot of fun to be around.

Saona_Island_1

Surprisingly, except for Saturday and Sunday, the beach at hotel was not that crowded. Here’s the view from one of the thatched-roof cabanas.

Cabana

The lack of crowds also made for good walking down the beach. Here are a couple of “washed up” boats, lonely in their demise, about a mile-long stroll from the Decameron.

Boats

Hope you enjoy these; I certainly enjoyed taking them. 😛 I’ll put them in the Photo Gallery, along with a few others I took. More later.