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Season’s Greetings

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Solstice and . . .

One of my favorite times of the year is here, that time between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. It always brings back great memories of the past, all the way back, of course, to childhood days. Despite the stress of the holidays, I hope everyone has a great holiday season.

Of course, one of the things I don’t care for at this time of year is the winter weather in the northern latitudes; e.g., Korea and Montana. Right now it’s not too bad in Yeosu, with temperatures a bit over 40 degrees F. (6 C.) It’s been getting down to a little below freezing at night, and, of course, we get our usual share of howling winds that contribute to a much colder wind chill temperature.

In a vain attempt to stave off winter, I kept my header summer photos up a bit longer than usual, but you’ll notice that I changed them to the wintry scenes that I usually have up. Those scenes show a lot of snow, something that we don’t get in Yeosu, thankfully.

Anyway, again, Season’s Greetings to everyone. Good health and cheer to all.

SantaRon

Today, Saturday, we had to work several hours to fulfill with our contractual obligations, so we had a fun day with our special Vision English classes. As happened last year at this time, I was asked to be Santa Claus in one of the activities we did. Huh!? Well, our students had to go around to various places on campus in a scavenger hunt activity, find the relevant teacher, and complete the English language tasks that were assigned. For SantaRon (yours truly), the students had to tell me two presents they wanted for Christmas and one present they didn’t want, and they had to give me reasons for wanting and not wanting the gifts. We also had some sports activities in the afternoon, which were interrupted by rain.

Not withstanding the fact that a normal day off was taken away, everyone seemed to have a good time, including me. But Santa wasn’t impressed.

Santa Ron

Where’s the Action

Anyway, it was all kinda fun, despite the rain and Santa’s boredom. It’s still raining quite heavy right now with more to come later, but Santa’s kind of happy to be high and dry in his apartment, wondering where Rudolph is hangin’ out, and dreading another Christmas run. Ho-ho-ho. More later.

Happy Holidays

To all my readers, friends, colleagues and family–may you have a very enjoyable holiday season and a prosperous and happy New Year.

I’m in Nongkhai, Thailand at the moment and I’ll be heading over the border into Laos tomorrow, Christmas Day. Even though Thailand and Laos are Buddhist countries, many of their people celebrate Christmas as a holiday, not a religious event. Nai and I went to Tesco-Lotus (a department store/mall) today and the place was packed with shoppers. Of course, it’s Saturday, but it still seemed like a lot more people were out today than on a normal weekend. Perhaps the Spirit of Christmas is not recognized here, but the Spirit of Consumerism is alive and well.

Like I said, I’m going into Laos tomorrow and I’ll spend several days with Nai and his family, celebrating the holidays. Folks there will be eating and drinking and entertaining friends. We’ll be chowing down on those large Mekong fish that are so delicious and I’m sure the Beer Lao will be flowing all over the country.

The weather has been great, with daytime temperatures in the high seventies (25 C.) and cool nights, around 55 or so (13 C.), I would guess, and plenty of sunshine. I’m not looking forward to going back to chilly, windy Yeosu in a few weeks.

I’ve got some photos to post, but I want to edit them first and, unfortunately, I don’t have any photo editing software on this particular computer. I’ll try to get some of them up before returning to Yeosu, but if I don’t, I’ll get them up as soon as I do return.

Again, Happy Holidays to all.

Vacation Time

It’s the end of the fall semester, so, as usual, I’ve been busy with final assessments, grading, paperwork, meetings and other duties. But soon, however, I’ll be vacationing in Laos (mainly) to visit with my friend Nai and his family. Korea’s weather is starting to turn wintry cold, so spending some time in a more tropical clime is very appealing, of course.

I’m not going for a long time–just a bit more than a few weeks. My Air China flight to Bangkok leaves next Monday around noon, and I’ll be back in Yeosu on January 5th. I got a pretty good price on the flight about a month and a half ago, but that price came with some long layover times in Beijing, five or so hours going and more than seven hours coming back. Going to Bangkok will be the worst leg of the trip. I’ll be leaving Yeosu on the 11 p.m. bus to Incheon Airport, which arrives around 4:30 in the morning. Since my flight doesn’t take off until around noon, I’ll have a long wait. Incheon, however, is one of the top rated airports in the world, so I don’t mind hanging around there for that amount of time. Then, I go to Beijing and have a wait of about 5 hours until I go to Bangkok. I don’t arrive in the “City of Angels” until around midnight. From there, I’ll take a taxi to my hotel, probably not getting to sleep until 2 a.m. A long day, indeed.

After goofing around in Bangkok for an all-too-short while, I’ll take the overnight train to Nongkhai on the evening of the 21st, arriving there the next day around 8:30 in the morning. I’ll spend a few days in Nongkhai with Nai, then we’ll cross the Friendship Bridge into Laos, and . . . hmmm, not really sure. We might head up to Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang, or we might decide to stay at his family residence for Christmas and New Year. Christmas in a Buddhist, Communist country–an interesting place to spend the holidays, to say the least.

Finally, after whatever adventures and strange situations that occur in Laos, I’ll take the train back to Bangkok and take a flight back to Incheon on the 4th of January, including another long layover in Beijing. Such is the cost of cheap airline tickets.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep you posted about the trip, so stay tuned for more later.

In Transit

It’s now 2 p.m., Vietnam time, and I’m sitting in a restaurant/internet cafe, one of two in the transit area of the Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi. Incongruously, for this Communist country, it would seem, Christmas decorations abound in the restaurant–tinsel, fake candy canes, a plastic tree with blinking lights, and Santas and other decorations attached to the walls. It’s a fairly festive atmosphere, especially with Christmas songs playing in the background–Jingle Bells, Here Comes Santa Claus, Rudolph the RNR and others, but nothing overtly religious. I wonder how much Christmas atmosphere there is in Hanoi itself. In this restaurant in the transit lounge, it’s probably not that surprising since a number of Westerners must wait here for their flights departing out of the country. There were quite a few of us about half an hour ago, but now I’m alone in the place, which is kind of a cross between art-deco and neo-communist chic. As if I would know. (I took a photo and I’ll post it in this entry when I return to Korea.)

Hanoi-Restaurant-w

The flight here was uneventful, though I wouldn’t give Vietnam Airlines the same lofty status I give to Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airlines or Thai Orchid, for example. (No, I’m not name-dropping.) The food was mediocre, the cabin staff kind of stand-offish, and there was no video-on-demand (individual video choice) despite the presence of individual screens in the seatback in front of me. The screens didn’t work and neither did the sound over the headphones, so we were stuck watching “Get Smart” on the overheads without sound. I give them 2 stars out of 5. Maybe I’m getting jaded.

The only interesting things so far have been the restaurant and the immense emptiness of Incheon International Airport at 4:30 in the morning, the time I arrived there. What few people were there at that time were swallowed up by the cavernous departure hall. It seemed like I had the whole place to myself. Next stop, Vientiane. More later.

Saturday Drive, Merry Christmas!

John, my boss, drove down from Rabat yesterday in his quest for snow. It was a chilly, rainy overcast day in Meknes, so we assumed there would be plenty of new snow in the Middle Atlas Mountains south of here. John wanted to drive up to Lake Afenourir, a protected bird habitat, about 26 km south of Azrou.

Lac d’Afenourir

It was an interesting drive in the fog and mist, and, after arriving, we walked near the shore for about 45 minutes, looking for exotic birds, but all we saw were the usual assortment of ducks and geese (though I could have been looking right at the rarest bird in the world and not known). It was rainy, windy and somewhat cold, so we scurried back to the car and drove back to the pavement. John’s been itching to give his 4-wheel drive Subaru, the only Subaru in Morocco as far as he knows, a good off-road test, so we picked a dirt road at random and headed into the Middle Atlas, winding ever higher into the mountains.

The Road Goes Ever On

We got back in a ways, perhaps 10 miles or so, and ended up in a very small, Berber family compound, with the muddy and, in spots, almost impassable track continuing steeply to the ridge beyond. John was getting low on gas, so we decided to go back to the main road. In better weather these roads would be fun to explore to see where they go. Drive far enough, about 150 miles or so, and you’d end up in the Sahara. Again, though, we didn’t see any new snow; the temperature was still just a few degrees too warm.

Middle Atlas Mountains

We stopped in Ifrane on the drive back and ate supper at a very nice cafe. I ordered a pizza and what I thought would be a small salad. The salad turned out to be rather huge. John looked at it and asked, “What the heck did you order!” I told him I thought it would be smaller. He ordered a Vietnamese shrimp salad (yes, Vietnamese) and a Vietnamese omelet. It turned out his order was also more than he bargained for. We managed to polish off the lot, though. Yes, the restaurant serves Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, but I don’t know how authentic they are. It was quite an eclectic experience–stopping in a town built by the French to resemble an alpine resort, eating East Asian food and, very briefly, having a group of Chinese tourists (presumably) sit next to us. John recognized the language as Chinese, but the group must have decided not to stay, as they sat for only a few minutes and got up and left.

Anyway, that’s how I spent most of Christmas Eve Day. It’s raining again, lightly, today, so I won’t have a white Christmas. But, I’ll have a good one, I suppose. I bought a small turkey breast that I’ll roast, whip up some mashed potatoes and gravy, some frozen green peas and get a loaf of fresh bread from the patisserie. The students are out on practicum this coming week, so I’m in no hurry to make up lesson plans. If it clears up later, maybe I’ll take the bicycle out for a spin. So, wherever you’re at– Korea, the U.S., Canada, Thailand, Laos or Morocco–have a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year! More later.

Blue Skies, Smilin’ at Me . . .

Not! It’s been a very rainy, very cold day in Meknes. It’s probably the first time I’ve really felt cold. As I posted earlier, I think, my apartment building has no central heating and I don’t have any heaters, thinking I could get by. Luckily, John, the RELO, called me today and asked me to take a drive with him in the mountains south of Meknes on Saturday or Sunday. He wants to see the snow; I guess they don’t get much in Rabat. Ok, great, being a Montana boy, a little snow’s right up my alley; a roadtrip. He’s going to call again on Friday to let me know when he’s coming, so I’m going to ask him to bring along one or two heaters, which he indicated a few weeks ago I could borrow.

One thing that is really nice in my apartment is my big bath tub, in which I love to take piping-hot bubble baths. Great to get the chill off just before going to bed. Once in bed, I’m ok. I have some heavy blankets that seem impervious to the cold. Last night I awoke about 3 a.m., sweating. So, earlier this afternoon I’m running hot water to do the dishes, except the water’s not hot. What the heck! Yeah, my hot water heater quit working. I talked to the building super and he got a fellow up here to work on it. It seems the thermostat went out. He put a new one in and I’ve got my “sauna” back. Whew!

I walked to work in the rain this morning, about a half hour hike, no problem. I could have taken a taxi, but I really do like walking in the rain. Except when I don’t have an umbrella. I managed to find a shop open that early (say, about 9 a.m.–most places open around 10) that had some, so I picked one up. Coming back from the CPR, I walked a little out of my way to Label Vie (jeez, I spend a lot of time and money there) to get some stuff. Remember I posted about “O Come All Ye Faithful?” Well, lo and behold, since Saturday, the last time I was there, they put up Christmas decorations. Commercial ones, mind you, but Christmas decorations nonetheless. There were Santa Clauses, wreaths, Christmas trees, tinsel, etc. No Christmas muzak playing and no overt religious symbolism, but the place was decked out except for the boughs of holly. Interesting, surprising and a little homesick-inducing. I haven’t seen any other evidence of Christmas around town, but, with all the expats living and working here, I’m sure other signs of the holiday will appear. More later.

Teaching, Conference, Holiday Season

More info on the CPR and my teaching duties. The official start date is Monday, the 28th, and I’ll be teaching, for the time being, 6 hours per week, the same 3 classes, since it was decided to have only one group of students, which now numbers 49. So, that seems like an easy schedule, but lesson planning, especially for such a large class, will take a lot of time. I’ll also be working on extracurricular activities, perhaps a drama or culture club. Mohammed and I had an introductory meeting with the students today–they are a very sharp, bright group of young men and women, between the ages of 20 and 28 (most about 24 or 25), many of whom are university graduates with degrees in linguistics. I’m very confident that they’ll keep me on my toes; chances are I will learn as much as they. I also got my office today. It’s definitely bare bones right now, so I’ll have to spruce it up.
It overlooks the basketball and tennis courts, so maybe I’ll buy a racket.

There is a very good chance that I’ll get an opportunity to go to Cairo in January for a week for a conference. Due to a goof up on my part, I missed out on going when the information was first given to me by the RELO (John Scacco). At the time, the only way to go with all expenses paid was to deliver a presentation at the conference. I failed to get a proposal in, so I thought I was out of luck. Now, I find out that the School for International Training (SIT) might fund a trip there for me because, in addition to the conference being held by the American University of Cairo (AUC), there will also be an English Language Fellowship (ELF) mid-year conference. Thus, Yours Truly (YT) might be scrambling among the Pyramids soon. First, though, I have to check this out further with John. More as this develops.

My cold has left, for the time being, so I’m out jogging again. Sheesh, my favorite spot is overrun with kids at the time I usually go huffing and puffing along. It’s a plaza of sorts, off the main roads, so during Ramadan it was pretty quiet. But, there are a few schools, middle and high school, nearby, so a lot of kids hang out there after classes now, rather than going home to break fast, walking, sitting and talking, playing music. It’s rather interesting and they don’t bother me, but I have this vision of stumbling over my own two feet and crashing to the ground in front of them.

I was rather startled while grocery shopping the other day at La Bel Vie. While browsing for something more high-tech in the way of roach traps (I think I’m getting them under control–hah!), the piped-in music started playing “O Come All Ye Faithful (Adestes Fideles).” Wow, here I am in a Muslim country and someone is playing Christmas music. Sure, there are more than a few expats in Meknes, but still . . . However, the next few songs that came over the speakers were modern pop, so it was just an album that happened to have the one religious song on it. It sounded like Mariah Carey or . . . I don’t really know, since I don’t listen to that type of music at all. Still, it was interesting. And it made me a little homesick, especially with Thanksgiving, my favorite American holiday, coming up this Thursday. Maybe I’ll cook a duck. (Haven’t seen any turkeys.) Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And for my Canadian friends, Tyra, Megan, Allison and Steve, John, David, et. al., sorry I’m a little late, since your Thanksgiving was on Oct. 10. More later.