MontanaRon

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

Tag: health (page 1 of 6)

Digital Art–Rivals

Here’s my newest piece of digital art, one I’m titling “Rivals.” The photos and background textures are mine, except for the two birds–the one at the bottom and the one at the upper left; I got them from Pixabay.

digital art

In the news, Vientiane is still in lockdown, but the number of new community cases has fallen, and the school is being allowed to open on September 1st. Hurrah!! Hopefully. Although the number of cases has dropped from where it was, we’re still getting some. There were 7 cases reported a few days ago, but the government didn’t tighten up the restrictions already in place. The big concern might be the huge number of imported cases, Laos workers returning from Thailand by the thousands. About 10% of them have the virus and are being hospitalized or put under observation. They’re mostly quarantined off from the general population, so perhaps we won’t see much of an uptick with community cases. Thankfully, there have been only a few deaths reported. Keeping my fingers crossed that everything goes well as far as the school reopening. More later.

Lockdown Continued

Yes, we’re still in lockdown here in Vientiane, though the government has eased some of the restrictions. Important for us is that some schools can begin to reopen, though most won’t be able to start up again until September; that includes Vientiane College. It’s frustrating, but, overall, the Lao government has been doing fairly well at keeping the virus out of the country. Lately, the only cases have been from Lao workers in Thailand who have been coming back to Laos. The government checks everyone at the border crossings and hospitalizes all who have the virus. I think there are a bit more than 2,000 people who are hospitalized at the moment, but there have been five deaths, which is five too many. Compared to our neighboring countries, though, we’re doing pretty good. Thailand and Vietnam have been getting hammered by the Delta variant, and Cambodia and Myanmar have also been having problems. Hopefully, vaccinations will keep increasing here in Laos (and elsewhere) so that this crap will end.

As far as Vientiane College is concerned, it will open again in September if all goes well. Thankfully, the administration has continued to pay us throughout the lockdown and most of the teachers are now doing some extracurricular work to prepare for September. I’ve been making some short (2-3 minutes) videos for posting on the VC Facebook page. I’m making some vids about idiomatic expressions (“piece of cake”) and a “Did you know . . .” series that other teachers are also doing. (Did you know that the 10 most common words in English are . . .?) I’ve also been doing some other odds and ends to try to earn my keep. LOL

I haven’t been doing much digital art lately, but I’m going to get back in the groove very soon. I’ve been playing around with Photoshop actions a bit, and here’s a comp that I want to work on some more. It’s an original photo of paintings being sold by a vendor in Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic. I hope to add some more extras to it soon. More later.

Still Locked Down in Vientiane

Yeah, we’re still in lockdown here in Vientiane, even though there haven’t been that many cases of people testing positive for the covid virus. The Laos government has extended the lockdown in the capital until July 4th, at the earliest. They’ve eased some of the restrictions, but schools are still not allowed to open in Vientiane, and that includes Vientiane College (VC). Most of the rest of the country is doing fine and other provinces are not locked down. The government has previously stated that the lockdown won’t end until there are 14 consecutive days of no covid cases. If they stick to that rule, this lockdown in Vientiane will never end until everyone is vaccinated. Luckily, I received the second dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine on Wednesday last week, and, happily, I didn’t have any bad side effects from it like I did with the first dose. Also, many people in Vientiane have been getting either their first or second dose of the various vaccines that are available, so that’s a very positive sign.

Although it’s mostly closed, VC will be able to start some of the daytime classes this week, classes that are restricted to adults that have been vaccinated. These are mostly scholarship programs and government or military classes. The administration is sending a proposal to let the school start evening classes next week with the stipulation that only adults who have been vaccinated will be allowed to attend. Here’s hoping this entirely-reasonable proposal will be accepted. Because our younger students can’t yet be vaccinated, they will be excluded from classes for the time being. The school has also begun training teachers in conducting online classes, in case we’re put into a rigorous lockdown later on. So, adult students who sign up now will still be able to have classes without worrying about being forced to stop, even if face-to-face classes wouldn’t be possible.

A big shout out to the administration; they’re continuing to pay teachers for June even though we’ve not been working, and it’s been indicated that we might get paid for July also, even if we’re still kept from teaching. Beyond then, I’m sure that if we’re not able to open, there will come a point at which the school will be unable to pay us. I’m prepared for that eventuality. This lockdown is starting to get boring, so I hope I can start teaching again soon.

Good News Day

This is actually from my journal of May 31, so it’s a bit old.

It was a pretty good day. First, I went to my doctor to renew my high blood pressure meds, and he told me that they had a new test that checks for the presence of blood clots, so I took it. They took a blood sample, ran the test and reported that the results were good-no clots. Hurray! That’s something I worry about because I have a bad case of varicose veins, but he said they shouldn’t be a problem because of the anti-coagulant I’m taking for the blood pressure protects against blood clots.

As a side note on visiting the doctor’s office, the attendant always weighs me. I’m down to about 163 pounds (74 kg), down 5 pounds from a couple of months ago. Awesome!

I’ve had it in mind to look at buying a smartphone, my very first one. I took a survey from Vientiane College (where I work) that wanted some information about conducting online classes if we get shutdown in the future because of a lockdown due to covid concerns. We’re closed right now until June 21st (hopefully, it doesn’t get extended). Some of the questions concerned phone apps, like What’s App. I don’t really have a good phone; I’ve got my old Lenovo tablet, which is basically good only for reading on the Kindle app. It’s pretty lousy for anything else, so after seeing the doc, I thought I’d go to one of the big Samsung stores and look at the phone I had in mind, a mid-priced Galaxy A52, which seemed to check all the boxes as far as what I was looking for in a phone. So, I was just going to look, right? Well, I don’t have to look anymore-I bought it. $412. I’ve never had a REAL smartphone before, so I’ll be having fun with this for a while.

This, from today’s events, June 8th. The number of cases of covid in Vientiane has been dropping steadily, down to just a few or only one for the last couple of days. Today there were only two found in the city and none found throughout the rest of Laos. That’s great news, of course, and hopefully we’ll be able to open school on the 21st, as planned. More later.

Digital Art–Taekwando Nightmare Dream

Vientiane lockdown has been extended for another few weeks, up to June 4th. At the rate people are still showing up with the covid virus, this lockdown will never end, it seems. The school is scheduled to open on June 10th, and I certainly hope that happens. The administration was kind enough to pay everyone for the month of May, though we didn’t do any work, but if the same lack of work extends far into June and beyond, I’m fearful that there won’t be any income for a while. Got my fingers crossed.

So, what to do with all this time off? Create some more digital art, of course. Here’s one I’m calling “Taekwando Nightmare Dream.” I was originally just going to practice creating displacement effects in Photoshop, but my Muse had other ideas. All the photos are mine, except for the fellow delivering the flying kick on the right side, which I got from Pixabay; they were taken when I worked in Andong, South Korea way back in 2005, and they’re photos from a phys. ed. student demonstration, except for the photo at the upper left. That’s one I took of my former taekwando master showing off. I added some textures and a few other bits and pieces. Enjoy.

digital art

Vientiane in Lockdown

The Laos government has been doing a great job of keeping the covid virus out of the country, with only a few dozen total cases and none, really, for the past several months. That all changed a few days ago when a couple of fools decided to cross into Thailand illegally and cross back into Laos, again illegally. One lady went into Thailand just for cosmetic surgery, according to accounts. Another lady crossed the border to visit some friends and then brought them back into Laos with her. Unfortunately, those people all had the virus and were in contact with many other people here in Laos. The second lady was also, again unfortunately, a student at Vientiane College. After crossing the border, she came into the final class of the term on April 9th and was there for about an hour. Luckily, the other students and the teacher in that class tested negative for the virus, but the school spent a lot of time and money having the entire complex disinfected. Classes were supposed to resume on May 5th, but that date has been pushed back until at least May 10th. If the situation worsens, we could be under lockdown for much longer than that.

Due to the actions of these people, Vientiane and much of Laos is under lockdown until at least May 5th. After months of no one getting infected with the virus, there have been over the last three days 28, 65 and, yesterday, 88 people testing positive for the virus. People are supposed to stay at their homes, not go out except to buy food, and work from home, if possible. There are other restrictions and there is a large police presence on all the major roads to ensure that the rules are enforced. I think they are mainly out to check temperatures to find any one who might have the virus. I was thinking about trying to go to a market in the city, but I might wait a few days. I went out jogging this morning, and there were some Army guys setting up a roadblock in the small village that I jog through (I wear a mask), something that wasn’t done in last year’s lockdown. Of course, all restaurants (except for take out or delivery), karaokes, bars, etc., are shut down.

(By the way, I’m not the only one out jogging early in the morning. There are a few other runners and quite a few bicyclists, and I think, in my opinion, this isn’t a problem. We stay away from other people and wear our masks. I see very few people out and about while I’m jogging, and those folks aren’t anywhere near me. Also, I don’t look at jogging as recreation, but as a necessary part of keeping up my health. Since I have high blood pressure, exercise is very important, even though I’m taking medication to keep my BP near normal.)

There’s much more to this and events are unfolding quickly, but if you’re interested the Laotian Times is a good source for news. The numbers seem quite minuscule compared to the US or India, but it’s relative. For Laos, these are very bad numbers. Hopefully, as more people are tested and vaccinated, those numbers will go down. Until then, well, patience is a virtue.

P.S. I was vaccinated back on April 3rd with the AstraZeneca vaccine. I’m due for my second shot on June 28th.

Lao in Lockdown

Laos has been locked down since April 1, meaning everyone should stay at home. Of course, people with essential jobs are still working, but most other businesses have been closed, as well as all the schools. Vientiane College, where I work, has been shut down since before April 1, so I’m having an extended vacation, so to speak. I still go jogging in the morning, which I consider essential, and that hasn’t been a problem with the authorities, though I’ve never seen any that early in the morning. I also see quite a number of bicyclists riding for exercise at that time, sometimes in packs of three or four, coming from the city or heading back that way. I’ve also been to one of the foreign markets to replenish my food reserves. I thought I might have a problem doing that because some districts of Vientiane have been blocking travel in and out of their area if you don’t live there. However, I didn’t see any roadblocks on my way to and from the market.

Yesterday, the government said that the lockdown was going to be extended from April 20th to May 3rd. At that time, schools and some businesses would be allowed to open. So, perhaps, Vientiane College might be able to re-open in time for the original start of our next trimester, May 7th. That, though, might be unlikely because I imagine that it might take another week to set up registration times for the students and to get the word out that we’ll open again and to get everything ready. I expect to hear from the administration soon about the school’s plans.

The Lao New Year holiday just finished. The government cancelled all planned activities and warned everyone that social distancing was in place (and the lockdown) for the holiday, meaning no celebrations outside our homes and no more than four people celebrating together, other than immediate family. We’ll probably know how this worked out near the end of the new lockdown date, around the end of April. Laos has had no new infections, that people know of, for about three or four days now (19, as of this posting), but if covid cases start increasing as the month goes on, well, the warning to not celebrate probably didn’t have much effect.

The government also banned alcohol sales and distribution from April 13th to the 20th. The only effect that might have is that when the small mom-and-pop markets run out of beer, they won’t be able to get any more. Also, mini-marts, liquor stores and others won’t be able to sell alcohol. While jogging today, I noticed one of the small markets still had many cases of canned beer left and I would guess it is selling to people who want to buy, which would be quite a large number of people. Lao folks love their alcohol, especially during holidays. (P.S. I stocked up when I heard about the ban, though I don’t drink a whole lot. I still have some BeerLao left–come over to the house and we’ll tip a few!)

Covid in Laos

There hadn’t been any confirmed cases of covid-19 infection in Laos up until about a week ago when a couple of people were found to have the virus. Since then, six more people have been infected, and all of them are related, in some way, to the first two cases. Just about everything has shut down, though, including bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues. Even the two “mom-and-pop” restaurants in front of my house have closed. And, most amazing, the karaoke just across the road has shut down. Ahh, peace and quiet in the evening for a while, unless the neighbors decide to crank up their music, which they did last night. Luckily, I’m pretty well stocked up on food, so I’m staying at home, except to go jogging in the morning and maybe take a bit of a walk in the evening after the day’s heat has gone down a bit. (Lately, it’s been around 100 and will be for about the next three days.) To the heat and the virus, add in the horrendous air quality of late (> 150), and Laos is not the most pleasant place to be right now.

Vientiane College shut down, along with all other schools, a couple of weeks ago, so I’m on extended vacation at the moment (paid, thankfully). Our next term was supposed to start on May 7th, but that increasingly looks unlikely. Hopefully we won’t be out of commission for too much longer after that. So, I’m just sitting at home, watching movies and TV shows, doing a bit of digital art, playing online games (Lord of the Rings, Eve Online), reading and drinking beer. What’s a guy to do? We’ll get through this, but it could turn out to be rather boring after a while.

Oh, one other thing is that in the middle of April is arguably the biggest holiday of the year in Laos, the Lao New Year (Pee Mai Lao), but, because of the virus, the government has cancelled all of its holiday events and advised people not to gather in large groups for celebrations (this includes weddings and birthday parties). I’m really curious to see how many people follow through with that. I suppose there will be at least a small party out on the farm where Nai’s sister lives and where I used to live. I’ll go out there for one day (out of the three that comprise the holiday) and be sure to social distance myself from the others. How much they’ll do the same, I don’t know. If things get out of hand, I’ll boogie on out of there and go back to my house.

So, in finishing, I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. Catch up on your reading or gardening or whatever and wait it out. More later.

The Most Dangerous Thing I Do

I usually ride my motorbike to and from work, 25 kilometers each way, six days a week, and five of those rides are at night, Monday through Friday. This is the most dangerous thing that I do, and it is, without a doubt, the most consistently risky thing that I’ve ever done. It’s been said that this is one South East Asia experience that you can live without. I’ll vouch for that, since I’ve had a fair number of close calls. I’ve been at times incredibly aware and careful and, to tell the truth, very, very lucky. Some other riders, though, have not been so lucky.

This is from a recent article on Yahoo! News, dated Aug. 28, 2016:

“Look at me, stay with us,” the paramedics shout as a barely conscious motorcyclist is bundled into a volunteer ambulance in the Laotian capital Vientiane, where rampant drink driving brings nightly carnage to the roads.

It is a grim scene familiar the world over.

But in Laos, an impoverished and authoritarian communist country with almost no state-funded medical services, these kind of vital lifesavers are volunteers and entirely funded by donations. . .

And they have never been more in demand.

Poorly maintained roads, dilapidated vehicles, an increase in motorcycle use and the widespread prevalence of drink driving makes Vientiane one of Asia’s most precarious capitals for road deaths.

I’ve seen two terrible accidents in the last couple of weeks on my ride back to the village, both of which occurred at night (rather than my Saturday afternoon return ride from Vientiane).

The first involved two motorbikes and a pick up truck. It looked like the two bikes had smashed into the back of the truck, putting quite a large dent in the tailgate. I came upon the accident, which happened in the lanes leading into town, and saw the pickup had pulled into the lanes leading out of town and had parked half on the road and half on the sidewalk. The two motorbikes were down on the other side of the road, looking pretty torn up. A couple of motorbike helmets lay in the road. As I drove slowly past, I noticed a large crowd of people surrounding the area, but ambulances and police hadn’t yet arrived, so this had just taken place. Then, I noticed a young lady, perhaps in her early-twenties, sprawled in the middle of the pavement. Her head was turned away from me, with her right cheek on the road, lying on her right arm with her left one behind her back. She looked pretty, from what I could tell, but, unfortunately, she looked quite dead. Usually at least a few people will be trying to help these accident victims, checking to see if they’re OK, comforting them while waiting for the ambulance, applying some makeshift first aid, or, sometimes, checking for a pulse. No one was near this victim, but many were looking at her from a respectful distance. I’ve ridden past a number of accident scenes in the last couple of years, but this is the first one that brought tears to my eyes. The victim looked so very much alone, lying in the middle of the pavement under a harsh street light. I can only imagine what her parents must have felt. With any luck, perhaps she was just knocked unconscious.

The other accident happened about a week later only a few kilometers down the road. Again, two motorbikes were involved, and it looked like they had smashed into each other. As I came upon the scene, I saw one guy, wearing a helmet, limping heavily to the side of the road with the aid of a bystander. Another man lay face down on the pavement, no helmet on, and a man was checking for his pulse on the side of his neck. The bystander stood up and walked away. I don’t know if the victim was dead or just unconscious, but I think the former. I went slowly and carefully on my way, though I don’t take time to dilly-dally and gawk, like many other people do. Again, this had just happened, probably no more than a minute before I passed through the area, which is right across the road from a karaoke bar that is usually very crowded. Of course, many motorbikes and cars are parked there, and, of course, many people get quite drunk there. I’m always extremely careful when I drive through the area because of the number of cars and motorbikes entering and leaving, and because of the number of drunks I’ve seen staggering down the middle of the road.

So, the conclusion is that I will continue to drive my bike with the utmost care and attention. It’s usually fun and a bit exhilarating, but it’s certainly no time to take risks. Wish me well.

First Sleep and Second Sleep

I finished a previous post, Korea’s Online Gaming Woes, by stating that other things wake me in the middle of the night or morning. Actually, I think I have something that’s called sleep maintenance insomnia, wherein I wake up at the same time every morning, usually between 2 and 3 o’clock. Most of time, I fall back asleep in 10 or 15 minutes. Some nights, I toss and turn for half an hour to an hour before being able to sleep again. Then, there are the times, especially on weekend nights, that I finally decide that I’m wide awake and won’t be able to get back to sleep immediately, so I get up around 3 a.m., brew a pot of coffee and surf the Internet for an hour or two before going back to bed. This mainly happens on weekend nights (Friday and Saturday) because I know that I can sleep in later. It occasionally happens on a school night, too, but, so far, my work hasn’t been affected by this nocturnal oddity. I really cannot remember a night in at least the past several years where I have not awoken in the wee hours.

Should I see a doctor about this? Luckily, no. This may actually be a throwback, so to speak, to pre-Industrial sleep habits, when people would have segmented sleep, a first sleep, followed by a waking period or one or two hours, and then a second sleep until time to get up for the day. The BBC News Magazine has an informative article about History Professor A. Roger Ekirch‘s research on the subject of segmented sleep.

 In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

His book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern – in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria

. . . these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

“It’s not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge,” Ekirch says.

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.

Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century. This started among the urban upper classes in northern Europe and over the course of the next 200 years filtered down to the rest of Western society.

By the 1920s the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely from our social consciousness.

He attributes the initial shift to improvements in street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses – which were sometimes open all night. As the night became a place for legitimate activity and as that activity increased, the length of time people could dedicate to rest dwindled.

If you want to read more, Prof. Ekirch has a rather long, scholarly, but very interesting article on The American Historical Review.

So, I guess I’m experiencing an anachronistic type of sleep behavior. Should I get some medication for this, like sleeping pills? For me, that’s not an option–I hate medicine and I don’t even have aspirin in my apartment. And in another article written for the NY Times, entitled “Dreams Deferred,” Ekirch writes:

Remarkably, then, our pattern of consolidated sleep has been a relatively recent development, another product of the industrial age, while segmented sleep was long the natural form of our slumber, having a provenance as old as humankind. (Homer even invoked the term “first sleep” in “The Odyssey.”) For experts like Dr. Thomas Wehr, who conducted the experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health, some common sleep disorders may be nothing more than sleep’s older, primal pattern trying to reassert itself — “breaking through,” as Dr. Wehr has put it, into today’s “artificial world.”

That theory, of course, remains to be proved. In the meantime, rather than resort to excessive medication, Americans might try to remember that though they’re sleeping less, they’re sleeping better and more seamlessly than humans ever have in the past. We might, on occasion, even choose to emulate our ancestors, for whom the dead of night, rather than being a source of dread, often afforded a welcome refuge from the regimen of daily life.

So, waking up in the wee hours following a first sleep doesn’t seem to be a problem for me, at least. Unfortunately, though, many of my students seem to go into second sleep as soon as English class begins.

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