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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.

International Bowling in Daejeon, South Korea

If you know me well, you know that before I became a dashing, international English teacher, I was involved in ten-pin bowling for many, many years–25, to be exact. My main occupation was pin-spotting machine mechanic (and quite a good one, if I may so humbly say), and I also worked as manager (briefly) and co-owner of a 12-lane center in the small, but friendly town of Glendive, on the eastern prairie of Montana. Due to the circumstances of the occupation, I also became quite a good bowler, but I eventually tired of the job and decided to pursue what I’m doing now.

All-time Great Bowler Dick Weber

My Favorite All-time Bowler, Dick Weber

Although the only time I bowl nowadays is when I go back to Laos and Thailand (because I introduced my friend Nai to bowling), I still keep up an interest in the activity. So, I was quite attracted to the information that my friend and former bowling buddy, (let’s call him, umm, . . . Ken) from Great Falls, Montana, a member of the Montana Bowling Hall of Fame, (despite being left-handed) sent me this news about international bowling.

Go ahead and click on the link to get the details, but international bowling is coming to Daejeon, South Korea on June 16th this summer. “Ken” indicated that if I were interested in taking in the event, he might try to come to Korea (he’s been here before) to see it also (and to visit with me). Unfortunately, that’s the same day I start my summer vacation, and I’m flying back to Thailand on that very day. “Ken,” if it’s still gonna be here in 2013, I’ll definitely make arrangements to see it with you.

But, for everyone else, if you’re going to be attending the 2012 Expo here in Yeosu around that time, you might consider taking in the Daejeon international pro bowling tournament. More later.

World’s Most Dangerous Golf Course

So, you say you want to play golf in Korea and you’d like a challenging course? Well, the course across from the university, the Yeosu City Park Golf Course, is located on the side of a steep hill.

Yeosu City Park golf course

Yeosu City Park Golf Course

According to one of my students who often golfs there, it costs 90,000 won for 18 holes, but you also have to pay for a mandatory caddy, which costs another 90,000 won; however you can split the caddy fee between the other three people if you’re playing in a foursome. So, you’d pay about 112,000 won, $100 at the current exchange rate. That’s way too steep for me.

It also looks a little tame. If I were going to play, I’d want something more edgy, something with a little danger involved, like alligators or piranhas in the water hazards. Well, here’s a course for me and for you, if you’re up to it. According to the Total Pro Sports website, this layout is

 a golf course that has just one hole, live mine fields surrounding it on all sides, a sniper tower just past the green, and is located on the boarder [sic] between two countries that have a history of fighting between them. If this sounds like your “cup of tea,” you may want to consider taking a trip to Camp Bonifas’ golf course in Panmunjom, South Korea.

 

It’s a 192-yard, par-3 hole located on the DMZ between North and South Korea. On this course, if you shank a shot out of bounds, definitely don’t go looking for your ball! The website doesn’t indicate if life insurance is included with the green fee.

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.

Early NASCAR at Daytona Beach

I used to be a huge fan of the American auto racing series, NASCAR. I’m not anymore, due to a variety of reasons, chief of which is that it’s just become too corporate and buttoned-down for my taste; too controlled, in my opinion. I first started to enjoy the races in the late 1970s, when “King” Richard Petty still ruled the track. Petty won a record 7 Daytona 500 races, NASCAR’s biggest event, which is also called “The Great American Race.” It’s a harbinger of spring, since it’s held near the end of February in Daytona Beach, Florida. (I guess it’s almost always spring in Florida in February, if not summer. :smile:)

I was browsing Yahoo! when I found this photo essay from Time Magazine that was published on the 50th Anniversary Race. It mostly features some of the early races at the beach and at the racetrack. Yeah, they used to race right on the beach. Awesome!

Here’s a photo I lifted from the Time site. I hope they don’t mind–I am giving them credit, but if they have a gripe about me using the photo, I guess I’ll have to pull it, not that they’ll notice this little backwater blog. The caption on the website reads:

Airborne
A competitor in the 1953 race hits a pothole on the beach. The early road course, over four miles long, was notoriously treacherous.

nascar_03

If you enjoy vintage auto racing, I encourage you to visit the web site to see more of these classic shots.

Yeosu Golf Course Update

About a year ago I wrote about the new golf course being shaped from the hills across from the university campus. Well, it’s tee time! Yes, the course opened recently, and, despite the chilly, windy weather, it’s seen some action. Here’s one of the photos I posted last February of the construction.

Yeosu_Golf_Course2

Here’s what the hills across the road look like today, viewed from a slightly different angle.

Yeosu_Golf_Course_Day3

Quite a difference. The fairways and greens are looking a bit bedraggled, but I’m sure things will green up once spring arrives, if that ever happens, and there’s probably quite a bit more landscaping to do. As you can see, if you click on the photos a couple of times to get a medium and a large view, there are a number of golfers enjoying the warmer weather of last weekend, when I took these shots. I rarely use my 80-300mm zoom lens, but it comes in handy sometimes. Here’s a closer view of the action.

Yeosu_Golf_Course_Day2

And an even closer look–a foursome teeing off.

Yeosu_Golf_Course_Teeoff

Koreans are a hard-working lot and most of the good citizens of Yeosu would be hard pressed to sneak in a round during weekdays. However, those wishing to indulge their golfing desire are not stymied, for this is a night course also.

Yeosu_Golf_Course_Night1

I’m not sure the lighting would be enough to track my hooks and shanks, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be driving along on the highway below the course while I’m teeing off. That is, IF I were playing. One of my adult students in my night class is a golf equipment salesman and he told me that a round on the weekend costs 170,000 won, which at the current exchange rate is about $150 or so. I’ll think I’ll take a mulligan . . . er . . . rain check on that. The diagonal row of lights at the top right light up the golf cart path to the other side of the hill, where most of the golf course lies. Hopefully, I’ll have chance to sneak on to visit that part of the links someday.

Anyway, whether this is a good or bad thing for Yeosu and it’s high hopes for Expo 2012, I’ll leave for others to debate. For now, all I can say is . . . FORE!

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.

IMG_2131

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.

IMG_2120

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?

IMG_2134

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.

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

Hanoi-Restaurant-w