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Laos News (On the Good Side)

There were a couple of nice things that happened in Laos this past Sunday. First, Nai told me that his village was having a big celebration that night for a couple of reasons. The Laos soccer team, in an exhibition match prior to the upcoming South East Asia games, knocked off the Thai team 3-0 in Vientiane, which, of course, boosted the smaller impoverished nation’s national pride. The games will be held in Vientiane, marking the first time ever that the event will take place in Laos. They are not without controversy, however, as you can read here and here.

That same day, the rowers in his village powered the winning boat in the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival, thus adding to the celebration. It was also the end of Buddhist Lent, which is detailed here in a nice story that includes a description of the launching of candle-lit banana leaf boats on the Mekong, a ceremony I hope to see in the future. All in all, it was a big day in the village, and there was a big party that evening at the temple next to Nai’s house to cap it off.

Korea had its recent celebrations, too, with the 3-day Chuseok holiday. Yesterday, a few of my students loaded me up with traditional food, including delicious songpyeon rice cakes, fruit and other goodies left over from their celebration. I won’t have to buy groceries for a week!

Since I previously posted moonrise over Yeosu, here’s a sunrise shot I took a few weeks ago from almost the same location. More later.

Sunrise Over Yeosu

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Golfing in Yeosu

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Work continues on the new golf course across the valley from the campus. Right now it’s a real eyesore and from what I hear, many people in Yeosu, including a large percentage of golfers, opposed its creation. As you can see below, half a mountainside is being altered, for good or bad, to make way for the links. I hope it’s worth it.

Here is the main site, but there is a smaller section off to the right.

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And here’s a closer shot.

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The course is supposed to be open by the 2012 Expo being held here, and it would be interesting to see what it looks like. However, I doubt I’ll be here to see it. Due to the still-rotten currency exchange rate for the Korean won, I’m starting to look for greener pastures, where the currency is more stable, perhaps somewhere in the mid-East. I’d love to stay here, but under the current financial condition, that’s more or less impossible.

We’re finally going to get some decent weather, with the forecast calling for mostly sunny skies and temperatures hovering near the mid-50s this week. While that’s nice, I’d still like to see about 25 degrees more. 😎

It’s Super Bowl day in the U.S., but to tell the truth I didn’t even know where it was being played or who was playing until just a few days ago. American football’s not my cup of tea; never has been. I’ve been thinking more of the fact that the baseball camps in the Dominican Republic probably opened this past weekend–sunny skies, warm weather, beautiful beaches, the crack of bat against ball . . . ahhhhhh. As frequent reader and Red Sox fan OGM is sure to remind me, Spring Training begins soon. More later.

The Faster I Go, The Behinder I Get

Well, it seems that way; at the least, I’m always a week late in my posts here. Anyway, last Sunday was a great day, as far as sports go, at the Weekend Office. I watched the Yanks score 4 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to win their 5th straight game, 6-5 over Seattle. Then, I remembered that the Indy 500 was running. I asked one of the waiters to switch the TV and I was lucky enough to catch the last 24 laps of that event, won by Scott Dixon. I think that’s the first Indy I’ve seen live since I left the U.S. back in 2003.

The week before, once again, the Canadian National Junior All-Star team visited the camp to play an exhibition game against the Yankee squad, and, once again, like last year, they kicked rear end, beating the Yanks 13-2 or some such ridiculous score. They’re a very good team, obviously. Sporting flags and banners, lots of Canadian embassy people turned out to watch. Here are a few of them making their way onto the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

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Here’s a shot of the game in progress.

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I bought my ticket to Thailand this past week. I fly out of Missoula on July 25th, arriving in Bangkok on July 27th. I’ll probably work on getting my Korean visa there, then head on up to Laos around the 30th or 31st. After spending some laid-back time in the Land of a Million Elephants (not that many left, I’m afraid), I’ll leave on Aug. 24th for Korea, Land of the Morning Calm (but frenetic at any other time of day). Koreans, according to this survey, put in more hours per year on the job than any other people. I can definitely vouch for that. Andong University students put in just as much time, staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning, grabbing a couple of hours of shuteye and then going to 9 o’clock classes (so they told me). It’s like a never-ending urge, on the part of the entire country, to succeed at ALL costs. Lose one hour here or half an hour there, and your prospects and your life, become a shambles. It’s utterly ridiculous, in my opinion, but to each their own. It will be quite a cultural warp going from languid Laos to intense Korea, but, having worked there before, I’ll manage just fine because, well, just read the title of this post again. 😛

Today is Opening Day of the Dominican Summer League, but both Yankee squads are traveling to other camps to play, so there will be no opening ceremonies here, like there were last year. Perhaps I’ll tag along with one of the teams. More later.

Boat Race

I forgot to mention in my previous post that I talked to my friend Nai in Laos this morning (Sunday night there) and his village’s boat racing team won the big race in Vientiane yesterday for the 3rd straight year. I wish I were there to celebrate with the locals, but congratulations to them. Here’s an interesting short article about the race and specifically about a team of ladies who compete every year.

Some Photos

Ok, I promised some photos of my recent trip to SE Asia. First up is one of the big boat race I wrote about earlier. (See the entry for August 23rd or click here). Here are a couple of the beautiful long boats after finishing their race. The guys in green, nearer the camera, won this one. They are the same crew that raced against the Sitthanthai team in the final race, finishing second to the Sitthanthai stalwarts.

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If you click here, you can download and view a 30 second video of the Sitthanthai guys practicing on the Mekong. Be warned, though, that it’s a 50 megabyte file, so if you’re using a dialup connection, it’s going to take a while to download.

Below is a shot of some of the Sitthanthai supporters whooping it up after the team won a race. Notice the ubiquitous bottle of Beer Lao.

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I’ll try to get some more photos up soon, and I’ll also post a lot more in the gallery than I will on the blog. I’ll let you know when the gallery ones are in. More later.

The Boat Race

I’m back in Thailand, in Nong Khai, heading for Bangkok on Saturday on the overnight train. Not too much exciting has been going on, just taking it easy between rainstorms. A few weeks back, I went to a boat race north of Vientiane. Here’s what I wrote about it shortly after. (Sorry, no photos. The computer I’m on right now won’t let me upload any to my website. When I get to Bangkok, I’ll try to add some to this post.)

Nai’s small village, Ban Sitthanthai (ban=village), is renowned for the quality of its boat racers, the village having won the national championship the last two years and about half a dozen times in the past 10. The boats they race are sleek dugout canoes, more or less, but are about 30-40 meters long and are paddled by a crew of over 50. (Sorry, I looked for something on the web about them, but couldn’t find anything.)

We traveled over 40 kilometers north of Vientiane to watch a race featuring Sitthanthai racers, including Nai’s brother Ler and his cousin Thui. Though not a national championship race, which is basically the boat racing festival which takes place on the Mekong near Vientiane in October, its trophy was hotly contested for by about a dozen boats. The Sitthanthai crew, because of their reputation, was hired by another village, Ban Ling Xang, to man their boat in the race. (This coming week, they’ve been hired by a Thai boat owner to race his boat in a contest.)

After a one-and-a-half hour motorbike ride, we traveled 10 kilometers on a dirt road to the river, the Nam Neum. There we found an event that was equal parts carnival, street fair, concert and, yes, boat racing. Food vendors were abundant, selling grilled fish, chicken, pork, and beef, various other Lao foods and, of course, roast crickets. You could also buy 7-Up, Pepsi and other sodas or indulge in the national drink, Beer Lao. Lots of carnival style rides and games, like breaking balloons with darts, were available for the kids. Both sides of the river were lined with picnickers watching the races from the banks, while loudspeakers all around blared with music. Further down, at the judges’ stand, the public address announcer for the races competed with the cacaphony elsewhere. This somewhat frenetic sideshow added to the intensity of the races.

It seemed to be a double-elimination type of event–lose twice, and you’re out. One team lost its first 2 races easily, but seemed to be out more for the fun than for the trophy. They also appeared to have indulged quite a bit in their sponsor’s product before the racing even began. Their sponsor? Beer Lao.

The competition started about one o’clock and eventually ended about 5:30. The Sitthanthai guys had very little trouble beating each of their opponents. It was easy to see why, because their paddling was so much more synchronized and powerful than almost any other boat out there. I noticed, too, that the course, about a kilometer in length, was laid out going downstream. Several times I’ve watched the team practice on the Mekong, a 5-minute walk from Nai’s house. (Half the village, it seems, comes out each practice to watch their heroes.) These guys’ most intense workout comes in paddling against the current of the Mekong, so going downstream must have been a lark for them.

After each race, many of the boats would get a tow back upstream to the starting point, but the Sitthanthai crew always went back on their own power, as did some of the other boats. I watched quite a few of the early races and noticed another boat, from Ban Kunh, which was easily knocking off their challengers, always in sync, always going back on their own power. Like the Sitthanthai paddlers, they were also clad in day-glo green shirts. Half way through the competition, I felt that the championship race would be between the two green-shirted teams. It was.

The expectations and apprehensions were high, almost palpable, as the ultimate race began. Most of the spectators seemed to be rooting for the Sitthanthai boat. Because the start line was so far away, we could not immediately see which boat had the advantage. At about the mid point, it became clear that the crews were neck and neck. Further on, the Kunh boat began to take the lead. They started to draw away by about 30 feet, while the paddlers in each boat cranked away in unison. It was like watching two gigantic centipedes, legs working in unison.

The boats now drew near enough to see the sweat pouring down the faces of the crews, taut muscles straining to produce more power to the paddles, determination set in the intense faces and straining bodies. The crowds along the banks of the river were shouting and screaming, urging their favorites on, trying to give them the energy to overcome the Kunh lead. Now was the time for all those evening practices on the Mekong to pay off.

Slowly, agonizingly slowly, the Sitthanthai boat closed the gap. The crew picked up their pace, always precise and machine-like as one entity, rather than as 50 individual young men pushed to their limits. Another meter was gained, but the finish line was only 100 meters away now. Again, a meter, and another. We could sense that the Sitthanthai crew was going to come through, that strength, stamina, skill and superior training were going to carry the day. 50 meters to go . . . 40 . . . 30 . . . The boats were even! Then a surge carried the Sitthanthai boat in front. The jubilation from the crowd followed the crew across the finish line, the boat a few bare meters in front of the Kunh entry. Victory! We waited expectantly for the judges’ confirmation. It came about 10 seconds later. What a race. The boat’s owners were given the championship trophy to parade around through the crowd, held aloft and touched by all, much like hockey’s Stanley Cup on-ice parade after the finals. Both crews made their way back along the river to the cheers of their admirers. It was a long ride back for us on the motorbike, but we didn’t care.

As a side note, I was told yesterday that the village has hired a legendary Thai trainer to help the team. Perhaps that victory was too close!

(Check back here in a week or so, when I hope to have posted some photos and videos.)

Softball, Contract, Cricket Contest

It was an unusual day here yesterday, with many people at the camp. When I poked my head out my front door about 7:30 a.m., I noticed a couple of awnings had been erected near one of the far fields, down the first base line, and several stacks of plastic chairs were nearby. About half an hour later, a van came in, followed by a pickup truck carrying a Presidente beer station/bar. What the heck! I’ve never seen beer on the campus before, since it’s contrary to the rules the players must follow.

Finally, after staying in my room doing reports for a few hours, I looked out the door again. On the far field a few teams of norteamericanos were playing softball and another 30 or so people were watching from under the awnings. After asking around, I found out that a U.S. Navy counter-terrorism group was staying in Santo Domingo for 10 days, and they were at the camp playing a few games of softball (and drinking beer and eating hamburgers) against a team of U.S. Embassy personnel. I think the Yankees had been asked by the embassy to donate the use of the field. Afterwards, all of the players and coaches from both the Yankee and Diamondback teams (our opponents yesterday) were invited to have some burgers. Unfortunately, yours truly had already chowed down on beans and rice and chicken in the campus cafeteria before he found out about the invite. 😡

By the way, the Yankee squad lost to Arizona 11 to 3. I found out later that both squads have been restricted to the campus this weekend due to poor play lately. Ouch! (Maybe the same should be done to the Big Team.)

I received the new contract through email Friday, and the start date was listed as Sept. 15th. Whoops. I hope that’s a mistake on Georgetown University’s part, because I thought the State Dept. wanted me to begin around Oct. 5th. I’m going to write my supervisor in D.C. on Monday to see what’s up. If it’s the earlier start date, I’ll have to get my return flight from Thailand changed–hope that’s not a big hassle if it becomes necessary.

Nai is back at his home today, after spending 5 days in the hospital in Vientiane for treatment of malaria. He sounds pretty good, but he complains that sometimes his “memory hurting a lot.” I think he gets migraines. His English cracks me up more often than not. For example, he doesn’t know the word for passing gas–farting. So, his phrase for it is “open wind,” as in “I’m sorry, Ron, I must open wind now.” For his own good, I should really make more of an effort to improve his English vocabulary, but his use of the language can be so creative and charming. Another example: thunder is “boom-boom.” “It go boom-boom many time today, so you cannot call back me because I close my phone.” Quickly, now, whoever can tell me what “open fire” means, as in “Now I open fire.”, could be the proud winner of a plateful of genuine roasted Lao crickets served with a generous portion of a piquant red sauce. Awesome! Seriously, I’m not making fun of him and I do have to work with him on his English. More later.

This COULD be yours. Yum, yum. Post your answer in a comment by clicking on the Comments link below the second picture.

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Nai Enjoys a Plateful

Along the Malecon, Part 2

Sunday was a beautiful day for another long walk, and again I headed for the Malecon along the Caribbean. I started out a little bit later in the day so that I might see the area when there were more people enjoying it. The surf was pretty rowdy, crashing into the rocky outcrops and seawalls, sending spray across the walkway. There was enough that I had to clean my glasses periodically and I had to be careful with my camera to ensure that the corrosive salt water didn’t have a chance to accumulate on the lenses or get into the electronics. Anyway, here are the first photos of the DR, taken along the Malecon in Santo Domingo. With winter not too far in the future in Montana, Korea, Boston and elsewhere, you may, of course, salivate over the gorgeous, year-round tropical weather enjoyed here. The big hotel in both pictures is the relatively new (and expensive) Hilton. Notice the calm sea in the first picture, taken the Sunday before, and the rough surf in the second, taken this past Sunday.

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There were quite a few people out enjoying the day, some rollerblading, others riding bicycles, some strolling along the shaded sidewalks and others enjoying picnics with family or friends. Obviously, this section is closed to traffic on Sundays.

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My walk ended near the old Colonial Zone, but not having my city map with me and not wanting to get too lost, I walked back the way I came. I stopped along the way to enjoy some fresh popcorn and a soda as I sat on one of the numerous benches, shaded by the palm trees and enjoying the breeze coming in off the Caribbean. This is a great place to enjoy a Sunday afternoon. I’m supposed to be moving out to the Yankee camp either near the end of this week or the beginning of the next. Hopefully, I’ll get to spend another weekend in Santo Domingo so that I’ll have some time to visit the Colonial Zone.

Speaking of the Yankees, the playoffs begin today. Yanks vs. Detroit this evening. I have a couple of relatives who are Tiger fans; all I can say is enjoy the Tigers while you can–Yanks in four games. More later.

Good Try

After hanging around for the first half, the Griz have fallen behind BC by 17 points with about 6 1/2 minutes left. Looks like it’s over, but good try anyway. Now, to bed. More later.

TV (Internet Style)

Yes, I changed my address and I am able to watch the Griz game. Wow! They’re up 13-11, a little less than mid-way through the first half. So far, so good.

In the meantime, waiting for the game, I finished doing my taxes. One of the nice things about working overseas is that I don’t have to pay taxes on anything I earn less than $80,000 (fat chance that I’ll ever make that much!). Still, I have to file. Well, that’s out of the way. I’ll be in Thailand until April 17th, so I had to get it done now. I’ll mail it Monday.