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Old Cars in Vientiane

I’ve spotted quite a number of old cars in Vientiane recently. Usually I see them while I’m riding my motorbike and they’re moving along a block or so from where I’m at, so I don’t get a good look at them to see what make and model they are. However, I have seen quite a few old VW “Beetles,” the originals from what I guess would be the 1960s. Most of their exteriors looked quite aged, but they were still running.

Over the past few weeks, though, I saw these two old-timers, one parked on the side of the street and the other passing close by a few days later. I didn’t have a camera with me, so I’ve taken these photos from the Internet. While not exactly the same color, both of the old autos resembled the photos.

First was a cream-colored Studebaker Lark convertible with a black top. While not in “classic car” condition, it still looked like it was being carefully kept in good shape. Perhaps it belongs to an expat, maybe an embassy employee. My former boss in Morocco, John, the Regional English Language Officer at the American embassy, had his car shipped over, a 4-wheel drive Subaru, which he believed was the only one in Morocco. He told me that embassy personnel get a shipping allowance of 20 TONS! Small wonder that he’d brought the car with him.

John and 4-wheel drive Subaru.

Here’s John and his 4-wheel drive Subaru, the only one in Morocco, as far as he knew.

Here’s the Internet photo of the Studebaker. It’s a bit lighter colored than the one I saw, but it’s still a good resemblance.

Studebaker Lark Convertible

The other oldster that I saw was a Pontiac Tempest, sporting a faded and chipped pale blue exterior. It didn’t look nearly as well kept as the Studebaker, but it was still running. I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for other old timers now that I know there are at least a few on the roads in the capital. I wonder where they get the parts to keep them running? Here’s the Internet photo.

1966_pontiac_tempest_side_view

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.

Thai Planes, Trains and Mototaxis

This is the first post, then, about my recent vacation in Thailand and Laos. Let me say congratulations, though, to Yingluck Shinawatra, leader of the winning party in Thailand’s recent election, future Prime Minister and sister of deposed ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Hopefully, the election will help to unite the country and heal the wounds caused by all the strife there recently. Some commentators on Thai politics think it will be a good thing, but there are those who think another military coup is possible. I left the country just a few days before the election, and, while I did see more than a little campaigning going on, I didn’t see any demonstrations or acts of violence. Good luck, people of Thailand!

Next, I have to comment on the quality of Thai Airways. I used to enjoy flying with the “Smooth as Silk” airline, but lately their service has really declined. The quality of the food served on flights has gone down noticeably from, oh, say about five years ago; the attendants, while not surly, don’t seem as interested or caring; and the in-flight entertainment has become sub-par. On the trip to Bangkok, all we had were the overhead video monitors–no individual seatback screens with video on demand (older planes, I guess). On the trip back to Korea, we did, indeed, have the video on demand, individual screen system–nice. However, less than halfway through the flight, the system went down–no video, no music to listen to, nothing. That made for a much longer flight. Yeesh! I’m gonna have to start booking my travel on another airline, methinks. Sorry, Thai Air, you’re gonna have to pick it up quite a bit to keep my business.

Ok, I got that out of the way. I only stayed in Bangkok for one night, so I didn’t get around too much. One thing I always do in Bangkok is eat at the Bourbon St. Restaurant, which, as you might guess, serves mouth-watering Cajun cuisine. It’s only about a kilometer or so from the hotel, so I could have walked there. I felt like having a little fun, though, so I decided to take a motorbike mototaxi, a rather unsafe way to travel in Bangkok’s notorious traffic.

It was around 7 p.m. and Sukhumvit Road was experiencing its usual rush-hour jam, so taking a regular taxi probably would have taken around half an hour. On a mototaxi, it took about 10 minutes, with the driver weaving between the non-moving cars and buses, working his way to the front of the pack waiting for the traffic light to change. Then, at the green light, he roared to the back of the next stalled pack and again squeezed to the front. You have to really keep your arms and legs tight to the bike–you’re the meat in a sandwich and the buses and cars are the bread. It’s actually not that bad in a traffic jam, because not too many of the big vehicles are moving–just watch the arms and legs. I took a couple of videos while I was riding on the back, holding on for dear life with one hand and holding my compact camera with the other. I’ll try to get one of them posted here for your amusement.

So, I did make it to the restaurant ok and had a great meal of red beans and rice. Fantastic! Be sure to give the Bourbon St. a try if you’r ever in Bangkok. It’s on Sukhumvit Soi 22. Check their website for directions.

Another thing I like about Bangkok is all the surprising cultural trappings that seem to pop up out of nowhere. I walked back to Sukhumvit 11 (no sense pressing my luck on the mototaxis), and this statue caught my attention. It looks like it might be a shrine of some sort, and it was located across the street in front of a bank or department store–I really don’t remember which. I didn’t notice it on the ride down, but that was probably because I was too busy taking the videos and trying not to die. :smile:

More mundane transportation is the overnight train to Nong Khai. It departs from Hua Lamphong Station at 8:30 p.m. and arrives in Nong Khai around 8:30 a.m. The train is usually late by about 20-30 minutes, although it’s been on time occasionally on my past trips, but this time we were 2 HOURS late getting into the northeastern Thai city. Again, on the return trip, the train was almost 2 hours late arriving in Bangkok. Very unusual, but not a big problem for me, since I wasn’t on any real pressing time schedule. (Nai had a pretty long wait in meeting me, though.)

Here’s a shot of Hua Lamphong I took from a restaurant above the main waiting area.

I kind of like the rickety, over-aged night train–it’s seems like an escape to the past, when people weren’t in such a hell-bent-for-leather hurry to get somewhere else. On the train, it’s not the arrival that’s important, it’s the trip. The train has a dining car, so I rocked and rolled my way down a few cars and sat down to have a snack. You meet all sorts of interesting folks. I talked to one Norwegian guy who co-owns a guest house in Vang Vieng, Laos, and he told me that the police up in the “frat” town (about which I’ve previously posted) had clamped down on the after hours (closing time–midnight) partying there. That’s excellent news–it’s a beautiful area, but the young backpackers that seemed to party ’round the clock had turned it into something less than appealing to older folks like me.

I also struck up a conversation with one of the police who patrol the cars, checking passports, watching for thievery, and other such mundane chores. I took a photo, but for some reason I had the settings on my camera messed up and didn’t get a clear shot of him. However, it does give some idea of the swaying motion of the train, so I kind of like it anyway.

So, I’ll end this rather long post with my arrival in Nong Khai and try to get some more photos and stories up this weekend. Stay tuned.

Another Year in Yeosu, June Vacation

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention in my previous post that I’ll be signing on for another year here. Lots of reasons for doing that–familiarity with the job, pleasant people to work with, friendliness of the students and the people of the area, the beauty of the countryside, and, the biggest reason, the upcoming 2012 Expo next year, about which I’ve posted quite a few times. (Use the search box to find the relevant posts.) So, I’m pretty stoked about being here for at least another year.

The new contract begins at the end of August, so there’s still a bit of time to go before then. In the meantime, I’m heading down to Thailand and Laos in June. I purchased my ticket from Thai Air last week–I’d been logging onto their web site for about a month, waiting for their ticket prices to drop, which they do around this time of the year. Sure enough, prices went down about $100 for a round-trip ticket in June. Sweet!

I have a ton of frequent flier miles built up on the Star Alliance frequent flier program and they expire soon, so I probably could have used those for a free flight, if I’d been lucky enough to grab a freebie at that time. I’ve read that it’s very difficult to get a seat by using miles for free flights, and a more realistic scenario would have been to get an upgrade. However, I thought that wasn’t really the best way to go. I’ve decided to use the miles for a hotel room in Patong, Phuket, Thailand for a week for my friend Nai and myself. We’ve stayed at the Thara Patong Resort before, and we really enjoyed it, so I’m going to use the miles for that. It’s an upscale hotel, right across the street from the beach in Patong, with friendly staff, a very large swimming pool, and a pretty good inclusive breakfast in one of the restaurants. (I’m the early bird breakfast zombie–Nai usually sleeps in, lazy guy. :smile:

Here’s a quick snap of the pool from our hotel room, back in 2007.

So, as of now, my tentative plans are to fly into Bangkok on June 11th, take the overnight train to Nongkhai, Thailand on the 12th, arriving the next day, then goofing around in Nongkhai and Vientiane (Laos) with Nai until the 19th. We’ll then take the train back to Bangkok and fly out of the City of Angels on the 22nd for Phuket, returning on the 29th. Back to Korea on July 1st. Too short. But, it’ll do.

So, long term–another year in Yeosu. Mid term–the trip to Thailand in June. Short term–get in beach shape. I’ve taken off 5 kilograms (about 11 pounds) since the beginning of the semester in March, and I’ve got a long ways to go. I’ve been working out at the gym on the weight machines, so I’m trying to develop the physique, along with losing the weight. This recent illness has slowed my progress, but I’ve got a couple of months to go yet, so I’m hopeful that I’ll look like this guy. More later.

Not kidding about the physique. Jack LaLanne at 95 years old. Fantastic.

Theme Shots and Last Gasp

Here are a few more “theme” photos from walking and bicycling around Yeosu.

First, more chicken–“Mexican” chicken. No, it’s not Mexican food, unfortunately. It’s merely spicy, as in “hot.” Too bad. I can actually make my own Mexican food–it’s not too difficult to find, in larger cities, taco shells and taco and fajita mix, “real” cheese, nacho chips, jalapenos, etc. A few days ago I brewed up a nice big pot of chili to acknowledge the imminent coming of winter. As a matter of fact, I’m just about to go warm up the remainder of that delicious concoction–winter’s definitely on the way when I start percolating some batches of chili, and there has been a bit of a chill in the night air lately.

It’s a big thumbs up for chicken around here.

And how does all that chicken get here? Why, by truck, boat and train, of course. Here’s a shot I took of the “blue train,” cars that transport petrochemicals, I assume, from the gigantic industrial area located over the mountain just north of the university. One of these days, I promise to hike up that mountain and take some high-up shots of the complex. I’m pretty sure they don’t process chicken there. 😉

If you follow baseball, you probably know that the Yankees are on their last gasp for advancing to the World Series. They’ve been totally thrashed by the Texas Rangers, and tomorrow’s game is their last chance to continue in the American League Championship Series. If they lose, they’re out. A long winter for New York fans is in the offing. More games later, hopefully.

P.S. Happy Birthday, Mom, if you read this, and best wishes for many more to come.

Back in the Saddle

No, I’m not riding a horse; I’m back in the saddle of a bicycle. One of the teachers’ contract is finished, and he’s chosen not to renew. Instead, he’s entering the Peace Corps in late spring or early summer. Less than a year ago he bought a Cannondale F7 mountain bike up in Seoul. It’s made by one of world’s great bicycle companies and it’s really a sweeeet ride. Here’s a picture of the model from the Cannondale website (Note: the new picture on the site is a different color from this one. My bike looks exactly like the one below.)

Cannondale F7

It gets mostly great reviews, including a bunch from this website. The guy paid around $700 for it, but he’s letting it go for around $300, a price a bit beyond what I wanted to pay, but too good of a deal to pass up. I can probably sell my motorbike, which I rarely use, to offset some or all of the price.

Walking around or taking the bus last summer and fall to various locations around Yeosu, I thought that it would be great to have a mountain bike, and I promised myself that I’d look into getting one this spring. I love bicycles, but I haven’t had one since I worked in Morocco. The Dominican Republic was just too unsafe to be out riding alone and after a year without one here, I realized how much I miss riding. Now, I can hardly wait for the weather to warm up. Yeah, it’s still chilly winter here, despite a few decent days a couple of weeks ago. Soon, though, (well, a few months) it’ll be spring and I’ll be out riding regularly.

The two extra classes I’m teaching finish this week. That means I’ll have more time to get into the gym beginning next Monday and start working out and running on the treadmill (too cold and windy to run outside). I’ve probably put on a few pounds since my last regular workouts at the beginning of December, so I’m anxious to get going again. I’m looking forward to being svelte. 😎 It also means I’ll be posting more often. Stay tuned for more later.

In Hanoi

I arrived in Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport with nothing extremely noteworthy happening on the flight here. Viet Nam Airlines still leaves a lot to be desired–just so-so food and absolutely no in-flight entertainment. (They said that the system had a mechanical/electrical failure of some sort.) Mostly the cabin attendants were polite and attentive, but one guy was having a bad day. A couple of older Korean guys sat in the seats in front of me, and they seemed a bit goofy to begin with. The attendants handed out Viet Nam immigration forms to fill out at the beginning of the flight and, a bit later, one of the Korean guys tried to hand his passport and form to the aforementioned attendant, for what purpose–who knows? The attendant waved him off and went about his duties. About ten minutes later, the fellow again tried to give his papers to the attendant, who got a bit perturbed and told him (if hes gestures and tone of voice were any indication) that “I don’t do this–You
do it! Don’t ask again.” The Korean guy didn’t.

Then, one of the female attendants handed out lunch menus and about 30 minutes later our previous male attendants came along with the meals. Only then did the two Korean gents open their menus and proceed to discuss the choices with each other. I imagine the conversation was something like:

“How about the fish?”
“I don’t know. You hungry for fish? The beef might be ok?”
“Maybe. What does the beef come with. Let’s see . . . hmmmm.”

The attendant was really getting impatient by this time.

“C’mon fellas. Order already. Why didn’t you look at the menu before? I only got about 150 other passenger to serve. And look, the bald-headed guy behind you is laughing at ya.”

It was humorous, I thought, but I wasn’t laughing out loud. Really.

The Koreans finally ordered their meals and even managed to choose what they wanted to drink after only a little hemming and hawing. The attendant was surly the rest of the flight.

The Sky Cafe in Noi Bai looked the same as last Christmas. See the post below. (I wonder if they keep the decorations up all year round.) However, the rest of the transit area has changed.

I posted previously about the construction at Noi Bai. It’s finished and they opened up some of the usual duty-free shops–Tobacco/Liquor, Confections, Watches–and the rest of the ample concourse went to souvenir shops. But, every . . . single . . one . . . of them is selling the exact same stuff at the exact same over-pricing. What a waste. Another restaurant or two would have been nice; perhaps an Internet Cafe, bar or whatever would have upped the interest factor, but as it is, nobody used any imagination. Ah, well–on to Vientiane.

Pepero Day

Yesterday, the 11th, was Pepero Day in Korea. It’s akin to Valentine’s Day, which is also celebrated here, with young people and couples exchanging candy, mainly the Lotte Corporation’s Pepero brand. The 11th is Pepero Day because, according to this article, the date 11/11 resembles four sticks of Pepero. However, the name Pepero in Korean, which you can see on the product box below, also resembles 11/11. At any rate, some of my students gave me several boxes of the treat, which makes for good munchies. (Reminder to self: jog an extra half hour next time out.)

Pepero

I was out walking around a few weekends ago and took the following shot from near the Soho Yacht Marina area, along the sidewalk back toward the main part of town. Yeosu is quite pretty at nighttime, as you can see from the photo. I took a bus there and back. The bus system in town is very extensive and you can travel almost anywhere for 1,000 won (about 85 cents), unless you have to make some transfers. It doesn’t run like clockwork, though, because you might have to wait 30 minutes for a specific bus to come along and then 2 or 3 of them show up within 5 minutes of each other. There are no timed stops, so it’s kind of hit and miss as far as timeliness. More later.

Soho_Night2

Depression

No, I’m not suffering. But, our little area of low pressure has blown up into a tropical depression, soon-to-be Tropical Storm Noel, then Hurricane Noel. At least that’s the current prediction. Overnight we had a steady, but not heavy, rainfall, and on the field nearest my room, the warning track and part of the outfield grass are under water. Play between the various teams in the Instructional League was supposed to start tomorrow, but I’d guess that’s going to be delayed a day or two. At the moment the intensity has picked up a bit. There have been no thunderstorms or heavy winds, and it looks like the system will be long gone from our neck of the woods by the time it attains tropical storm strength. I have to go into Boca Chica today to make some copies for this coming week’s classes, but I certainly won’t be taking a motorcycle taxi! More later.

Of Note Recently

Thought I’d better check in with a few jottings of goings on here and elsewhere.

We’ve got a nice mix of players right now, comprised mostly of Dominicans, but with several Venezuelans and a few Nicaraguans, Panamanians and Mexicans. We’ve also got two kids from Brazil, and, for a few weeks, a couple of guys from Holland. At the end of next week, 8 players from the U.S. are coming down to work out with the regulars. All in all, a pretty interesting mix.

After being shut down for 6 weeks, the camp seems to be having more than its share of problems. First, the generators were acting up, leaving us without electricity and internet for the better part of a few days. Once that was taken care of, the water pressure started acting up, meaning we were without water for half of last weekend. The maintenance crew thought they fixed it, but we’ve been dry for most of today, again. They’re still working on it and I think I just heard a trickle coming out of my bathroom faucet.
Then, earlier today, one of the grounds crew was working underneath a front loader when the large bucket assembly in the front fell on top of him, mashing up his back pretty bad. I didn’t see it happen, but everyone is very worried about him; he’s now in a hospital in Santo Domingo. We’ll definitely keep him in our thoughts.

We’ve also been having quite a bit of rain lately, mainly very intense, early afternoon showers. Sunday, though, it rained off and on for most of the day, frequently heavily. I took a beat-up old taxi into Boca Chica around 2 p.m. and it started raining hard enough to obscure our view through the windshield; however, that wasn’t the worst of it–the driver’s wipers didn’t work too well and his heater was inoperable, so that the inside fogging of the windows pretty much shot vision all to heck. Luckily, we managed to make it into B.C. without getting slammed into by one of the heavy trucks which frequents the highway in these parts.

I see that the Red Sox have pulled off another unbelievable comeback to put themselves into the World Series against the Rockies. I guess that’s ok, because how many people would have watched a Cleveland-Denver Series anyway? (Not that a whole lot are going to stay up late watching Boston-Denver either.)

I hear through the grapevine that Brian Cashman, General Manager of the Big Club, and a few other VIPs might be coming down sometime this fall. I’d love to meet Cashman, who I think has been one of the most competent people in the front office over the last 10 years. More later.