Tuesday, October 25, 2005


A quick hello

Hi everyone -- a quick post today because I only have a few minutes' computer time. I am at Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany. I have met up and am staying with my sister and her husband and kids. We are in a hotel apartment until they can find a new house and car and everything.

It's super to see my niece and nephew again. I waited three months for those hugs and kisses I got last night.

The base is mammoth. Anything you can think of is here: bowling alley, library, hotels, nightclubs, everything. It's close to towns called Kaiserslautern and Mannheim that have even more services and shops and stuff. I am going to do some cooking starting tonight and will try to be helpful by being domestic and watching the kids while Becky and Justin get organized.

More soon ...

Friday, October 21, 2005



It is very strange to wake up in Hong Kong and go to bed in Germany, but that's what I did on a Tuesday that lasted about 36 hours.

I am now finding myself in Heidelberg, Germany, and literally a world away from SE Asia. All of my clothing got a nice, soapy wash in a machine as soon as I got here. So did I, but not in a machine. It is very cold and dry after three months of 85+ degrees and humidity, so my first purchase was a heavy coat. I am so happy to be a little chilly. The weather is crispy and sunny, tons of autumn leaves are on the streets. This is just what I needed.

Yesterday, I drank a German beer in a German town square. I toured my first castle and walked all around the town. It's easily the most charming place I have seen in my life. I feel like I am in a Middle Ages movie but everyone is wering the wrong costume. I also ate a sandwich with some mysterious cold cuts and a ton of mustard. So, I have castles, beer and mustard. Perfect!

I am meeting my sister's family on Tuesday, so I have decided to do a minitour of the "Castle Road" south of Frankfurt. I am waiting now for the train to take me to a town called Bad Wimpfen. Doesn't that sound like a good place?

Something I didn't think of when I arrived in Europe: Now that I blend in with the crowd again, people are speaking to me in German. So I have memorized a couple of phrases to let them know I am a foreigner. I sound ridiculous, but I am trying my best to speak a tiny bit of German when I need to talk with someone. It's completely futile. That's when I smile and say, "Sprechen Sie Englisch?"

I can't wait to meet Becky, Justin, Madison and Cole for some German adventures. Just a few more days now!

Monday, October 17, 2005


Hey from Hong Kong

You should come here if you can! Hong Kong is one of the best places I have been on my trip, even if it's the most expensive. I arrived Sunday afternoon and did a little bit of shopping to get ready for the weather in Germany and to replace my scroungy backpacking clothes. When I went back to my hotel "room" -- it's really just a paneled box with a toilet -- I added everything up and had a heart attack because I had been doing the exchange wrong. So a few items were returned to the stores today. HK has the best shopping of anywhere so far. Someday when I am wealthy, I will come back here so I can really not have to worry about the exchange rate.

Today I took myself on two self-guided walks suggested by the very helpful visitors' center here. I went into an area that is essentially a Chinatown, but that's kind of silly to say because all of HK is a Chinatown. I walked down the ginseng street, the dried seafood street and the raw meat street. On the raw meat street, I saw a tail of some huge animal hanging from a hook, fur and all. It was disgusting yet fascinating. No idea what it could have been from. All I could think of was a lion, but I doubt it was a lion's tail. Wonder what someone is going to cook with it?

Next I walked myself all around the tourism center, ate way too much good food, went to the space museum (very 1980s) and enjoyed the AC in the malls. I have seen more things I would like to buy here, but this isn't a shopping adventure. I need to have a local person to help me eat here. Lots of dim sum places (hi, Marti!) but I don't know how to eat dim sum and I don't want to end up with a $200 dinner ticket at the end if I try. I read in the visitor information that some of the Chinese restaurants will bring food and drinks to tourists' tables and tell them they're included but then hit them with an exorbitant "service charge for condiments" at the end of the meal. That's some expensive soy sauce!

Flying to NY and Frankfurt tomorrow morning. Thanks for joining me on my trip through Southeast Asia. I have hopes I will offer more anecdotes in the coming weeks before I have to face reality again.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Missing posts

None of my posts the last couple of days are getting to the finish line, darn it.

Here's the most exciting thing that happened in the last four days: I accidentally went out of bounds at the Ho Chi Minh complex here in Hanoi this morning. I was trying to get a better photo of Uncle Ho's fancy French office building and neglected to see the do-not-trespass sign written in Vietnamese. The Commie policeman started tooting his whistle at me, and I was physically escorted to another part of the complex. I sassed the cop for touching me, but then I realized I'd better be nice and cooperate so I don't end up getting held in Vietnam while my plane to Hong Kong takes off without me. It was exciting for me and for the other tourists to watch, and it gave the policeman something to do with his time. Worked out for all of us. Sorry!

On Friday, I took myself on a long walk around the Old Quarter and visited some more tourist sights. Most interesting was the Hao Lo Prison, a k a the "Hanoi Hilton" where US POWs were held during the war. I found a pamphlet in a case on the wall. This document was apparently given to new American arrivals at the prison as a sort of introduction to prison life there. Here are some quotes I copied from the pamphlet:
- The prison "is as if one is being in California" because of the fruit they will be served.
- The prison "has a lot of other decent entertainments."
- "Health and strength will be found again."
- "They [prisoners] would find interest in raising poultry, growing flowers."

I bet the ankle shackles and tiny cells also added to the pleasant environment.

A flight suit in a glass case is supposedly John McCain's. I don't necessarily believe it's the real thing, but if it is, it's pretty neat. The should give it back to him, but that's probably not how it works here.

Tonight is my last night in SE Asia. I will be culling unneeded items from my carry-on while enjoying a last couple of Tiger beers and maybe some noodle soup. Update from Hong Kong in a couple of days. Or maybe when I get to Frankfurt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Rain go away

To anyone who has been e-mailing me, especially Carmell, B and J and parents, I haven't been able to get into my Hotmail ever since I got to Vietnam. I am trying to check it in each town, but it won't let me in. I think it's the Commies. If you have something crucial re. travel plans, maybe post here on the blog and we can talk that way? Maybe Hotmail will work in Hanoi. Bigger city, better technology?

It is pouring everywhere I go here. I have been through Nha Trang, spent a couple of nights in Hoi An and the afternoon today in Hue. Flooded streets, rain that's so heavy you can't even walk down the sidewalk without getting soaked. It has put a literal damper on any tourist activities, even though the locals seem to be smiling and doing just fine. But they're all soaked.

I'm taking the night bus up to Hanoi tonight. Hoping to stay put there until I fly to Hong Kong, then out of Asia next week. The buses here are a double-edged sword. One one hand, they're uncomfortable, loud and the rides last up to 14 hours. But on the good side, it costs $15 (!) to get all the way up the Vietnam coast and you get to see the pretty coast and countryside. Where else can you travel the length of a country for $15? If you need the bathroom, though, you're out of luck. The bus usually only stops one time per journey.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


I have dong

Just an hour or so till I leave Saigon for Nha Trang. I am quickly working my way up the Vietnam coast in order to get to Hanoi by about Oct. 13, then I'm off to Hong Kong to fly out of here.

Enjoyed a tour of Saigon city yesterday. Hundreds of cafes in the midst of the crazy traffic. It's fun to sip a cold drink and just watch everyone go by. I have mastered walking into the traffic; it's the only way you can cross the street if you need to. Just step off the curb, start walking real slow and look right at the drivers. All the drivers will slow down and go around you. It's unnerving, though, hoping that they all see you in the middle of the intersection.

I saw Reunification Palace yesterday, again visited the war museum and went to a few pagodas which were pretty neat. We stopped at a wholesake market for a while, but it was so hard to walk through the aisles that we left after about 20 minutes. I don't need 144 hair clips anyway.

Today's adventure was to the Mekong Delta. We boarded a riverboat in My Tho that would've made Popeye proud. We stopped off at a candy factory, fruit farm, honey wine farm, a tiny monkey zoo, etc. We got to wear pointy rice paddy hats to keep the sun off our heads. They really work! A long drive back to Saigon tonight, and now I'm killing time till the bus leaves.

See you in Nha Trang for something more quiet.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


One nation's point of view

Well I have some good news and some bad news. I am feeling better today and managed to spend the day out of my room with minimal nausea. The bad news is that I saw the doctor, and he thinks I had the flu last week but that I also have a parasitic infection (come and get me, boys!). That's right, I got me some worms. I have to have some tests done when I'm back at home, but for now me and my worms are going to keep traveling. I have always joked that if only I could get worms, they would whittle me down to my ideal weight and beyond. I asked the doctor how much weight I could look forward to losing, and he explained that's not quite how it works. Darn!

Today I visited the Cu Chi tunnels a ways west of Saigon. I crawled 30 meters inside one of the tunnels and had to control myself not to freak out from being in such a scary, confined space. It was very enclosed and dark and hot. We saw all kinds of North Vietnamese torture devices and booby traps. Ate some tapioca (just like Charlie!) and watched a Commie video made in about 1867 explaining how good triumphed over evil in the "American War." This was a good preview to ...

... the War Remnants Museum back in Saigon. This is, of course, a completely one-sided take on the Vietnam War at the atrocities the Americans caused to the Vietnamese people. Nowhere in the museum is it mentioned any of the bad stuff the VCs did to their own people or what they did to us. The best part is a gallery of photos showing the American GI's experience during the war. All of the photos in this part of the museum were shot by US combat photographers or photojournalists, many of which I'd never seen before. It was upsetting to see all the photos, and I'm sorry for everything bad that happened to anyone on any side. I just keep asking myself why we keep doing this to each other. What is the good from all the death?

I was spitting mad when I started reading through the guest book at the museum. I shouldn't even start skimming the messages, but I always do. So many Japanese and European tourists that sign the guestbooks mention how horrible the Americans were to the Vietnamese and how dishonorable the US soldiers were for CHOOSING to come fight here. I guess being in the museum caused the draft to slip from their minds. People are so mallealbe sometimes; they believe anything placed in front of them. Like stuff that's printed on a poster in a Communist museum.

Thank you for listening.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Now I'm sick in Saigon

I can come up with illness alliterations for every city if I don't start feeling better. I transited into Vietnam yesterday; thank goodness everything stayed down me and in me during the bus ride. Having trouble shaking whatever I have, but I know it will pass. I am signed up for a city tour tomorrow to kind of force me out into fresh air to see how I do. I am eating because I'm so darn hungry, but still nauseated, ugh. No hurries, though. I can rest as long as I need to. That's the Catch-22 about having the flu. You're too pukey to eat, but you're so hungry from not eating it makes you more pukey. Enough of this ...

OK, because I have nothing real to report on, here are some interesting things I have seen on the TV in my room:
1. A Japanese pole dancing competition -- now I have a new goal to work toward when I get home, the double-high vertical inverted splits.
2. "Stripes." Never had seen it till this morning. It's hilarious.
3. "Ed" -- I hadn't ever seen this, either, and now I have one more reason I am sorry I worked nights for so long. I would love to live in a small town like that, except the potential for dating is probably even worse than in Spokane which is as bad as it gets.
4. I also watched a man pull a passenger bus a few feet from a chain connected to his ear.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Pheverish in Phnom Penh

More bombings in Bali, which grabs my attention quickly this time because I was just there in Kuta where one of the bombs exploded. Don't know what else to say. Makes me sick.

Actually, I am sick. Today is my fourth day in bed with some kind of fever. I was thinking it was something exotic like dengue fever because I have a bunch of the symptoms, but I think it's just regular old flu. I have ensconsed myself in an $8 (exorbitant!) air-con room with cable TV so I can get my energy back by watching HBO. My bones ache, my head and eyes are pounding and I feel about as strong as a noodle. I'm in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, and I haven't seen a bit of it since I got here. Except the pharmacy. I will miss it entirely because I want to leave for Saigon tomorrow.

I loathe tuk tuk drivers, and if you've been here you know exactly how I feel. After 10 weeks of them, they finally got the best of me today. I took one to task this morning because he asked me four times, on seeing me four seperate times in half an hour, whether I needed a ride to the museum. But it felt great to bitch him out in my feverish tirade. It didn't do any good except give him and the other eight drivers in the courtyard a hearty laugh at the foolish Westerner.

We went to Angkor Wat on three days last week. I am kind of templed out for this trip, so days 2 and 3 for me were cut short, but seeing the main temple at sunrise was something I can say was truly awesome. We couldn't have gotten a better sunrise, just a few clouds to help bring about some lovely pink, orange and purple in the sky. Then to see the temple with that morning glow from behind, whoo!

The street kids in Cambodia are killing me. There are naked babies, infants, sleeping on sidewalks next to toddler-age brothers and sisters. Some of the babies wear plastic shopping bags instead of cothing. My friend Robin bought some of them several steamed buns at a bus stop this week, and the kids were so scrawny and hungry and grateful. Robin and I immediately had some tears on our faces. The children here are particularly beautiful. They have pretty eyes, big grins with teeth that are still white. If I already had a family, I would be talking seriously about finding a Cambodian kid to bring home.

Vietnam tomorrow morning if I feel good enough for nine hours on the bus. Starting in Saigon. Things are getting wrapped up quickly for me and Asia. Flying out of Hong Kong to Frankfurt on Oct. 18.

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