Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Back Home Again....for awhile

Bangkok airport is beautiful

Thailand loves their King and shrines are seen everywhere, even at the airport

see you later girls:) at Tokyo airport
Finally done travelling for awhile!  Though I thoroughly enjoyed my Peace Corps stint and my vacation with Shar and Britt, it feels good, comfortable and familiar to be home.

I have been back in Ohio for a week now... adjusted to the time zone changes and the travel weariness, busy catching up with family and friends!  

In the past week, I was surprised at the airport in Cleveland by not only my sister Sue and her hubby Tom, but also my Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Jack!  They are my Mom's siblings and Mom has Alzheimer's so it would be too confusing for her to pick me up.  Marilyn lives in a Cleveland suburb, and Uncle Jack came to visit from California.

We have enjoyed lots of  time with the extended family from Mom's side, cousins, etc... I've also met my new grand daughter, Gretchen Victoria, who made a timely arrival earlier the same day I arrived home! Sue surprised me with the news by saying she had a picture to show me!  

Pete and Nicole with baby Gretchen
The family gatherings have been a good time, as well as catching up with some of my daughter's friends...Courtney, Cody and baby Carter, Heaven and her daughter Wynter, and Joanna, expecting a baby girl soon!

The Merstik Clan (my sons are absent)

Courtney with Carter:)

JoJo's baby shower, lots of pink!

Good thing I have at least 6 more weeks to go...I have yet to see my younger son Zach (who lives in Southern Ohio) and so many other friends before I head off again.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Murphy's Law: Vacation Tally

I'm not so sure I really believe in Murphy's Law, "anything that can go wrong, will"; but I do believe that I lose and misplace things, as well as injure myself on a regular basis.  The losing and misplacing happened frequently on this trip, with me carrying too much stuff in my backpack and not having it well enough organized.

At one point we were keeping a tally of my things that I had lost (most of which were found, of course in my bag) and it looked like this:

-pen             -shoes           -flip flops       -coffee (yes I brought a jar of instant coffee as well as creamer and sugar cubes, all of which I never used)
-notebook (that I later found, but think it's gone missing again)
-carmex for my lips was never found but I did buy a new one
-safety pins (turned up but never used)     -passport photos (left in big suitcase in storage at airport, needed one for Cambodian visa)
-watch, also left in suitcase                     -pillow (yes really, small travel)
-Dove soap (later found after buying a new bar of soap)
-camera charger (found among my stuff)     -earrings (lost one)

The best one of all was my train ticket.  We were taking an overnight train and it was delayed four hours.  After a long day of traveling and waiting around, we went to the station just to get to wait until 1 a.m.  We were all hot, cranky and sleepy.  I was so tired and my main concern was getting to sleep, that I forgot the conductor would soon be around to check and punch my ticket.  I'd just taken off my shorts (I knew the ticket had been in there) but had also just used the toilet.  He peeked in at me and he ended up giving me his flashlight to search for it.  I was nearly in a panic thinking, either I'll have to pay again, or they'll throw me off the train!  Long story short, after fiddling around and moving everything, the ticket was right there under the blanket.  I waved him back, showed it to him and went to sleep.  It was a restful night on the train.

Injuries for me are a life long pattern of tripping, bumping into things and just generally being a little too clumsy.  Thus far in the past 3 weeks, I slipped and fell onto the beach at the Full Moon Party, just getting to the beach.  The only injury was wet sand all over my clean shorts.

Brittany stubbed her little toe on coral and ended up with a cut which she had trouble keeping sand out of.  It healed nicely.

When crossing the border in Cambodia with my sneakers on, I slipped on a wet muddy patch of slippery sidewalk after navigating a couple blocks of the same without injury.  This hurt my pride more than my right knee, which scabbed over and was fine.

A couple days later, I banged my head at Angkor Wat while playing with my camera while leaving a temple.

In Thailand while trekking in the rain forest/jungle on our way to a waterfall with a guide and several other tourists, while drinking my bottle of water, I tripped and banged my left ankle.  It was a narrow path and my left foot slipped and slammed into a pipe, cutting it in two spots.  It bruised pretty quickly, but I poured some of my water on it and Toby our guide put band aids on and Brittany found some ibuprofen from another group.  It's given me issues since then, with the ankle swelling quite a bit.  Then both my feet were swollen and after resting and elevating them the other night they're mostly normal, though the bruised one is all scabby looking.

Fortunately, nothing too major, though right now I am missing a wad of cash that I'm hoping turns up soon:)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

South East Asia...what a variety of fresh food

coconuts on left....fresh juices and fruits abound...heavenly:)
Wow.  One of my favorite words and a good way to describe my travel fun with Shar and Lil B after Peace Corps.  I cannot believe the amazing food we have been eating....veggies we haven't seen for the past two years as well as an abundance of delicious tropical fruit..yum.

Thailand and Cambodia have been sources of delicious healthy food and a great transition from the limited food available in Mongolia to the abundant deliciousness that I'm looking forward to upon my return to Ohio!

a sideways pic of bananas growing

star fruit (sideways....)

enjoying our creations after cooking class....
I've enjoyed sweet corn twice here, roasted over an open grill, but it's not as tender and sweet as what I remember at home.  Oops, starting to drool on my computer.  Here in Thailand there are "long beans" which are huge swirly green beans and we used them in our Thai cooking class yesterday.  I'm excited for fresh green beans as I remember them, picked right from the garden!

lunch on the train, purchased from ladies at the stop who get on carrying trays...fresh pineapple, sticky rice and a tasty chicken leg, all for less than $3.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Kingdom of Cambodia

It really is called the Kingdom of Cambodia and what a gorgeous place!  Rice paddies abound in this lush tropical paradise, and the soil is red and muddy where ever there is no pavement.  For our brief visit here, the day long traveling and the $20. Visa fee was worthwhile.

The girls and I traveled here to experience the ancient Angkor Wat complex of temples.  Built in the 11 th century, it is a huge complex of small and large temples spread across a vast area of land.  We opted for a one day pass and chose to see the major and most commonly known temples.  Angkor Wat literally means City of Temples.

The big temple is the most commonly recognized and is even the symbol on the country's flag.

US dollars are welcome here, though the local currency is the Riel, with a dollar being worth 3,800 Riel.

Children begging/selling things was difficult to witness here.  Immediately upon arriving at a temple in Angkor Wat, a swarm of small children would descend upon us and ask, "madame, you buy my post cards?"  They were 10 for a dollar and lovely.  When we told them "no thanks", they had a sad face on and said,"I need money to go to school".  It was confusing and tough to decide to buy or not to buy.  

We each ended up buying a small thing one time from a different child.  Then today we found a brochure in a store explaining that it's illegal to make children work, that the parents should earn and children learn and NGO's  can cover any school expenses though elementary education is free.  To me it's kind of like do you give money or food to a homeless person or ignore them?

This is my first encounter with begging children and I can't even imagine the mixed feelings people must have when confronted with them daily in other destinations.  I have apparently been a sheltered traveler, and as always just when I think I have learned or understand something.....nope.  Another insight I have recently gained is that all languages that are not written in the Latin alphabet look like gibberish to me...not just Mongolian, and certainly not just Georgian!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bum Blaster

....and other weird Thai delights... ok that doesn't sound quite right, but let me say that a bum blaster is a like a "butt bidet".  A common thing here in Thailand, and from what I understood from my site mate Puyja, also in India.  Puyha said that toilet paper is not used to clean one's self after toileting, only water.   I'll be sure to report further about the toilet situation in Cambodia once I explore the facilities there.
After two years in Peace Corps Mongolia, I've seen some rough toilets.  From my own apartment facilities which worked sometimes, to the worst outhouse ever that my friend Shar had.  Shar lived in two different hashas and both had the frailest, falling down bungalows to ever pass as a jorlong.

Though I don't really know what this sprayer device is called, it was coined the "bum blaster" at our guest house on the island.  It's just like a sprayer in a kitchen sink.

the familiar Western toilet

Turkish stand on the sides, squatting over the top
Some photos to illustrate the variety of toilets, all with the accompanying sprayer.  Western style with the seat is what we're used to, then the Turkish which I hear is also quite common in Georgia.

I've had many different toilet experiences since leaving the USA, from squatting along side the road on long bus trips, to using less than sanitary outhouses, to bad smelling indoor toilets and now this new fangled water blaster thing.  Life sure is an adventure!  I applaud diversity in all things, even toilets and am thankful I can squat when it's called for:)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Planes, Trains, Boats, Taxis.....

Still in of surf, sand, heat and humidity, plus amazingly happy easy going people.  What a wonderful transition before returning home to the USA.  Just finishing week one of a three week vacation and so far it seems we've taken most forms of transportation available.

A plane from Ulaanbataar to Bangkok, via from airport to hostel, and the air conditioning was heavenly!

We booked the "overnight train" from Bangkok to come down south to the island.....we got the package deal of train, then bus to dock, then ferry to the island. (about $26.) 

Sadly for us, the only tickets left for the night train were 3rd class.  We'd read on line to try to get a sleeper, but they were sold out.  What the hell, part of the trip is the adventure, right?  We needed to get to the island, so we took the 7:30 p.m. overnight train.  3rd class are padded benches, no air conditioning, windows that open and fans blowing the hot air around. Surrounded by many other foreigners and some locals, we hunkered down to attempt to catch a few zzz's......We figured we slept maybe 10 minutes per hour....

The first few hours were too hot to actually touch or lean on your seat mate....and the train jostled way too much to sleep sitting up.... Later with our window stuck open, it was almost too cold.  All part of the adventure!

At one point in the night I was certain there was a reclining seat open in the next car and in stealth mode snuck in and relaxed and closed my eyes for about 2 minutes when the lady next to me tapped my arm.... her husband who'd been in the toilet returned.  They had a good laugh and I shrugged my shoulders good natured and slunk back to my bench. 

If I never take another overnight train sitting up trying to nap, that would be great.  Uncomfortable, sleep deprived and giddy by the time we arrived for the bus (2 hours late) we were whisked away to the dock and loaded onto the ferry.... 

Luckily for us, we have sleeper car reservations on our train back tomorrow.  Though no air con (which we've enjoyed here all week in our dorm room with the huge comfy beds) we each have our own roomy bunk and a fan in the room.  I look forward to my continuing good night's sleep.....(around $33. is worth the extra few baht).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Greetings from Thailand

Or in the words of the Thai, "saw wee", which translates roughly as hello, or how are you?  After two years in the relatively low humidity and high altitude of Mongolia, I am now in the very humid and lower altitude of Thailand.

Worn out from the goodbyes, packing and re-packing, only to still have to pay extra for overweight baggage, and finally arriving at our guest house at close to 2 am.... I'm running on excitement right now.  Oh yea, I'm officially an RPCV!!!  .and on vacation in Thailand!

Sharayah, me and Brittany leaving Mongolia