Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lia's Birthday and Friends in Manson

It seems impossible that Lia could already be 15 years old - the years go by so quickly. Doug and Grandma Jan had just returned from SE Asia and were included in a wonderful celebration in Manson.

Doug loves cooking and was invited to participate in preparing the meal. Lia's Aunt Elba is reported to be among the best tamale cooks but all the women are amazing cooks. Aunt Norma was the hostess and Mama Mia Maria certainly added to the cooking festivities. Making good tamales is a long but worthy process. We worked most of the days and made more than could be eaten for a party. Doug and I were gifted with the extras! Thank you very much - we have enjoyed them very much.

The next cooking lesson was Mexican Rice. Norma and Doug did a wonderful job. Then out came the condiments - green tomatillo salsa, roasted green tomatillo salsa, red salsa, Mexican Sour Cream. It was a feast to behold for Lia's birthday. Dessert was a choco flan which is a flan cake. Nothing that we had eaten before and it was delicious.

We will finish Lia's birthday celebration with a trip to the coast over spring break to look at a few colleges and spend some time together. That will be fun! The next morning we had brunch at dear friends Kathryn and Bob's house with our Manson friends Kristina and Fred and Nicky and John. We missed Kathryn McD and remembered our dear friend Esther Stefaniw. Our last line dance piciture at Kathryn and Bob's wedding included both of them.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Life in the Slow Lane: Thailand

City weary and tired of pollution we arrived in Phuket, Thailand late in the evening. Our hotel was located in Phuket Town which is not near any beach and not far from all beaches. Thoroughly leery of Asian traffic, Doug's suggestion of renting a scooter was met with many persuasive counter offers. In the end Jan climbed on hoping that nephew Seth and Meghan had never been so foolish in their Thailand travels. For the first miles Jan buried her head in Doug's back and made bargains with God. By the end of the first day she became brave enough to peek over his shoulder only to recall that we were driving a scooter on the wrong side of the road in a country where they did not know the language. Fear again! But how Jan longed for a scooter with Doug driving rather than that Trang mini bus with a reincarnated kamikazi pilot at the wheel.

After several days in Phuket we decided to head for the remote more southern islands of Ko Kraden and Ko Phai. A couple of hours of travel by on a long boat brought us to the amazing paradise of Ko Kraden. Stunning turqoise seas with amazing karst formations teeming with tropical fish. There are no motorized vehicles on the islands hence no noise and no pollution. Luggage and supplies were transported in human powered carts.

For nearly two weeks we ate breakfast, stepped out of our room and headed for the coral reef located just offshore. We snorkled for five hours a day often towing a kyak with fresh water along with us. The snorkling was world class and we longed for an underwater camera. Our solution was to head to the Phuket Aquarium to identify and photograph some of the things we had seen - huge pink and turqoise parrot fish, lion fish, spotted moray eels and a stunning variety of angel fish. It was second only to the Great Barrier Reef and much more accessible.

Thai food is wonderful, the people are charming and honest and we are planning our next trip. On our last day I did a spa afternoon. I had a facial, a 90 minute massage, a 30 minute reflexology treatment and a 30 minute herbal compress. That treat was $27 US including a generous tip. Time to leave Thailand and head back to Singapore to meet up with Martie and Wayne who have been in Myanmar.

Then we head back to the Northwest. IS IT STILL RAINING THERE?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Good Morning, Vietnam

In Hanoi we pondered the wisdom of a 12 hour night bus to our next destination, Hoi An. When we realized that the flight was under $50 each, the bus trip went by the wayside and we caught a flight for DaNang and a minibus to Hoi An. Hoi An is a World Heritage Site not unlike Antigua, Guatemala which was abandoned due to earthquakes. Hoi An, a major trading center, in the 16th and 17th centuries is charming. Dutch, chines, Japanese and Indian Traders came for fairs that lasted four to six months. Hoi An is ringed with temples and Trading Houses for the powerful. It was left relatively untouched when the river silted in and trading ships could no longer enter the port. Frozen in time, Hoi An is a treasure for the curious.

Again looking at a 12 hour night bus ride coupled with a 5 hour ferry ride, we opted for a flight to Phu Quac for $50 per ticket. Phu Quac has an interesting history. It was used a prison by the French during colonization, the Japanese during WWII and by the Americans during the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it - the American War). It has limited infrastructure and beautiful beaches. There are no reefs and the off island snorkeling was not spectacular so long swims and an evening glass of wine on the beach was the ticket. A rather calm scooter rental due to little traffic. All in all a charming place filled with Vietnamese people trying to get ahead.


Saigon, as I will always remember it, is a charming city once you get past the pushiness and greed. Our first altercation was coming in from the airport when the taxi driver insisted the meter was in US $ rather than dong. Doug disagreed. Things mostly got better from that point with the exception of the market mafia (more later). By the second night we had found a charming hotel with extremely helpful staff. We were amazed at the price of $22 US which included both lunch and dinner. Both meals were fine and we enjoyed eating with the staff at the evening meal. If you are headed for HCMC try the DUC VUONG Hotel on Bui Bien St. and ask for room 825. There is a lovely terrace where we played crib in the evening and escaped the bustle of the city.

We went to the market one morning and Doug was looking at T shirts when the woman told him that she had more colors and sizes inside. We browsed for a moment and found our exit blocked by two lovely young women who insisted that we were barred from leaving until we purchased something. When we tried to leave they pushed us back in. Doug bought no T shirts from that stall.
Thailand is calling and we leave for Phuket tomorrow. This time our flight is only $30 and the alternatives are frightening. Soon from Thailand.

Vietnam: Hanoi


Vietnam has changed since Jan last visited in 2003. It has become a beehive of commercial venture and although it will never lose its charm, it did seem a bit hectic in Hanoi. There are many more cars and scooters and fewer bicycles. The traffic is truly frightening.

We stayed in a wonderful hotel in the old section of Hanoi that provided respite from the pace of the city. The service was charming and we ate delicious pho each morning for breakfast.

The old quarter of Hanoi is more than 1000 years old and is a maze of crooked and twisting streets that baffle most tourists but not Mr. Doug. He rented a pedal taxi for an hour and a half and armed with a map, he had a clear understanding of Hanoi which is organized by wares. There is a flower street, a holiday street, an electric motor street, a silk street and on. By the time we had been in Hanoi a day, he had the Old quarter figured out. It is a maze of activity and amazing sights.

Doug and I have fewer fashion consultants than those of you who have more children but we do have Shari, Doug's lovely daughter. Periodically she buys him fashionable clothing and comments on this engineer glasses that he has worn and replaced with identical frames for the last 25 years. The clothing was not a priority but Doug spent millions (of dong) updating our glasses. It is quite economical to do so, we spent about $100 for glasses that the frames alone would have been triple that in the states. The quality was excellent. Shari may wish to continue with her advice on clothing. We just aren't there yet.