Saturday, December 20, 2014

Exploring Southeast Myanmar: Joko's Christmas Journey

The journey into the unknown. Exploring the heart of darkness. Taking the road less traveled. Boldly going where few tourists have gone before!



Okay, I may have engaged in a bit of hyperbolic cliche there, but the places I'm going for my holiday break certainly qualify as the unbeaten path at the very least. This trip, which begins in just a couple of days, has me very excited and a bit nervous. None of the places I'm going are currently 'dangerous', but they have been in the not too distant past, and most of my journey is to parts of Myanmar that foreign tourists weren't even permitted to go to just three years ago. Consequently, as I've done my trip planning, scant information exists about them and my itinerary is somewhat loose. The southern road down the Isthmus of Kra is sort of on a slowly developing tourist path, but the online tools I've normally used when traveling around SE Asia have been somewhat useless.


For the 9-day journey, I've only made accommodation reservations for five of eight evenings, and those were made on the phone and aren't even paid for yet. Two of my stops don't have hotels with phone numbers that I could find on the internet, and definitely no way to book them online. I only know I can even stay there because of bare-bones, 100 word entries on Wikitravel.org. My only booked transportation is a flight back home at the end of the journey after I reach my final destination. I know what trains I'm taking and when, but I don't have a seat. There's a stretch in the middle where I've told myself, “Well, there's gotta be a bus between those two towns. I'll just ask around when I get there.” For many intrepid travelers, even this level of planning is more than they'd do. More meticulous planners would be aghast at the uncertainty in my journey. Me, as much as I'd like to say I'm a fearless wanderer who points a direction and just follows his nose 'that way!', in reality, I'm a bit uncomfortable heading out alone with these big gaps of unknown in the middle of my itinerary. I'll make the best of it, I'm sure, and in a way, the uncertainty makes it more exciting.


So where am I going? Let me share the plan, such as it is. 

Somewhere near Mawlamyine.  Myanmar's biggest Reclining Buddha.
 1. December 23rd: Yangon to Mawlawmyine. Formerly known as Moulmein, my first stop is the capital of Mon State and a fairly big town. It's got a lot of history, as it was once the capital of the British Raj early in their takeover of Burma. The Mon are one of several 'nationalities' living in Myanmar. They speak a language completely unrelated to Burmese and have their own culture. There are things to see and do in Mawlamyine, but I can't tell you what they are the moment. I just realized I left my notebook with my itinerary at work, so the details for the rest of this blog will be vague. In any case, Mawlawmyine is a 5 hour train ride. I depart first thing in the morning, and I have a hotel 'booked' for the evening.



2. December 24th-26th: Hpa-An. An early morning ferry sometimes goes from Mawlawmine up the Thaniyin River to the town of Hpa-An, my next stop. See, it's a sometimes ferry because it's not used by the locals any more. They recently improved the road between the two cities, and a two hour bus trip is far more preferable to the locals than a five hour ferry trip against the current. The ferry service makes it's way north 'if enough tourists sign up to make it practical', and I'd think that on Christmas Eve Day, there will be enough. No worries. I'll take the bus otherwise.


Hpa-An is another old, famous city. It's the capital of Kayin State, home of the Myanmar tribes of the Karen people (who also live in large numbers in neighboring Thailand). I'm spending two to three days there, depending how much I like it. I plan on renting a motorcycle and tootling around the surrounding mountains. I hear the scenery is spectacular. I won't repeat my mistake that I made in Indonesia and do any vigorous hiking, but there are several accessible physical sites to visit.


The Karen people are almost all Christians, and so for 25th, I plan on doing something I haven't done in a couple of decades, attend church for the Christmas service.



4. Dec 27th: Hpa-An to Kyaikkami/Setse Beach- Here's where the uncertainty begins to kick in. I'm not sure exactly how I'm getting there, but I know there's buses from Hpa-An back to Mawlaymyine and then from there, it's not too far to this pair of seaside resort towns. Kyaikkami is the former end point to the notorious 'Death Railway', the rail path cut through the hills and jungles to Thailand by Allied POWs under the Japanese during WWII. About a year ago, I visited the Bridge Over the River Kwai in Thailand, so this historic, old, colonial town (formerly known as Amherst) seems like a natural destination on my slow slog south. I'm not sure where I'm staying there, but as it is also a popular getaway for the locals, there's got to be a lot more facilities than the one place listed in my three-year- old Lonely Planet guidebook. Setse beach seems to be quiet.


5. Dec 28th:- Ye- How could I not stop in a place with this name? Ye
(pronounced Yay!) has the shortest name of any place I've ever been to in my life. It's about halfway between Kyaikkami and my ultimate destination, and despite being a fairly big town, it's rarely visited by foreigners. There's a wonderful park and lake in the middle of town where I'll rest on my way south. Instead of looking for attractions to visit, I suspect I'll be an attraction myself in this unheard of town.


6. Dec 29th to Dec 31st: Maungmakan Beach- About ten miles northwest of the provincial capital of Dawei (Tavoy) is a beautiful, quiet beach on the shores of the Andaman Sea. Again, I plan on renting a motorbike and exploring the scenic coastline, the city of Dawei itself and maybe go snorkling or fishing. I've got my hotel booked for this part of the stay, and I'll be getting there via rail from Ye to Tavoy, and then a bus. I expect it to be a peaceful place to just chill and relax.
Maungmagan Beach



7. January 1st, 2015: Back Home  I've got a midday flight from Dawei back to Yangon. At
$108 for a one-way, one-hour flight, I certainly could have saved some money by taking the train all the way back which would have only been $10. Thing is, the train ride all the way back takes 30 hours... Yeah, I'll be trained-out by that point.


What's odd about this itinerary is that none of it includes any of the “Big Three” of Myanmar tourism: Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake. Those three places is where all of the tourists go when they come here. I've had other foreigners react in utter disbelief when I tell them I've been here 9 months and not been to any of those places. Bagan, in particular.

See, when I thought about where I wanted to go, three criteria came to mind. I wanted to visit mountains, beaches and historical/cultural attractions. There are mountains around Mandalay and Inle, the latter being a big lake which might be thought of as beach-like. For sure Bagan is one the premier cultural attractions anywhere in Asia, and I hear its absolutely mind-blowing. That said, all of those places are very far away from one another, and here on this holiday week, are sure to be packed with tourists. My journey off the beaten path fulfills all my criteria in a relatively small corner of southeast Myanmar. That's why I picked this plan.

The world famous plains of Bagan
 
Besides, I get back on the 1st. I don't start work again until the 7th. Depending on how I feel, I can always make a quick trip up to Bagan in the time remaining.


For now, it's back to thinking about what I'm sure is going to be a trip I'll never forget.


Let's throw a video on the end. Two nights ago, it was my company's Christmas party. Santa showed up and appointed me the Chief Elf. 

 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Making Guacamole in Myanmar

Living in the tropics, fruits and vegetables are far less seasonal than they are in temperate climates, but they are still seasonal.  November was avocado season.  They were everywhere!  Huge, green, tempting haas avocados.  Here they use them for making smoothies... They don't eat them.  They drink them.

Me, when I think avocados, I think guacamole, one of my favorite foods.  It's also one of the first dishes my mother taught me to make when I was but a boy.  I share her recipe (some people add lemon or green chiles to guac; not in our recipe) with you in a couple of videos.

First I had to buy the ingredients... these aren't available in the local supermarket.  For produce, you gotta go to the market not the supermarket. 

In HD for your enjoyment...


Now that I had the five components of guacamole, it's time to share how to make it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Naked in Bangkok

I'm writing to you today from the coolness of my hotel room in Bangkok. It's time for my once-every-10-week sortie out of Myanmar for the purpose of renewing my business visa.  Two and a half months is as long as they'll let you stay before you have to do a 'step out, step in' visa run, and Bangkok is the closest, cheapest place to do that.

I do feel a bit naked.  See, this is the first time I've gone anywhere significant in years without bringing my video camera with me. The camera is kind of bulky, and I wanted room in my backpack to bring back stuff I haven't found in Yangon. I used to live in Bangkok, and although this city is HUGE with lots of interesting sights around every corner, this time, I thought to leave the camera home.

It's weird not recording everything.  It's like I'm undercover. I've gotten all the shopping I wanted to do out of the way, and since I've got some time to kill this afternoon, I can at least show you some photos.

Of my hotel...

I'm staying at the Suda Palace Hotel in the Saphan Kwai district of Bangkok.  It's on the north side of town, an area I didn't get to much when I lived here. I chose it because I could book it online, it's relatively close to the airport I was flying in and out of and it was cheap ($15/night). 

From the photos I saw on the internet, the place looked huge!  The reviews I read said it felt a bit rundown, but the service was fine, the wifi was fast and it was clean enough.  Fine by me.  I like older, large hotels. It makes you feel like there's some history to the place. 

Sure enough, the Suda Palace definitely looks like it's seen better days. Apparently, they added another wing to an existing hotel, but kept all the same intricate woodwork throughout the entire building.  I think I'm staying in the older wing.
















Here's what the outside looks like close up.  Look at the cool fillagreed columns!  The place has old-school class.

















What I didn't know is that the Saphan Kwai area is also well known for it's go-go bars, strip clubs and prostitution.  Never heard about this area during the whole time I lived here.  These places and this district aren't world renowned like the sex-industry zones more in the heart of Bangkok because Saphan Kwai caters to local Thai clientele.  I've barely seen any foreigners around, nor did I patron the clubs last night. 
bars, strip clubs and hookers.  Directly across the street from the Suda Palace are two of largest go-go clubs in Bangkok.








Anyway, back to the hotel.  One thing I noticed is that in my 'wing' of the hotel there are a whole bunch of unmanned counters, places where workers would sit when the place was in its heyday, but no longer.


Again, I loved the woodworking throughout the place.  Even around the elevator doors and at the door to my room.

As you can see, they put me on the 2nd floor, which is nice because I'm not a big fan of climbing stairs. The wing I'm in must be at least 8 stories tall, but I don't think anyone is staying very high up. 

Why?  Yeah.

Finally, the interior of the room.  Again, it really adds to the old-school feel of this place.  The furniture dates from a previous century when hand-carved, intricate woodworking was inexpensive in Thailand.  Definitely nicer than any other 'budget' hotel room I've ever been to...

 
I've also never seen anything like this.  It's some kind of ancient bedside remote control.  The radio doesn't work. The buttons to control the volume and channel on the TV are gone, but the light switches on the right side of the console still work!  State of the art 1960's technology!


Monday, December 1, 2014

Three Events in Four Days

Sweet December to you! That's the greeting I've been hearing today, December first. I'm not exactly sure why people say “Sweet December” here in Myanmar, but I suspect it has something to do with the weather. The rainy season is well finished. It's cooler, and going to get cooler yet. It's a sweet time of year.

I've been busy these last few days. I've attended three significant events in the last four days. In this blog, I'm going to detail them for you.

It started on Friday, when I was invited to attend a thank-you dinner for the “Alliance family”. The Alliance for HIV/AIDS in Myanmar is an NGO here in town where I teach English. They're one of my school's corporate clients. The event was being held at what I thought was a pretty fancy restaurant, and me wanting to present a respectable face, representing my company, I thought it would be important that I dress very formally, as you see in the picture.

I bought a fancy 'longyi' (pronounced: long-jee), a sarong which is the traditional male garb here. At least 80% of the guys wear them everyday. I had never worn one outside my home before that night. See, I wasn't good at tying them around my waist, and even just around the house, my longyi would always come loose and fall down. One of my co-workers taught me a new tie it, the 'chubby man's way'. Tie it ABOVE the belly line, and it'll stay up all night.

I arrived at the dinner, and everyone was very complimentary of my fancy Myanmar attire. Problem was, I felt way overdressed. Most of the rest attendees were in jeans and t-shirts. Or sequins and heels. As I mentioned, the NGO is active in the HIV/AIDS advocacy community, which includes a lot folks subscribing to alternative lifestyles. There were two full tables full of drag queens who entertained us all with lip-synching performances of 70's disco tunes.

On Saturday, I went with my company to the KBZ Music Run, a '5K' run (walk) event which was quite a big event here in Yangon. I didn't know what to expect, and frankly, when I signed up to do it with everyone else a month ago, I wasn't sure I'd be physically able to walk 5 kilometers. You know, the whole back thing I've been going through. As it's turned out, my back has been a whole lot better these last few weeks. A few bits of discomfort in my leg every so often, but on the whole, I feel really good.

As for the event itself, I'll the video show you... In two short parts.





Lastly, from this morning, my friend Beau's wedding. Yes, one of the teachers here has gotten hitched to a wonderful Burmese lady who we all like very much. This was my first Myanmar wedding, and I didn't know what to expect.
At least it gave me a chance to wear my nice Myanmar attire again. Perhaps this was more 'ring ceremony' than formal wedding. They got their wedding rings (not put on each other, but by other people...)


I wish Beau and Nila 100 years of auspicious marriage.


I've got video of the event... I hope the happy couple enjoys it.  It's kinda sweet.



Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner: Deodorant, Toothpaste and Cheeseburgers

First of all, happy Thanksgiving to everyone back in the USA. It's been two years now since I've started this blog 'Leaving Amerika', which from the very beginning was occasionally called unpatriotic. For one thing, I was leaving. Second, I spelled America with a 'k'. Even in these times of unrest amidst prosperity back home, I still frequently miss my home country. On holidays like this, that longing for family, friends and familiarity looms large.


I've been here in Myanmar almost nine months. Today was one of those amazing days which I don't get enough of. Any day could be like today; it's just a matter of having the time, getting out there, investing in the mindset of exploration and opening my eyes. All those things came together today.


Mind you, there's one more factor: the weather. It's getting to be beautiful here right now. The Monsoon season has passed. Although we're tropical, it's still the Northern Hemisphere, and so it's getting to be 'winter'. Yeah, in the middle of the day, it's still 89F and humid, but the afternoons and evenings are paradisiacal, and as it gets even cooler, it's going to get even better.


I woke up groggily. Last night was Beau's bachelor party. A friend and fellow teacher here is getting married next week to a wonderful Myanmar woman, and last night... well... suffice to say I saw sides of Yangon I never knew even existed. I probably shouldn't become too familiar with them. That could be dangerous.


As I've mentioned before, I love the product quest as a means to explore this foreign country. This morning, I needed to go find something! Something I couldn't buy at the local market. Speed Stick deodorant from America. I was out and I've used it for decades. Bought my last stick here in Yangon, so I knew it was out there, but only in specialty stores. I noticed a place about a mile or so from home recently called 'USA Mart', where
they sell just American made products. Just the kind of specialty store I needed!


Jumped on the bus, got there and found no Speed Stick. Actually, they had Lady Speed Stick, but no Guy Speed Stick. Oh well. They did have Crest 3D toothpaste, the most effective toothpaste ever and something I've missed since coming to SE Asia, so the trip wasn't a total loss.


I really should seek out a product placement endorsement here on my blog to earn some money for my hard-earned readership of tens and tens.


I leisurely walked home, stopping for an avocado smoothie (they're delicious) and then about a quarter mile from home, I realized something: I had to be at work in half an hour! Oh..huh? Right! Thursday is my day for being the placement testing evaluator. Easy to forget about these kinds of little things. An extra day off (my one corporate class today was canceled by the clients) turned into a work day. Quick change into work clothes and off to Edulink.


Four hours later, it was I was back on the streets of Yangon, once again in search of deodorant. It was late afternoon. The weather was perfect. I jumped on another bus that I thought was going to take me to the Taw Win Center, the place I'd bought my last Speed Stick. I'd asked the bus steward if it would get me there, and he'd said yes, but as I got further and further away from where I wanted to go, I got to think maybe he'd just misunderstood my question.


I know a lot of Myanmar language vocabulary; my pronunciation is still rough.


Got off the bus. Walked for a while though an unfamiliar neighborhood. Grabbed a taxi to take me the rest of the way. Bought my deodorant. In the setting sun of an oh-so-pleasant tropical dusk, I set off towards my Thanksgiving dinner destination: Harley's, the only California (In-N-Out) style burgers I've run into in Yangon. Fortunately, it was just a mile or so from the deodorant source, and so again, I hoofed it.


Even after nine months, I still get such a sense of novelty from this place. I try not to gawk at everything. As foreigners were extremely rare here just a few years ago, people still gawk at me, but they too try to limit it.


I saw lots of cool things on that one mile walk through another unfamiliar neighborhood to the Thanksgiving burger.


I miss America, but I'm really happy I'm here. If experiencing new things keeps you young, I'm like 12 year old.


Your obligatory ukulele video...




Friday, November 14, 2014

One Take on President Obama's Speech in Yangon

My president visited Yangon today. I knew it was happening. I had no idea what his itinerary was, but since I had plans today that involved riding way out to the outskirts of town, my biggest concern was that the various motorcades (the Chinese and Japanese heads of state are also here today, and traffic on any normal afternoon is horrible enough on it its) might get in the way of the important thing I was planning. Now, I'm wiping small tears from eyes as I've finished watching Barack Obama deliver a speech to and answer questions from a group of young people here in Yangon.


Was Obama's speech particularly
moving? Well, no, not really. His message was more about the challenges facing the region of Southeast Asia as a whole and how the USA was hoping to help with that rather than anything specific to Myanmar.



During the speech, Obama seemed tired. Of course he was. It was 4 AM Washington DC time. He'd woke up this morning in Beijing, and had already had an earlier meeting today and long talk with the Nobel lauraete Aung Sang Suu Kyii. I called him 'my president'; I voted for him twice. Six years is a long time on his job, and I could see the weariness in his eyes. He didn't look like that when I left America in 2013. Travel, the mid-terms and just the grind of the being the 'leader of the free world' takes a toll on a guy.



There was an extensive question and answer session following his speech at this ASEAN Youth Summit, and the crowd really loved having him there. They do love Obama here. Today was his second visit to Myanmar. His first, just two years ago, was the first time any American president had visited this country.


I knew I'd be able to catch the coverage of the visit as I rolled home via taxi from the aforementioned important thing I had to do today. See, even though it was just before 4 in the afternoon, there were already large crowds at the ubiqutous Yangon roadside teashops, all watching the TV screens just as they do when an important soccer match is being shown. I wondered what they were watching and craned my neck to get a view. I saw pictures of Air Force One landing. I stopped at one of my regular Mom & Pop shops on my way home. The shopkeeper asked me if I had joined the crowds on the nearby central road which had been the path the Obama motorcade. I hadn't, but if I had known... All these clues added up to me knowing I could see more on my TV when I got home, and perhaps witness my president during his visit to my current town.


This country faces some extremely difficult and long-lasting issues. Myanmar has had 65 years of non-stop civil war. It's the longest ongoing armed conflict in the world, and the struggle these last few years is to get a lasting cease-fire, much less any actual true peace settlement. In brief, Myanmar is country of dozens of ethnicities; if you're on one side of the dispute, you'd call them 'nationalities'. For decades, armies of the ethnic groups have resisted and fought the central power, mostly comprised of people of the dominant Bamar (from which Burma gets its name) people. Not only has their been civil war, there's also devastating poverty (Myanmar is Asia's second-poorest country), natural disasters, corruption, oppression of civil rights and freedom of speech. Yeah, Myanmar is a real maelstrom of issues.



You can't expect the president of the USA to be an expert on everything, and the young people at the Q&A session were asking really tough questions on specific issues would have been difficult for a Myanmar expert to answer. Still, he asked for it, and I guess he is probably used to answering questions internationally on domestic issues that really have nothing to do with USA . So, I suppose I can excuse my president for not answering the crowd's questions as eloquently and completely as I was answering for him in my head.



For example, the first question asked of him was from a young man from Rakhine State who asked how he could foster greater tolerance from his fellow (Buddhist) Myanmar youth. He wanted advice as to how to influence his friends and neighborrs. The subtext here has to do with the almost institutional hatred some Rakhine people (and the state gov't) have for a certain minority there who call themselves the Rohingya people. The gov't here won't even acknowledge the name Rohingya, instead insisting on calling them Bengali, and insisting they are illegal immigrants. This minority has been the object of infamous discrimination and oppression. That they are Muslims makes this easier to accept for the Myanmar, 90% of whom are Buddhist. Obama's answer started well. He mentioned that no country can ever be successful if it is divided against itself. I thought he was going to advise appealing to these folk's own nationalism and self-interest; tell your friends Myanmar will never join the ranks of developed nations if they can't accept and tolerate marginally external ethnicities. Instead, he obfuscated for a while, and then told the guy that anytime one of his friends said something racist, he shouldn't just sit back and listen. He should step up and say that no, racist hate speech is wrong.


Umm, okay, sort of a passive anti-intolerance approach. Wait for it happen, then react. I've heard this same tactic for promoting pluralism advocated by other diversity 'experts' in the USA. It may even be the right approach for the USA. But on Myanmar's west coast, where thousands of Rohingya live on eggshells in fear of pogroms and the majority's hatred, I think a more proactive approach to promoting religious and ethnic tolerance is called for. For example, just today, the governor of Rakhine attacked the SecGen of the United Nations for even using the word 'Rohingya' in comments the SecGen had made earlier week. Oh, c'mon. The situation in Rakhine State is more serious than perhaps Obama is aware (or was made aware of by his aides), and his advice was stupid and inadequate.



My next criticism of Obama is really a matter of basic 'cultural awareness 101'. Perhaps, on a more meta level, even just 'being nice 101'. A young lady in the crowd stood up to ask her question, and reading from her notes held in trembling, nervous hands, started to ask my president, “Good morning, Mister President, my question today is...”

At which point Obama interrupted her with ”WELL, IT'S AFTERNOON...”. The young lady immediately lost face and was made to look stupid for not having perfect command of greetings in the English language. Yes, it was 4:30 PM, and Obama's quip immediately got a little round of guffaws from the crowd, most of whom were probably feeling what I was feeling and certainly anyone from Asia was squirming in discomfort. Why did he humiliate that poor young woman so? Why did he point out her little error when he didn't need to? Um, English isn't the first language of Myanmar. People here on this entire continent have a much greater sense of public humiliation; even as an English teacher, you have to excuse little mistakes in speech and not jump on them like that, particularly when the whole world is watching. I was more embarrassed for my president for acting so uncouth than I felt embarrassed for the young lady.


C'mon, Obama. Asian discourse 101. That said, that young woman will probably remember that moment as both her proudest (being able to ask the POTUS a question), and most humiliating moment of her life.


When the Q&A's were over (you can see the whole thing on YouTube here), Obama, tired and worn out after crossing the Pacific and participating in innumerable summits and talks, and getting ready for this evening's flight to Australia, spent a good 20 minutes wandering around the crowd shaking hands and conversing individually. I only know this because Myanmar TV captured every second of every minute Obama was to be seen. Now, if this were a campaign event and Obama was out to court votes and enthusiasm, I'd understand it, but this wasn't. He was in Burma, fer crissakes. Still, he shook everyone's hands. He let himself be part of dozens of selfies with significant background.







No, my president wasn't perfect on his visit to Myanmar, but he was who he was. I still like the guy. 

Now, what about that important thing I was doing today?  That'll have to wait until the next blog.  

Instead, as usual, I'm gonna conclude with a video of me playing the ukulele.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Second Week of November

In a couple weeks, it will be the eight year anniversary of me buying my first digital video camera and uploading my first video onto YouTube. Since then, so much has happened, and although little of the really significant stuff got put video, there's enough out there that if ever I wanted to create a personal memoir, it wouldn't be written, it would be a movie.


This is the second week of November. This week doesn't hold any personal significance for me, but for some reason, I felt compelled to look back into my archives and see what I had been doing this week throughout my 7+ year vlogging career. I found some interesting stuff.


We'll start seven years ago. 2007. I had just moved to Seattle, Washington; a place which had created music I had admired for 20 years. 'Hunger Strike' by Temple of the Dog, circa 1991, was an amazing piece of music with two of the best singers on the planet, which had a low budget video centered in Seattle's Discovery Park. In this first vid from this week 7 years ago, I aim to recreate that video.



This week in 2008, I had recently adopted a little black kitten. It was also this week in 2008 that we elected a new president. So, I named my kitten Barack Insane Kitteh (RIP).




In 2009, Jolly Judd wrote a poem without anticipating that someone would later put it to ukulele. My most hardcore uke song is five years old this week.



By 2010, I was a regular at the Friday Night Open Mic in Snohomish, WA. I met lots of cool fellow musicians up there, and I think has been one of my favorite collobaration vids I've done. The harmonica player and I had never rehearsed together. I just asked him to come up and jam with me, and he graciously agreed.




In 2011, just like now, I got on some kind of nostalgia streak, and I took you on a tour of a bunch of my November vids from what at that time was 5 years of archives. If you're reading this, you may be in this one.




 In 2012, I took you up into the Cascades for a bit of Geology with Joko.






Come 2013, I was in Thailand, and this week a year ago, I was bringing you reports from random places. Samut Prakan.




As for this week in 2014, well, you'll have to check out my last blog.

Gonna have to bookmark this blog, because I know now that I'm going to be making videos like these for the next 10..15.. 20 years... until I die. The second week of November may have meant nothing at the start of this blog, but it might mean something going forward.

Monday, November 3, 2014

What to Do About the Back

About three months back, I wrote a blog praising my Myanmar doctor for his straightforwardness and no-nonsense approach towards the problems of my aching back.  Turned out I had a herniated disc, not the first my doc had seen in his career.  A few days ago, after a half dozen previous visits, including a surgical procedure wherein he gave me an epidural, I went in to ask for advice for whether or not to proceed with the final (and expensive) step of the treatment, off-shore surgery to shave off the part of my spinal cord that has exploded out of my verterbrae. 

I explained about how I had re-aggravated my injury. I told him that there was now a complete numbness in my left leg and feet (the left edge of my left foot has felt like it's been frostbitten since I hurt myself in Sumatra).  He nodded his head and explained that numbness in the extremities was in fact a symptom of worse injury due to ruptured disc than the pain of sciatica.

Kind of weird that the a numbness to pain is worse than pain. Then again, my worst pain has been in my buttocks and thigh when the actually source of it was a little point in my lower back.

So what to do?  My insurance deductible for the surgery is about a month's pay, but after a couple weeks after Indonesia, yeah, I ached, my back hurt, but it wasn't unbearable.  I got through my day and although I was uncomfortable, I've been able to handle it okay.  Then again, at 1 AM, when trying to go to sleep, and the pain in my left leg prevented that, I'd pay anything to get rid of it.

I wanted my doctor to tell me what to do.  I wanted him to hear about my symptoms and tell me what to do next.  Instead, he listened to me, and said I had three options.  Surgery, not having surgery, or, just do another session of drug therapy and see how I feel.

So, once again, I'm getting my cortizone shots.  He's given me new meds. I looked them up online and they're actually weaker than what he's given me before (basically, the weakest NSAIDs and muscle relaxants out there).

Guess what? I'm without pain.  I can walk down the street or sit at my computer and not feel any uncomfortableness. A few weeks back, I was preparing for a trip to Singapore or Bangkok for surgery; now, I think I may not need it.

I think I know what's going on.  The cortisone has shrunk the swelling in my spinal cord. After the cortisone wears off, if I can avoid doing those things that might re-aggravate the ruptured disc, I can get through this without surgery.   Problem is, this whole problem started by stepping off a curb, so forget playing basketball or climbing mountains, what do I do? Stop walking?

This pharmaceutical treatment is essentially just putting off a decision I'm going to have to make.

Still, I think without these mild drugs, I wouldn't have been able to make this video made today.  It's hard to be creative when you're suffering chronic pain.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

KEEP ON ROCKIN IN MYANMAR!

I don't usually post my ukulele videos here on this blog.  This one, though, is a little different and I thought it was worthy of sharing.

The challenge this week at Seasons of the Ukulele was Neil Young. I picked one of his songs from the early 90's, and then headed Downtown with my cameraman with a scavenger hunt mentality, looking in Yangon for the items mentioned in the lyrics.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Hlagaw: An 'Oasis' North of Yangon

I use the word 'Oasis' in quotes as that was how is was described in the first online description I found of this place north of Yangon that I'll be talking about tonight.  It's a national park; the only one, I think, in the Yangon Region.  I noticed it months ago while looking at maps of this place I now live.  It was a big splotch of green, just as large as the city itself, and only 25 miles north of town.

I'd been pining to go there; maybe as a day trip, maybe overnight.  There weren't that many reviews of it online, but I'd pictured it in my head as a rustic place.  I expected maybe a ranger station or two.  Some hiking trails. Maybe a general store. When we had a long weekend earlier this month, Anthony and I headed up there by train and by motorcycle taxi to see what we could see.

What we saw was mini amusement park/zoo.  Mickey, Minnie and Donald were running around like it was Disneyland. I dunno if the Disney Corp is aware of this much less getting any royalties. I suspect not, as the USA still maintains economic sanctions against the nation of Myanmar and its quasi-military government.

Makes sense.  You're going to sanction us?  Well, we'll disregard your trademark laws!

In any case, the main camp of Hlagaw is like a mini-zoo.  There was a bird museum with lots of taxidermy, some pens with monkey and live birds, and most hilariously, the Malayan Sun Bears.  I brought along some stale shortbread crackers that I knew I'd be allowed to feed the animals with, and well, the bears had fun with them.



The video is in two parts.  In this second part, I used a lot of 'accidental' footage.  This was stuff that I recorded while I thought my camera was off, but was actually still rolling.  The point with the middle third of the vid is the audio.  I loved how everyone yelled out HI! after I responded 'hi!' to a bus full of local tourists after one of them had called out hi to me. You can also hear Anthony saying "This is terrible, Joko," after our tourist bus had abandoned us.

I'm definitely going back to Hlagaw.  I saw lots of cabins along the lake you'll see in the video.  he definitely offer accommodations up there.  Next time, it'll be a group of us teachers spending night out there at the national park.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Winding the Sumatran Adventure

It's taken me a while to share the last bit of the adventure, which ended up lasting a day longer than planned.

Post script to the mistake my travel agent made: When I got back to Yangon, I stopped in at the agency that's next door to my school because I needed a copy of my invoice and also to have a short chat with the manager, not angrily, but just to be helpful, help them improve their procedures so that the problem I had doesn't reoccur.  It should be an SOP to enter the client's e-mail address for the contact information with the airline.  My agent had entered her own.

Consequently, when I got to the airport on that last day,I had no idea my flight had been cancelled.

The smiling agent gave me a copy of my invoice, and then I asked if I could briefly speak to the manager.  Her face went pale and her smiled turned into a look of terror.  Oh no! The foreigner client wants to complain.

"Ummm..." she hesitated, "The manager is in a meeting."  Although that's an old excuse, I did actually see an older guy in a nice suit duck into a meeting room along the periphery of the large, open office space. 

"See," I told her, "there was a problem with my return flight."

"Yes, I know. It was cancelled."  Okay, so she read her e-mail.

"Well, how was I supposed to know?" I replied, and her head dropped in absolute remorse and shame.

"Sir, we tried looking for your e-mail, but could not find! I am sooo sorry!" She looked like she was about to cry. She was truly mortified. We talked a bit more, and she agreed that from then on, she would always ask the client for an e-mail address for contact info.  This should have just been common sense, but since this agency happens to be Myanmar's largest online travel booking provider, they don't do a lot of walk in business.


When I did arrive back in Yangon a day late, I looked into my wallet and found something rather unusual....


Friday, October 10, 2014

Sumatran Problems

In this video, the Sumatran adventure at the end of September makes a dramatic and painful shift.  I admit to making some mistakes, namely, going trekking through a mountainous jungle five days after minor back surgery was not a good idea.

 

Monday, October 6, 2014

On the Road to Lake Toba

I'm not an expert, per se, but after making over 1000 of them for YouTube, I think I know a little about what makes a compelling short video and what doesn't.  For example, when traveling by car or bus, it's easy to think that the scenery you shoot out the window will later make for interesting footage. That is rarely the case. The 'driving video' that won't bore your viewer to tears is one of the hardest home productions to pull off.

Tricks to make such a video more interesting include increasing the speed, using slow motion, picture-in-picture and as always, great music in the background.  It was an eight hour journey from Bukit Lawang to Lake Toba, and I reached deep into my bag of tricks to make it worth watching...  Enjoy.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Meeting Orangutans

In this blog, I continue the tale of my week off in Indonesia.

One of the best parts about playing the ukulele is that you can take one pretty much anywhere. Compact, lightweight, these stringed delights are wonderful companions for the road.  I brought my tenor uke with me on my trip, and I was little concerned that how I was carrying it, looping a strap of my backpack around the handle of my uke case, might be considered breaking the carry-on luggage restrictions of AirAsia.

God bless AirAsia.  This trip was my first time using the airlines, but I've heard and read about them since getting here.  They really have ridiculously low rates.  My roundtrip airfare from Yangon to Medan which included a transfer in Malaysia was only $200 - that's $50 a leg! No meals, no beverages, no check-in bags came with any AirAsia flight, and I was concerned though that cheap fares equated to harsher enforcement of the baggage rules. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and I cruised through my voyage with ukulele dangling behind me with no issues.

The choice to bring it paid off on my second night. I was at the Junia Hotel in
Bukit Lawang.  The place was nice, snuggled up along the edges of the jungle on the far, less developed bank of the river.  The staff had seen me carrying my uke and had asked about it. During the slow afternoon, I'd heard one of the waiters struggle to play and sing a song I knew quite well, 'Knocking on Heaven's Door'.  I busted out the uke and gave him a few pointers on the tune and taught him another easy one based on the same few chords.  That waiter turned out to be named Apri, and he was my guide for the jungle trek you'll see in the video.

Later, after dinner, the staff at the hotel encouraged me to bring the uke down to the riverside, where a circle of guys playing guitar was growing. Actually, it was just one guitar and a drum, but that was enough.  Unfortunately, I didn't bring the camera, so there's no video of it, but for the next two hours or so, I just hung out with the guys, playing music, singing songs. The primary guitar player was amazing, and he had no problem improvising solo's and accompanying bits to the ten or so songs I can play on the uke by memory.  When he played, I just listened or snag quiet harmony bits as best I could.  That jam session is my second-favorite memory of the whole trip.

The best moment of the whole trip happened the next morning when I tromped off with Apri (it was great having my own private guide, for whose services I didn't need to pay anything more than someone who'd signed up for a group with half a dozen other tourists) up into the mountainous jungle in search of wild
orangutan.  Mind you, he'd told me half a dozen times that there were no guarantees we'd see any of those majestic orange apes. They're wild, and although not afraid of humans, they range over a wide area of the jungle. Apri was diligent in pointing out all the other interesting aspects of the jungle including: remnants of wild rubber cultivation; gigantic insects; signs of wild boar and fleeting views of another monkey who lives there who has to have the coolest hairstyle in the primate world, Thomas' Monkey.

After about 90 minutes of strenuous up-and-down hiking, we came around a corner and there they were.  A momma orangutan and her baby, hanging onto a vine, an arm's reach off the trail at eye level.  WOW! I mean, if I was going to see any, I thought they'd be up in the canopy where I'd have to strain my neck looking up high to get a glimpse.  I certainly wasn't expecting to see this pair maybe 10 feet from where I stood.


On the way back down, I asked if we could an easier route as my back was beginning to bother me a bit. It was a longer, but much more level trip down through an adjacent rubber plantation.  We stepped at the hut of a worker there to borrow a knife to cut our pineapple.

 So very peaceful there, a feeling I tried to capture with the understated music accompanying the video. Definitely an amazing hike.  Enjoy the video...



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Back to Work in the Sunshine

There's something kinda depressing about waking up on the first morning back from a long, satisfying vacation. You should be happy and content with a whole portfolio of new and wonderful memories, but at the same time, there's an underlying realization that you're never further away from your next vacation than you are at the end of your last one. That's how I felt when opening my eyes today, awoken by the melodic chant of the Buddhist monastery next door. It took me some time and a cup of coffee to shake off the funk. For a long time, I've understood something about life that was first expressed by the Buddha some 2600 years ago: suffering is inherent in life, but it is desire that's at the root of that suffering. It's not the not having that brings us down, it's the wanting.

I was able to throw off these post-holiday blues, and now I'm actually a bit excited to get back to teaching....

****30 some hours later****

I'm writing today from the office, waiting for my Myanmar language class to begin. I've taught a few classes now over the last couple days, and I'm feeling a lot more comfortable. Just this morning, I did something I've rarely done before: I tried to observe myself doing something (teaching) while I was doing it, taking a little bit of my consciousness and separating it from the activity underway and putting in the observer role. I liked what I saw. I was doing a good job; being engaging, comprehensible and interesting. It kinda speaks to how comfortable and natural I've become in my role in my new career. Consequently, I feel a lot better about my job today as compared to yesterday where I had absolutely no enthusiasm for coming into work.

Do what you do and do it well. If you do it well, you'll like it more.

So, back to the story of the vacation. Video Two shares more of my first day in Medan and then begins the journey to Bukit Lawang, a village at the base of the hills (Bukit Lawang literally means 'gateway to the hills') from which I would be venturing out in search of orangutans. Couple of bad things happened along the way. First, I got ripped off by a tout for the cost of the ticket up there. I was trying to be thrifty, so I took a city bus out to the bus station on the outskirts of town. Just before the station, a guy jumped on, asked me where I was going, and then got off at the station with me because he just so happened to be the agent for the bus company that went there. How convenient. I knew he was quoting me a price that was well padded to include his commission. Well, I was kinda stuck there, and I tried shaking the tout off by rushing the bus driver when he arrived and asking the fare. He wouldn't answer and just looked to the tout, who wanted $15. I managed to talk him down to $12... The actual fare should have been about $6. Not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but given than not only do I speak the language, but when I used to live here, I was myself working in the taking-advantage-of-the-tourists industry, I'm the last person who should
have fell for this ploy.

The, to top it off, I pretty sure the bus driver stole my phone out of backpack while moving the luggage around.

Still, despite the setbacks, I still felt like I was walking on sunshine...




Monday, September 29, 2014

The End and the Beginning of my Indonesian Adventure

It's 6 AM on the last day of September, and I've turned off the AC, waiting for the hotel room to warm up a bit to make the cold shower more bearable. The last day of my vacation; I'm also waiting for the kitchen to open up downstairs so I can redeem my free breakfast (roti panggang - a thick piece of toasted bread drizzled with chocolate and condensed milk).  I'm in Medan, a city in North Sumatra where I also began my week's vacation, the most extensive bit of traveling I've done since arriving here in Southeast Asia 18 months ago.

As I look back over this last week, there were some wonderful moments (tasting all the amazing Indonesian food I remember from 25 years ago; finding a wild orangutan in the jungle), there were some disastrous moments (having my phone stolen; re-aggravating my herniated disk).  I could have done more.  I should have done less.  All in all, it's been a very special trip.

My ultimate goal as an ESL teacher is to come back to this country, Indonesia, where I spent two years of my life before the age of 21, to teach.  Some restrictive laws about work permits here don't make that easy.  Coming here now, I've been made to re-think that ultimate objective.  In some ways, my resolve is stronger.  In other ways, I've gotten a more accurate picture of Indonesia (North Sumatra, at least) in the 21st century, less clouded by 25 years of idealizing a place I loved as a much younger man.

So, here is the first video of the adventure: the trip there and my first impressions of the city of Medan.  Note, I was going to use the YouTube subtitle feature to add English translations to all the Indonesian language bits, but that is far too tedious of a process and not really feasible with my hotel's spotty and slow internet connection.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

More Firsts

Me waiting my turn for the OR.
"DON'T MOVE!!" the surgeon yelled from behind me as I lay on my side on the operating table. I froze, still shaking a bit. Sure, they had told me half a dozen times in their preparation not to move, but I wasn't expecting that level of pain!  I'd already felt a few stabs of pain from the anesthetist's big needles. I could feel that my back was numb. I thought the worst of it was over.

"Relax your body. Relax your mind," the nurse who was holding my head said in a soothing voice. "Relax your body.  Relax your mind," she continued chanting. Uh, okay. I did my best. It actually kinda worked too.

Well, that momentary spasm mustn't have had that big of an effect, as the doctor seemed pleased with his results. 

What followed next was an order to lay flat on my back without as much as even sitting up for the next eight hours in the recovery room.  That's quite a long time to remain in one position (he did allow me to roll on one side or the other for short periods).  Fortunately, one of customer service officers from my language school came with me (the hospital actually wouldn't even perform the surgery unless I had a 'helper' with me).  For those next eight hours, she fed me, helped me drink and we made small talk to pass the time.

All in all my first time in a hospital wasn't all that bad, and it was one of but several firsts that day.

1. First time I've been in an operating room.
2. First time I've had a nurse chant over me. (see above)
3. First time I've ever peed in bed (while actually trying to do so).
4. First time I've ever had someone help me pee (that I remember).
5. First time I've seen a human being who looked like a Grey Alien (the poor girl
they rolled into recovery had a cranium that was the size of a basketball.  Very scary and disturbing. Apparently fluids were not draining from her head).
6. First time I've eaten my lunch via a straw.
(It was rice soup, so it was faily easy to suck up)

Most importantly...

7. This morning was my first time in 7 weeks that I've woken up without being in excruciating pain!

YAY!  Let's hope that disc stays deflated and doesn't burst out again.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My First Time in a Hospital

I've been pretty fortunate in my life when it comes to serious conditions or illnesses. I've never been checked into a hospital. Sure, I've visited emergency rooms from time to time. My favorite instance of which was a basketball injury back in the nineties. In a scramble for a loose ball, another guy's cranium slammed into my forehead, opening up a gash that I knew would need stitches. Blood was gushing forth, and I sopped it up as fast as I could. I drove one-handed to the nearest emergency room, walked in, my face covered in dried blood and told the nurse at intake as deadpan as possible, “I've got a bad stomachache”.




All kidding aside, my life over the last 7 weeks has been defined by one thing: pain. It's my herniated disc. It's not really getting any better, which is how these work I've been told. I haven't been able to enjoy life. It's colored everything, and particularly when still trying to adapt to a foreign culture and challenging environment. It's left me in not only physical pain, but kinda depressed too. In following my Burmese doctor's instructions, I've been taking my meds, resting as much as possible, but it hasn't worked. Went in for a follow up earlier this week, and my doc ordered an MRI.


Here's the results. This picture was taken with my phone while I was riding in a taxi on the way from one hospital to another (explaining why it looks like there's a car in my spine). Look at my L5 vertebrae. See that mass spurting out of spine into the white line along it's back? As the MRI summary noted, that's a 'large disc protrusion in left paracentral region with compression of left S1 nerve root.' Ooo. Sounds nasty. Yeah, it's felt that way.


So, tomorrow morning at 7 AM, I'm checking into the Asia Royal Hospital here in Yangon for the next phase of my treatment. No, it's not the spinal surgery that I still may have to have down the road, but it's still considered surgery. I'm have an epidural. Before this, I didn't even know what an epidural was. I'd only heard of it in the context of women giving birth. Apparently it's also what my doctor called an 'intermediate fix'. In about ten hours from now, I'm having a needle injected all the way down to my spinal cord.


There's almost no risk in this procedure. I think it'll help in the short term. How long it's gonna last, no one can tell.


It will at least allow me to enjoy my week's vacation in Indonesia which starts on Tuesday.



Monday, September 8, 2014

Eight million people missing in Myanmar

Just finished watching Myanmar defeat Thailand 2-1 in a soccer match. The Philippines is hosting a regional cup type thing, and if I understood my Burmese correctly, Myanmar now moves on to play Indonesia in the finals.


I'm such a homey. I've lived in half a dozen different American metroplexes, and now a handful of Asian countries. When it comes to sports, I always root for the home team. Consequently, I'm a fan of a whole bunch of different teams, but wherever I'm at, I scream and cheer for my homeys! Take THAT you Ayutayans! We still kick your ass!


Side note of interest: the word in Burmese for Thailand is Ayudaya. An entire country named after a kingdom we crushed 250 years ago.


Did I say 'we'?



Well, since I sat and watched it, I feel like part of the 'we'. This goal by Htke Htke Aung as just awesome.



I heard my neighborhood chanting “HTKE! HTKE! HTKE!” after that goal. If you can hear in your head what a chant of Htke sounds like, you get an A+ in Asian phonics. The goal ain't on YouTube yet, but I'll post it when it gets there.  Very Youtubeworthy.


'We' are having some problems. We had a census a couple months back. The first one in 37 years. Previously, the population had been just estimated. Now that we've counted each other, we got a bit of a problem...

Eight million people missing in Myanmar. 

As Myanmar’s initial census report was announced the population at 51,419,420 on August 30, 2014, suspicion arises among Myanmar people.
In 2008, Myanmar’s population was nearly 58 million. In 2010, the government estimated that Myanmar’s population was 59 million.
According to that list, 8 million people were vanished within four years. It is like 2 million people decreases per year.

Monday, August 25, 2014

High Speed Internet Comes to Myanmar

About a month back, I was considering plopping down the $200 installation charge to get medium speed internet into my home here in Yangon, Myanmar. For the last six months of living here, I'd have to say that the most annoying thing about living here has been the unreliable, slow as molasses, worse-than-dial-up internet service I've had to endure by using the gov't owned Myanmar Post and Telephone 3G mobile net. It's been cheap.  About a dollar an hour of use, but it's speed has been so dependent on usage, that the only times it has operated at usable speeds for me was before 8 AM and after midnight.

So, I've uploaded lots of videos in the last six months. I've posted a lot of blogs since I've been online in Myanmar.  All of that stuff came from uploading at work (were I got DL speeds as high as 100 KBps), at the internet cafe or at home by setting my puter to do its thing, going to bed, and hoping it worked when I woke up the next day.

This morning, on my day off, I made my first video in several weeks for the Seasons of the Ukulele.  I trudged off to my favorite internet cafe to upload the results around noon.  When I got there, I found the place packed. Every terminal was in use. Most everyone was playing World of Warcraft; the rest were on Facebook.  I just wanted to upload the video I'd brought with me on my laptop.  I went to the unoccupied plug-your-own-puter station, plugged in and began my upload to YouTube. My video was 50 megabytes.

My speed at the internet cafe depends entirely on how many other users are there. It was packed.  When I clicked upload, YouTube told me my video would take 300 minutes to upload.  Five hours. 18000 seconds.  So my upload speed was 3 kilobytes per second.  Worse than home.  For you old timer internet users, remember back in the 90's when they talked about 4800, 9600, 26000 and 52000 kbaud modems?  Here I was in 2014 looking at a 3000 baud upload speed.

Then I remembered something I heard in the office yesterday.

See, there here in the month of August, there was a SIM card revolution in Yangon.  Up until recently, you only had once choice of mobile data provider here in the country of Myanmar: the gov't owned Myanmar Post and Telephone (MPT) bureau. My MPT SIM card on my smartphone has been how I've been talking to you all for these near six months now. It's been slow, but kinda cheap, and at the very least, it worked.

A few weeks ago, as a result of the continuing opening up of the economy of Myanmar from its socialist past, for the very first time, a private company was allowed to sell a SIM card to compete with MPT.  MPT sold their cards for $120 (the world average for a SIM card is something between one dollar and free). When Ooredoo, a local telecom company started offering SIM cards for $1.55 this month, they had mobs at their doorsteps, snapping them up as soon as they could.

The best thing was that Ooredoo was saying they'd give DL speeds as fast as 1 MBps, 1000 kpbs, or to use the 90's terminology, 100000 baud. Thirty times faster than what MPT has been giving me. After the lines died down, I bought one.



Immediate disappointment. The network didn't work anywhere.  I couldn't get data other than a trickle. Phone calls didn't even work.  Totally unreliable crappy service! I switched back to my MPT SIM card; at least they gave me crappy service I could rely on.

What I heard in the office the other day was that come the 24th of August, the
Ooredoo SIM cards would be totally different.  The initial release of this new product was a pre-launch.  The high speed internet network wouldn't come online until the 24th.

At the internet cafe, faced with this 5 hour upload time for a 50 MB video, I switched out the SIMs again on my phone (I got a dual SIM phone) and checked my data coming from Ooredoo.  BOOM BOOM BOOM. Facebook. My e-mail. News and Weather.  All of them loaded instantaneously. HOLY SHIT!  It's here!  IT'S FINALLY HERE!  High speed internet has come to Myanmar!

I immediately unplugged, payed the 40 cents for my one hour usage at the cafe and skipped home high on the prospect of finally enjoying the internet as I have in the past from the privacy of my home (please keep your porn references to yourself).

Sure enough, I get home, turn on the wifi hotspot on my phone, go to speedtest.org and get results indicating 1.4 MBps DL speeds.  Damn.  This was at noon, peak usage time. 30 times faster than I had yesterday. I'll never have to go back to that internet cafe ever again.

You may take some things for granted on the internet.  For example, although I can upload a video (from the office, not at home) as a kinda destination thing that is the final hour or two of what took me a few hours to make, I haven't been able to actually watch a video since coming here.  Now, I can.

With this new low price for a SIM card and it's speed (for now here in Yangon; we'll see what happens when this rolls out nationwide), this launch marks the introduction of 60 million new users to the internet. Please welcome the country of Myanmar to the linked in nations of the world.

As a side note, I've heard that Myanmar had the second-worst internet connectivity in Asia.  Only North Korea was worse.  With this advancement, I'm thinking Cambodia and Laos, and maybe even Vietnam and Indonesia, are now jealous.

Oh, I suppose I should share the Seasons of the Ukulele video that prompted this whole revelation...




On the Go in Manado: The Final Episode

It's been a few weeks since I posted the second-to-last episode of the Manado trip. Putting off finalizing the journey, I'm alrea...