Monday, January 29, 2018

Three to Taungoo

I'm interrupting the chronicle of my USA-New Zealand trip to bring you the story of what I did a week ago today.
It was a cool January morning when two friends and I got on the bus from Yangon to Taungoo. Our goals were two fold: drink palm toddy and eat mice. 

Actually, these goals were Chris's, the silver-haired Englishman you'll see in the video. He was the one who had the hankering for drinking the native potable and munching on vermin. As for Barbara, she's a regular in Taungoo.
Eating mice... or rat.
She worked there before coming to Yangon and knows the place well. Me, it sounded like a fun weekend out of the banality of Yangon, and so off I went. 

If you're really keen on my videos, you'll remember that I've been to Taungoo before. Twice, in fact. I passed through east to west on the first motorcycle journey and again north to south on the second. Taungoo (Taung means mountain; I dunno what oo means) is a small city with a long history. Like many, many other cities in Myanmar, Taungoo is a former capital.

From the 13th to 17th centuries, it was the seat of an empire that had its ups and downs, but at its height was the largest kingdom this part of SE Asia had ever seen. Except for the moat and some buried city walls, not much remains of Taungoo's history.  

After settling in at the hotel, it was off to find some toddy! Now, I am well familiar with alcoholic beverages made from the palm tree. In Indonesia, arak is a popular beverage out in the countryside and it really packs a punch.
When we found our toddy-shack on the side of the highway, I was surprised at the very mild taste of the Myanmar version. No stronger than beer. After a tour showing how the beverage is harvested, I learned why. This toddy was no more than the sap of the palm tree with some water and sugar and fermented from that very morning. Aged 10 hours. The Indonesian arak is actually distilled. Anyways, the Myanmar stuff was sweet, cold and delicious.

Fruit of the palm tree

What to pair with your tree juice? Rodentia! No sauces or overpowering spiciness to get in the way, the mouse/rat (I was never clear on which animal I was eating) was served fried with a bit of oil. I liked it. It's one of the few animals I've eaten with which you also eat the delicate bones. 

Enjoy the video. It begins with a good-bye to Elliot Bruce Castro.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Joko Goes to New Zealand: Southern Coromandel

It was my last day touring on my own in New Zealand. As I note in the video, twice, in fact, the ride was the best part of the journey. I loved that little Ninja 250! 

Let me expand on a couple of notes I made in the video. I saw no ants during my time in New Zealand. I'm sure they're there.
Ants are everywhere. It's not like I was looking for them either, but somehow I noticed their absence. Furthermore, there were very few bugs, period. You notice bugs when you're speeding along on a motorbike with your face-shield open! 

From Bowentown
There was lots of roadkill. One particular species lay strewn upon the Kiwi highways: the sentinel possum.
Cute, right? Unfortunately, they're highly destructive. They're not indigenous to New Zealand, but they're everywhere. They eat the native bird species' eggs and are considered vermin. Killing them is a thriving business in New Zealand. The roads are doing their part. These marsupials are apparently really bad at avoiding cars. It seemed like every couple miles, I'd see another carcass on the road. 

Most bathrooms in NZ are unisex. That's not unheard of elsewhere, but the majority of toilets in Kiwiland consist of a certain number of lockable stalls and a basin or two for everyone to use.  

Enjoy this long, penultimate New Zealand video. 


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Joko Goes to New Zealand - Hot Water Beach

After completing a loop around the northern half of the Coromandel Peninsula, I wanted to upload some pictures, check my emails, catch up on the news, yannow, all those things we do nowadays with the the internet.
Alas, the Air BnB where we staying there in Pauanui had not internet, and I didn't think a 6-day stay warranted me buying a New Zealand SIM card. So, I needed to head up to the one restaurant in the resort town that advertised free wifi.

Well, after the long ride, I wasn't in the mood to put on my helmet again. The restaurant was just a few blocks away, and so I just put on my hat and headed out. 

I got one block from the accommodation before encountering two New Zealand police officers at a checkpoint. One block! Aww man. Oh no. Of course, one of them signaled me to pull over. New Zealand, like most countries, has a helmet law. 

I've got no pictures of the encounter, but I was really scared as the first cop grilled me. Where is the motorbike from? Where are you staying? How long are you in the country? You should have seen his double-take when I produced my Myanmar Driver's License.  The two gave me a good berating, talking about how seriously they take their helmet law there in New Zealand. They gave me a really good scolding. Ultimately, they reasoned with one another - rental bike, tourist, leaving the country in 4 more days, ah heck with it. They let me go with a warning, and I immediately went back and got my helmet. Phew! 

The next day, I had a family activity. My sister, brother-in-law and two nephews traveled a dozen miles up the coast to Hot Water Beach. This place shows that NZ is indeed on the Ring of Fire and is a volcanic place. Dig into the sand in the right places and you'll find your own personal hot water spring. We ended up at this remote beach with about 1000 other holiday makers. We didn't actually dig our own hole. Instead, akin to how hermit crabs exchange shells, when one group got tired of their hole and abandoned it, the next group grabbed the prime real estate, leading to a chain of hole-changes. 

After Hot Water Beach, it was the lovely Cathedral Cove. 

All in all, a great time on a warm day in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Enjoy the video. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Joko Goes to New Zealand: Coromandel

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with my rental motorcycle. This video begins  with me on the outskirts if Auckland, making my way towards the Coromandel Peninsula.. The ride, the scenery and the coastline made me fall in love. These were the traits that lead me to become infatuated by the bright green 250cc machine between my thighs. 
Not currently having a wife, I suppose I can call the parents of my sister’s husband my mother and father-in-laws. I meet them in their home country in this video. Well, at least my mother-in-law, and then not really that because she’s Australian by birth.

Of note is my journey on  the Coromandel peninsula northern loop. I made the whole northern loop in this video, Pauanui to  to Whitianga to Coromadel Town to Thames… a 190 km loop that will live in my memory for all times. I didn’t think anything would stand up to my last trip in Laos when it comes to being scenic; the Coromandel stood up to the best places I’ve ever been.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Joko Goes to New Zealand - One Tree Hill

My wonderful layover in Rarotonga at an end, I arrived in Auckland early on the morning of the 26th of December. I had left 3 hours earlier on the 24th. 2017 will be remembered by me as the year when the Dateline stole Christmas. 

At my overpriced, airport hotel I got my first glimpse of an actual kiwi. These birds were a lot bigger than I expected! 

There were a few things I needed to pick up before I went to meet my sister and her family. A convenience store near the hotel had what I wanted.
Just as one would likely find in the USA, the store was staffed by Southern Asians, and they had that distinctive New Zealander drawl. 

Once I had my awesome Ninja 250 motorcycle rented, my goal was the Coramandel Peninsula, which would have only taken a couple hours to get to on the main highway.
The view from atop One Tree Hill
But I had the whole day, so I took in some of Auckland's sights (One Tree Hill) and took the scenic route along the coast. I had to get directions along the way. 

I was quick to appreciate the motorbike. I'm ruined for scooters forever, I think. Having the power of a bigger bike under one while swerving along mountain roads, yeah, a little bike may never do it for me again. 


Monday, January 8, 2018

January Rain in Yangon

Two things to understand about this post. 
Waterfalls... We ain't got rain gutters in my neighborhood.

Sparrows taking shelter from the storm
First, it doesn’t rain in Yangon in January. Maybe a sprinkle here or there, but nothing like the downpour we had today that lasted all afternoon. It knocked out my power. 
A man protecting his head from the rain. Both of them

Second, I live in a poor neighborhood where most houses don’t have running water. This means that rain represents an opportunity for a free shower!
From my balcony.

Music by Kevin Baiko. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Joko Goes to New Zealand - Rarotonga

So, in the last blog, we had me leaving America and going to my stopover in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Well, it's time to repeat the same. See, at this point in the journey, I'd gotten a 2nd camera and the downloading got all confused.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Leaving Amerika Again - Part 8 of the 2017 Holiday Trip: Rarotonga

I'll be quite hosest. The awkward, poorly filmed moments at the beginning of this video may be the last time I'll see one or more of my parents on this planet. They brought me into this world. Raised me. And this could be the last time I see them. A sobering moment.
Bye Mom and Dad!

Okay, one could say that about anyone close to you the minute they walk out the door. We all might die at any moment. Whereas I expect my parents to live well into their 80's and 90's, if you only see them every five years, well, there we are. 

You'll note the change in the name of the vlog. Here begins part 3 of the holiday, leaving the USA and off to New Zealand for a week in the Land of the Long White Cloud. 

But, before I get there, Air New Zealand dropped me off on a little island in the heart of the South Pacific, Rarotonga. 


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Return to America 7: America's Finest City

No visit to the mall is complete without a
My recent holiday can be easily divided into three parts. First was the time I spent with my parents in their RV in Death Valley. Second, condensed into a single video on this blog, was a week at my sister's house in San Diego. Finally, you're going to see the last week in New Zealand. 

San Diego calls itself "America's Finest City", which my sound like a boast. I lived there from 1988 to 1997, and I really can't argue with this claim. When you consider everything: climate, economy, cuisine, traffic, crime, diversity, culture, etc.,
I can't think of another major American city that has it all. In some areas, like climate and cuisine, I'd put San Diego at the top of any list. If I ever do go back to America permanently, I'd make San Diego my home. 

Feel free to comment below on your favorite American city. 

In this video, you'll see me taking Sandy, my sister's 9-year-old golden retriever, for a walk, shopping at COSTCO, visiting Balboa Park and enjoying a holiday dinner. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Returning to America 6: On Being Home

Sunset in San Diego

I write this now back at my place in Yangon having arrived here yesterday on the first day of 2018. Now, I can write about the vacation in the past tense. 

My emotions were all scrambled during my time back in America. It was so easy and comfortable being with my family. Hanging out with my parents, however much they may squabble with each other, however bad Mom’s driving may be, however much I’m restrained by the propriety of being a guest, it still feels completely natural. Nothing feels more normal than being home.  

Mom driving badly
And then there was my interactions with other Americans, people I didn’t know. If you haven’t been an expat living in a foreign country for years and years, I don’t think you could understand the profundity of being able to interact and communicate with everyone you meet.. Whereas Californians have a reputation of being somewhat standoffish, the wonderful meetings I had with random strangers  were delightful.  It felt great being in a place where everyone else was to some extent like me. 

It makes me reconsider a question that frequently comes up. It’s a question every long-term overseas teacher faces. When and under what circumstances would you return home? Most of us in my new career travel from country to country, exploring the world with no thought about going back to our home countries. The longer one is away from home, the less one misses it. Having been home, I realize I do miss it. 

On the other hand, life in the USA for me was difficult. I wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise if I returned. I say in the video “Payday loans. I remember those.” Yeah because it was a struggle living paycheck to paycheck, unable to save money and that financial struggle being the cause of so much stress and uncertainty. Here overseas, the living is easy and I’m saving money. At 47
years of age, these are things I need to think about.

More reflections on the video you’re about to watch: I got my folks to take a detour from the direct path from Temecula to San Diego in order to visit the northernmost manifestation of San Diego Mexican food: the Roberto’s in Oceanside. I was so looking forward to consuming food from one of the –Berto’s, and the carne asada burrito and 3 rolled with guac did not disappoint. 

In the video, you’ll see glimpses of my mother, sister, one of my nephews and my brother-in-law. The song in the background is that of a former partner of mine. 


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...