Saturday, January 29, 2011

Same old place, same old city... what can I do?

My friend and blogging inspiration Grace always writes well constructed, typographically correct musings that both entertain and make me ponder some of the realities around me. I strive one day to write blog entries that seem to have a coherent flow and be proofread. However, that day is not today.

SO let the random and poorly typed thoughts flow...

I'm just back from a trip to Atlanta, for a nice break in the Louisville grey, both colors and moods. So, it was a fitting send off Wednesday morning that Mother Nature decided to drop a few inches of snow on town, in a rather unannounced fashion. By "unannounced," I mean the the weather prognosticators totally blew it. Apparently, the "models" had predicted the snow to pass south of us. These models, which I can only guess are blonde, were off by a few hundred miles. And thus I was scraping an inch and half of snow of my car at 6 AM. To make matters worse, the city/county/state all bought the weather peoples solid claims of "trace" accumulation and left the salt trucks in the sheds. A slippery slushy ride to the airport followed. I will say, for a southern bred boy, I'm doing fairly well with this snow driving.

After a long de-ice, we headed south to the land of cotton. A few days of above freezing, sunny days followed. As usual, I had a full calendar of social activities planned. Well, not full. This time I sort of took things as they come, not planning too many rendezvous ahead of time, and just kind of went where my rental car took me. And it took me mostly to places of an old familiarity. One of the establishments that I dragged friends to is a small hole in a shopping center facade known as the Righteous Room. When I was a resident of the Highlands of Atlanta, this was a favorite spot to stop for a beer and a bite to eat. The menu was limited, btu everything on it was delicious. As evidence, I point to the Right On! Quesadilla... a construct of spinach, onion, feta cheese, and (now) cheddar cheese, with a choice of grilled chicken or hummus. Add the side of garlic sour cream to top it off. Yum! I lived about 100 yards from this place for a year between 2003-2004. During those days, I had no shortage of couch surfers given my proximity to the Highlands entertainment establishments. Some how I made way less money in those days but seemingly had way more fun.

I also had the luck to spend a lunch with my longtime pal Maggie (also a blogger of high caliber) and her little one, Jack. As usual, we had fun catching up and it as nice to see baby Jack looking so well, as he has had medical issues since birth, and that he's with us today, bouncy and dribbling, is nothing short of amazing. Of course, he gets a strong will from his mother.

I don't know why my friends with babies seem to want to get me in on that whole thing, always trying to get me to hold them and such. Perhaps, they want to inspire some dormant paternal gene and get me to settle down and spawn some children (which I think is just so they can have some one to share misery of sleepless nights and poopy diapers). Or, which I think is more likely, the want some one to take the kid of their hands for a short time so they can hav a moment of not carrying or support the child. I guess they assume that I am reasonably coordinated enough of an adult to not drop their child. I'm not so sure. Of course, it helps that most infants and I generally relate on the same maturity level... and we have the same affinity for nice breasts. if for different reasons.

Anyways, Maggie and Jack were a delight to see, and I'm happy to see both doing very well.

Friday night, I was graced with a unexpected visit from the Chicago family, and I drug K8lyn out to spend some time upstairs and to the left with Kristen (not K8's sister) and Christine. I was actually kind of aggravated with Kristen and Christine in not including me in their plans to get early afternoon shots, until they explained that these shots had nothing to do with Grey Goose, Patron, or Jameson. Apparently some people get immunized before visiting less developed nations. I should look into that.

On the subject of less developed nation visitations, my month off is rapidly approaching. And I thought I had a good plan for the time off. Which, to be clear, this is not paid vacation. I get a lot of comments from people that seem to be in the "do you ever work??" genre. In the past I try to explain how my schedule works, but I think for future inquiries, I'm just going to say no. And why not?? I think we as American's can all use a little more time off. It's a proven statistic that 46% percent of Americans forgo vacation time to work more. It's also a proven fact that 73% of all statistics are made up. So my new answer to the question of "do you ever work?" will be no, and you should look into trying it yourself. I took this past Wednesday off, partly to go to ATL early, but mostly because I could. Seems that some people think you need some kind of stellar reason to take a day off work. I think "because I could" is more than reasonable.

OK, so back to the March trip, currently in limbo pending some further developments. Hopefully the next week will bring some movement in that area, and my march trip will mostly involve a moving truck. Everyone collectively keep your fingers crossed.

ALong those lines, I did some neighborhood scopage in ATL for potential residences. I have decided that should I move back to Atlanta, or even if I don't just buy a "weekend" place and commute, that want to live in a more metropolitan area then say Stockbridge or NewNan. The market there has been flooded with foreclosures and short sales, so the prices are way reasonable for an nice place in the city. but what part of the city? That's what I was wrestling with on Friday. yeah, there's Midtown and Buckhead, with their chic and fashionable dining, clubs, and bars. But I'm neither chis nor fashionable. SO, maybe something more laid back and "come as you are", like back to the Highlands or out to Decatur. But do I want the fringe dwellers surrounding me when I want to be chic and fashionable and sport my faux-hawk in the club?? Hrrrmmm (cause it happens).

At any rate, I left town today on a brilliant sunny day of 60 degrees. Wait, according to my all knowing iPhone, it's actually 70 in ATL at the moment. And here in Louisville, it's topping at 55 (though the forecast high was 48.. again, FAIL to the weatehr people). It's hard to leave that warmth. But even today, back in the ville it was nice enough to only don a couple long sleeve T and a windbreaker for a walk outside. Mother Nature, being the teasing bitch she is, will surely be throwing more snow upon us in short order after this sample of spring.

Again, maybe March will bring some big changes.

That's all for now, time to head back home. I'm feeling, after three late nights out, it may be a couch and DVD night. Maybe....

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I have been around the world, looking for that woman/girl.

It's a cold Saturday night here in Louisville, there's a blanket of snow on the ground. And for a swinging bachelor like myself, that means spending the night adding my latest acquisitions to the HRC pin collection. Since a fantastic person made the display case for me a year ago, I've collected a few more pins that needed to be added.

The latest additions came from Washington, DC, Baltimore, Chicago (one form the cafe and one form the hotel), Ho Chi Minh City, and Minneapolis. These join the other 29 that were prviously on display. Most of which I've been to at some point in my live long world tour. A few were brought to me via adventures of close friends. All tend to evoke a memory or two. A brief summation, top to bottom, left to right.

Top center:
Washington DC: This was a gift from one Amy Hayes, a high school friend and fellow Southwind alum. One of the first pins to ever come my way from a trip to Washington she took in the mid 9o's.

second row, left to right:
Nashville: Gift from Erika and Brian from their trip to see DMB at Vande
Memphis: another Erika and Brian gift. A fun favorite of mine, a guitar case that opens up.
Barcelona, Spain: A gift from Grace, a fellow world traveler who always brings me something fun, SHe was there visiting her brother this time I think. I'll have to go check out BCN myself soon.
Surfer's Paradise, Australia: Finally one I got myself. Spent a day there on a beach after a spurrof the moment "weekend" trip to Brisbane. The only time I ever held a Koala.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: Another Grace acquisition. I need to get to BA. She was down for a weekend of partying and Tango's with a friend.
Key West: First stop on my first cruise, sailing the seas with Chrissie Whatley (now pond). I was on a boat!
Nassau, The Bahamas: Second cruise with Grace, Charity, and Tanjoe. it rained the whole time we were there, but Sr Frogs was fun that night...
Cologne, Germany: my last "familiarization ride" with World. Spent 3 days in CGN in December. I discovered Gl├╝hwein and Christmas markets. Good times on the Rhein.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands: From my first trip abroad. AMS was the final stop on a mini Eurotrip. Eye opening and started a travel spark.

Third row, left to right:
Paris, France: Ever been on a date to the Eiffel tower??? It's great. Same trip as above, and the first time in a on English speaking country. Somehow I managed great conversations.
Baltimore: A recent acquisition from a day spent with Jennie (Mills) Wisener. Another great day with a good friend
Chicago (cafe): "Weekend" trip with Jersey, though I've got a long history in that town.
Ho Chi Minh City, Viet-F'n-Nam: Lasted of my international forays and great time with great friends... and a blast!
Melbourne, Australia: First trip down under, when I fell for an entire country and few specific Aussies.
Minneapolis: The latest one, been there several times and spent some memorable nights in the town with Chandra, my first roommate.
Washington, DC: The most recent trip to our nations capital. A day spent viewing history, and moving on from mine.

Fourth row, left to right:
Bangkok, Thailand: A fun filled adventure with Grace, and another great place I hope to get back too very soon.
London, England: Well, I've been there, but this one came via Jennie Mills on a senior trip (I think). This one goes way way back. I think she felt bad for getting my car stuck in a Montgomery hail storm
Boston: I think this i the oldest one I have. Acquired my last year of marching Southwind at DCI finals in 1994. Who remembers being lost in downtown Boston??
Bahrain: Another World "Fam Ride" destination, who doesn't want a weekend in Bahrain (there for 36 hours with Ryan)
Destin: An Erika and Brian gift. They're so nice to bring these home for me... it's repaid in shot glasses.

Fourth Row, left to right:
ATL: Where the players play. You'd think I'd got one of these early, but in truth it's only been about 4 years ago that i got it. I think this was acquired NYE with Jersey and Sean.
Cozumel, Mexico: Second stop on the cruise with Chrissie and friends. The worlds smallest HRC.
New York, NY: his one goes back a while. My first trip to NYC with Arian. WHen I discovered I heart NY.
San Antonio: Never been, but I hear it's a fun place. Thanx again Grace.
Chicago (hotel): Spent a couple days with Jersey, as mentioned earlier. Had a great time and she was a gracious host in Sweet Home Chicago.

Bottom Row, left to right:
Dublin, Ireland: Spent a day there on a "fam ride" for World. That entire trip can be summed up in one word... Guinness.
Kuwait City, Kuwait: Who doesn't take a weekend trip to Kuwait?? SPent some time before Thanxgiving one year hanging with Ryan and (fellow dispatcher) Leslie on her "fam ride." I may or may not have ever "legally" entered the country.
Louisville: My new home town. The HRC here does some fun concerts, including a free BNL show.
Macau, China: these next three are part of the Hard Rock hotel and Casino Grand opening set. Macau was one of the stops on my around the world trip in 2009.
Hong Kong, China: Love HK. One of my favorite world cities. I've stopped through there 3 times now for a day, and one ime for a few days of sight seeing. I highly recommend a visit.
Austin: Never been, this was a "get one free" when I bought some stuff in ATL. I'll have to check it out sometime.
Las Vegas: Sin city!!! I've been going there since I was a kid, and love it. Lot's of good memories there... and fuzzy memories. Looking forward to the next trip.

That's it, but it's a collection in progress as I get more of the world under my belt. ANd this is a wild Saturday night in the ville. I also finished moving all my blogs over from Myspace tonight. Very productive. That's it, look for something more literary soon.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Whether it's big or small, If you have a passion at all, just say, someday I will

Sometimes, when you're laying on an airport floor after 24 hours of being awake and have just found your next flight canceled, you wonder why you thought this was a good idea? Then you hear the boarding call, you pack yourself into a plane with 300 or so of fellow humans and you take off. One of the best feelings I know is being pressed into my seat during a take off. It's something I can remember from my childhood when taking family vacations. Partially it was the relief that by this point it was too late to kick us non-revs off, and partially it was the fun of experiencing something new.

I'm not sure what I expected of Vietnam. I guess I kind of expected a backwards city of communists who despised Americans, with memories of the not so recent war. I didn't expect modern conveniences and a wide range of dining options. I did expect a McDonald's, but no such luck there (the one place in the world without one I suppose). They did have more Kentucky Fried Chicken places than Kentucky.

What I found in Saigon was a very vibrant city, some parts new and some parts still evoking that third world feeling. The communists couldn't crush a market economy, as everything was for sale. And walking through Chinatown, I had to wonder where they got all this stuff??? I work for a multi-billion dollar company that's singularly focused on getting such goods to market, yet here's a country of people who carry the same crap you buy here to market on the backs of motorbikes. Where did they get it?? Is there a factory for Colgate toothpaste around the corner they go buy bulk shipments of toothpaste from? They have it!

You'd think by now, with as many stamps as my passport has, I'd quit making these preconceived notions about places. Usually I'm wrong. Turns out the Vietnamese people are some of the nicest out there, and the same can be said of Cambodians. Yes, they do things different than westerners, but it works for them. Once you kind of understand the mentality (they never say "no" but sometimes have no intention of doing what they said yes to), it's easy to get by.

A lot of people ask my why I don't just go to some nice resort in the Caribbean for vacations. I think it has a lot to do with wanting to get away from Americans. You can go to a nice all inclusive, and they have their place, but that's not going to give you the thrill of crossing a street with a bus, 5 taxi's, and 1000 motor bikes bearing down on you. None of which intend to stop. You don't get the smell of fresh fish in the market, or fresh frogs. It's not pleasant at all, but it's an experience.

If Vietnam was a surprise, Cambodia was a total shock. Siem Reap was a refreshing change from Saigon, a much smaller and less hectic environment. The Angkor temples were awe inspiring, and something I'd never have guessed 10 years ago I'd be climbing on someday. Sure, there's the small matter of possible contracting malaria, but you take the good with the bad (and the Off!! didn't smell that horrible). The people were all very friendly and seemed eager to help, if for a small price. Even the people hawking their wares in front of a 1000 year old temple weren't as bad as some places, and sometimes they were just amusing in their approaches.

Shortly before leaving, my mom told me how happy she was I took these little jaunts. He'd never be caught in a jungle in Southeast Asia herself, but she's happy I'm doing it. Plus there's the economic advatages to vacationing in the third world... you get a lot of bang for you buck (or dong, or riel, or baht). You can spend a month traveling about some places, in fairly comfortable style, for the price of a weekend at Disney world. And there's a lot more you get out of it.

I think it's pretty damn cool that I have friends I can shack up with in Vietnam, or meet for lunch and coffee in Hong Kong. I plan to keep this sort of stuff up and encourage everyone else out there to take off. Yes, it may seem scary to go someplace where one insect bite could kill you (not really, but it's good for dramatic effect), but I have a better chance of dying driving around Louisville... especially today with the ice on the roads. And I'd rather have my obituary read "James Dees died last week while rafting through Laos..." instead of "James Dees died last week after choking on peanut M&M while laying on the couch."

I have a month off coming up, and I as planning to do a South America tour. I'm thinking that's going to change and I'll make a return to Asia. I know this will put me way behind in the continent race with Tanjoe and the Lewii, but oh well. So, it's time to start working out that itinerary. And this time, maybe I'll actually get vaccinations! So, anyone want to meet me in the jungles of Southeast Asia for coffee or a Beer Lao? Don't forget to deet up before going out!

See the world in green and blue, see China right in front of you.

Flying free has its advantages, one of which is a certain level of flexibility in travel plans. Imagine how disheartened I was to find out that my return flight had been pretty well set due to lack of seat on later dates. I was even mentally ready to call United (which apparently has moved it's headquarters to India based on the people I spoke to) and bitch and moan until they let me change my ticket for no fee. Alas it was UPS that held me back.

So, there we are back in Saigon on a rainy Tuesday night. The Lewii, having taken the morning trip for temple viewing, we're fairly wiped out, and J having to be up for a 5 AM flight wasn't something to inspire a night out in HCMC. As we piled into the apartment, Tanya greeted us with stories of cleaning and moving. They looked relieved to be in a new home they can call heir own and not living in a bag. Tanya and I decided that we should go find dinner, and leave the lewii to rest. SO off to Gringo's for Taco Tuesdays. One would normally find the idea of delicious taco's in Saigon to be a strange concept. But, they were really good! Though the concept of the all you can gorge basket of chips and salsa hasn't caught on there yet, which is probably a good thing.

Joe met us at gringos after his trip was over, and we decided to walk across the street to QD's, mainly because I wanted wings.

OK, I didn't want wings so much as I wanted to experience the way wings are served at QD's. I short, the wings come out and a very attractive Vietnamese girl, in order for cleanliness I suppose, some small finger condoms onto three fingers for you to eat with. Unfortunately, we missed the happy wing special. Next time!

Wednesday was the final day in Vietnam, and I didn't so much need to be touristy as needed to get some final items. A trip to Saigon Square market yielded a new iPhone cover (mind has stretched to the point it continually falls off) and a "Murse". I decided, copying from Joe, that perhaps a shoulder bag, sort of a messenger bag, would be a better idea for traveling with than a backpack. With the ability to keep the bag either tucked under an arm or in front of you, it makes it harder for would be thieves to snake a hand into a pocket and liberate your camera or phone or money or worse. So, we found a fairly nice leatherish (not sure if it's real) one that grace set about haggling over. She's become a real pro at this. SO an iPhone case that runs about $30 in the US we got for about $3, and the bag came in around $15. After that, a walk over for Barbecue (this time from a place owned by a Texan) and then to Ben Thanh market for a couple other items. Then home.

That night grace took us out to a small Vietnamese restaurant for my final meal in town. I don't remember the name of the place, and this was the first time in country where the serve could be improved (we order sauteed okra and got instead sauteed cactus... ironically I liked the cactus better). The food was delicious, and there was a little courtyard with a pond we kept hoping some one would fall into, no such luck. Afterward, we met up with some of the Mekong group at Casbah, a hookah bar tat overlooks Notre Dame Cathedral. Finally worn out, we adjourned back to the Lewii place.

It was decided by some one that I shouldn't sleep my last night, since I had to depart at 4 AM for the airport. It almost worked, but I stole a hour nap before sneaking out in the middle of the night. Once at the airport, it was your standard scene. Though, I tend to forge that a box becomes the primary type of luggage in much of the world, and people were oaded down for the trip to Hong Kong and on to the US. I had specifically chose a seat online for the flight home, and was informed that seat wasn't available when I checked in but we have a emergency exit row seat for you. A middle seat. Any window seats? "no, only in premium economy". What happened to my reserved seat (last row on the left, where the fuselage narrows and the seats go from 3 against the wall to 2, with a few extra inches between the wall you can stretch out)? "Not available".. but I can see the boarding pass you have printed with that seat on it... no budging. Fine, it's only an hour and half flight.

When I made it to the gate, I checked with the agent there.. and yes my requested seat was still unavailable, but the one on the other side of the plane was still open. I'll take it.. "You no want emergency exit seat... more leg room?" No! After an hour delay, I settled into 60J and started to nap.

Once in Hong Kong, I had planned a meet up with Ryan. he was there "working" and I had a 9 hour layover... I thought lunch was in order. Plus he was kind enough to allow me to store my bags and grab a shower before leaving. We went for lunch (Chinese of course) and some restaurant near the hotel where not a single "round eye" was to be found. It was really good of course. Then down to the harbour (on the Kowloon side), and we sat and talked of vacation plans (He's going to Thailand in February) and people watched. Then it was time to go. I met the crew in the hotel lobby (World and UPS use the same crew hotel) and off to the airport with them. After the usual annoyance of getting through customs and and security in Hong Kong (I don't have a ticket, I'm a crew member, but not in uniform... ugh!), I made it through. We powered up and got out on time and headed to take off on 25R, and homeward bound again.

The upside, I was the only jumpseater on the flight from HKG to ANC, and the captain offered unrestricted use of one of the bunks. Score!!! Since I've had about 3 hours of sleep in the last 36 hours, I as going to put it to good use. After take off, I ate through my tuna fish sandwich tray (HKG caters great tuna fish sandwiches if they'd only leave the tomatoes off) and by the time we were up to 35,000 ft I was in PJs and out like a like.

I woke up about 8 hours later over an ice covered Bering Sea. I cooked up a meal, changed back in to my khakis and watched the landing formt he jumpseat in the cockpit.

After a couple hours sit in ANC, it was back on an MD-11 to Louisville. I was fairly well reasted, and I don't really like the bunks on the MD (it's like a coffin) so I settled into a seat and watched a couple movies. The flight was great until the landing, where we bounced into Louisville. And hopefully, those of you who continue to ask if I sit on the boxes, this will give you an idea of the seats I have to "endure", at least on the long hauls. The smaller planes aren't nearly as luxurious, but the price is right.

So now, this voyage has ended. It was a grand time and as always enlightening. This is the end of the narrative part of the blogs. The next one will be more of thoughts and impressions... be afraid.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A holiday in Cambodia, where the slums got so much soul

SO there I was in a dark alley in Cambodia...

OK, I'm getting ahead of myself... more on that later.

On 1-1-11, I went to Cambodia. Grace, J, and I boarded a Vietnam Air flight for the 45 minute flight to Siem Reap. We did very little prep fr this trip, very little for us anyways. grace had arranged the tickets and hotel. otherwise all i knew about Siem Reap was that the temples and ruins of Angkor Wat were near by. Otherwise, I knew nothing of Siem Reap.

So we landed at Siem Reap, with a nice new looking airport. We walked across the tarmac to the international arrivals area, and that's when I saw how this place works. TO enter The Royal Kingdom of Cambodia, you must have a visa. This can be obtained ahead of time or just whe you arrive. So, you get there, fill out a small form, and turn it in with a passport photo, your passport, and $20 (in US$, that's the primary currency in Cambodia though they have their own, the riel. The ATMs in Siem Reap all dispense US $) or $21 if you didn't bring a photo. Then it takes 8 people all sitting in a row to process your visa. On guys looks over the form, another compares it to your passport, another stamps the form, another puts the visa sticker on page in your passport, another fills in the info on the visa, another stamps the visa, another checks the work of the previous officers, and yet another calls out your name to come get the passport.

Gotta love a jobs program at work.

Ironically, you fill out a customs form asking if you have anything to declare, but I suppose they just assume you won't declare it if you do since you drop the form in on a table and leave the airport.

Part of the price of the hotel included a pick up form the airport. We found our person and he led us to a waiting Tuk-tuk. Unlike the ones in Bangkok which are more a specific vehicle build to be a taxi, these are just trailers hooked to a motorbike and can be easily separated when not needed by the owner. Off to our palace, the Thonbury hotel. Big "atta girl" to Grace for finding this place. it was clean, nice, air conditions with hot water (eventually) and all for $14 a night. And convenient fr walking to town.

We met up with JD and JC, Air Mekong pilots who had coe a day earlier, and set off for lunch in town. We had a delicious dinner of Khmer food at a small cafe. One thing about using US dollars is that you kind of don't get the great deals you can when using the local currency, but it does simplify things, and Cambodia is generally cheap. I think lunch for the 5 f us ran about $24 including apps, a bottle of wine, and liter bottles of beer.

That evening we headed out to the temples, and after clearing up the ticket buying issues (the sunset is free, but you have to buy a ticket to get there, but it doesn't count as one of your days on a 3 day pass... makes complete sense). So we got our passes (one day is $20, 3 days for $40.. we went with the three day) and headed towards the temples. Even though it was crowded, there's something awe inspiring about seeing Angkor Wat for the first time as you round a corner. It's a huge "wow" and then you realize you're looking at something you've seen pictures of but seemed a world away. It's like seeing the Tour Eiffel for the first time.

Then came the climb up to the sunset view. I didn't know there was hike up a mountain involved, but oh well. The biggest downer was the crowds there. i suppose that's to be expected, but I never thought there would be so many people there. But we climbed the stairs to the top of a temple and watched the sun go down. It was an amazing sunset, and you forgot about the crowd.

One of the things about other parts of the world, no one's really caring if you get hurt climbing on things. You can't suit them, so oh well. SO as we walked down the unlit path back down the hill in darkness, I wondered how many people have just walked of the edge?

That night we continued my Irish pub tour for the world at Molly Malone's. Yes, there's a Molly Malone's local to Louisville, but finding one in Siam Reap was just funny. They were out of the regular Guinness draught (a theme for the weekend since the New Year Eve party went through a lot of the readily available alcohol) but they had the Guinness Foreign Stout, which is way better. If your a beer drinker, and Guinness lover, find the Foreign Stout.

We then went for pizza, which apparently comes in a "Happy" and non "Happy" flavor. We thought "happy" was topped with magic mushrooms (which I was willing to try), but the place we settled on didn't have that kind of happy pizza. Though, the would make your pizza "happy" by adding a little marijuana to it. As we are mostly aviation professionals (and potentially subject to drug testing), we just had our unhappy pizza. It was good pizza at any rate.

We then walked over to the night market and discovered a vendor selling banana pancakes. You have got to try one if you ever find it. He has the dough balled up, spreads it out paper thin, and slices form banana and lays it on the griddle there. Add some butter and chocolate (if you want) and roll it up and it's delicious. We looked at a few trinkets but decided to head back to the hotel for rest before day of tomb raiding tomorrow. Some decided to avoid the main road and strike out on a different path home...

SO there I was walking in a dark alley in Cambodia... not so sure where it was leading me, if the dogs that wear barking on either side were well fenced in, or some one with a lingering resentment from the Khmer Rouge was going to take this opportunity to strike revenge on wayward Americans. but we made it back tot he hotel safe and sound... full on banana pancakes.

In other parts of the world, the hotels tend to have the added bonus of requiring a card, usually your room key or attached to it, to turn the power on the the room. Thus you can leave for the day and keep the a/c running. What invariably happens in the warmer climates is the room gets hot and stuffy and you come in at the end of the day, crank up the a/c and lay down for sleep. About 3 hours later, you wake up in the fetal position shivering on the verge of hypothermia and stumble to the a/c unit to turn it off. And you ply back under every blanket you can find (which is usually none, just a sheet.. it is the tropics after all) and sometimes use a towel to to substitute for the non existent blanket. Now, it being still a warm climate, and you've shut down the a/c in your half asleep state, you wake up in 3 more hours in a pool of sweat.

Luckily, it's time to wake up by this point.

Sunday, we headed to Angkor Thom, a large complex of ruins next to Angkor Wat. I mistakenly thought Angkor Wat was the general name for the temple complex in the area, but it's actually just one massive temple (originally built as a Hindu Temple). There are possible a hundred other temples and other structures in the area known as Angkor (which means "city"). Angkor Thom is one of the larger complexes that include temples (most impressive being Bayon in the picture) and a "palace" or two. You could wander around in these places for days I think. Going through Bayon, you could hear bats up above you squeaking, and you can just randomly be down inside and I think never be found again. Unlike most western historical structures, here you can climb and crawl and pretty much go anywhere you want on the structures. There's no hand rails usually and the "steps" tend to be 3 or 4 inches wide and 16 inches tall... which isn't at all comfortable for for climbing, or for anyone with a healthy fear of heights.

That night we went back out for dinner, and it was delicious. As JC said, "it's a scientific fact that the food gets better the closer you get to Thailand".. and it's true. Khmer food is very much like Thai with a little of the Vietnamese style influenced. We then ended up at the Temple Pub, where we discovered you can buy pitchers of cocktails on the cheap ($10 for jack and coke was the most pricey). After downing pitcher myself, watching some Apsara dancing, and meeting some Ukrainians, we decided to call it an earlyish night since we had to leave at 5 AM for sunrise at Angkor Wat.

Since none of us were well versed in the history of the area, we hired a guide for the day ($26) and tuk-tuks to drive us around($14). We watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat, which seemed to take forever... probably because we were all le tired. It's a big thing to see, and afterward most the tourists leave and go back to town for breakfast. After sunrise our guide laid out an itinerary for the day... it was frightening. He kept circling temples on a map, and then by the after noon we'd be back at Angkor Wat... Afternoon??? It's about 0630 at this point... and we started off for the first temples.

I wish I had taken some time to do some reading before coming, it would have saved me some confusion. Our guide was very thorough in explaining Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, and why temples were built like this.. (Hindu temples have the tall spires to symbolize the Himalayas and moats to symbolize the ocean, Buddhist temples have water around them but for use in the ceremonies). Different temples were built for different gods by different kings. It's all kind of interesting if a little confusing.

Most the temples have been cleared of the jungle overgrowth that came from about 500 years of neglect, the exception being Ta Prohm. This is the one you see Angelina Jolie crawling around in the Tomb Raider movie. It's amazing to how the trees have grown on top of the buildings, with roots extending around the structures. By this time the tourists were back from breakfast (unlike our group of intrepid tomb raiding adventurists who pushed right through hunger and exhaustion). It's amusing to watch tourists from other parts of the world. Asians love to throw up peace signs in every picture, or the Russian couple who felt they had to do 20 poses for every picture opportunity.

Next we climbed the temple of Ta Keo. Which was a good idea on the bottom, but at the top it was less certain. Again, the ridiculously steep steps made it a bit treacherous getting down the 40 meters or so. I kept expecting to see bodies of tourists lying around the base where they were a little careless taking that next step. We then informed our guide we were about templed out and needed sustenance. We headed back to Angkor Wat for lunch.

One of the more annoying, though occasionally amusing, parts of the temple visits were the constant hawkers trying to sell you anything. Ever bargained the price of a coke??? And the small kids run at you with stacks of postcards or scarfs or guidebooks or whatever. The sad part is these kids should be in school, but the money they make goes to their parents and not toward their educations. And they are sharp. They have an answer for everything you can come up with... for instance, a 6ish year old little girl trying to sell me postcards "You buy postcards!, 10 for $1, you see" and counts out each one. "No thanx", "Where you from?" "America", "Oh America, president Obama, capital Washington DC, population 300 million..." Seriously?? I don't think most kids I know here have those facts memorized... "I have no one to send postcards too"...little girl "You send to girlfriend". me "No girlfriend", girl "Oh, you buy postcards you get girlfriend". I laughed, couldn't help it. I did end up buying postcards later from a different kid. Who's 10 for a $1 instantly turned into $1.50. What?? you just said $1. No, now $1.50. OK, no postcards.. "ok ok, $1". And then your descended upon by everyone selling anything. You can try telling them you speak French, and they instantly switch to French.

So, after lunch we went back into Angkor Wat, which is now a functioning Buddhist temple. IN all the temples, most the statues of gods have been vandalized, first by Buddhists against Hindu's, then vice versa, and then by black market thieves, and by the Khmer Rouge who outlawed religion. It's quite sad. But the wall carvings are pretty well intact and intricate. It's amazing how people built these places.

Back to Siem Reap that night for more fun on the town. our last night in Siem Reap was memorable. I was offered everything from a girlfriend to heroine on the street (and i really just wanted another banana pancake). The last day, I spent mostly sleeping in and at the market picking up some souvies. Some of the others went out to see another temple, but I was kind of temple'd out. That afternoon we headed to the airport for the flight back to Vietnam. The biggest surprise was the $25 "Passenger usage fee" you had to pay to leave. Oh well, it was well worth it for the adventure in Cambodia. Back to Vietnam.

The heat is on in Saigon, and all is not well. But still at midnight, the party goes on.

So there I was in a luxury apartment overlooking Saigon. I'd had about 3.5 hours of sleep on a stationary, horizontal surface (I say surface because the mattress on the bed was very similar in cushion to a dining room table) and maybe 6 hours of sleep in airplane seats in the last 40 hours. SO the order of doing things may be a little fuzzy, but it's pretty much what happened.

But there was no time for sleep now. Back in a cab to the Ben Thanh market. Let's take a minute to describe traffic in HCMC (from now on, Ho Chi Minh City will be referred to as HCMC or even Saigon). The traffic runs on a system that can only be based on the idea of Chaos Theory. There's traffic light that seem to have no real meaning, I'd guess 85% of the population moves aorund on motorbike, scooter (150 cc or smaller), or bicycle. The majority of the rest walk or cab it. And you just kind of nose your way out into traffic and force a break for you to join the "flow". Crossing the street is an adventure in terror... imagine a hundred bikes bearing down on you.

SO, they put me in the front seat of the cab to make sure I got the full effect. And don't worry about seatbelts, not important.

So, walking around the market we found for sale everything you can imagine. And all negotiable. They have "fixed price" stalls, but why bother with that when you can go and argue with some one. It's the great tradition of third world shopping by calculator, where they type in a price, you say no, type in your offer, and repeat until you find a price you both can accept or walk away. It can be fun, or annoying. Imagine going to walmart in the states and debating the price of shoes or vegetables. Of course, we didn't come out empty handed, I have some lovely slippers now :-) for the price of about $1.50. We also found a stall and had a big bowl of Pho, the local soup. I've had it before here in the US, but it tasted better there.

Vietnamese seem to be a culture who like to be close to the earth. Literally. I'm not saying they're on average short (they are), but they seem to only want to squat down instead of stand, and only provide chairs you'd expect to find in a kindergarten classroom.

After the market, and the futile search for the show alley, we meandered into a place Grace had discovered. Imagine if you will walking down a street (dodging scooters and motorbikes who feel they belong on the sidewalks), find a doorway into an alley, follow it's winding course between buildings to doorway with stairs leading up. At the top of the staircase is a small cafe with delicious shakes and cheap drinks. I would have never found this place on my own, but the Princess and the Pea is one of those little place I hope to visit again some day. We (Grace, Joe, and Tanya) sat and talked and caught up over drink and desserts, and were joined by an Ashley, an english teacher from Chicago Grace had met). We sat on cushions on the floor around a little table and enjoyed a world away from home.

After a few more harrowing street crossings, we did some food shopping for the kids, and found our way to a Sheridan's Irish pub so I may continue my Irish Pub tour of the World. We had a couple of drinks (Guinness Draught, in cans only, for about $6). After that we headed back to the apartment for dinner, and some much needed sleep.

The next day, we set out again. Grace remained behind while TanJoe and I set out for some sightseeing, mainly to the Hard Rock cafe to expand my pin collection, and then past Notre Dame cathedral to the Reunification palace. When the the tanks from the north rolled into Saigon in 1975, the came here, knocked down the gates, and that was that. We walked through the place, still resplendid in 1970's decor, down through the basement to the radio and war rooms, and even watched a few minutes of film on the history of the place. While I can't say that America was in the right at all times during the Vietnam War (or as the locals call it, the American War), but the film was very much a revisionist history.

We also found the building who's rooftop served as the setting for the last desperate flights out of Saigon in 1975. The building was said to be home to many CIA agents... who watched as the city fell and was slowly evac'd out.

We met up with Grace and went for food. Saigon is very much oriented about food. Probably some of the French influence from the colonial days. There's just about everything you could imagine to eat there. We settled on the Barbecue Garden, where you order meat of your liking, seasoned, and cook it on a small grill in the middle of the table. Lunch (late late lunch) consisted spring rolls, of a platter for 4 of beef seasoned in 4 different ways, the best being wrapped around an onion slice with cheese, another large order of the beef with cheese, and about 9 beers. All for about $25.

We did some more shopping for random items, and then headed to the roof top bar at the Rex Hotel. Not finding a seat to our liking (one with a view), we headed back down and to the Caravelle hotel and it's rood top bar. We enjoyed a cocktail and listened to the sounds of the city. Music was blasting from below in preparation for the next nights festivities.

We finished the night at Ice Blue, an expat bar in the tourist area of Saigon that is a frequent stop for the Air Mekong staff. We met the owner, who proclaimed Joe and I to be "fresh meat", at which point shots of beer and tequila were handed to us... I'm not longer fresh meat, and the owner found us to be "Acceptable". Jonathan met us there there after work, and we had a fine time. A bar brawl between the pilots ensued... much fun was had by all.

The next day (New Years Eve), Tanjoe found a new home. They managed to rent an apartment in the same building as the Lewii... so much relief showed on their faces a finally having a home. Tanya stayed back a little under the weather while Grace, Joe, and I ventured out to Cholon (Chinatown) and to the larger Binh Tay market and some pagodas. It was like we found the Saigon I had expected. Not nearly as new and western as the district we had spent most our time in thus far, this was more foreign feeling. Helped by the fact there were only a couple westerners seen in the hours there. We ran through the market, crowded and confined. This looked to be the place the vendors came to by goods wholesale before heading back to district one to sell them in a more "retail" manner. We bought lunch from a street vendor. I'm not sure exactly what it was, but it was very good.

They say when traveling to less developed nation to stay away from fresh vegetables that are uncooked, or to make sure you wash them yourself. Yeah, i totally didn't do that. A small Vietnamese woman who carrier her "cafe" on her shoulders made us a lunch of noodles, some kind of fried meat (pork?), lettuce, mint (I think), noodles, and some sauce. We dined right ther eon the side walked sitting on out Child size stools. it was quite delicious. We then walked a few blocks to the Ong Bon Pagoda.

Pagodas are the Buddhist temples in town. They seem to be less formal in Vietnam than in Thailand, as we were allowed to roam freely in shorts and take pictures as much as we wanted. This one was fairly empty and we pretty much had the run of the place to ourselves. The smell of incense burning permeated the place. I didn't see any monks in this one though.

We then cabbed it back to the apartment where Joe had to go sign his new lease. We changed and got ready for the night out for New Years Eve and to ring in 2011.

We had a dinner at a restaurant that had a cooking school attached, and it was very good. My beef with lemongrass came complete with the waitress giving me instructions on how to wrap the beef, lettuce, and Vietnamese basil in rice paper. After dinner and drinks we headed down to where the stage and Heineken ball drop. Talk about insanity. I can only imagine it's like Times Square in NY would be but without the organization. The upside is I was taller than the general population so we could see a little farther of above the sea of humanity. We made our way to the QD bar for pre ball drop drinks and joined the party in progress with other Air Mekong people. Close to midnight we fought our way out into the crowds and experienced the count down. And 2011 was brought in with fire works and jubilation and great friends! Back up to QD for dancing and festivities. We made it an early night after the bars closed, and the only places we could find open (after piling 11 people in a cab) in the backpacker district was charging 100,000 Dong a beer, or roughly $5. Insane prices for Vietnam. So we hauled back to the apartment early (early being 4 AM), since we had to head to Cambodia in the morning.

This looks like a good place to end this section. Next Chapter, Cambodia.

Who ever said it's about the journey, not the destination, never flew United.

Unlike most my big recent trips, this one I forgot to take my little notebook for writing daily observations and activities. So, I'll try and remember as much of the actual facts as possible. After this, I'm planning to make a separate entry that has more esoteric thoughts and less "what we had for lunch...", which is actually more interesting than it sounds since a couple times I wasn't really sure what I was having for lunch.

Let's go way back to last year, and pre Christmas activities. I shot out of Louisville destined for the ATL on the 23rd, in time for Festivus celebrations at Brick Store. Christmas eve was spent shopping with mom for what turned out to be my Christmas gift, and then some time at the Holby household visiting with the family, Adri, and the Lewii via Skype. From there, after some car trouble and a pickup (transportation problems were a theme for the weekend), I left with bags of contraband to be delivered to Southeast Asia. I was seriously worried about getting all this stuff in my bags. I managed twice!

Christmas morning came and family fun time was had, complete with traditional gorging on fried apple pies and bacon. In order to get back and repack for the long journey westward, I decided to leave Christmas day to head back to Louisville. And here the transportation problems cropped up again. Delta, based on a forecast of doom and blizzard like (for Atlanta that means 2 flurries) conditions, they canceled every SDF flight after 10AM. So, when I rolled up to the airport about 2:30, I was less than amused. I tried a route through MEM, but that was full too. SO, the backup plan... a new carrier has recently started flying twice a day between ATL and SDF. I called there res office and and made sure they were still operating, after an affirmative I spent $90 to buy a ticket.

I was one of 2 passengers, the other a young lady who's flight was canceled by Delta. The airline, Vision, reminds me a lot of Transmeridian, my first dispatch job. Even the person working the flight and I knew each other from the TMA days.

Sunday was spent running errands picking up those last minute items you suddenly realize you need for a long trip, and shopping with Grace via Skype for iPhone to get the right cords and last minute things they wanted hauled over. Given the random assortment of goods in my bag, I expected to be stopped by some one and asked "Why are you carrying all this??". Never happened. SO I loaded up my 2 backpacks, one large one small, with random collection of goods and a few clothing items for me. Laundry was done, I loaded up my new iPad with books and movies, and loaded out. First up was a 747-400F to Anchorage (about 6:15 hours flying time). This plane is reported by the crews to be cursed. Things don't work as expected all the time, and it's the first 744F off the assembly line and bought used from CargoLux, so who knows what's been done to it. Within 5 minute of arriving to the airplane, it was swapped, then swapped right back. We luckily got out not too late and were winging our way to the land of cold.

After a 5 hour sit in ANC, complete with 2 netflix movies on demand, I boarded the same airplane and we managed to leave on time (no swap, but one of the engines took some extra love to start). There were a full boat of jumpseaters on this one, and thus only could have managed a couple hours of bunk time. I elected just to camp in my seat and get what sleep I could there. Eleven and a half hours later, the wheels touched down at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kak airport. Since I didn't have much time there I never bothered clearing customs and went to find the United counter. This is where the transportation problems of ATL cropped up to beat me down again. Due to crewmember illness, (read Captain spent too much time in Wan Chai the night before... and if you know Wan Chai you know why that's funny) the flight was canceled. I was the first person there in line, and the gate agent was not real sure what to do with me. SHe asked how who I flew in on, and I showed her my airline ID and explained my journey via cargo, and she got slightly less confrontational and more helpful (maybe it was because I started asking questions that non employees wouldn't).

The solution, and by this time I just wanted to lay down on top of my 50 lbs of luggage and cry, was to fly me to Singapore, getting in about midnight, and leave on the first flight to Ho Chi Minh the next day, at 9:30AM. I asked if that was the only option... and yes it was the one that would get me there fastest. By this time the line had formed behind me, and she was leaning closer and talking in almost a whisper, since the option wasn't going to be available to any of the people behind me in line. Off to Singapore I went.

After an hour and 15 minute delay, we finally left HKG. Did I mention I wanted to cry?? I'm not a fan of flyin United, they seriously need to redo those plane's interiors. I had expected to be put up in the SIN airport transit hotel. It's right inside the terminal and doesn't even require you clear customs. Wrong, we were taken through customs, driven 30 minutes to a hotel on the other side of the airport . By this time, it's about 2AM, I'm tired, feel the funk of 20 hours of airplanes sticking to me, and about 700 miles past the place I want to be. Oh and I have to be up in 4 hours to go back and get on another plane.

Side note, the room I was given was nice enough, but I was confused by the design. There were two twin beds in the room, but the bathroom was designed with a window from the shower into the room. Not like a 2 way mirror, but you could see through. So if I'm sharing the room with some one I'm not sleeping in the same bed with, what makes them think I (or they) want me to be able to watch them in the bathroom?? It wasn't cleverly laid out where you had to step out of your way to to see out of the bathroom, it was big and placed so you couldn't help but be in front of it getting into the shower or sitting on the throne.

Anyways, I was up at 6:30, showered, stopped and had a quick bite of complementary breakfast, and started feeling a little more human. Next was a Singapore airlines flight to SGN. Talk about the polar opposite of the United flight. Gorgeous "Flight Stewardesses", comfy seats, leg room, food, personal entertainment systems, and smiles. After a 12 hour delay from schedule, I landed in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Clearing customs, declaring nothing (After as many countries I've been too, I'm still not sure what they want me to declare... but since it looks like hassle I usually just go with the nothing option and go on through). I had picked up a couple of Christmas gifts in SIN duty free.

I was greeted enthusiastically by Grace and Tanjoe! Talk about a relief. I also immediately started sweating profusely. I was still wearing clothes from the day before (except for fresh undies and socks), since I was afraid to unpack my bag for fresh ones and never be able to get it all back together. I had arrived in Viet-F'n-Nam and couldn't be happier (how many people have ever said that?).

Once we found a taxi, which was an adventure in frustration itself, and a preview of ow things work in country, we were off to the ivory tower. There, i let fly the zippers and straps and played Santa for the Lewii and Tanjoes. I can't say that I've seen some one so excited by a stain stick, an HDMI cord, and candy canes. And finally, I was able to put on clean clothes!!!

OK, since Firefox just crashed and this is getting kind of long, I'm going to stop this post now and start the next section.