Saturday, July 19, 2014

Bo: Prosthetic Center in Vietiane, Laos

The COPE center where we went yesterday was both interesting, instructional, and terrifying. The center is based around helping those injured by unexploded ordinance or UXO. It is also supposed to enlighten people to the struggles that the injured face and the tragedy that brought them there. There were two movies that we watched. One was about a man who was blinded and scarred for life after accidentally exploding a bomb while lighting a bonfire. The other was about an organization, one among many, called MAG. They went into the fields that farmers would work in and comb the area for bombs using metal detectors and remote detonators. After going through the museum, I feel as though now I am much more informed about the Vietnam War than I was before. One little paper impacted me the most.

Four children were killed and 3 were injured by some UXO that a 3 year old was playing with. The children bear the worst of the brunt of the explosives. As they are payed 2,000 kip (25 US cents) for each kilogram of scrap metal they bring in by the scrap shops, many kids are practically forced to pick up as much metal as they can to add a bit more to their family's income.

Sent from my iPad

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mason on Asia

Before our trip I had always assumed that Asia was a vast land with houses with pointy roofs and little straw hats. But when I came to Laos I was not disappointed. There were beautiful forests that looked like something from a nature film, along with tall mountains  with clouds covering the top that gave it a mystical look.  I don't think I'd ever seen any thing so beautiful in my life.  Through a flurry of crowded markets, busy streets, and beautiful temples one time we ended up in a little make-your-own barbecue place called Han Sin Dad (kind of like hansom dad). This was by far the best restaurant.  There they would give you a bucket of hot coals and pan for you to cook meat and soup. Along with that they gave us a bucket of veggies, and a kettle of broth. Bo and I would season our meat in a sauce we called "devil's vacation" and then garnish with some mint for looks and taste. My only regret is not eating there more.

Reddy: My Experiences in Asia

About 5 months ago when my mom told me we were going to Asia I was really excited about it. I didn't think about it too much throughout these five months until the trip was so close I couldn't not think about it. I was going to a new continent where I knew nothing about the culture, I didn't know the language, and I could hardly picture what it was going to be like. 
When I used to think about Asia, China would always come to my mind. I knew that Asia was huge and that there were so many countries in it but I could never picture them. I thought Asia was going to be full of big cities with neon lights and cars everywhere. I thought that the people weren't going to be very nice and that tourists were not welcome. Since I've been here everything has been almost completely opposite of my expectations. 
The scenery is beautiful, most of the people are welcoming. The language is hard but the few words I know get me by. It is so different here yet our family has found a way to blend in and have lots of fun. We have been to temples, we have tasted local food, we have made friends, and been to markets. Everything that we have done has broadened my horizons to so many things. 
So many people here have looked at us like we are so different, because the traditions here are so different from what to me is normal. One of the most different things about here is the religion. Almost every country I have been to the main religion is Christian, but here it's not and I like that. You don't see any pictures of Jesus or the cross. Instead you see Buddha and temples. I love it here and can't wait to see more of it.

Bo: How Asia Surprised Me

I have always thought of Asia as the land of plastic, cheap, disposable toys, but this trip, I have seen the light.  Instead of being the crowded, homogenous cities that I expected, there are a lot of rural areas.  The cities that I've been in have been massive, both in size and in variety.  Variety in food, in buildings, in transportation, but most importantly, in people. There are short people, tall people, people with light skin, and people with dark skin.   
The personalities here are diverse, although most are nice and welcoming to foreigners such as us.  They are even more appreciative once we give them a "Sawadee" or a "kop kun" or "kop jai." Hello and thank you are the only two words I know in Thai and Laotian, but they're enough to get by.  The neon lights of South Korea and the stereotypical traffic and sameness of China are not apparent in anyway in Southeast Asia.  It might as well be its own continent, for all the differences between it and Asia itself.

Giving Alms in Luang Prabang

We wake the kids at 5:15am, hop on our bikes on a misty, humid morning, and ride into the old town to see what is reputedly the most holy and sacred activity in Luang Prabang: the giving of alms to the local Buddhist monks. Every single morning they come out from the temples between 5:45 and 6:00am and the Lao people donate rice, bananas and other food stuffs to them.  The monks eat one meal a day and never after 12pm. Sadly it's become a bit of a circus with tourists kneeling down on mats giving alms, taking selfies, Buddhists or not.  The spirituality that no doubt should be there is no more, at least not in this town which now thrives on tourism. All I could think was "trick or treat" as the costumed monks filed silently down the sidewalk holding out their orange alms buckets. 

Mason it seems was not moved either.  "I was thinking what if there were a little dog monk and he walked by in a monk suit and just got table scraps?"  July 7

A Few Funnies Along the Way

"This may be the most high class restaurant I've ever been to, at least than I can recall." MDH on Eat Me in Bangkok
"This is shaping up into a real party," Bo says as Mason stumbles out into the living room at 2am while Bo and I are hanging out in the kitchen rapping, unable to sleep in the middle of the night in Bangkok.

"We'll I haven't had too many massages but I found that one really nice."-- Mason, 6/22/14

"I'm going to take that microphone and do something befitting of my age. I'm going to turn it on and say "Penis. That is all."  Bo Hillers, 6/22/14 on the public ferry crossing the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
"Happy to you Minnie Mouse." Stitched on a polo shirt in the CNX local market. I now like to day this at oddly funny times.
 "You know a lot of pub tricks and you're really good at them. Does that mean you spent a lot of time in pubs?" MDH at The Red Lion Chiang Mai. June 29 2014

"I don't get why she puts the name of her tour guide but not the name of her kids." Mason, on Cheryl Strayed's article on traveling with her family to Laos.

Bo on BBQ, Luang Prabang Style

Laos: Last night, or a couple nights ago, we went to a BBQ place called Han Sindad.  (We called it Handsome Dad.) We cooked our own food on a metal piece over a very unstable brazier filled with hot coals.  The metal piece was a circle, which then dipped down into a bowl.  It then rose up to meet from all sides in a protrusion with little slits to let heat through.  

They gave us a variety of veggies, along with a small dish of kimchi and a pot of hot sauce we lovingly named "The Devil's Vacation."  That was a nod to an even hotter sauce we had consumed at a Belgian restaurant called "The Devil's Work."  

Our first plate was a mix of pork, chicken, beef, and a piece of pork fat to lubricate the grill.  We would then place our meat on the little heat slits.  After a bit, we started to get a little more creative with the forms of cooking our meat.  I would use the sauce to lubricate my meat and cook it, caramelizing and spicing up the meat in the process.  We would serve the meat to Mom and Dad and they would judge it.  We then went home and slept like a rock.

My Low Moment as a Mom

I've wondered if I'd know with certainty that I had done something really bad as a mother.  And now I know.

Over and over I have told Mason, who has a hard time listening (ask any of his teachers) watch where you're going, look both ways before you cross the street, stay to the right when you're biking (except in Chiang Mai, where cars drive on the left which I admit could be confusing).  To try to scare him into compliance I have told him how hurt he could get, how horrible it would be if he got hit by a car and died, how much it would change our family if he weren't with us.

So one evening around 5pm in rural Laos he gets hit.  Because he runs in front of a line of motorbikes roaring to the Old Brige in Luang Prabang.  He wants to walk on the OTHER side of the bridge this time, so darts across to the left side without checking to see what's coming.  A young girl on a motorcycle hits him, falls off her bike, loses her side view mirror and her shoes, and cuts her hand.  She's shaken up and rubbing her wrists, trying not to cry. A crowed gathers around us.  Mason is mute and kind of shell shocked; he's been knocked to the ground too.  But I'm just angry at him for not listening to me.

The girl pulls out her cell phone and starts to dial someone and I have visions of Mexico where the moment you have a run in with an American you call the traffic police and try to extort your Yankee compensation. Probably she was just calling her dad.  Or her boyfriend.  But I start digging in my purse for any few kip I have.  We were actually heading to the bank, then dinner, and I was down to nearly nothing.  A guy who speaks a little English says, "She says you can give her whatever you like."  Or something like that.  There weren't that many words.  I shove about $10 of wadded-up tissue-paper bills into her palm and say sorry for the 20th time and walk away with looking back.

We head down the right side of the bridge--this third-world structure of red steel and rotting wood. high above the Nam Khan River. The interior has two lanes of wood planks for bikes or motorcycles (no cars or tuk tuks allowed) and this shaky, frightening pedestrian walkway on the outside where you can see the river rushing through the wood slats about 400 meters below.  All I can do is yell at Mason.  I am so angry at him for not listening and for nearly killing himself and hurting someone else that I cannot stop to see if he's OK.  Which it turns out he's not.  When we get to the other side of this incredibly long bridge I turn around and leave him with Redding and Sam, telling them carry on without me. I am going back.  I can't be civil and I can't make myself care about Mason.

Bo is still at the hotel where we left him because he was being churlish.  (The night was already tense and sad before Mason got hit.).  I debate whether or not I will find him and make up with him and suggest we have dinner together.  When I get back and walk into the foggy garden with the pool below it surrounded by palm and banana trees, shrouded in the perpetual mist that comes with the humidity of Laos, I see Bo in the open air dining room, eating alone with a book.  He has a glass of lemon juice with a lot of ice and a single place serviing with a linen napkin and a charger under his plate.  Jump to the future: he could be a 30-year-old guy eating by himself after leaving work, his trusty book at his right, his head down.  I am slightly amazed that he left his room and got himself a dinner reservation for one at the restaurant of  My Dream Hotel in the middle of Laos and order himself a juice and a plate of chicken fried rice.  I am still sad from Mason and slightly sad from the earlier mess we made that left Bo in the hotel alone in the first place. 

So I go to him and sit down and he's clearly pleased that I am there with him. I start to tell him what  happened and express my shame that I could not have had more heart to look after Mason and ask about his bloody ankles (both of them I find out later are scrapped and bleeding, along with his wrists--he must have been cut by the bike when it hit him and when it fell on top of him).  Bo gets up and comes to my side of the table:  "Don't blame yourself, Mom.  You're the best mom.  You did whatever you could," he says.  "You look like you could use this," and he bends downs, hugs me, and then returns to his place o wait for his food.

Living land Rice Farm by Mason

 The living land
We arrived at the living land a place were it shows how the farmers get rice and cook it. There were 13 steps. here are a few. ENJOY!.            ⛲️

Step 1: Finding the good rice. They had a bowl of water and then our guide, a 19 year old man, put a ton of salt in the bowl and dumped in some rice.  Most of the rice sunk to the bottom but some floated.  The floating rice would end up to be the stuff they planted.

On this step we harvested the rice. We used a little curved knife and we cut long stalks with little pieces of rice on top. We used two of the the rice leafs to tie it all together. then we left the bundle on its roots.

The Buffalo: Apart from planting the rice, harvesting it, and eating it we also plowed the fields with a buffalo. The buffalo's name was something like Suzuki.  We would jump knee deep in mud (which hurt me since I had a cut from an accident the day before).  Then the buffalo would start moving. It was hard to catch up with it since we were barefoot and trudging through mud. I didn't really know what this was doing, but it was probably supposed to be plowing but to me it just looked like a mess.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bo: Parachuting into the Mekong

Today we biked around for a bit, but the best part was swimming in the Nam Kam.  We played Parachute.  In that, two of us would line up, and one person would be off to the side.  That person would be the general and he would yell,, "Go, go, go!"  As everybody else jumped in, he would slap them on the back, and jump in after them. Then we would get swept down the river to one of 2 or 3 landing points. It was a lot of fun, and we came up with a lot of fun games after that. 

Mason: Today on the Mekong

Today in the Mekong River, we made up a game. It was about parachuting out of a plane but we are just doing it in the river.  One person was the general. Everyone else were soldiers. The general would scream, "GO GO GO!" And when he slapped you you would jump into the river and the current would take you to a landing point. Every round we would switch on being the general and which landing point we would to. 

Redding: Swimming in the Mekong

The Mekong river is the twelfth longest river in the world. The Mekong runs through multiple countries in and Southeast Asia. The Mekong to Laos is like the Nile to Egypt. Bo, Mason, and I, hot and sweaty from a day of bike riding, decided to go for dip. Not in a pool and not in our home continent but in the Mekong river, in Luang Prabang, Laos. In the river my brothers and I frolicked about fighting the current and playing games. We had a lot of fun. After swimming we rode our bikes to a little cafe where we had cold smoothies and chocolate pies.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bo on elephant riding

Chang Mai: a few days ago my family and I had a great adventure. We went riding on elephants. Although it was not the experience I had expected it was great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. First, we took a taxi up to the country driven by our good friend Saran, or Swing as he likes to be called. When we got up there the first thing we had to do was change out of the clothes that we were wearing into some professional looking denim pants and a denim jacket. 

When we got out of the restaurant there was a Mahout waiting for us to take us down to the elephants. We were given a coconut and many pounds of bananas with which to feed the elephants. The amount these huge beasts could eat was incredible and it was amazing how strong their jaws were. They used their trunks to grab food items and put it in their mouths whole. The coconut made this extremely crunching sound as the elephant chewed it, maybe once or twice, and swallowed it. 

We learned how to get on the elephant and we took off down the mountainside.  The ride was bumpy and the elephant's head was hairy, but it was all worth it for what happened next.  We got to bathe the elephants.  We played in the water and one mahout did awesome spinny flips off of the elephant.  We rode back up the hill and went home.

Thailand Highlights Before Leaving for Laos

A four-story cage of baby squirrels dressed up in costumes in a market in Bangkok. The ones that had been just born didn't have to put on a suit.

An old lady bathing herself in the Bangkok canals while a six-foot monitor lizard slid through the water

The Thai boy band singing You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog at a city fair before the skies burst and rain closed them down.

Riding an elephant through a local village outside of Chiang Mai. Cing around a bend into an enormous open field with ladies in the rice paddies.

Piles of different cooked bugs for sale at the Bangkok market: scarab beetles, worms, scorpions, spiders and four-inch cockroaches, all doused in chili....buckets of sea creatures in Chiang Mai, including a five-gallon container of frogs covered with fishing net (one was staring right at me; I almost bought him), turtles, eels and snakes.

Going out for noodles every morning in Bangkok and watching the kids dig into the condiment bar and manage their chopsticks.