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Stories from Month 6

Hat Yai, Thailand

Arriving in Thailand

bothWe arrived in Thailand today. This is the 9th country we've visited!

We celebrated with a wonderful dinner of Tom Yam soup and steamed sea bass.

Tomorrow we head to the west coast for more island time. We will write more later. top

Ko Lanta, Thailand

Staying Put

bothEnough with the long bus rides. We've arrived to Ko Lanta and plan to stay about a week. The narrow island is about 20 x 5 km and has one poorly paved road, wide beaches, and nothing much to do except relax.

Our bungalow is on the north tip of the island on a tiny cape. The road leading to the bungalow has been washed away by the monsoon rains and cars can only pass through along the beach at low tide. The area is fairly modern, but electricity only runs from 6:30 PM to 8:00 AM.

The resort is just heading into high season, but remains almost empty. We have made good friends with the other guests and employees (Chuey is pictured to the right) and stay up late into the night talking about life.

 

 

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Thai Lesson

timOur off-season beach resort on Ko Lanta was nearly empty. With a full week to be productive on a quiet beach, I had the perfect chance to learn the basics of the Thai language.

I worked through the alphabet with my homemade flash cards, arming myself with a shaky knowledge of Thai's 44 consonants and 28 vowels and dipthongs. In no time at all, I found myself transliterating street signs and store names in my head as I passed by them on the streets of the small island.

I needed real help to get farther, so I approached the unhurried staff at Kaw Kwang Bungalows for answers. I soon found myself seated with two women to receive a Thai lesson and give an English one.

The Thai language is tonal, much like Chinese and Vietnamese. Words are pronounced with a tone that is either low, mid, high, rising, or falling, allowing many similar words to have different meanings. Thus the sentence, "The new wood was not burnt, silk burnt," is translated in Thai as, "Mai mai mai mai mai mai." Correctly pronounced, this sentence would sound like this, "Mai (with high tone), mai (with low tone), mai (with falling tone), mai (with falling tone), mai (with rising tone), mai (with falling tone)."

Mastery of tones is important when speaking Thai, so I started with some questions I had on the subject. My two friends had different names with different spellings, and yet they were both called Puey. Rather, one was Puey (with rising tone) and one was Puey (with high tone). So the three of us sat around a table saying, "Puey? Puey! Puey? Puey!" and laughing. High tones are the hardest to pronounce with westerners. Words are pronounced at the top of one's vocal range. When I try it I sound as though I am singing falsetto.

I quickly learned that most Thais don't understand tones by terms such as high, low, and mid. Instead they hear them from birth and just understand them naturally. Puey (high) and Puey (rising) were perplexed by my simple questions. When I asked them to place tone markers over the "Mai mai mai mai mai mai." example they looked at me with confusion.

Puey (rising) said, "Well it is just, 'Mai mai mai mai mai mai.'."

As if that answered my question easily... "Yes, but which one is rising, falling, low, mid, and high?"

That question began a chorus of "mais" in every tone. Puey (rising) and Puey (high) sat and repeated the word over and over, waving their hands in the air tracing the tones like orchestra conductors. The two women were still baffled and consulted the idle kitchen staff, which set off a larger chain reaction. The restaurant sounded like a forest of chirping crickets repeating one word over and over.

The group settled on one version of tones, which I discovered 10 minutes later in my textbook was incorrect. I didn't learn much Thai that day, but I had a great time not learning. top

Family Travel

timI talked at length about this trip before I left. Most people told me how lucky I was to go and added, "I wish I could do that."

I felt the most sympathy for those with a family and a house, understanding that when my turn came, I'd be chained to the desk job for life. But during my stay in Ko Lanta, I met a Danish family who gave me hope.

Sven and Anni were travellers too. Just like me, they were compelled to leave their jobs for a year, sell their house, and leave their old life behind. But they carried much more than a backpack - they took three of their children.

I asked about the logistics of removing kids from school for that long. Svend assured me that their children receive a good education on the road. They learn Danish, math, and science from planned lessons taught by their parents, books, and e-mail correspondence; they learn English and world studies by experience.

Svend spent his previous life as a workaholic. He rarely saw his children and wondered why he was at home when he could be making money. He even worried while planning the trip that he would be unable to relax. But the first time we saw his family, on a beautiful beach in Malaysia, Michelle commented on how well the family got along and how comfortable they seemed with one another. When I had a chance to talk with him in Ko Lanta, it became apparent that he was not only quite able to relax, but that he had used the time with his family wisely.

I fear that I will return from my travels and get caught back in the rat race of work, work, work. I used to view this as an inevitable outcome in our society to make it as a parent. Now I hope to travel with my children some day. Everything is possible when you stop wishing and start doing. top

Longboat Snorkeling

timWe took the snorkel trip from hell.

The boatman picked us up that morning half an hour late. His longboat was old - not antique old, but poorly maintained old. The bright paint that had once circled the bow was now faded and peeling. Small holes in the hull leaked steady geysers of water that the boatman's assistant constantly bailed with a makeshift bucket. Prehistoric millipede water bugs skulked around in schools under the damp beams of the hull. The short fabric roof that would protect us in the event of rain seemed to have only one purpose on a nice day - to prevent anyone over 5 feet tall from sitting up straight.

We pulled off the beach, rounded a cape, and escaped the tall waves of the ocean by boating down a protected channel. One hour went by. Another hour went by. We entered open water and cruised for another hour. By the time we reached the first snorkel area, two people in the boat were seasick.

Ack! The coral was dead. Nothing much to see here, but a few colorful fish attracted by the chum vomited by our two seasick friends. We swam to a gorgeous beach with nothing on it but a wooden fisherman's house and waited to go to the next area.

We snorkeled again under the sheer cliff of a limestone island, anchoring in shaded deep green water. This dive was everything the other dive wasn't. The limestone wall plunged 10 meters under the surface. I dove in, went straight to the bottom, and floated up slowly admiring the view. Beautiful - the amazing coral formations, bright colors, unusual fish. Everything snorkeling should be.

My rapture ended when I returned to the boat.

Another three hours back - or so I thought. But low tide had reduced our route home to a mud flat. (You would think a local boatman would know these things.) After some discussion in Thai between the boatman and his assistant, we headed into the mangroves. The boatman didn't know the area and quickly got lost. We drove into dead ends, took arbitrary turns, and asked some fishermen in the mud flats directions. It was approaching dark when I saw the assistant wave the gas container in front of the boatman in an expression that said, "We are almost out." We didn't have lights on the boat. Navigating in the dark was nearly impossible and we hadn't passed another boat in an hour. Just as I'd resigned myself to spending the night in the boat, we approached a familiar area. Another 30 minutes later, we mutinied and made the boatman drop us off on the town dock instead of at our guesthouse farther away.

We had snorkeled for an hour, but spent 10 hours on the trip. We were done, and nothing would keep us on the boat any longer. top

Sunset

michelleThis evening, Tim and I climbed over a hill at the end of the island into a cove. There, nestled by high cliffs, sat a small secluded beach, perfect for watching the sunset.

The tide was out, so I wandered on the rocks, exploring the tidal pools. Large purple sea cucumbers sat listlessly in the water. Brown crabs scurried by, red eyes watching to see if I was friend or foe. A sea snake hid under a rock, its tail peeking out. Small fish darted around florescent green coral, waiting patiently for the tide to carry them back into the ocean.

This miniature world of activity could entertain me for hours, but it was time to turn my attention to the show above. As the sun crept closer to the horizon, the sky glowed orange and pink, each second growing more vivid and brilliant. The ocean below turned a shimmering gold as it reflected the light above. Soon the blazing orange ball hid behind a cluster of clouds and brilliant rays shot out.

Sunsets are some of the best of what this world has to offer. Glimpses of God's majesty. I breathed it all in deeply, my senses alive with the colors, ocean smells and the sound of crashing waves. I never wanted this moment to end. But the light faded and dark purple replaced the once glowing sky. Tim and I sat quietly, reflecting on the beauty we had just witnessed. Already the sunset was just a memory, but a memory to be etched in my mind for years to come. top

Bike to the Pier

timI was sorry to say goodbye to Ko Lanta, but I was glad to hitch a ride to the pier from Chuey.

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Chuey relaxes from a long day spent taking care of bungalows on the beach. A colorful Thai sea gypsy boat is decorated with streamers that help to keep the sailors safe. Receding tide and big sky. The receding tide leaves acres of ripples in the sand.

Ao Nang, Thailand

What About Bob?

timFour months have passed since I last saw a friend from home. And although I've met plenty of new friends along the way, I was happy to hear that Bob was coming to Thailand.

Bob is a "friend of a friend" who happens to be a nice guy and someone I'd be happy to drink a few Singha beers with. We corresponded via e-mail and eventually met in Ao Nang. But Bob wasn't traveling alone, but rather with a large group of people in a post-Bangkok wedding party. Much to our surprise, we found ourselves snorkeling, caving, dining, and hanging out with a large group of Washingtonians who were sympathetic to the cause of budget travel.

So we would like to thank Bob and his friends, and offer best wishes to newlyweds Dave and Usa - all honorary members to The Travel Year.

(Special thanks to Bob for his 5 box (240 tablets) gift of Pepto Bismol, a precious commodity that we have not seen since Samoa.) top

The sun sets on Rai Leh beach, near Krabi, Thailand. The beautiful seashore in Rai Leh beach, near Krabi, Thailand. This photo was taken from inside a cave near the top of a cliff.

Krabi, Thailand

Still Going Strong

michellePeople are starting to ask us, after being on the road for 5 months, if we are getting tired - tired of not having the same bed to lie our heads on every night, tired of living out of a backpack, and tired of the constant change.

Instead of growing weary though, we are becoming more energized. Daily I look around me and I am full of gratefulness. Thankful for the opportunity to travel for so long. Our minds and hearts are growing full with each person we meet, each rich encounter we experience, and each exotic land we visit.

I am looking forward to all the journeys ahead: eating Pho in Vietnam, wandering around the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia; trekking in Nepal, and riding camels in the desert of Rajasthan, India.

Of course, we miss family and friends from home and frequently long for a good cup of coffee. But we are still going strong (despite the lack of caffine).

As I sit here on the porch of my bungalow writing, large red ants are marching across a wall opposite me. The highway of ants crosses across the wall, up a stick, down a palm leaf on to another leaf and then out of sight. Traveling has given me the opportunity to sit, observe, and cherish even the small simple pleasures in life, like watching ants. top

Kao San Road

timThe night-bus dropped us off at 6 a.m. in a magnificently seedy place - on the backpacker slum of Kao San Road. At that early hour, the ratio of people drinking coffee and people drinking beer was dead even.

The area came alive later that night, as hundreds of people walked the pulsating streets or drank in outdoor bars. We found English language bookstores, Internet cafes, cheap guesthouses, money changers, noodle stands, knock-off clothes shops, massage parlors, and bargain travel agencies under the gaudy signs that hovered above the road. Our conversation competed with the pounding music of street-side speakers, tuk-tuks, horns, and barking dogs. We didn't find any Thai culture, but rather a weird mix of youthful-meets-budget-meets-European backpacker-meets-out for a good time-meets-holiday culture.

It is an interesting place to people watch. We sat in an outdoor pub with our new Kiwi friend Penny, drank a couple of beers, and played "Guess Where They are From." The rules are simple: pick a random pedestrian and guess where they are from and how long they have been away. It isn't hard. If you inventory their body piercings, tattoos, baseball hat, haircut, clothes, backpack size, overall cleanliness, and body language, it comes naturally.

If I stayed on Kao San Road for a week, I'd be guessing correctly every time. top

Welcome to Bangkok

michelleWe just arrived in Bangkok. After wandering for a while down small streets and narrow alleys looking for a place to stay, we found a decent hotel to live in for a couple days. Home has become the place our backpacks reside - changing every few days. Thin walls, noisy neighbors, and lumpy beds are our norm; good enough though for budget backpackers.

Today is sunny and I feel good. Our room is at the end of a long hallway and has many windows. Perfect for my voyeur tendencies. Out of the window, directly across the street, is the soaring orange roof of a Buddhist temple. Below is a small alley. Stray dogs, laundry hung out to dry, women washing dishes in large buckets and men standing on the corner are in my view. The alley is also used as an impromptu repair shop, so tuk-tuks and motorcycles stand in line while their parts litter the sidewalk. I have a feeling I will often hear the clanging and banging below while staying in this little room.

City noise can be annoying when trying to sleep, but it also adds to the flavor of travel. It's good to be in Bangkok. top

The River Boat

bothBangkok is one of the top cosmopolitan cities in Asia. To get around one can take a taxi, bus, tuk-tuk, motorcycle or walk. But my favorite is the riverboat.

Through Bangkok runs the Choa Phraya river and its canals. Riverboats run up and down the waterways all day long, stopping at the many piers along the river. By taking a boat to your destination, not only do you avoid traffic congestion and pollution but you are treated to the scenic views of Bangkok's river life with wind blowing through your hair.

Getting on to the boat is an adventure in itself. We wait on a floating pier for the next boat to come. The noise the bobbing pier makes as it rubs against its anchoring dock sends chills down our spines. Like the sound of metal bending before an imminent crushing break, the pier screeches in wait for the next boat. A whistle in the distance alerts us to its coming.

As it approaches the pier, an assistant whistles for the boat to stop. The boat's engine reverses and the rudder turns, stopping the boat abruptly and slamming it against the dock with a bang. This sends waiting passengers stumbling to regain their balance. The assistant continues with his whistles; short connected blasts and long blasts signal to the boat driver to shoot forward, reverse, or stop. Boat passengers, with very little time to spare, must jump to the dock while people on the dock must jump on the boat.

All during this commotion, the space between the boat and dock opens and closes with the bobbing of the water, trying to eat your legs. As the last passenger is in mid-jump, the assistant whistles and the boat lurches forward in full speed to the next pier. Landing safely onboard we sigh in relief. Another small transport victory! Now to settle back and enjoy the view. top

Massage

timThai massage is not gentle. It is a deep tissue, cracking, kicking, and squirming event. The massuse's hands are not enough to do the job. She must use her feet, elbows, and legs with equal abandon.

The Buddhist temple of Wat Po runs a well known Thai massage school that came highly recommended to us by two people we met while travelling. One traveller's massage at Wat Po cured her long-term leg injury. The other traveller's massage caused her to orgasm on the table. (The former had no need to return. The latter returned every day for a week.)

So Michelle and I went to Wat Po to see for ourselves. The massage room was large and full of beds - no clothing was removed, so there was not much need of privacy. The massuse started with my legs and worked up. She pressed deeply into my muscles and cracked the joints in my fingers, the joints in my feet, and my spine.

I moaned, stretched, crunched, and left bouncing with energy. top

Same, Same...but Different

michelleThe women stared at me in confusion. It's a look I am getting used to.

I am standing at a food cart on a busy street in Chinatown ordering steamed dumplings. But when I don't speak Thai, the women murmur among themselves and giggle nervously. Finally, one speaks up, pointing to her Thai face and says, "I thought you same-same?"

This is a phrase I have heard countless times since arriving in Thailand, where I am mistaken as a Thai. I smile politely, explain I am from the U.S., and tell them I am part Chinese. Tim doesn't think I look Thai at all, but apparently the Thai people disagree.

Mistaken identity has occurred in every country I have visited so far. I was mistaken for Panamanian, Costa Rican, Hawaiian, and Samoan. I thought it wouldn't happen in New Zealand, but I was asked if I was Maori, the indigenous people-group of the islands. I have been mistaken as Singaporean, Indonesian, Malaysian, and now, Thai. I call it "the art of camouflage." With my mix of Chinese and English, my face seems to blend into every country I have visited so far. That is, until I speak. Then it is obvious I am a foreigner. It has been a great way to meet the local people - a catalyst for many conversations. Until I reach Europe, I think the confused looks will continue. top

The chedis of Wat Po (Wat Phra Chetupon), Bangkok's largest and oldest Buddhist temple. Aside from its size and architectural majesty, Wat Po is famous for housing the 46-meter long reclining Buddha and for being the premier school of traditional Thai massage. A lotus blossom in Thai Buddhism is thought to rise from the water skyward the way the Buddha rises from earthly suffering towards enlightenment.

Sukhothai, Thailand

The Festival of Lights

timWalking through the 13th century ruins of Sukhothai would normally fill me with a sense of historical awe. I'd marvel at the ancient capitol of Thailand, at its Buddhist temples, crumbling pillars, pottery kilns, and 700 year old man-made lakes. But we arrived to Sukhothai during the Loi Kathrong Festival, and the historical park was filled with the energy of the present.

Thousands of people from all over Thailand participate in Sukhothai's Loi Kathrong festival. During its eight day life span, this "festival of lights" feels like the American Fourth of July. Families spend time together, eat lots of food, and watch fireworks. The festival climaxes on the night of November's full moon, where participants float little banana leaf boats (krathongs) covered in flowers, candles, and incense across the waters of the old city.

We arrived four days into the festival and watched it grow larger with each passing day, so that by the last day the number of visitors was reaching critical mass.

So many people! We shuffled through the food stalls with the masses, passing by endless supplies of noodle soup, cut fruit, balls of meat, green oranges, exotic drinks, pressed squid, and roasted insects. The vendors were doing a brisk business - especially the ones selling skewered meat that had covered the park with a blanket of fog-like barbecue smoke that smelled like chicken. And the noise! The large crowd competed for my ears with loudspeakers blasting music, a Muay Thai boxing match, and a beauty pagent.

We found a quiet place with a spectacular view to watch the fireworks. We were in front of a ruin surrounded by the water of a man-made lake. The lake reflected the action of the festival, doubling the silhouettes of people walking through smoke on the other side.

Nearby our staked claim, a jovial group people drank Thai whisky and laughed. One of them asked where Michelle was from and refused to believe her answer. The women whispered and giggled and the men continued to speak to her in Thai. They were a friendly group, offering me a big glass of whisky over and over again until Michelle poked me in the ribs and I finally accepted. Every time I made the mistake of drinking more from my glass, it was promptly refilled. Michelle and I chatted with them in broken English and Thai until the fireworks started. By the end of the night, I'd been offered lots of whisky, seltzer water, fried fishballs, noodles, a better place to sit, and I'd launched my kathrong with a couple of the women in a makeshift ceremony with a large crowd watching.

The fireworks were supposed to be the climax of the festival, but for me it was the ride home. The historic park was a 12 km ride home on a songthaew (a flatbed or pickup truck with rows of seats in the back). In this busy hour, most of the vehicles were packed. The owner of one songthaew motioned for Michelle and I to hang on the back of her truck. I smiled, Michelle grimaced, and we both hopped on.

The crowds also left the park by bus, pickup truck, tuk-tuk, and motorcycle. You wouldn't have guessed there were lines painted on the road by the way drivers zig zagged their way towards home. As our songthaew flew down the road at 50 km/hour, we stood on the edge of the bumper hanging on for dear life. I felt like an extra from the Road Warrior - and let me tell you, the Thai whisky went a long way in fostering my mood. Headlights from the menagerie of speeding vehicles cut through the smoky air like spotlights in an air raid. I swung back and forth on the back as we arced around motorcycles and accidents. Wahoo! I was at one with the moment as a little boy in an amusement park.

(Thankfully, we arrived safely!)

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Vendors

timThe lively market of Sukhothai is full of friendly faces and interesting food.

In the market, you can buy fruit from this woman:

Vegetables from this grocer:

Meat from the butcher:

And later at night, skewered meat:
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A marigold garland rests peacefully on the hand of Buddha. Elephants decorate the base of this historic chedi  in Sukhothai.XXXXSukhothai was the capital of Siam during the 13th and 14th centuries. The historic area of the city was inscribed as a Unesco site in 1991. A Thai child cradles a realistic toy pistol while under the watchful eye of Buddha. A Thai woman sells fruit on street in Sukhothai. A Thai woman sells vegetables on street in Sukhothai.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Over My Head

michelleMaybe the cold I am battling contributed to my being overwhelmed, but my head swam with the sight before me. We had landed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam an hour ago. As our taxi driver navigated through the streets on the way to a hotel, I stared in awe at the swarm of motorcycles before us. To the constant sound of our driver's horn honking, motorbikes zigzagged across our path in an endless stream.

The sidewalks looked like any other Asian country we've visited - outdoor cafes setting up for the dinner crowd, small shops displaying their wares, the familiar street stalls selling local food, and people laughing and conversing in small groups in front of buildings. These things did not overwhelm me. It was the traffic. There was so much of it and never ceasing!

I chuckled nervously, wondering how I was ever going to cross the street once I set out exploring the city. By observing others I thought maybe I could learn a lesson or two before I tried it myself. But unlike other cities I did not see many pedestrians braving the traffic. From the few I saw, I learned I must take it slow, inching my way across the road. Taking slow steps would give drivers enough time to account for my being in their path. Hopefully they would avoid me.

Once I got over the initial shock of the volume of traffic, I settled back to watch motorcycles speed past us. Women dressed fashionably in silk outfits sat upright and proper on their motorbikes, their noses and mouths covered with fabric masks to keep the black fumes out. A family of four whizzed by, all precariously perched on the one small seat. A young girl, still wearing her school uniform, nonchalantly merged her bicycle into the mass of traffic. I gasped as she came dangerously close to a speeding motorbike. She didn't even give it a glance. I realized for her it's just another typical ride home from school.

Sharing the road with the motorbikes are a few cars and trucks, many cyclos (three-wheeled rickshaws), buses, and bicycles. Our driver pulled up to a street known for it's cheap hotels, making it a magnet for backpackers. We pay him the agreed $5.00 and hop out. Immediately I have to face my fears. Our hotel was on the opposite side of the busy road. I looked to Tim for support, but apparently he didn't share my fear for he was already in the middle of the road, weaving in and out of traffic. I took a deep breath and looked for a small space to step into. Tears welled up in my eyes. I was truly overwhelmed by the steady stream of traffic, with no break in sight. I watched an old lady cross the street. She walked slowly and deliberately. The traffic flowed around her like water flowing around a rock in a stream. I followed her example and slowly crossed the street, taking slow, small steps. It seemed counter-intuitive to walk so slowly in the fast traffic. But the drivers could see me, see the pace I was walking, and anticipate my movement so they could navigate their vehicles around me. I felt like I was in the middle of a video game - attempting to avoid all the monsters trying to devour me! I made it to the other side, Tim standing there grinning at me. We both knew we accomplished a small victory - crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh City. top

Secret Service in Saigon

michelleThis morning we woke up to pouring rain - the steady kind of rain that shows no signs of relenting. The kind of wetness that sucks the adventure from you and drives you back into bed. But today was our first full day in Saigon and we were anxious to explore it. Donning the armor of an umbrella and raincoats we ran down the street in search of a taxi.

Our first stop was the Art Museum. The large yellow and white French building whose architecture fascinated us as much as the art on the walls. The building had tall ceilings, large open windows, a spiral marble staircase and an ancient wooden elevator. Tim and I wandered its three floors for hours, stopping occasionally at a window to watch the rain fall and people dart for cover.

The modern art on display depicted scenes of everyday Vietnamese life, its people, and images from the war. Some of the art pieces successfully captured the horrors and suffering of the war in the faces that stared back at me from the canvases. This museum, unlike fancy Western art museums I am used to, was old and worn. Without any air conditioning or humidity control, mildew was slowly creeping around the edges of many pieces.

On the second floor of the museum I heard some commotion near the stairs. Always curious, I wandered over. There, towering over 3 small Vietnamese men, was a huge muscular black man with a distinct American accent. I think his size equaled the other three men put together.

I pretended to be captivated by a small Chinese teapot on display near the commotion รป but I was secretly listening to the ensuing conversation of the foursome:

Vietnamese man: "We could take down this painting if you like." They were looking at a large painting of a heroic figure waving a red flag in one hand and shaking the other hand in a defiant fist. The figure was surrounded by a crowd that looked equally angry, patriotic and eager to fight.

American man: "No, we all know there was a war. No one denies this. You can just leave it as it is." His voice boomed and echoed as it bounced down the halls.

As I listened further I heard tidbits about "the President" and "security". I knew President Clinton was expected in a couple days in a historic visit to Vietnam. Putting two and two together I realized Clinton would be visiting this museum and this guy was security. I chuckled to think here I was in Vietnam, half way across the world from home, but here in the same room was the secret service from Washington, D.C., preparing for the President's arrival. My apartment in Washington, D.C. was only a couple miles from the White House and this felt disturbingly familiar.

The next issue I heard discussed was whether the museum officials had set aside a bathroom for the President to use. It was amusing to hear him struggle to communicate that Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea needed their own private toilet. I had just used the toilet and knew it was dirty and old. I smiled as I imagined this was the toilet the President would use as well.

My lingering over the teapot was starting to attract attention so I moved on. Later, Tim and I watched more secret servicemen lay cables and wires on the ground floor, their size equally as massive as their companions.

President Clinton, welcome to Vietnam! top

Food Chain

timWhat starts in the market:

Ends up eaten by a family in a back alley:

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Dalat, Vietnam

Free Samples

timDalat's cool highland climate is perfect for crops like strawberries, persimmons, cabbage, broccoli, and tea. The vegetables produced here are shipped all over the south of Vietnam and are made locally into many derivative products like dried fruits and jams.

After spending a day touring around the area, Michelle and I took a walk through the market in the center of town - which turned out to be the best way to sample Dalat's specialties. As we walked through the rows of stalls, women offered free samples from all sides.

"Come here, try some Vietnamese tea..."

Once we were lured in to try one free sample, several samples followed, as did an inevitable purchase by us. We tried chewy banana sweets, sugared strawberry candies, dried persimmons, corn candies (not candy corn, but candy that tastes like corn), artichoke tea, shots of strawberry extract syrup, and much more.

Needless to say, we left with a large bag full of goodies. top

A loom in the