Wednesday, July 30

Volunteering on the Farm


There are many ways to volunteer on the farm. One of them is to work at the Mulberry Mojito Bar. I love meeting the people as the start their journeys. The comments "Wow, it's really fast..." or "Maybe we should have gotten the life jackets..." Um, yeah. But my favorite thing is just chatting the people up, see where they've come from, how they ended up in Laos. It's been fun. Except for yesterday when it rained all day and we didn't have any customers. Or today when it's been really humid and slow all morning. But even then, I get to sit and read or work on math, so all in all, I've got a good life here.

Friday, July 25


And now I've made it to the last destination of my trip, Vang Vieng, Laos. I'm staying on an organic mulberry farm. It looks like in the evenings I'll be helping to teach English classes and during the day I can either hang out in the town or I could help out on the farm. I'll probably do a bit of both. Hot and humid here too even though I'm at a higher elevation. It's really beautiful here surrounded by green, green mountains and the Mekong River is running right past the farm.

The town is a bit of a tourist hang out, many, many girls walking around town in bikinis like they were in Panama City or something. I'm becoming an old, modest fuddy-duddy; I just want to yell at them all to put some clothes on! But the farm is about 4 km outside of town and feels very isolated and very Laotian. I arrived around 5 last night and then after a quick shower I immediately went off to the first class of the night. It was full of young children, and we all know how much I love teaching young children. But it was actually fun and then the following class was full of teenagers, much more my speed and the class seemed to fly by.

I walked from one class to the other with one of the Laotian teachers. As we walked by little "restaurants" - open air huts with tables really - I was asking what each served. The first was a noodle soup place, a meal I recognize and love. The second had grills set up and I asked what they made. "Dog," she replied. I thought maybe I misunderstood and she'd really said duck, but no, upon reconfirming it was a dog restaurant. I've tried many, many meats in my life ostrich, deer, elk, reindeer, horse, eel, alligator, raw beef, raw oysters, all without blinking an eye. But confronted with the option to eat dog, this might actually be one restaurant I pass on.

Thursday, July 24

Tuk-tuk, bus, tuk-tuk, bus, tuk-tuk, arrived

It was a long day of travel today. I went from my quiet stay in the Mut Mee Guesthouse on the banks of the Mekong River in Nong Khai, Thailand and crossed the border into Laos. I had changed money back into US dollars to pay the $35 visa fee. I'd had 4 visa sized photos made and had read how to best do the visa process in several guide books.

In theory it was easy enough, take a tuk-tuk to the Friendship Bride which crosses the Mekong and takes you into Laos. The first stop you get your passport stamped saying that you left Thailand. Then you catch a bus that actually takes you across the bridge into Laos. There you fill out a form, hand over your passport, photos and money and get your visa. What they don't tell you about is the very long line of foreigners cutting in front of you (especially the older men who are just there on a visa run so they can stay in Thailand with their girlfriends), a problem exacerbated with each new bus arriving, and then there's the fact that there's only one window to go to, but in the end, I got it taken care of and finally got to enter Laos with my new visa filling yet another page in my passport. And then you had to wait for another tuk-tuk to actually bring you into Vientiane, the biggest city in Laos. I shared it with a kiwi girl and two very nice (looking) French guys. I was the last to get dropped off at the bus station and there I caught the public bus to Vang Viang.

First though I had some noodle soup. And it was then I noticed there was something wrong with my left arm. It was shaking, so much that it was hard to use the chopsticks. Was I afraid of being on my own? I didn't think so, but perhaps. Had I pinched a nerve carrying all my bags, getting heavier by the day as I pick up more and more stuff, that seems more likely. So I decide not to worry. I catch the bus and have to laugh each time my window slams shut. Finally the bus "steward" takes pity on me and shoves a piece of paper in the window to help keep it open. And it works and is great, until it starts to pour rain. Overall though, the 4 hour trip was pleasant and the scenery kept getting better and better as we wound further into the hills. Finally we arrive at a teeny bus station and the foreigners exclaiming "this is really it?" I'm so excited that I jump off with my bags... leaving my damned metal water bottle sitting on the seat. Why am I always losing it?

Um, Nate, can you bring me another one when you come out in September?

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Tuesday, July 22

Present Moment

I am actually writing this post real time. Yesterday I left Ao Nang where I spent 4 rainy days with my friend Carol and her family after her daughter Leah's wedding to a Thai man, Tok. I have an entry to eventually post date about the wedding.

But in the short, I didn't like Ao Nang very much, but that could just be because I'm not much of a beach girl and the weather was shit. We tried going out to the Phi Phi islands but had to turn back because the weather was so bad it was creating 3 meter swells. And of course, in the rain, we wouldn't have been able to see anything snorkeling.

As I left yesterday, it was blue skies and sunny, of course. But I flew to Bangkok and killed time, luggage in tow, by heading to the nice air-conditioned movies. I saw the disturbing Dark Knight - the new batman movie with Heath Ledger as the joker. Creepy. But good.

After the movie it was off to the train station for my over-nighter to Nong Khai, where I'm writing this now. I had heard/read mixed reviews of Nong Khai. But so far I'm enjoying it. A laid back town along the banks of the Mekong River.

Friday I'll head up to Laos where I'm spending 2 weeks volunteering at an organic Mulberry farm. I think they'll have me teaching English rather than pulling weeds, but it'll be nice to be settled.

Post Dating - Even More

I've been transferring from my journal back to my blog in fits and starts. So if you're a regular reader, I'm talking to you Mickey, you may want to go back to the beginning of July.

Updated July 22nd, 5 or so more post-dated posts added.

Saturday, July 19

Time for the Truth

My traveling companion for the last 2 weeks left for Hong Kong today. I've been traveling with Ashish, my college boyfriend. I didn't want to write about it because I was afraid we'd get back together and it would hurt William's feelings*. However, in the first few hours, it was clear to us that we aren't what the other wants and the reasons we broke up 7 years ago are still valid. So instead of hot sex**, it has been comfortable companionship. And in the end it has helped me become clearer in my mind as to what I want in a relationship. Now, if someone could just tell me where to find it, that'd be great... Though I'm beginning to think that if I just go to where I want to live, I can find all the happiness I seek...

*I'm also trying to let go of the responsibility for his feelings. I certainly don't want to hurt him intentionally but this is still my blog for my ramblings, right???

**Maybe being in Thailand I'll find the life of a monk most appropriate, except I don't think they let girls be monks.

Friday, July 18

(Historical) Fiction

I've been reading a ton, as usual. I started off in Bali with "The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn." I just finished "The Other Boleyn Girl" (no, I haven't seen the movie yet). Both were really good, though they portrayed Anne in completely different ways. And I've become a bit obsessed with Tudor history. I traded "The Other..." for "The Constant Princess," both written by Phillipa Gregory, but this one presents the life of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife; the one Anne Boleyn convinced him to divorce so that he could marry her. The stories are so fascinating. I think when I get back to Moscow, I'll need to look for some non-fiction of Henry VIII's wives because if half of what's these stories say is true, then I no longer need to ready trashy romance for my fix.

Also, very randomly in Bali I borrowed "Code Noir" from the pension which was a sequel to I don't know what, but it was a bizarre sci-fi. And this is a reminder to try and find the first and subsequent volumes at my school library.

I also read "The Alchamist" on this trip, brought along from my book shelf along with "The Secret Diary" for the reason it was small and light and while not historical fiction, was also really good and a very quick read. It has me on the look out for omens.

Also, I've got "The Omnivores Dilema" with me which is not at all fiction, but also very good and relavent. And always makes me think of the great friends who gave it to me :)

Wednesday, July 16

Dr. Horrible

Thank you, again, Joss Wheadon. A musical about an aspiring bad guy, played by Neil Patrick Harris with an arch nemisis, read good guy, Nathon Fillion (remember Mal from Firefly!). Did I mention musical? Did I mention funny? Yes! A musical in 3 acts aired this week. Don't miss it!

Dr. Horrible!

Saturday, July 12

Bali and KL financially considered

My six days in Bali were spent in the hilly, rice padi town of Ubud, an "artists community." I arrived after dark so I couldn't see much, all I knew was the my room occupied the top floor of a bungalow and had a 4 poster bed covered in mosquito netting. I awoke to very loud birds chirping saying to my tired self, "looook, I'm tired." The surroundings ended up being stunning. I really was in paradise, all for $32/night. 3 course meals plus alcohol all seemed a bargain at around $15, massage for only $8-$10 then include taxi rides to/from the airport and the day out to the wedding in Seminyak and it all adds up, rather quickly.

KL (Kuala Lumpur) in contrast is a huge city, though not nearly as crowded as Moscow. She's full of tourists and immigrants. People of all different colors and languages. Almost everyone we encountered spoke English, same in Bali. We stayed in the fancy pants, Hotel Maya, which was a luxurious treat. Street food was abundant, we ate several meals for 10-20 ringit, that's $3.5 - $7 for two people! No alcohol, but it was too hot to drink. And granted I spent much of the time having stomach cramps, but it was yummy. Even our most expensive Korean restaurant meal was only $20 for 2! KL bills itself as a shopping town, but I'm not convinced the quality and prices are much different from Bangkok, but it was fun.

Thursday, July 10

Next Stop...

101/365 (self-portrait)
Originally uploaded by Traveling Em

Well, the first part of my vacation had ended and it was almost a week in paradise. I've left all that behind and headed to a big city. Lots of hustle and bustle here. We ventured out for street food last night and I've been paying for that since 6 this morning, missing out on the hotel's insanely huge buffet breakfast. Hopefully tomorrw I'll be feeling better. But now it's off to China Town for some shopping and then to a piano concert tonight. I'm assuming you can figure out where I am from the photo, yes?

Photo from Paradise

Originally uploaded by Traveling Em

If you ever need a week of sheer bliss, I highly, highly recommend Bali. Highly.

Dress courtesy of Minnie :-)

Tuesday, July 8

So far

I'm in paradise. It is gorgeous. And thus far I've had 7 hours of massage in a week. Not so bad. More later, I'm off for a reflexology session, but just thought I'd "pop" in.

Monday, July 7


I met many friends in Bali, old and new. We decided to take a day trip to the NE coastal town of Amed to go snorkeling. The first spot we attempted to snorkel had really rough, choppy water breaking hard on a rocky (big grapefruit sized rocks) beach. After about 10 minutes in murky, scary water seeing no fish, though the boys think they saw a 4 foot shark, we gave up. As I struggled to get on shore fighting the crashing waves, trying to find a solid footing and my balance, my mom's first wedding band* that I've worn every day for the past 10 years slipped off my finger made skinnier in the water something I know happens to me from my swimming, but I've always managed to push it back up my finger... in a pool. Fighting the waves I couldn't keep track of it and now it's forever lost to Davy Jones's locker. I still rub my thumb against my ringer finger for it, unable to believe I really lost it.

*I ended up with the ring as one day my senior year in HS my mom was bit by a spider. She woke my dad up in the middle of the night and made him cut the ring off as her finger was swelling around it. It was a very thin, simple band of white gold. After it was cut, she upgraded to bigger and shinier, but had the ring fixed and gave it to me when I graduated HS.

Big huge sigh.

Friday, July 4

Heaven in a Hand Basket

My "essential question" for my 5 week vacation was originally "How much massage can a person have in 5 weeks?" After today, I think it may be "How much massage can a person have in 1 day?" For 70 USD over a span of 4 hours, this was my day:
  1. A driver picked me up from my pension and drove me to Verona Spa
  2. 2 girls waxed my legs simultaneously, making for the fastest full leg/bikini wax I've ever had
  3. A full body oil massage (just 1 masseuse)
  4. A body salt scrub
  5. A soak in a tub full of flower petals and essential oils enjoyed with a cup of ginger tea and fresh fruit.
  6. A facial
  7. Mani/pedi
  8. Shampoo
  9. Conditioning treatment with 20 minute scalp massage
  10. Blow Dry (optional)
It was only as I was blissfully enjoying my walk home that I realized my room key was no longer in my pocket. Even as I had put it into my pocket this morning I thought "this pocket is too shallow for this big key," but did I move it??? Those of you who know me, know this is very typical of me, the losing things.

Not to fret, as I was in Bali, I continued on my walk to an organic juice cafe where I had a lovely unsweetened lassi and a seared tofu salad. Then I returned to Verona and they didn't have it. The people at Nick's Pension got me a new one and two days later Verona called to say they had the key.

I love it when things work out in the end.

Thursday, July 3

July 3rd, several plane flights later

It's dark out. I can't really see my surroundings at Nick's Pension in Ubud, Bali, but I have the feeling of that I've made the right decision. There are stars here, lightening bugs, frogs and crickets. It's wonderful.

Early Morning

Smoke alarm went off at 5:19 this morning. Naked, I sniffed for smoke, smelling none I took the time to put on some clothes, grab my camera and passport before heading into the empty, smoke-free hallway. I heard a man down in the lobby explaining there was a "beep, beep, beep" noise. He came back up with only a towel around his waist explaining the guard down stairs was only a downstairs guard and wouldn't come up to check it out. Several more people had emerged from their rooms, most barely clad. I'd wake up at 5 every morning to see some of the tall, lanky men who emerged in boxer briefs ;) The toweled man joined a toweled Thai woman as one of the other men finally took apart the smoke detector and we all went back to bed... only for another one to go off 10 minutes later.

Wednesday, July 2

How to fly Business Class

I have flown business class far more often than is right for a person under 30. I have never paid for business class and only a few of those times did I use my miles. I thought I'd share what I've learned.

When I check in I always ask if a flight is over sold. If it is and I can afford to miss the flight, I ask if they are looking for volunteers. An airline would much rather upgrade people than have to give away free flight vouchers and if you're on the volunteer list, they may upgrade you instead as a "thank you" for volunteering. If at all possible, earn status with an airlines frequent flier program. For several years I had "Premier" status with United's Milage Plus program. This meant on two occassions when I flight was over sold, they upgraded me without my asking on over sold flights.

If you can't afford to miss the flight, pay attention to what's happening. This happened to me most recently in Helsinki. I knew economy was over sold, I was told as much when I tried to get out of seat 47J - middle in the back. (I tried the getting on the list trick, but they'd already requested volunteers.) So I sat near the check-in desk and watched. Sure enough, one of the women from behind the desk approached a couple sitting near me. She asked if they were sitting together and then said, "Let me see if I can get you some better seats." She returned with two business class tickets. I then approached the desk and said, "If you're still looking for seats, I'd be happy to give up mine." She brushed me off. So I kept watching and then one of the men (very handsome) came from behind the desk and again approached a couple who also ended up in business class. When he came out again, I approached him and said "Are you only looking for couples? Because I'd really like to move up. I promise to fly Finnair from here on out." And sure enough he took my ticket and after several tense minutes he came back to me and my 47J had turned into 2C. Here I am enjoying my preflight champagne:


I'll tell you, there is nothing better than being able to lay down and sleep on a long flight.

Tuesday, July 1

Where Do I Want?

(Again, back dated)

The title of this post started "What Do I Want?" but as I created the list, I realized it was a list of geography, not my own wants. So here goes:

  • Good public radio (I was listening to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" while writing the list)
  • Access to local, organic produce
  • Be able to walk out of my house and to my local neighborhood non-chain cafe, yarn store, movie store, ...
  • Local access to hiking in hills
  • A like minded community
  • Micro-Breweries!
  • My own garden, compost pile and worm bin
  • Diverse population
  • Access to ethnic ingredients including chipotle chilis, rice noodles, green curry paste and rooster sauce

Who do I want to be?

  • Teacher
  • Department Head
  • Gardner
  • Wife
  • Mother??

What else?

  • A masters in math
  • phD in mathematics education??

Am I Crazy?

(Written in my journal and post dated here for the internet world)

Here I am on my way to many places I've never been and I left all the guide books at home, intentionally. The more I travel the less necessary they seem. Better to just wing it, no? Maybe not, we'll see. I certainly read many chapters out of the guide books before I left and hundreds of Trip Advisor reviews and in the end, as always, I wnet with my instincts. I'm starting with 1 night in Bangkok, a city I liked in 2005. I wrote down how to get from BKK to Suk 11 Hostel, also where I stayed in 2005, via the airport bus and that's it. I'm excited.

Is this really my life?

Also written July 1st in my journal and back dated here.

A driver picked me up from my 2 bedroom apartment in Moscow. As we sat for an hour in traffic I looked around at a mostly non-descript city. The roads are crowded with dusty trucks who cough out black clouds each time they move. I see skyscrapers and concrete apartment blocks, old and new. There's Ikea, Auchon, I could be anywhere in the world. If that's the case why am I in Moscow? I have a job that I love, students to actually teach, but can't I have this elsewhere?