Saturday, August 30

New 'Do

I went and had a hair cut in Moscow today. I paid about what I would pay in the States for a good haircut and thankfully this was also a good haircut. I was a bit concerned when the stylist told me he had come from the (night) club to the salon without sleeping and then even more when he told me he was only 22, but no need to fear, I got a great haircut. ... Now if only my eyebrows would grow back in ;-)

Actually, as you can see from this photo (pre-haircut) taken at dinner with some of my "old lady" friends my eyebrows aren't ~that~ terrible.

Wednesday, August 27

The Omnivore's 100

Taken from my friend Kayaksoup, though it appears to have begun over at Very Good Taste

Here’s what to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

Note: I'm adding 4) and 5)
4) Star anything you'd like to try
5) Double Star anything you'd never heard of but after looking up would like to try

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses **
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn or Head Cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam Chowder in Soudough Bowl
33. Salted Lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac
37. Clotted Cream Tea
38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail *
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects *
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more

46. Fugu (AKA pufferfish)*
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal Note: I am such a food snob...
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads *
63. kaolin Note: All I could discover about this is it's a type of clay??
64. Currywurst **
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost or brunost **
I had to look this up, I've actually had it but I know it as "wimp cheese" I love it!!
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu **
77. Hostess Fruit Pie Phew, I'm not that much of a food snob ;)
78. Snail
79. Lapsang Souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom Yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. 3 Michelin Star Tasting Menu *
85. Kobe beef *
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate **
91. Spam I'm loathe to admit this one, but you find it often in Korean fried rice.
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose Harissa **
94. Catfish
95. Mole Poblano
96. Bagel and Lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake *

Wow, out of 100, there are only 17 I haven't tried. I tried to eat bugs, but turns out they don't travel well. You have to eat them fresh. Maybe the next time I'm in Thailand...

So much to say

So little energy to write it up with. First week of school over, check. Like my kids, well most of them, check. Can put faces to names when they're outside of class, err, half check.

Last weekend I went camping and canoeing. It was full of ups and downs, but now writing about it 3 days later, I can say it was great. I had the best night sleep out in the chilly night air all snuggly in my sleeping bag. And I can forget about the SWARMS of mosquitoes and the fact that our "guide" led us about a kilometer past the pick up point which meant about a kilometer of paddling upstream.

We had parent/teacher conferences last night. Last year I had LOADS of parents I think all anxious to meet the new math teacher. Last night I had 16 of about 70 parents show up. It was raining and many of them had been in in the morning for parent coffee, but still, having only 16 makes staying at school for 14 hours that much more painful.

In other news, I had 11 students hand in essays about why they want to travel to Thailand to do community service over February break. I spent all day on the phone confirming that their parents knew about their intentions. Part of the conversation went like this:

Me: "The trip costs $1850..."

All but two parents: "Oh, no problem"...

Me: "Your child is supposed to fund raise a minimum of $850 but we'd like a deposit of $1000 by Friday"

Parents, all but two again, "No problem."

In some ways it's nice, in others, well it feels like I've sold out. But here's a photo from last years "Pie in the Face" fundraiser:


Tuesday, August 19

First Day of 08/09 School Year

And I am super-pooper. One of the Russian teachers says that, though I think when she says it she means super-duper, but I am pooped! We saw all of our classes for 25 minutes each. Normally students go to half of their classes one day, the other half the next for 90 minute blocks.

25 minutes was too short for a lesson, too long for chit chat, but I didn't feel like doing any "get to know you" stuff. So we muddled along. I heard a few times today "I've heard you're really nice" and "My son is so excited to have you; he's heard nothing but good things." I hope I can live up to everyone's expectations.

Also, already as grade level leader for the 11th grade class I've had 2 students approach me for help.

Yep, all in all, it was a good first day.

Bring on the math tomorrow!

Sunday, August 17

So hot!

I am such a heat wuss! It was 31 C here today (roughly 88 F) and I'm roasting. There's no a/c, no breeze, my fan is just blowing around hot air. I'm such a wuss. No way I'm moving to SE Asia or back to Houston or Atlanta. Ugh.

I've had a great weekend. Went to a Russian (as opposed to Georgian) farmers market and bought loads of cheap, in-season produce. Today I made a plum/sour cherry sauce in my crockpot out of the goodies. Last night I went to an expat party of people I'd never met and we got to know each other over vodka and fresh caviar - fresh caviar is sooo good, by the way. Today I had my art from Thailand framed. I payed more than I wanted to, but that's because I picked the most expensive frame... of course. But it was no more than I would have payed in the states.

And then I've worked a bit too. But really it's too hot to do anything but take another shower. Meh.

When will I learn

not to wax my own eyebrows??? Seriously. I did the under part just fine and then decided to take "just a little" off the top. That never works. Now I have airplane landing strips for eyebrows. I hope they grow back fast...

Friday, August 15

I hope this isn't real

Go watch this horrible online dating videa/plea for an ex-girlfriend to return:

Randy's Message

I think my favorite line is "I'm living with Corey and Janice and it f*ckin' sucks. Will you please bring my truck and our house back?" Or when he offers that they use her sister as a surrogate so that she doesn't get any fatter. Whoa.

Thursday, August 14

Not going to keep me down

I decided to try and keep up the photo of the day project. Hopefully a friend from Laos will be sending me photos which will account for a few missing days. Friday night when I returned to Moscow Tyler took a photo of me with my new art:

However, I wasn't in any (that I know of) from Saturday - Wednesday of this week. So I can go back and find some images depicting what I did those days:

Saturday 129/365 Took the new hires to Mega Mall
Sunday 130/365 Went to the rynok, cooked a ton
Monday 131/365 Went into school with many of my library books (didn't need to be there)
Tuesday 132/365 Business Lunch at Goodman's
Wednesday 133/365 First day of work, dinner with vodka and pickles with bree and deem

I decided to pick up the project again today. I shouldn't let the mugger ruin my year of photos. So Carol took one of me this evening:


The t-shirt makes me look like I've added 20 pounds since Friday's picture, but that's not true (thank goodness!), it's just the shirt. Though I should move away from Carol's delicious cookies ASAP!

Tuesday, August 12

In which Lonely Planet responds

I sent an email to Lonely Planet about all the crime in Vang Vieng. They mention pickpocketing in their guides as an "annoyance happening by other tourists." So I wrote that it has escalated to way more than an annoyance and that I was definitely mugged by a Laos man, not another tourist. The response amused me, especially the part I put in bold:

Hi Emily

Thanks for taking the time to contact us and I'm sorry to ehar of your experience in Vang Vieng. It certainly sounds like it's changed since I was last there around five years ago.

I've forwarded your comments on to the commissioning editor of the guidebook so that they can be taken on board when it's next updated. They'll also ensure that your email is forwarded to the authors before they begin their research and between them they'll try and work out how better to highlight this issue in the next edition.

Readers' feedback is a great help to us in keeping our books relevant and up-to-date, which in turn helps out other travellers [sic] who use our guidebooks.

Thanks again Andrea.



I totally appreciate that they wrote back and hope that they do warn people not to go to Vang Vieng with anything valuable. And maybe I shouldn't point out that the guy called me Andrea and misspelled travelers, but I wouldn't be TravelingEm if I didn't support the correct spelling!

And speaking of the name Andrea, that's one of my cousins names. She pronounces it "Ann-dree-ah." However, when she got married in the church she's been attending since childhood in small town Ohio, you know the kind of place where everyone knows your name, the priest called her "Ahn-dray-ah" throughout the whole wedding. Does this mean she's not actually married?

Monday, August 11

Back in my Kitchen

I've returned to 20 degree (C) temperatures in Moscow. It's cool and perfect, except it's already gray rather than sunny. But I've been super inspired to cook since it's been so long. I busted out the crockpot and made a yummy mixed bean chili. Yes, I had success with beans! I just threw all these various types of beans - kidney, baby lima, green lentils, garbonzos, black-eyed - all dried, into the crockpot and let it go. After a few hours on high I added a chopped onion, some garlic, fajita seasoning, oregano, smoked paprika, salt and soy sauce. It's so good!

I was also in the mood to stuff peppers, so I tried that this morning in the crock pot as well. However, that didn't work so well. They ended up way too mushy. And even though I'd added loads of spices, fresh and dried, they just had very little flavor. Oh well, live and learn. They're not bad enough to throw away, just not necessarily good enough to look forward to.

Saturday, August 9

Back and Busy

I made it back ok last night with 100 baht (~$3) to spare. And just in time! Claire reported to me that she interuppted someone ransacking our room. A new arrival to the farm lost almost $1,000!!

Also, I got word from my insurance company that the travel insurance covers costs regarding bodily injury, or so it seems. Looks like I'll be forking out the dough for a new camera. Le sigh.

In other news, I'm 61% Texan:

You are 61% REAL Texan!!

You're mostly texan. You know your Mexican food, state heritage and are probably slightly politically aware. You can probably pronounce Kukendall, Manchaca and Boerne correctly. Go you.

How Texan Are You?

Wednesday, August 6

On the way home

I leave tomorrow morning for Nong Khai in Thailand. From there I'll catch the overnight train to Bangkok and then I fly out of there at 11 a.m. back to Moscow via Helsinki.

I'm in a better mood today aided by the fact that I slept for 10 hours having not been able to sleep at all the night of the mugging. I've bicycled into town and saw the police. It appeared that they have done nothing but watched TV since the last time I saw them. They gave me a copy of the report I filled out which I will try to file with the insurance company when I return.

So last update until I make it back to Moscow.

You know what sucks the most, I think this pretty much ruined my picture of the day until I'm 30 project.


Tuesday, August 5

Laos Tourist Police

This morning Mr. T, the owner of the organic farm took me on a drive. I was hoping that maybe the theifs had thrown out my math books and I would find them on the side of the road. Slim chance I know, but worth looking I thought.

So we drove all the way down to town and then he took me to the tourist police office. There were about 3 police officers sitting on the couch watching HBO, 1 was behind a desk. He motioned me to sit down on a chair designed for a 5 year old, so that I was lower then he was - good thing I'm taller than most Laos people.

He hardly asked what happened, mostly wanted to know what was taken. Finally I was given a form to fill out, name, DOB, passport number and then on the second page a list of what was taken. It was then that I started crying, just barely. And he asks "Where are you from?" I'm choked up so I don't respond, so he repeats the question slower, "Where ... are ... you ... from?"

"America, but I live in Russia."

Once I've listed everything that was taken and convince him that I actually was mugged, he then asks me, "What do you want us to do?"

"Umm, catch the robber. Get me back my math books. I'd really like my memory cards from my cameras, oh and the cameras would be nice too."

I hear from him, "There are 5 witnesses."


Mr. T translates, "They would like to FIND witnesses."

Then he goes to talk to his boss to determine if my story is worth investigating. Then I get to talk to the boss. Mr. T who was with me and had been translating a bit, didn't get to come. Small room, very smoky. Man behind the desk and another sitting on a platform made of wood, seems to be where they'd nap. But this man actually asks me details about what happened.

Then he tells me they're going to call the heads of the villages to see if they know who took my things. I'm supposed to go back tomorrow morning, where they'll either give me my stuff or give me a report for the insurance. Maybe this will teach me to start getting travel insurance... Off to check to see if my credit card company does provide insurance for travel purchased as I'd assumed before I left. Finger's crossed.

Monday, August 4

What it feels like to get mugged

Riding home on our bikes in the rain was bad enough. It was dark and I had my flashlight. Claire had on her headlamp. We're about 10 minutes away from the farm. I say, "Person walking on the right." Then the person turns and lifts his rain poncho and moves towards me. Then I realize he's grabbing my bag from my basket. I scream at him. "NO!!!" Claire has dropped her bike. I've thrown mine down and kicked off my shoes. I'm chasing him - obviously not thinking. Then a motor bike comes out of no where. I think "Oh, good, help." But no, he jumps on the back and I watch him ride away with both of my cameras - this is the first night that I've brought out my digital SLR because we were going to teach the monks - something we didn't even do because of the rain. Also in the bag my wallet, the 600,000 kip I'd withdrawn for the rest of my journey, and my fucking math that I've been working on for 4 weeks. All the pictures that I haven't downloaded yet.

Oh and as to how I feel.

Pissed Off
Really bloody pissed off because it seems to be very planned. As if they passed us, saw us cycling, then turned around and set it up because the motor bike came out of no where and we didn't see anyone else out or walking in the rain.


More Monday Adventures

It's Monday again. I just wrote about how I went caving last Monday. Today we choose another adventure, this time, it was kayaking. We see people do it from our river side bar location and I've heard people talk about how many times their kayak tipped, but I didn't really think it would happen to me. Until it did.

The river is moving pretty quick (rainy season strikes again), but my life jacket was strapped on tight. What I didn't anticipate was getting stuck under the kayak as we rushed past bushes. The whole reason we tipped over was because of the freaking bushes. Claire and I had ended up heading towards them and we were frantially pedaling trying to get away from them and then as we headed into them, we leaned to avoid being hit in the face by them, but we leaned too far and then we were in the water. Under the kayak. When I got out and my head was above water I was terrified because I still couldn't breath as I was choking on the water I'd inhaled. Claire and I were holding on to the boat, trying to keep our feet up to avoid hitting them on buried bolders and we made it to one of the guides. He helped us flip our boat over and we managed to climb back in. We even caught up to our water bottle and rescued that. It was terrifying. But that was just one small part of the 2 hour journey. The rest was gorgeous and we managed to stay in the rest of the time even through the "rapids."

Another of our 5 boats flipped and that one was even scarier. They were also near a huge rock and bushes - stripped bushes, lots of sharp painful sticks. They were trying to hold onto their boat but they were being rushed by the current into the bushes. The guides were screaming "Swim! Swim! Let go of the boat!" Finally they heard and did. They swam to one of the guide's boats and hung on. The other guide had pulled over and "parked" his boat on a small bank. I'm not sure how he got there, but he made it to their boat and swam it back. Meanwhile, Claire and I and two of the other guys, unable to paddle upstream had "parked" ourselves in a slower part of the river by holding on to more of the aforementioned stripped bushes.

Did I mention it was fun? Because really it was, it wasn't scary the whole time. We had moments where we were all splashing each other and laughing at Hoon and Min because they both lost their shoes in their escapade.

The craziness will continue in a different form. Tonight we're heading to the local wat to teach the novice monks' English class. Must remember not to touch the monks. (Um, last week I tried to shake one's hand before I remembered... embarassing!)

Sunday, August 3

Those vs These

I went back to English class on Thursday and worked on "What are these/those?" It was when I was holding up my Chako's (sandals) to say "What are these?" that I had to improvise on the lesson. The students responded "They are shoes." And I added, "These shoes smell!!!" Have I mentioned rainy season yet? It rained for almost 48 hours non-stop and hence my shoes never really get a chance to dry out. I gave them a shampoo soak and brought them into my room to dry out under the ceiling fan.

Now, we've finally had about 30 dry hours and my shoes don't smell as bad... I'm sure you're all relieved.

Speaking of bugs...

I'm not taking any anti-malarials. I decided relatively last minute to come to Laos. Then I was just too busy in Bangkok to be bothered going to a travel clinic. So I figured I'd just use bug spray, even though I hate it. However, even with teh spray it turns out I'm pretty tasty to bugs and my legs and ankles are getting bit to hell. So I've stopped poisoning myself and the environment and am just hoping that it's true when everyone says there's only malaria up in the jungle of Laos...

A Tropical Bug's Life

I have encountered some of the biggest bugs I have ever seen staying out on the farm.

The farm has housing scattered all around and I'm staying in the "Mulberry Tree House," the furthest lodging point from the cafe/office hub of the farm. You get there by following the main path past the dorm, then the bamboo house, then the "Fruit House," over a bridge, past the goats, then the geese and finally you arrive. However, once you pass the bridge you're in the dark with the moon providing the only light - and in rainy season, that means you've got no light to guide you.

So those first few nights, I was walking trying desperately not to hear Claire's voice repeating the story of how when she first arrived and was being given a tour, they came across a cobra in the path. Yes, you read right a COBRA! Here's an excerpt of the conversation going on in my head...

Mind: "Stop worrying. Cobras are tucked away under a rock at night."

Self: "How do you know that?! We don't know that..."

Mind: "It doesn't matter anymore. See we've made it back to the tree house light. Now we should collect everything we need for our shower so we only have to make one trip."

The toilet block is about 10 meters away from the rooms, which is fine, except when it's raining. Have I mentioned it's rainy season?? So I gather my stuff and head off and decide maybe I'll shake things up and use the other shower, just for kicks.

Outloud: "Holy shit!"

Mind & Self, in unison: "That's the biggest spider I've ever seen!"

Outloud: "Fucking hell."

Mind: "I wish I had my camera."

Self: "It's not something we normally bring to the shower..."

After staring in admiration for a bit, I headed to the shower - my original shower. The entire toilet block has an open ceiling, so when my new friend, the Unruly Redhead appears I say, "URH, do you see that?" "See what?... Oh my god!" "I know! Crazy right?" "Ayuuuuck..." "What's happening? Is it on you?" "No, it's eating one of those huge grass hoppers alive!"

Now, I'm rushing through my shower, this I have to see. Then I hear from the URH "Oh no..." "What?" "I can't see it anymore. I don't know where it went?" "Is it on you?," I ask again. "I don't think so..." I emerge and give her a quick scan. She's spider free as far as I can tell. Knowing me and my pea sized bladder, I open the door to the WC before I head back to my room. "URH, I think I may have found the missing spider," I say jumping back out. But on closer inspection we determine that this is a different, skinnier, but same diameter spider.

I use the other toilet and return to my room for my camera. When I get back the URH and I search for teh spider. In the meantime, I scare a praying mantis (at least 4 inches long) into its web.

When my insect voyerism session has ended I head back to my room only to find another huge spider right next to my door.

Mind: "What is up with the gigantic spiders here?"

Self: "So I'm not the only one freaked out?"

Mind: "No, but I'm still sure we'll be fine..."

And sure enough after a week I've yet to find myself attacked by anything bigger than a mosquito.

Friday, August 1


Monday's are generally the volunteer's "day off." Even though the mojito bar is still open there are no evening activities with the students, such as English class or dance class. So five of us set off an our rented bicycles to explore some of the caves in the area. Within 100 meters my bike broke, or I should say my second bike broke as I had already exchanged my first bike because only the back break worked and just barely at that. But with the second bike it would make noises like it was trying to change gears - but it's a fixed gear bike - and then the chain would stop moving all together. So I took it back and got my first bike back.

It was an easy 7 km cycle on the "highway." We were passed by only a few cars and motor bikes and the cows kept to the sides of the road, mostly. Then we reached the turnoff for the caves. This was tougher cycling down a rocky, muddy road, but beautiful, past rice fields. It led us to the river where the bridge only had 2 half-missing boards. We continued along an irrigation ditch, throughout which children were frolicking in a way universal to 5 year olds.

Finally we reached the first cave. You pay 10,000 kip (roughly $1.50) and they lend you a flashlight. There are no signs, no guid, just a path to follow. We made it inside and the cave went really deep. It was dark, full of stalagtites and bats and was everything a cave should be.

Next we headed back along the irrigation ditch to a second cave. This time only 3 of us went in - the other 2 decided caves weren't really their thing. Same thing, 10,000 kip, torch, and a longer walk to the cave. More climbing to get in and immediately we hear the rushing water. We go in maybe 150 meters before we hit the rushing stream. I wade into my knees and we decide it'd be too dangerous to try to cross and the water is flowing so fast, so we return. There the guy who took our money says that if we'd crossed there would have been a small shelf we could have climbed on. The water would have reached somewhere between our hips and breasts. Did I mention how fast it was flowing? But apparently in dry season you can go back about a kilometer!