December 2002 Archives

Broadway Days & Nights

I spent most of the day today with Kenley taking in the sights in New York around Broadway and Central Park. Our first stop was to see the afternoon matinee of La Boheme at the Broadway Theatre. I think this was the first time I ever saw an opera, and I really liked it. Of course the amazing sets and English subtitles helped.

After the show we walked through snow-covered Central Park and visited Lincoln Center before having a delicious dinner (which included the famous pomogranate margaritas) at Rosa Mexicanos.

Just seeing one show wasn't enough, so after dinner we saw Forbidden Broadway, a campy spoof of broadway shows in the style of San Frabcisco's Beach Blanket Babylon, but without the big hats. The rest of the night we walked around Times Square and marveled at all of the people and the lights and the tall buildings (how touristy!)

Visas and Monuments

If I ever write a book called "Getting a Thai Visa the Easy Way", the first chapter will be about Washington. Today I sailed in, turned in my receipt, and had my multiple entry visa in my hands in 30 seconds. Such a different experience than the stuggle in Vientiane and the additional hassle of getting the "multiple" part in Bangkok after I returned.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at lunch at my favorite coffee shop in DC - Soho Coffee, and then a long walk downtown, visiting the Smithsonian Castle, Washington Monument, White House, Lincoln Memorial, and Jefferson Memorial (with the latter being my all-time favorite).

Then it was a quick ride on the Metro to Silver Springs, where my friend Vinh picked me up and drove me to New York. I will be here for a few days visiting friends and seeing the sights, then its back to San Francisco for New Years.

An Immigration Story

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I leave early tomorrow AM to DC from Charlotte, so tonight my family and I drove down to Charlotte to spend the night. We had dinner at an awesome little Cuban restaurant where the food was great and so was the sangria.

The hostess (who also looked like she was in charge of the place) chatted with us a bit after dinner. She was born in Nicaragua, but was sent over to the US by her mother when she was a young girl. Her mother owned a clothing factory and two houses in Nicaragua when the Sandinistas took over in the 80s. They took one of her houses ("Why does one person need two houses?" they asked) and took control of her factory. The government supplied the fabric to the factory and took the finished clothing as well.

Since all of the fruits of the mother's hard work were taken from her, she started sending her children to the US one by one. When they were all there, she joined them and requested asylum. Of course she came to the US with nothing, since she had to leave everything behind. Otherwise she wouldn't have been able to leave the country.

It was a riches-to-rags story. The mother works in a factory now, but is no where close to owning it. Her childeren work in a restaurant. We asked the girl if her mother was glad she came over. She didn't really answer us, making us think that she wasn't really all that happy. But we still got the impression that after losing everything she had, she was glad to know that at least what she had now would always be hers.

American Christmas

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I have been transported into a Hallmark Christmas special. "The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful..."

Usually from the front balcony of my parent's house in North Carolina I have a wonderful view of the surrounding wooded mountains dotted with cute little farmhouses. But today all I see is the snow being whipped past the window by the howling wind.

Safe inside, the fireplace warms the room where this morning my family and I sat next to the decorated Christmas tree and opened the presents that we had bought for each other. We followed that with a big breakfast and for the rest of the afternoon we just lounged around the house, glancing up every now and then to look through the windows at the falling snow outside.

Tonight, though, the "traditional" Christmas was ended, as we ventured out into the winter weather to watch "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers". We never made it to our big traditional Christmas dinner either. After the filling breakfast and the popcorn and cokes at the theatre, we settled for roast beef sandwiches. Not so Hallmark.

But soon the warm and fuzzy American Christmas scene returned. After eating we headed downstairs where my Dad had set up a screen. For the next few hours we watched old slides of family camping trips, of christenings, of dogs and cats long gone. It was a little bit odd to see pictures of my parents when they were my age, and pictures of my Grandparents when they were my parents' age.

And so that was the Towns' Christmas 2002 with traditions old and new. I hope everyone else out there is having a happy Holiday Season as well... be it Hallmark or not. May we someday have true Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All.

Another Visa Already?

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Of my long list of things to do while I am in the US, one of the most important is getting another Non-Immigrant Visa. The visa I got in Laos will expire this month, and the International Affairs Office at school was afraid they wouldn't have enough time to process the Work Permit before the visa expired. (I can't believe it has been almost 3 months since I was in Laos. Zoooom!)

So after spending the weekend in San Francisco, I made a quick stop in Washington, DC to visit the Thai Embassy. My friend Tom was nice enough to pick me up at Dulles, put me up for the night, drive me to the Embassy this morning and then take me to National to fly out to North Carolina this afternoon.

Luckily, the visa process in DC was much smoother and easier than in Vientiane. The air was cool, the line non-existant. I filled out the paperwork and handed it over with the fee, my photos, and my passport and was done with it.

In general, my time at the Embassy was reflective of my entire time in the US so far. After struggling for months to communicate, to get around, to find what I need, everything here is easy for me.

I am also noticing how rich America is. Granted I was in San Francisco and Northern Virginia, two of the more wealthy areas of the country. But even still everyone seemed to be wearing the latest fashions from the hottest designers and retail companies. Everyone was driving shiny brand new cars with all the extras. Everyone lived in palatial estates with so many rooms filled with nice furniture.

Of course, again, it is all relative. My friends and family are mostly "American middle class", but compared to what I have seen in Asia, they are all millionares. I just hope they all appreciate what they are lucky enough to have.

Back to San Francisco

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Walking around in a bit of a fog might be expected on a visit to San Francisco. But this time the fog has been in my head due to a little jet lag from the trip from Bangkok yesterday.

I left San Francisco several months ago, after living here for almost four years. So, in addition to trying to stay dry and warm (I miss hot and humid Bangkok), most of my time on this part of my trip will be spent visiting friends I have not seen since I left. Not much exciting news there, but I am sure I will be glad to spend time with those closest to me.

Kowloon

I started the morning feeling very ill and I ended up spending most of the day in bed. Luckily though, I recovered enough to join Todd for a sightseeing and shopping trip across the harbor to Kowloon tonight.

And what a perfect end to our time in Hong Kong it was! We took the ferry over, marveling at the Hong Kong skyline as we went. Then we visited the Peninsula Hotel and the incredibly fancy restaurant on the 28th floor. We were told that the bathrooms were a must-see and sure enough, we weren't disappointed. The highlight was that the urinals were facing a ceiling-to-floor window with a great view of Kowloon below.

We then headed to the Temple Street market for a little last-minute Christmas shopping. The market was similar to other street markets I have seen in Asia, except that this time the sales people were not too pushy. It was a nice change from the hassles you sometimes have to deal with in Thailand and Vietnam.

Around midnight the street vendors started packing up their goods, so Todd and I sat down at a sidewalk table and ate some of the best, cheapest dim sum I have ever had. Mmmmmmm!

Macau

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Looking for something a little different, Todd and I took a one-hour ferry ride over to the former Portuguese colony island of Macau. From the way Lonely Planet described the place, we were expecting a sleepy little village. But instead big skyline with a huge needle tower welcomed us.

The first hour of our time in Macau was less than exciting. We disembarked from the ferry and started walking. All that we could see were ugly dirty apartment buildings and hotels. We perservered, however, and things quickly improved.

Among the places we visited were St Michaels Cemetery and Chapel. The cemetery was small, but packed full of unique headstones and monuments from the past 200 years. The chapel was a small but beautiful lime-green building in the middle of the sloping cemetery. On advice from Lonely Planet, we took stairs up to the roof and saw something we have never seen before: there, out in the sun to dry, were 5 or 6 human remains. Next to one there was even a picture of the lady who I assumed used to inhabit the neatly laid out bones.

Next we visited fort built on top of a big hill in the middle of the island. Inside the fort was the Macau Museum, which was AMAZING. Todd and I were both shocked that it was so impressive. It was truely a world-class facility that everyone should see when they visit Macau.

After the museum we visited the ruins of St Peter's Church where just the elaborate facade remains. (It looks like they are rebuilding the rest of the church, though.) Then we walked through the old colonial part of town, where they have renovated all of the two hundred year old buildings and turned them into a pedestrian shopping mall. As much as I don't care for renovating old buildings just so they can house Starbucks, it was still a nice enjoyable walk.

On the way back, we slipped into the casino at the Hotel Lisbona and saw many gambling games that we have never seen before and have no idea how to play. In other words, if it wasn't for the slot machines by the door, I would have left with all my money. As it stands, I put HK$10 (US$2.25) into the machines with exactly a 0% return.

Shopping and Views

Perhaps the two things that are always associated with Hong Kong are shopping and skyline views. On our first full day in Hong Kong, Todd and I decided to check out both. First, to get our bearings, we went for a ride on the double-decker streetcar tram. Once we made our way to the front seats at the top level, we had a great view of the city streets. There is only one tram line, so after we rode to one end and then to the other end and back, we got off and headed to the shopping malls.

Times Square was our first stop. When Rupert was here a month or so ago, he bought a cool Motorola cell phone that is only available here but can be used all over the world (even in the US!) So I was determined to find it and try it out. Sure enough, after a little comparison shopping, I found the model I wanted at a decent price, and I bought it.

Next, we walked over to the Peak Tram and rode it to the top of the hills over looking the downtown area. The ride up wasn't all that exciting, but the views from the top were amazing. We had dinner at the small mall on the peak and then after the sun had set we admired the night time views.

First Impressions

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Todd and I arrived safely in Hong Kong this afternoon. We took the train to Hong Kong Island from the airport and then took a free shuttle to what was supposed to be our hotel. When we arrived, however, we found out that our on-line reservation hadn't gone through afterall. The hotel staff was nice and offered to help us find something else. After a a quick phone call they suggested that we go to the hotel down the street where they had a suite available for HK$2000 (US$250). We respectfully declined.

So we spent the next couple of hours walking around looking for places to stay. Most were booked, but we finally found a guesthouse that had a decent price and wasn't too scary.

After checking in we walked around town a bit, trying to get our bearings. Hong Kong isn't exactly what I expected. The only image I had in my head was of the spectacularly colorful skyline. So I expected Hong Kong to be new and shiny and modern and cosmopolitan. I also expected there to be a lot of British influence since it had been a colony for so long. Basically, I expected Hong Kong to be a lot like Singapore.

But it isn't at all. In fact, it reminds me more of San Francisco's ChinaTown than anything else. Ok, so maybe that statement is ridiculously obvious once spoken, but I was still surprised. The skyline is dramatic, for sure, but the street level is crowded and dusty with very few traces of colonial influence. There is very little written English and even less spoken. We haven't seen very many white faces here or found many restaurants with English menus.

But we are getting along fine and very much enjoying the scenery. Tomorrow we plan to hit the tourist points and do a little shopping. Then perhaps on Monday we will head to the island of Maccau. Should be fun...

Last Day of Class

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Tonight was the last meeting of the first class I ever taught. For some reason, I am a little sad that it's over, but I know that I have many more classes to go. Next semester I will be teaching the entire semester, so hopefully I will be able to get to know my classes a little better.

Tomorrow I start the last leg of my Asian travel as Todd and I will be in Hong Kong for the next few days. I don't really know what to expect when we arrive tomorrow, other than a beautiful skyline (especially at night), a lot of Chinese characters (obviously), and some expensive shopping (at least relative to Bangkok).

I've been fighting a little bit of sickness the last few days -- both a sore throat and another stomach virus. I think that I just haven't gotten enough rest and I am blaming Todd 100% for dragging me day and night all over Bangkok. haha.

In any case, we leave early tomorrow morning. I can hardly wait to get in the air again.

Winter?

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On the 15 minute walk home from my favorite coffee shop on Silom I noticed that the air was much cooler and stars were actually visable in the night sky -- two very odd sensations in sweaty, polluted Bangkok. If this is what "Winter" in Bangkok means, I am really looking forward to the next few months.

The last few days have been mellow and relaxing. I have been spending most of my time hanging out and exploring the city with my friend Todd from San Francisco. Today we took the canal boat to the Mall Bangkapi and enjoyed the water park on the roof. The 100 baht (USD$2.50) annual pass for the water park that I bought in September was some of the best 2 bucks I have ever spent.

At the water park we ran into someone I recognized. (For such a big city, Bangkok often feels very small.) He was there with a friend, and after swimming and playing and relaxing at the water park (where again, everyone was so very friendly and chatty) our two new friends took us to a fantastic gormet Thai seafood restaurant on nearby Lad Prao Road. The food was delicious and we still got out of there only paying USD$5 a head for dinner, desert and beers.

After dinner Todd and I took a cab to my favorite coffee shop, had some coffee and read the Bangkok Post, and then I enjoyed the "cool and starry" night walk back to my apartment.

King's Birthday

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Today is the birthday of the the much-loved King of Thailand, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Many businesses in Bangkok are closed and it is forbidden to sell alcohol. The malls were packed though. I was hoping to catch the new Harry Potter movie, but all of the showings were sold out by the time I got to the theatre.

The Birthday of the King also means that today is Father's Day. So I send Happy Father's Day wishes to my Dad back in the US!

Here's a little more information about the King, lifted without permission from the website of the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, DC.

"His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great is the world's longest reigning monarch. In 1996, the Thai Kingdom celebrated His Majesty's 50th year on the Throne.

"His Majesty was born 72 years ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He began His reign at the age of 19. During the past 53 years, King Bhumibol has traveled throughout the Kingdom to witness directly the living conditions in the provinces where most of His subjects live and work. His Majesty has consistently provided not only moral support and encouragement to the Thai people, He has also made available various types of assistance, through charitable foundations under His patronage, for rural development projects designed to improve His subjects' livelihood.

"His Majesty has an enlightened vision for a modern Thailand. His vision has provided inspiration for successive governments throughout His reign. He is committed to the development of democracy and defends its principles in the government of Thailand. His Majesty's resolve and dedication to the welfare of the Thai people have contributed greatly to the political stability and economic growth that Thailand has enjoyed over the past 50 years. King Bhumibol has truly earned the love and reverence of His people, who regard Him as the soul of the Thai Kingdom."

Contract Signed

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This morning I just signed a two-year contract to teach at the University. I can get out of the contract at any time (as long as it is at the end of the semester) but I think I might try to stick out the two years. I wonder if I will feel like a local by then. Hopefully at least I will be able to speak and read some of the language.

I start work full-time the first part of January, so I am going to get in as much travelling as possible, including making it back to the US for Christmas, of course.

First stop: A nice Thai beach this weekend.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2002 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2002 is the previous archive.

January 2003 is the next archive.

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