Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Say Goodbye to 2008

It’s New Year’s Eve here on Ko Chang (southeast Thailand, Gulf of Siam), 15 hours ahead of California. I am looking back on an amazing year of turning 40, touring the country with Jack Johnson, quitting my job, immersing myself in the cultures of Southeast Asia, and most importantly, finding out what love truly is.

I wish to all my friends and family the very best for the year 2009. Even though the economic outlook is bleak at the moment, remember what is important and give thanks for all that you have.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Ancient Siam

The last couple days have been exhausting. Yesterday I took on the largest market in Southeast Asia - Chatuchak - renowned for having 15,000 stalls and drawing up to 200,000 shoppers every day (it's only open on the weekends). I didn't buy much, but roamed the place for a few hours and made notes about what I would come back and get before I go home. Everything from second had jeans to massive Buddha statues to puppy dogs can be bought. Luckily, one of the stalls was a foot massage place, and I cooled my heels so to speak for a much needed break. As much as the Burmese love tea and have tea shops everywhere, Thais love coffee. So much for kicking my coffee habit!

Today was a visit to the Ancient City - a kind of outdoor museum of architecture and history of Thailand. I rode a bike around in the sun for 3 hours, learning all kinds of things, like the origin of the Chinese influence in Thai architecture, and the incorporation of Hindu deities in Thai religious beliefs. Again there were many references to sacking of Ayuthaya by the Burmese in 1769. Ouch. While most structures and monuments were replicas, there were a few original structures including the wooden monastery in the photo, which came from Northern Thailand near the Burmese border, and the influences were apparent and familiar.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Temples and Markets and Elephants

Friday we hightailed it out of town, taking a comfortable air-conditioned van to the area known as Samut Sakhon, about one hour from Bangkok. There are several “floating markets” there, as the area has one big river and many canals and tributaries that people use to get around (and they sell their wares from their boats). On the way we stopped at a small seaside village to get some of the fresh catch – long necked clams and horseshoe crab eggs (I took a pass on both, but Paul was game!). We also loaded up on fresh fruit like star fruit, pomelo, mangoes and a few others I didn’t get the name for.

Ed (our “guide”) is the stepson of my ex-husband’s brother (and works for Paul, who is married to my ex-husband’s cousin Birgit), and recently moved back to Thailand after getting married to a Thai girl. Luckily, Ed loves to eat and has been showing us all kinds of new food – although Paul is sometimes the only taker for the more “interesting” meat selections. Thais like sweets, and sweet drinks, and they put sugar in almost everything, including soup! It is offered as a condiment like salt or fish sauce. Yesterday, I had such a sugar high all day that I crashed at 8 p.m. and slept until morning.

Much to the girls’ delight, we were able to go for an elephant ride (we are such tourists!), but I also enjoyed it, especially when I got to sit on the elephant’s neck and scratch his bristly head.

We stayed the night in Samut Sakhon, in little guest cottages on the river – so peaceful after Bangkok! I can imagine living there, taking a canoe to the market… a simple life.

We spent Saturday at Ayuthaya – ruins of temples from approximately 700+ years ago. The contrast with the temples of Mrauk U in Burma was interesting – most bear more resemblance to the Khmer style in Cambodia. Then I learned that the Burmese burned the whole place to the ground (after taking all the gold) around 1769 when they invaded Thailand (then Siam). The Thais are still miffed about that.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bangkok Dangerous?

Well, maybe for your diet, or your wallet. Today we all went to the Royal Palace - pretty much the main tourist attraction in Bangkok. Hordes of tourists. I still can't get used to it after Burma. But going to the other side of the city was practice for getting the public transport system wired, and I managed to get back to my hotel without a taxi, just taking the water taxi, an elevated train, then the underground, then a moped taxi for the 2k to my hotel (that was scary!). After touring the Royal Palace, we did what everybody does and went to see the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. It was quite impressive, despite the million cameras pointed in every direction (not much reflection or praying going on in front of this Buddha). For dinner we somehow ended up at anther huge shopping mall - they house the best food courts, which are a fast and inexpensive eating option. Since there are 6 of us, it makes it easy for everyone to get something they want to try - a lot of the food is new to the Hings. It is Christmas Day, and the mall was packed and loud. While the Thais "celebrate" Christmas, being that they are a nation that is 95% Buddhist, on this "holiday" they still go to school, work and shop. Ed's explanation is that Thais adopt popular holidays from other cultures as they like any excuse to have a party and eat. It's been great having Ed as an unofficial tour guide, especially for giving me insight into Thai culture. Anna and Julika Hing - ages 13 and 10, are really taking to the place - I am impressed at their adventurous spirits!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve here, but it couldn't feel less like Christmas. They do celebrate Christmas in Thailand (which is largely a Buddhist country) but due to the economic downturn, there are less Christmas displays, lights, etc. In the malls Christmas music is played at loud volume, but that's about it. I wish all of you out there in the colder parts of the world a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Today I did finally meet up with Paul and Birgit- my friends from Germany who are here on holiday, their daughters, Anna and Julika, and Ed, our friend and unofficial tour guide. We did some more shopping and eating together, seeing yet another huge mall in the Central Shopping District. Later we met up with some of Ed's friends and 10 of us went to dinner at a no-name local place away from the center, where the bill for our feast amount to only about $20. It was fun getting to see more of a local scene. After that we went for foot massages, as we didn't have time for the full ones. Massage is an integral part of every day life, it seems and is very affordable - about $10 for 2 hours. Nice!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Culture Shock

So in the matter of a few days I have gone from a remote corner of Northwestern Burma (see last post) to a bustling metropolis called Bangkok. I am still reeling....

My last day in Rangoon was spent with errands, packing, eating...eating...eating... then back to the incongruous sleek modern airport, where I saw my French friends again (we were on the same flight to Bangkok). My hotel in Bangkok is away from the center, in an area close to the home of friends I will be visiting. It is mostly empty, save for a few Thai businessmen, and they don't know what to make of me, or why I am there (then I realized that the hotel is directly behind an "entertainment" club, and I feel weird; I may change hotels). After the pot-holed streets and the traveling heaps that pass for taxis in Yangon (no seat belts, windows stuck open, holes in the floor or doors), everything seems sleek and modern, and well, familiar. I guess I didn't know what to expect. Something closer to Yangon, I guess.

I spent the day hitting the main central shopping center to get a cell phone and some books. I found myself in one after another huge Western-style malls. All the designers were represented (I steered clear), and there were so many mouth watering restaurants, I couldn't choose. I see that eating is going to be a problem here in Thailand too!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't Inhale

It’s not all lovely and picturesque… Walking down the main road in Sittwe in the morning, my senses are assaulted by the acrid dust, the wood smoke and the noxious smells backing out of the sewer. The morning chorus is the clearing of lungs, perhaps due to the daily inhalation of dust, but I just can’t get used to the guttural sound and the resultant spitting. On the other side of the street I saw a man kick a puppy, and all I could do was give him a dirty look, unable to lay into him in his own language and tell him to pick on someone his own size. Most dogs are emaciated and suffer from mange. The majority of the people on the street- and there are many – are filthy. And they all stared at us, like they had never seen a foreigner before. At first it was quaint but then became downright annoying to not be able to walk down the street unmolested. This scenario is in contrast to Rangoon where only a few people will turn and look, while the majority can’t be bothered. In Sittwe, we were also pursued by more beggars than I have ever encountered in Burma and a few children became quite aggressive, following us for over a kilometer and throwing pebbles at Anne to get her attention.

Other images are typical of Burma: orange-robed monks carrying black alms bowls walk single file down the street, men carry two square cooking oil cans filled with water balanced on a stick (many people don’t have running water and carry their water form the town well); trishaws drivers in longyi and conical rattan hats. I am afraid it would all look like a big jumble in a photograph. A stroll through town invites a thousand stares, and the friendly “Hello!!” is sometimes replaced with something less innocuous (although I am not sure they even know what they are saying). I started to ignore one and all. I wondered how, in a town that undoubtedly sees many tourists, did I warrant such extreme curiosity? Especially after I saw a cowboy on a bicycle and no one gave him a sideways glance! It was a Burmese man, but still… he was dressed head to toe in yellow-gold American cowboy garb (hat, vest, jeans and boots), and had on modern sunglasses on top of that!


The next day I ventured into the Chin State (one of the seven or nine tribal states in Burma), taking first a bone jarring pony cart for one hour, then another slow boat up the river for 2 hours. I felt like I had reached a very remote place very far from home. On the river we scores of people making their homes on floats of bamboo, perhaps some of the poorest of the poor in Burma. The goal was to get to the Chin villages to see the traditional way of life and especially the tattooed women. Supposedly the village elders used to tattoo the faces of the young maidens to keep rival villages from stealing them away (basically making them unattractive). Note that even the eyelids are tattooed. Only a few of the elder ladies have the tattoos as the practice has died out. The two ladies in the photo took a liking to me, and walked with me, holding my hands, back to the boat. One insisted I take the photo, then critiqued it and made me take it again!
At the second Chin village, against my better judgment, I accepted a coconut drink (fresh coconut juice with bits of the flesh) mixed with sugar. Sure enough, that night I became very sick. Ciprofloxacin (antibiotic) sick. Which meant one whole day in bed, or at least in my room, as I couldn’t be away from the bathroom too long. Unfortunately that took away one day of my exploring Mrauk U, and I missed the inside of many temples.
Getting a boat back to Sittwe was sketchy and I gave myself an extra day, which I unfortunately had to spend in Sittwe instead of Mrauk U, where there is much more to see and is more tranquil. There is no regular boat, you just have to go to the dock, find a private boat owner and see if he one going down river the day you want. I hooked up with the French couple (Anne and Antoine) again and we managed to get another slow boat back down the river. This one was at least made for passengers and infinitely more comfortable. In Sittwe, I spent time with Anne and Antoine, and it was nice to have the company. It’s funny…. I haven’t felt lonely at all, other than when I was sick. There’s nothing like being bed-ridden in a strange country, all alone. Actually, one local girl on the hotel staff looked in on me frequently, telling me she was worried about me, which was really sweet. She offered to help in any way, but I was set with my massive medical kit (it takes ¼ of my bag, but I am prepared for everything! No mystery boxes of pills from the local pharmacy for me).

Peace and Temples

The first day in Mrauk U, I visited some of the temples, which are set among small hillocks for a seven square kilometer area. Among the hills and temples, the villagers live in thatched roof huts and go about their daily business, just as they have for the last couple hundred years (although the bicycles are a more recent addition!) This includes pulling water from wells and transporting via head or shoulder. These young lads carrying out their chores were very friendly. Note the toy that one has fashioned out of an aluminum can, a stick and some string.

In the market, I was approached by a man who identified himself as an English teacher at the local school. I gave him the remainder of the pens and pads I brought from home (having given most to the Adventist teachers in Rangoon to distribute). It’s hard to imagine being so poor that a ballpoint pen is a prized possession but it is the case here! Even though bargaining is expected, I have a hard time negotiating the price for many things (like handicrafts; the boat fare was a different matter since they were trying to charge us 2x the going rate). I know that even $2 USD for me is nothing, and it is a large sum for most people here. I keep reminding myself of the amounts I pay for café lattes or a burrito ($6 at Mozy Café!), and it makes me feel cheap to haggle the price of a $6 antique tribal necklace or an $8 woven hand-woven tapestry.

While Mrauk U is chilly in the evening, in the mid-day sun it has the same heat as Rangoon, and I feel like a well-cooked sausage in my long pants and skirts and t-shirts. I am looking forward to the beach in Thailand, where I can air out my damp body!

On the boat to Mrauk U, I had a long time to chat with my fellow passengers, the French NGO workers. They had been in Burma for 1 ½ years – I was envious! They had lived in Indonesia, and traveled extensively and said that Burma was their favorite place, due mainly to the warmth of the people, something I have heard again and again. They bemoaned the inaccessibility of much of the country, as they had only had a few days off at a time to explore, and that is simply not enough time to get most places (witness the 2 days from Rangoon to Mrauk U). Plus some places are off limits to foreigners. We agreed that the country is incredibly safe and generally free from scams. Men walk through crowds in Rangoon with their wallets tucked into the back of their longyi, without the worry of pickpockets. While things might take longer than predicted, you generally don’t have to worry about someone just taking your money. According to the U.S State Department website, it is the safest country in Southeast Asia.

Up the River on a Slow Boat

On Monday, December 15, I went down to the dock in Sittwe to catch a boat to Mrauk U. There I found 2 young French NGO workers who were also trying to get a boat and together we negotiated for an hour, with a crowd of onlookers following along. Not much in the way of entertainment around there. As with much travel in Burma, the trip took much longer than anticipated. You can never be in a hurry. And for me, what started out as a mild backache turned into a full back spasm. Anyone who followed my India-Bhutan blog will remember that it also happened on that trip. I think it was the long flight and bad beds – a lethal combination for me. I crawled around on the boat (which was not made for passengers; we were extra in addition to the 20 drums of diesel fuel filling the hold and the deck) for the 7 hour trip, trying various positions to eliminate the pain, which finally calmed down toward the end. Though long, the trip up the river was serene and picturesque, as we passed miles and miles of golden rice fields in the midst of harvest, black and silver water buffalo, and the occasional pagoda.
Pulling up to the tiny dock in Mrauk U, we were met by a small crowd of trishaw drivers, falling over themselves in trying to be selected for our rides into town. As my large, 4-months-of-supplies-bag and I made our way through the town on the trishaw I noticed that there were few cars, and LOTS of bicycles and trishaws. I saw an occasional tractor/passenger type rig, but otherwise the streets were so peaceful! I loved it, especially in comparison to the noise, dust and heat of Rangoon. I promptly rented a bicycle from my hotel and joined the throngs, drawing more than a few curious stares as I peddled to the temples as well as around town (on roads more suited for a mountain bike, but the sturdy Chinese-made bikes go everywhere!).

The Great Green North

Sunday morning I had a traditional breakfast of baybyo (spiced chick peas and onions) with 3 kinds of sticky rice (black, white and turmeric-yellow), with jack fruit, pineapple and papaya. (Vendors walk through the streets in the morning calling out out khauq nin and baybyo for sale like women in Mexico do with tamales, and their cries are reliable as the roosters'). Later I went to the top of Sakura Tower, the tallest building in Rangoon to take in the views and the layout of the city, something I wish I had done before. The sparkling pagodas and green palm trees mask the squalor at street level, especially this morning, which appears to be market day. I took my chances on a game of Frogger and visited Sule Pagoda, located in a roundabout downtown. Luckily it was early and there weren’t too many cars bearing down on me as I crossed 4 lanes of traffic to get there.
Later that day I flew to Sittwe in the northwest of the country, close to the border with Bangladesh. It is the gateway to Mrauk U, the ancient capital of the Rakhine State (think ruined stone palace and lots of ruined pagodas). In Sittwe, I witnessed the spectacle of thousands of fruit bats competing with thousands of crows for prime sunset roosts in the trees outside my hotel. The cacophony was incredible!

Rangoon Continued

On Friday (December 12), I went to the Aung San Bogyoke Market early to pick up a few pieces of lacquerware. This is a huge jumble of stalls catering to locals for clothing, shoes, bags, food and other dry goods, mixed in with arts and crafts and jewelry aimed at the (few) tourists in Rangoon these days. The sheer volume can be overwhelming. The vendors are feeling the downturn in business, and for the first time I was hassled a bit, but it was nothing compared to other countries and it didn’t bother me much. Lunch found me again at the home of Ba Hla Thein, and I was delighted with Burmese dahl curry (lighter and less spicy than the Indian version), paratha (Indian flaky fried bread), sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, and fresh sugar cane juice on ice. As is typical for guests in Burmese homes, my hosts did not eat with me, and instead sat with me while I ate (alone!), pressing more and more food on me. I was so stuffed; I did not eat again until the next morning.

On Saturday (December 13), I put on my one longyi (traditional long skirt) and Dr. Htwe Lay picked me up and took me to a special Christmas program for the children of the Adventist church that they had out at Kandawggi Lake. The children were all very excited, especially when Santa Claus (times 2) showed up and handed out presents. I couldn’t resist snapping off a load of photos of the kids as they sang and danced. Dr. Htwe Lay then pressed me to “tell a story” to the children to close the program. Uhhhh, I stammered in response, I don’t have any stories! I am not around kids much these days and my mind came up blank. The 3 Little Pigs, do they know that one in Burma?? Then I realized that my father’s story of growing up poor in a small village outside Rangoon might resonate with the kids and Dr. Htwe Lay agreed. I told the story and she interpreted, embellishing with local details. The lesson of the story (there had to be a lesson!): WORK HARD. When we finished the story we revealed that the little boy who worked hard and grew up to be a success in America was my father, much to their surprise.

So far I have not mentioned the heat, which bearable in the morning so long as there is shade. In the afternoon, even the shade is a bit stifling, and I would retreat to the air conditioning in my room, unable to muster the energy to take on this frenetic city. My feet looked like pink sausages and I was glad that only flip-flops were required to go anywhere. Luckily, my sister and I did a lot of sight seeing when we were here before, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

Welcome Elizabeth Willes!

Later Thursday afternoon (December 11), we went to the Community Health Worker training school in Insein (small town outside Rangoon and home to the infamous prison). I was so surprised to see a welcome banner! And the girls presented me with a bouquet of roses. This was all because of the support BACA gives to the school, which has included renovating the girls’ dormitory (where the banner was hung, see photo). It’s not that I have done so much, it’s that I receive the gratitude that people wish to express to my father and aunt. That being said, I hope to become more involved with BACA and trying help people in Burma as part of the new phase of my life.

At this school girls come from all over the country to get trained as nurses’ aides, also called community health care workers, since they can go back into their communities and play a vital role in basic health education (vital in rural areas, where health care is non-existent). In hearing about such programs in India and Indonesia, I know that having a local person, who understands the culture to provide basic health education, can go a long way to prevent disease, malnutrition and infant mortality.

So how does the military repressive regime impact people’s day-to-day lives? Besides having no freedom of speech or freedom of association, the military prohibits competition from outside companies in certain areas, like telecommunications. The military controls the phone lines, and getting one (a land line!) costs $3,000 USD. It’s about the same for a cell phone. A small Japanese or Korean made car costs around $30,000 USD due to taxes and restrictions imposed y the government. That is why you see so many other modes of transport, including ox cart, tractor, bicycle and tri-shaw. One of my goals is to raise the $3,000 USD needed to get a phone line to the Community Health Care Worker School, something they desperately need (along with a library, teaching models, a generator, etc).

So despite the sometimes claim of socialism that is applied to the military regime, this regime does not take care of its people. Health care is provided – at a cost that is prohibitive for many people. Schools are also provided – at a cost, with the better schools taking the students who may be able to grease the palms of the administrators.

The Loneliest Planet

On Wednesday night (December 10), I finally landed in Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon, which is the name I will use since that is the name my father has used with me all my life). Lonely Planet is the only company that makes a current English language guide for Burma, and I think everyone who visits has it; you see nearly every foreigner (they are soooo easy to spot) clutching one as they fumble about.

I was surprised to find myself in a new international airport, a sleek modern facility that belies the state of most of the country. While in Rangoon, I also noticed many modern luxury hotels – places that provide all the comforts a traveler could want, something I didn’t notice before. So while I tend to describe Burma as very basic, I may have been wrong, at least with regard to what is available in Rangoon. Unfortunately, with such places more money gets funneled to the government, indirectly supporting the oppressive regime. And the prices, while affordable for Westerners, are out of reach for most who live there.

While in Rangoon I stayed at a guesthouse on a quiet street not far from the city center. Quiet… until the power grid went down. Then everyone would fire up their diesel generators, which sit out in front of the buildings, and the quiet street would be transformed into truck yard with a background dull roar. Add to that the many vendors walking the streets, calling out their wares, ringing bells and otherwise calling attention to what they were selling, and the quiet would be gone.
In Rangoon, pedestrians must yield to cars, and crossing the street is like playing a game of Frogger. At any one time, there are pedestrians straddling every lane, waiting for a car to go by, and then jumping to the next lane, and so forth until they make it safely across the street. Cross walks mean nothing, and cars (mostly run down taxis) zoom within inches of helpless looking pedestrians as they fruitlessly wait in the yellow striping.

On Thursday, after a breakfast of mohinga (fish soup with rice noodles and crunchy fried onions), fresh pineapple and papaya, and sesame pancakes, I was picked up by Dr. Htwe Lay to spend the day touring projects in the area supported by the Burma-America Christian Association (BACA). I have given money to BACA for years and after Cyclone Nargis in May, helped raised additional funds for disaster relief in the hard hit delta region. BACA is a small 501 (c)(3) started by my father and aunt, and 100% of the funds go directly to worthy projects in Burma, including medical and economic aid to cyclone victims. These were the projects I wanted to see. Unfortunately, it was not possible to visit the delta region.

First stop was the Adventist School, to which BACA sponsors 5 students. Even though the school is supported heavily by the church, students of all religions are welcome and do attend, including Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. Four of the BACA-sponsored students shyly agreed to pose for me.

After the school Dr. Htwe Lay took me for lunch to the home of Ba Hla Thein, a schoolmate of my father’s from his childhood. I met Ba Hla Thein and his wife on the last trip and remembered well his cooking prowess, as he made several memorable meals for us. Lunch did not disappoint. In addition to fish ball curry (my favorite dish from the entire trip last time), he made Burmese style vermicelli noodles, sautéed vegetables, and a fresh salad. Before I left Burma, Ba Hla Thein and his family hosted me for many meals, their way of saying thank you to my father for all of his support (through BACA) over the years.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Access Denied

Hello!! I am alive and well in Northwestern Burma. As I suspected would be the case, I have not been able to post to my blog, as access to blogspot has been blocked by the government (and I was away from a computer for over a week). The military junta has even blocked access to Yahoo mail, and the internet cafes have to use special software to bypass the block, which doesn't always work and is awfully slow. Many web addresses are met with a red flashing screen of "Access Denied." It's a total shock to me that I am able to get through to make this post as I am on an ancient computer powered by a diesel generator that the proprietor fires up whenever someone wants to use the internet (about once per day).

I fly to Bangkok tomorrow and from there I will post all the entries I have written on my laptop over the last couple weeks, and post some photos. I will put some more photos on Facebook too.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Say Goodbye to the Crackberry

Here I am in the Evergreen Lounge at the Taipei Airport. We arrived at 5 a.m., daylight not yet visible as we landed. It will be a long day as I am here for 3 hours, then 4 hours flying to Bangkok, then 5 hours in the Bangkok airport (no lounge) as I await my Thai Airways flight to Rangoon. It feels surreal to be in Asia, although the 14+ hours on the plane should have prepped me.

It was hard to say goodbye last night to my best buddies (see photo at right), but they are in good hands with my extraordinary friend Tracy. I took a photo of her before I left, since she was wearing a super cool Flight of the Conchords t-shirt (big drawing of Jemaine, small one of Bret; it must have been designed by Jemaine). Some of you may know that the ringtone on my phone is a song by FOTC - kind of obscure. But I won't be hearing that ringtone for awhile. I took the battery out of my Blackberry, and it will stay out for the next 3 months, as my phone service will be turned off. Crackberry addiction ended!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Taking Off

Tomorrow is the big day! After a hiccup - I am flying into Bangkok and the international airport was shutdown last week - I am set to leave tomorrow night from LAX. Still flying into Bangkok, then straight to Burma. Due to the political oppression in Burma, and monitoring of email and the internet, I may not post to my blog until I get back to Thailand on December 22. I hope you check back then.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Crazy Beautiful

It's hard to think about going away when it's so beautiful and peaceful in San Diego right now. We have had a week straight of gorgeous sunsets, topping off warm breezy days and consistent surf (75 and sunny AGAIN??) Hopefull the weather will have turned by the time I head for LAX....

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Above: One of the many forms of transport in Burma

So in between logging a few killer surf sessions at Swami's the last few days, I went to update my vaccinations and get some malaria meds. My doctor urged me to consult the CDC and US State Department websites regarding the countries I will be visiting. I tend to avoid doing this because it causes alarm, all the descriptions of crime, terrorist attacks in some cases, driving accidents, etc. I suppose that such warnings could be made about the US too, or European countries. Anyway, it has me a little concerned, mostly about Cambodia. Interestingly, the safest country out of the bunch is Burma (which I guess I already knew). This is so long as you don't speak out against the government, which actually is not advised in any of the countries.

Below: Me and Helena in Burma in January 2006

Monday, November 10, 2008

Freedom to Roam

Right: Me at Swami's in October

A lot of people have been asking me about my itinerary, so I thought I would post it, or what I have so far. I leave December 5 and fly to Bangkok and then hop right on a plane to Rangoon, Burma. There I will meet up with Dr. Htwe Lay, who runs one of the clinics supported by the Burma America Christian Association, and will review some of the projects we have funded around Rangoon and the delta region hit by Cyclone Nargis. After that I will fly to the north. I haven't decided exactly where - I am going to check it out when I get there. I have a flight back to Bangkok on December 22 and I will meet up with some old friends who will happen to be in Thailand at the same time. We will do day trips around Bangkok until December 31, then head down to Koh Chang island in the southeast until January 4. From there I will probably go overland or fly to Cambodia. I am thinking I will stay until around January 22 or so then head to Vietnam. Not too much planned, but enough for the first month!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Setting Forth

This year, my fifteenth year after graduating from law school, I decided to quit this career I find less than satisfying, to say the least. John Moseley came up with the name for my journal/blog: “Kicking Out” – a term to describe deliberately turning out of a wave one is riding, and I felt the term was apt for the step I am about to take in my life. In 4 weeks I leave for Southeast Asia, with a return date of March 31, 2009. Some of the time is planned, most of it is not. Looking forward to exploring Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.