Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a city of about a million people 435 miles north of Bangkok. It's considered the cultural capital of Thailand and is situated among the highest mountains in the country and is a little cooler. The city was built with a giant wall and moat around it to protect from Burmese invaders in the 1300s.

Here's a section of the wall...

The moat...
An average street...
A richer street...
The famous night bazaar.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Flight of the Gibbon

Today we flew through the jungle, literally. We took a zipline tour through a 1500 year old rain forest in Northern Thailand.

The tour included about a dozen ziplines traversing almost 2 kilometers, a few suspension bridges, and three vertical drops. If it's hard to imagine what it feels like to fly two hundred feet above the forest floor through a canopy of gorgeous green, that's because it is unlike just about anything else.

Fortunately, we took lots of pictures. And even a few videos.

video

This is the gibbon flight from a Ron's eye view.


video

Here comes Trina, all joy and no fear--something I cannot quite claim for myself). (The yelling in this video is not me, by the way).


video

The funny part about this one is where I land at the end. If you think about the camerawoman's positioning, and my significant momentum, you can imagine the collision that ensued. She took it like a champ.

Destination: Afjorden, Norway


The sheer scale of the Norwegian fjordlands is really unlike anything I've ever seen. We stayed on the Giil family farm located one fjord over from the longest fjord in the world, Sognefjorden.

Photos from our hike up a 2000+ ft mountain (Lifjellet) that rises out of Afjorden are here. If you're curious about more of Norway (fjordlands, Oslo and Bergen) try here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Anticipating India

We fly to Kolkata (Calcutta) on March 3rd to begin our 5 weeks of service at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying.

It will be a major departure from the rest of our trip for several reasons - we'll be in one spot over a month, we'll have a daily occupation, we'll be getting to know people over a relatively "long" period of time (more than a bus ride).

I'm really excited and a little nervous. Everyone we talk to that has just traveled in India is quick to say, "It is just so unlike anywhere else. It is loud, exciting, annoying, frustrating, colorful...it's India!" So, there's the entirely new culture part...and then of course there's the abject poverty...and then there's the people dying. It's hard to know how to prepare yourself for something like this.

Just wanted to update how I was feeling about it before I got there.

Yumm...squid

Trinidioms #20

"I just can't wrap that around my head"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Time Travel

Flying 15 time zones leaves you...well, like this...

Fortunately, we're now feeling more like this...and thoroughly enjoying our Northern Thailand experience.


Fruit

Who knew there were so many types of fruit in the world?


"Stinkfruit" or Jackfruit...it really stinks.

Dragon fruit - it is white with thousands of little black seeds inside. Really popular in Vietnam.
Mango. This is an unpeeled mango...I've only ever seen the kind that are red and green on the outside and shaped more like a football than a turnip. It's weird looking, but it tastes just like a mango.

There's your international fruit lesson for today.

Destination: County Wexford, Ireland

Ireland is really as picturesque as they say. At least in County Wexford. Take a look here for the photos. Ron's family lives primarily in Co. Wexford, so that is where the majority of the photos were taken.







Ok, so I tricked you. Technically click here for the church. And the abbey picture is here. But, the first link will take you to all the Ireland pics and they are really worth looking at!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Destination: Buda & Pest



The capital of Hungary (Budapest) was originally two cities on opposite sides of the Danube - Buda and Pest. The areas retain distinct names and have distinct personalities. Buda houses the really old stuff - medieval era, etc and the really expensive hotels. Pest houses the not quite as old stuff along with most of the government buildings and the "hip" culture.

The castle in Buda was originally built in the 1200's. The oldest part of the castle standing today was from the 14th century. Buda pictures here.

Pest houses the bulk of the city of Budapest and is much more "Western European" than we expected given its location. The architecture, food and customs reminded us much more of Vienna than Prague or Krakow. Enough history lesson, just look at the pictures.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Phillip and Emily



On our way back to Seattle, we stopped for a night at Phillip and Emily's house.

Phillip is Trina's brother, Emily her sister in law. They both graduated last spring; Phillip is an engineer in a really cool (believe it or not) job and Emily is a post-partum nurse at Evergreen Hospital (a dream for her as well). They have their cute dog (the first dog Trina has ever liked) Montana as well. Montana still shares his affection with his tongue.

I had hurt my back pretty badly, but fortunately, Emily got a really, really nice massage chair for Christmas. I sat in it for four hours, using it as firmly as possible (and that's very firmly). I was completely bruised the next day. But it helped, a lot!

We had a great time catching up with our siblings/friends. They lived in Oregon while at George Fox, and so we have had a great time building our friendship with them, and we've missed them very much. Phillip made us a great stir fry for dinner, Emily a delectable breakfast, and we spent several hours walking the snowy(!!!) trails around their house. The live just off 405 in the Seattle area, but from the trails, you'd think they live 30 miles from nowhere.

All in all a very good time.

Trinidioms #19

"I don't want to go out and walk in the dead heat"

Destination: Oktoberfest



Oktoberfest was a blast. Emerging from the subway you feel like you're in the center of a giant fair...with lots of men wearing leather shorts, suspenders and hats with a feather. It is lively, musical and full of vendors. Inside the beer tents it is exactly what you imagine - pretzels larger than your face, beer steins holding a liter or more and a live oom-pah band pumping out the coolest polka. Photos here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Cabin


My aunt and uncle have this great cabin in the woods at Fish Hawk lake nearish Vernonia.

They were generous enough to let my parents (Rick, Ann), us (Ron, Trina) and my sister and her husband (Scott, Amanda) use it for a weekend of intense family catch-up.

We had a fantastic time. It's wonderful going on a sort of retreat with your family, as there are few distractions to keep you from relating maximally. We had a series of really important, good talks, played games, laughed a lot, ate and drank too quite a bit too.

My brother in law Scott amazes me--he's the only person I've met that eats faster and sometimes more than my Dad and I (my sister is a pretty close second too). It may not be his or our most healthy trait, but it makes me smile nonetheless. He fits right in!

A weekend of friends and family

After several wonderful, relaxing days in Seattle, we drove to Portland to see family and friends.

It was jam-packed. Thursday night we saw my best friend Aaron and our dear friends Melinda and Junior, and their adorable kids Melia and Joseph. Melia was all song and dance and Joseph (still just about eight months old) has developed the cutest little smile. He just started crawling the day before, and so does so quite totteringly. Before we left, he hadn't yet had his cleft lip surgery--he was cute then, but he was a newborn and hadn't yet learned to smile. I can't believe how fast these two are growing up. Their mom, who started working for Wells Fargo in July, received her second promotion while we were in town. No surprise there!

Then Friday we went on to Fish Hawk lake with my family (more on that later), and then my extended family came over and celebrated our transitory return for four hours Sunday night. I saw grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, their kids, and the like.

Then happy hour at Stanfords with seven of my old freshmen residents from college (along with Aaron and Trina), some sleep, a stop by my old office (where I was a celebrity, how cool), a meeting with a tax advisor over lunch and then a drive back to Seattle.

What a tiring weekend.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Flashback: Jet Lag and Chocolate Cherry Cake



Our first full day back was a day of celebration.

My esteemed brother in law, Phillip the First, had a birthday. He's a ripe old 23. He and his beautiful wife Emily drove up to Ann and Ron's (Trina's parents) for a day of fun. Happy Birthday Phillip!

We were so jet lagged, I'm afraid we were poor company. Hopefully Ann, Ron, Phillip and Emily enjoyed each other. I really only remember the food and the confections--particularly the best french dips in history and a Christiansen family tradition--chocolate cherry cake.

If you want to make yourself absolutely sick with sugar and delight, try a piece (or four, like me!). Basically, it's a chocolate cake with cherry pie filling mixed in, and the frosting is made from heated chocolate chips, sugar and butter, and it hardens into a thick, delightful ganache of sorts over the top.

Speaking of over the top, I had two more pieces the next day too! Think I was showing restraint? Hardly--we ran out.

Home is a vacation, vacation is home

Our jaunt home was a wonderful, jam-packed, relational orgy of fun, family, friends and way too much food. We are both the better and the fatter for it.

Life on the road has been good so far. We just got back to Thailand a few days ago, after about three days of travel. The flight was fine--an hour in the air, an overnight, thirteen plus hours on a plane, two and a half on layover, and another two and a half hours back in the air, another overnight, and then about another hour in the air...

What's funny is, we like these flights for the most part. Yeah, they are tiring. But they are air-conditioned, there are movies, clean water, and planned menus. We get a lot done too. I read 17 time magazines, for instance. And layovers--well, those are the best! Trina is nearly finished with a book she's been reading in multiple airports--for free in airport bookstores.

But I digress. The point of my post is an observation. We loved being home. It really felt like a vacation--rejuvenating, fun, a chance to let down. We were so sad to leave, dreading it really, just like at the end of a vacation. And now we are back on the road--complete with humidity, gastric distress and 13 hour flights. And you know what? We feel like were are home.

What a year! Our vacation is our vocation and our home is our holiday. What's next?

Pricing in Bulk

There are many things I find about Southeast Asian culture that we could learn from--communalism, great food, better nutrition in general, architecture, constantly smiling, etc.

But, there are a few things I'm not so sure about. One of them is bulk pricing.

We are trying to get back into the time zone thing, and we are in Chiang Mai for over a week. So we found a gym. They offer daily, weekly, monthly and annual memberships.

For one week, they offer
1500 baht, marked down to 1000 baht.

For one month, they offer
2400 baht, marked down to 900.

I don't exactly follow the logic, other than that they'd like to incent you to pay less to use their equipment more. This was true in Vietnam too...

When we were doing our tailoring, the tailors would say, "if you buy more things, I make you a deal." But the deal was always five dollars less than the total price. You could buy two things for 35 dollars and get five dollars off. Or you could buy 8 things for 300 dollars and get five dollars off. Since we had lots of time with these tailors, I spent a long time trying to explain the absurdity of that...you are convincing me to buy less!...but to no avail.

So we went to multiple tailors for our small items.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Trinidioms #18

"I'm wound like a steel drum"

Why Didn't I Think of That?

After being dried out for 17 hours on a plane yesterday I can't describe how excited I was to see this...(after I got done thinking it was smoke =).

video

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Safely in Thailand

Well, after leaving on Sunday, we arrived WEDNESDAY (midnight, and crossed the international-date line) in Bangkok. It was a chilly 84 degrees at midnight, and very humid.

Weirdly, after a 13 hour, and a 2.5 hour flight, layovers, etc., we feel quite a home.

More updates to come. Flying to Chiang Mai in a few minutes.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thanks Laurie!


We just finished a GREAT party! The Christiansen's have a life-long family friend named Laurie McFarlane, and she threw us a classy brunch party for family and friends.

There are a thousand reasons to be grateful, but most important is that parties stress my dear mother-in-law out. As a loving gift to Ann, Laurie kindly took care of absolutely everything. Planning, cooking, special dishes, cleaning, tablecloths and all the festive accoutrements were handled.

The party brought family, friends, old friends and neighbors. We had a chance to share all about our trip, the challenges, the funny and more sobering sights, everything from the gastronomic to the gastrointestinal. It's amazing how the more mundane and even crass details of life are much more interesting to people if they happen somewhere exotic like Cambodia.

Anyway, we had a wonderful time, and we just wanted to say "Thank You" to Laurie.

Thanks Laurie!

Trinaisms

Not really an idiom...but quotable nonetheless.

'Can you stop trying to make me logical!?"

(My wife is typically very logical, but I did enjoy this emphatic utterance in a hormonal moment).

I've just scheduled thirteen Trinidioms, each about four days apart, so you should enjoy those!

Trinidioms #17

"I'm Watching Your Back."

(I've found a few people aren't quite sure why this is wrong, so I'll explain it--despite usually leaving it for people to figure out). You watch someone, or your watch your own back, or you say, "I've got your back", but if you watch someone else's back, you definitely don't have their back.

Fabrizzio


Okay, we got such a kick out of the owners of our resort on Ko Kradan.

Beside the fact that they were Italian, and they always sounded like they were arguing (when their faces clearly showed that they weren't), they were the source of countless fun on our part.

One owner's wife was particularly interesting. She was a bit rough around the edges, was one of those ladies whose years in the sun and intense smoking and drinking have left their mark. She was loud, brash, crude, but nonetheless friendly. That said, she also spoke the beautiful language of Italy, and it just made our head spin. You don't often find gals like that around the US, speaking romance languages.

But even more fun was Fabrizzio. When he introduced himself, we both had to squelch a giggle. "I'm Fuh-BRITZ-io-oh!" (said in with an extremely deep voice and like he is jubiliantly exclaiming "fortissimo!" or something like that). Okay, "I'm Ron," I said feeling somewhat sheepish about my boring name.

Even better was listening to him at other moments. If he wasn't in sight, but was laughing, it sounded like a cartoon villian, like Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget.

But the best were the Disney parallels. Fabrizzio was a pretty boy--if he was in better shape, he'd probably be the guy on the romance novels--maybe Fabio was his cousin. But he was more the bar-hopping, island living (think, the munchies), kind of guy, which made him a bit softer around the middle. Still, the charm, the voice and the italian made him into a disney caricature of himself.

One night we had fresh tuna. The cooked fish was delivered whole (head, body, tail and all). Despite having filleted fish once upon a time (and not very well), I had no idea how to eat it. So we asked for help.

"First, you got to take your knife, and rub off the skin, like diissss." "Zen you have to cut it, like diiss." (Sebastian in the Little Mermaid telling Arial how to win the hero's affection). Then, you (loudly) "pull out ze bones!" (also from a song in the Little Mermaid).

Anyway, if you were raised in the period of the Disney renaissance (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King), you would have appreciated our Italian host.

He was certainly a very nice guy, running a fantastic little operation, with plans for more. We highly recommend the resort.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

And We're Back!

They made a new nickel while we were gone. Did you know about this? It looks totally unlike old nickels. When the Starbucks lady handed me my change both Ron and I did a double take. I felt like a foreigner inspecting the cool new currency.

Anyway, we are back! Just for two weeks. This short intermission comes just before jungle trekking in Thailand and then our five weeks of service in Calcutta.

Biggest shock so far has been the downright frigid temperatures. Coming straight from an equatorial desert island with no electricity (and thus no AC) to 45 degree Seattle was let's just say...an adjustment =).

I am really overwhelmed by surprising things being back. There is the same "Noise" phenomenon I experienced in Boston last time, along with absolute clothes paralysis. My old bedroom at my parents' house has a laundry basket of clothes from the week or so before we left. The first morning I seriously stared at this basket with 10 pairs of underwear completely immobilized by so many options. How do I pick out my underwear, let alone my shirt and pants? I considered continuing to wear trip clothes...but then I froze (literally)...so I returned to the laundry basket.

I'm hard at work tackling these issues and I'll be sure to update you as time allows. Expect more posts coming on both our island experience and the US in the next few weeks.

Paradise

We spent 14 days on a desert island in the Andaman Sea and it was exactly what you imagine when you think of paradise. From the little thatch hut 30 feet from the beach to the turquoise water to the sunsets to the white sand...it was better than a postcard.

The one downside about remote desert islands is that they are remote and desert-like. After the two full days it took us to get there via flight, minibus stuffed like a Mr. Bean episode on a ferry that looked more like it belonged to Tom Sawyer than a government, "taxi" ride on a bench nailed into the bed of a pickup truck, a hitched ride on a 4 island snorkel tour and an exit via barely-attached-rusty-ladder into waist deep surf with our backpacks...we were there!

14 days in the equatorial sun left us thoroughly baked. We coated ourselves in SPF 50 multiple times a day and not once did we lay out in the sun...and I still ended up with "hair that looks kind of brassy" (thanks Ron) and one of the most intense tan lines I've ever had.

The perks of Thai beaches are all fully true. Our bungalow 30 feet from the water was $15/night. The "expensive" food was about 250 Thai Baht a meal ($7.50 or so). The people are smiley and friendly.

There are other things you don't really think about being part of the whole "desert island" thing. Like no hot water, electricity 3 hours a day (from generator), "creative" food and lots of exotic, evolutionarily advanced bugs.

All in all, a fantastic trip.



























If that doesn't satifsy your paradise photo appetite, view all the Ko Kradan pics here.

Jellyfish

Whoa. On Ko Kradan we saw a huge variety and quantity of jellyfish...



One day, the beach was COVERED in quarter sized red jelly dots (look closely at Ron's feet) and right near the shore was huge mobs of thousands of jellyfish. Definitely didn't swim that day!

The mother of all jellyfish! You've got to know it was pretty hard to talk me into getting in the ocean after seeing this...but the equatorial sun proved convincing =).