Monthly Archives: February 2014

Eat Yer Ya-Yas Out

rolling stones

Abu Dhabi Review

“Since those Hyde Park (Ed. note: July 2013) gigs both Mick and Keith have both turned 70 – can they really keep it up for another run?

On the basis of opening night at Yas Island’s du Arena – it’s a resounding yes. The Rolling Stones played an incredible two-hour set, brimming with bluster, groove, spirit, hits, history – and most surprisingly – enthusiasm.” (Ed. note: Read the complete review.)

19 Songs = 2 Hours

19 Songs = 2 Hours

Find Section 222

Find Section 222

Tim, Sherrie, Terry, Geoff

Tim, Sherrie, Terry, Geoff

Watch for OUR review on March 13, 2014

TIC #? Minor medical attention in Jiaxing

Don’t be appalled but last night I suspected I had a urinary tract infection, something every woman knows is a minor but significantly uncomfortable infection.  I didn’t want to travel to Shanghai just to get the antibiotics I know are the cure, so I asked Daisy if she could go with me to No. 1 Hospital where I know they have English-speaking doctors.  She came back a little later and asked if the hospital near the new Hilton would do.  On a clear day, we can see the insignia from our apartment.  No problem for me, as long as they have a doc who can understand me.  Daisy escorts me all the way, which is just as well.

We arrive at the desk and are helped by an English-speaking attendant.  First, I have to be checked in but my medical card is no good in little Jiaxing, so Daisy uses her card.  For 1 yuan (16 cents) I am given a booklet to keep for my medical records.  Daisy’s name is on the front but my details inside.  Shouldn’t be a problem, should it?  Then, we are escorted upstairs a floor where almost immediately I am taken to a (very) young doctor who speaks no English.  After they chat for a while, the nurse asks me if I have any discomfort in my lower back.  Okay, maybe I haven’t made myself clear but before I can say anything, the doctor gets up and hammers my back in a few places, through my winter coat.  I don’t wince so he concludes all is well.  He and the nurse talk some more and then she asks where does it hurt?  Hmmm.  “You will need to have a urine test.”    Ah!

Eventually, I am taken to another department where I confirm I am to pee in a cup.  They give me one, plus a test tube and send me to “the washroom.”  This is a hospital, remember.  When I enter the washroom, what is notable is a large garbage bin on wheels, full to the brim with all kinds of garbage including food wrappers; no lid.  It is parked next to a maintenance sink with several grey-looking mops standing in it.  Into the stall I go — no lock, no toilet paper and two gaping spaces in the tile-work where pipes and raw cement edges are exposed, collecting all manner of dust, grime and disease.  Me without my camera!  Or paper towels for my hands after I wash them in the maintenance sink, that being the only option.

Out I come and deliver my test-tube to the nurse and am told to wait a moment.  After no more than 10 minutes, she arrives with my test results (showing high counts of white corpuscles) and we return to the doctor.  I am hoping for some antibiotics, but instead I get traditional Chinese medicine.  I have to take 12 pills of one kind and 4 of another a day for a week.  As long as it works, I am happy.  Total cost, including the 1 yuan:  153 yuan.  Sadly, my company health card is not usable here in the ‘small’ city (pop 3.5 milliion), but I think I can afford the $25.00.  No worries, I feel better already.

Top Eleven Reasons We Are Staying in Jiaxing

Last week we told you that we had received an offer we couldn’t refuse from Cinec Canada in order to persuade us to stay. While that was partially true, it was just a small part.

This week we give you

The Top Eleven Reasons We Are Staying in Jiaxing

11. We want to see if Letterman will sue us for ripping off his concept.

10. We need to figure out why, if the cover says “Operation Instruction” in English, there is only Chinese inside.

And who needs a 7 page instruction booklet on how to use an electric kettle, anyway?

And who needs a 7 page instruction booklet on how to use an electric kettle, anyway?

9. Although we have had one close encounter of the police kind, Geoff hasn’t actually been arrested — yet. Can he make it through year 3?

8. Terry has just become comfortable with blocking out those who try to cut in front of her in line. We can’t leave NOW.

7. Today, Geoff forced 3 cars to actually stop while he was in the crosswalk, rather than just driving around him. He is on a roll.

6. We are still waiting for a visitor – any visitor – to pronounce Jiaxing correctly. (Jaw Shing – how difficult can that be?)

5. We have seen people sleeping on the subway (standing and sitting), on the train (standing and sitting), on the bus (standing and sitting), on the back of a scooter, on a concrete ball about 10″ across, in their shop while “working”, on the sidewalk with a brick as their pillow and 2 late 20-something women leaning against each other, sound asleep in Starbucks. Where else can they sleep?

4. We have just bought a 2 TeraByte flash drive for $30.00 – we need to fill it up with photos. (At an average raw photo size of 1.5MB per photo, that would be 1,400,000 photos)

3. There are still many, many, many shoes to be photographed and shared.

Is it a running shoe? is it a sandal? is it a running sandal? Only her shoe salesman knows for sure!

Is it a running shoe? Is it a sandal? Is it a sparkly running sandal? Only her shoe salesman knows for sure!

2. We have yet to identify these two Russian “movie stars” (surely they are traveling incognito) seen in the Shanghai-Hongqiao airport on a cloudy day at 7:30 in the morning. We heard them talking, that’s how we know they are Russian.

Hey everyone, look at me!!

Hey everyone, look at us!!

And the Number One Reason We Are Staying in Jiaxing:

We want to see the flood.

This is Tim and ONE of THREE  watertight "hatches" separating the basement from the underground parking lot. They must weigh a couple of hundred pounds each.

This is Tim and ONE of THREE watertight “hatches” separating the basement from the underground parking lot. They must weigh a couple of hundred pounds each and we’re guessing they were installed to prevent a flooding river from getting into the basement of the tower.

The Shoe Blog

A treat for you today. Here are four photos of Links, the young lady we buy our bamboo underwear from, and her soldier husband. She was married a year and a half ago and in December had her wedding photos taken. The party will be in June or July of this year. Nothing like stretching it out. Anyway, she and her husband spent an entire day having over 300 photos taken at a cost of about $600.00. From the 300 taken, she chose 66 to have printed, including two life-size. She wore 6 different gowns. We both think she looks like a princess (and not someone who works in a “knock off” mall).

Links

Links

All these photos were outside

All these photos were taken outside

Apparently it was very cold (well, it was December 24th) and the day after they were taken she was quite sick.

Apparently it was very cold (well, it was December 24th) and the day after they were taken she was quite sick. Can’t imagine why…

 Aaahhh - young love

Aaahhh – young love (and plastic hyacinths)

Photos of Jiaxing

Thought we would post a few photos of Jiaxing.

Our Neighbourhood

Our Neighbourhood

City Hall, across the street from Starbucks

City Hall, across the street from Starbucks

Moon River, home to many bars, restaurants and stinky tofu

Moon River, home to many bars, restaurants and stinky tofu

Farming the River

Hand Dredging the River

A Bridge we have never seen

A Bridge we have never seen

One of the many fine hotels in Jiaxing

One of the many fine hotels in Jiaxing

The brand new soccer stadium - unfortunately, they don't have a team

The brand new soccer stadium – unfortunately, they don’t have a team

The boat that the Chinese Communist was signed on

The boat that the Chinese Communist Manifesto was signed on

The Downtown Core of Jiaxing

The Downtown Core of Jiaxing

In December when we told the boss that we would not be staying, he asked for the opportunity to discuss it face to face, that he really wanted to keep us. (Ed. note: Read “Terry”) Over the last couple of months Geoff and I have had many conversations about what they might offer us to get us to stay. Well, friends, they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse so we have decided to stay one more year at Jiaxing Sr. High School.  We have more adventures waiting for us here in China and elsewhere in Asia and, of course, are looking forward to seeing our first class graduate. (Ed. note: In coming to a decision, we have flipped coins, made lists, read both tea leaves and goat entrails, consulted the stars and soothsayers, had our palms and our cards read etc. etc. Okay, we talked about it.)

It wasn’t an easy choice since we are really missing family and friends, but we think it will go very quickly, so there you have it.

So you can look forward to many more issues of The Jiaxing Express!

 

Cleaning Up

As we get ready to go back to work, some photos from our trip which never justified a full story but you may, or may not,  find interesting.

Ha Long Bay - Lunch for two on our private yacht

Ha Long Bay – Lunch for two on our private yacht

Ha Long Bay - To paraphrase Bob and Doug Mackenzie - "Poser"

Ha Long Bay – To paraphrase Bob and Doug Mackenzie – “Poser”

Ha Long Bay - How does one row like that standing up?

Ha Long Bay – How does one row like that standing up?

Hanoi - Egg Coffee - very famous in Vietnam and apparently this place had the best.

Hanoi – Egg Coffee – very famous in Vietnam and apparently this place had the best.

Hanoi - Terry, Joe and Sam enjoy a light-hearted moment at the market. Sam was looking for a Buddha but never got it.

Hanoi – Terry, Joe and Sam enjoy a light-hearted moment at the market. Sam was looking for a Buddha but never got it.

Hanoi - The Flower Market...Okay the PLASTIC Flower market

Hanoi – The Flower Market…Okay the PLASTIC Flower market

Hanoi - We thought this was a very cool tree - until we got to Bayon Wat

Hanoi – We thought this was a very cool tree – until we got to Bayon Wat

Hanoi - Bride of Frankenstein

Hanoi – Bride of Frankenstein

Hanoi - Dude - what's up with the sleeveless vest?

Hanoi – Hey dude on the left – what’s up with the sleeveless vest?

Hanoi - Where all sewing machines go to die

Hanoi – Where all sewing machines go to die

Hoi An - Joe - relaxing by the pool

Hoi An – Joe – relaxing by the pool

Hoi An - A hard life

Hoi An – A hard life

Hoi An - Don't which is scarier - this lantern during the day or the night.

Hoi An – I don’t which is scarier – this lantern during the day or the night.

Saigon - Propane delivery. The large tanks are brought in by motorcycle

Saigon – Propane delivery. The large tanks are brought in by motorcycle

Saigon - Terry and Dieu (You) - our host on the Dinner in Saigon Tour

Saigon – Terry and Dieu (You) – our host on the Dinner in Saigon Tour

Saigon - Doesn't everyone need to go around with a miner's lamp on their head?

Saigon – Doesn’t everyone need to go around with a miner’s lamp on their head?

Saigon - I have no idea why this guy was posing this way.

Saigon – I have no idea why this guy was posing this way.

Saigon - Scooters - as far as the eye can see

Saigon – Scooters – as far as the eye can see

Cambodia - Just outside Phnom Penh they have solved the problem of not enough bathrooms for visitors

Cambodia – Just outside Phnom Penh they have solved the problem of not enough bathrooms for visitors

Phnom Penh - Sons of Anarchy, Phnom Penh Chapter

Phnom Penh – Sons of Anarchy, Phnom Penh Chapter

Phnom Penh - This restaurant had two and a half walls of sheets of paper like this - these guys want to perpetrate the myth of Canada being all about hockey, eh.

Phnom Penh – This restaurant had two and a half walls of sheets of paper like this – these guys want to perpetrate the myth of Canada being all about hockey, Celine and poutine, eh. (Ed. note: When did poutine become Canada’s national dish?)

Phnom Penh - same restaurant - get your group together and come for a tour and lunch

Phnom Penh – same restaurant – get your group together and come for a tour and lunch

Phnom Penh - When we arrived we were amazed at all the garbage piling up in the streets. It was quite disgusting and very smelly!

Phnom Penh – When we arrived we were amazed at all the garbage piling up in the streets. It was quite disgusting and very smelly!

Phnom Penh - However, we found out that there was a garbage strike and an agreement had just been reached. This was the start of the cleanup.

Phnom Penh – However, we found out that there was a garbage strike and an agreement had just been reached. The strike was over an additional $20.00 a month.  This was the start of the cleanup.

Phnom Penh - On the road back from The Killing Fields this little girl rode up beside Terry and gave her some flowers

Phnom Penh – On the road back from The Killing Fields this little girl rode up beside Terry and gave her some flowers

Phnom Penh - with the two remaining survivors of Tuol Sleng and their memoirs

Phnom Penh – with the two remaining survivors of Tuol Sleng and their memoirs

Phnom Penh - Not sure you could call your business this in Canada

Phnom Penh – Not sure you could call your daycare this in Canada

Siem Reap - The restaurant had great food - went twice for lunch. And the mosquito trap seemed to work - lots of dead bugs on the tape.

Siem Reap – The restaurant had great food – went twice for lunch. And the mosquito trap seemed to work – lots of dead bugs on the tape.

Siem Reap - Didn't see the room, but it must be Truth in Advertising

Siem Reap – Didn’t see the room, but it must be Truth in Advertising

Siem Reap - A Feeding Frenzy - who has more dead skin, do you think?

Siem Reap – A Feeding Frenzy. Terry on the left, Geoff on the right – who has more dead skin, do you think?

Siem Reap - Terry has a glass of water with dinner and starts off on the drying out process after three weeks of wining and dining.

Siem Reap – Terry has a glass of water with dinner and starts off on the drying out process after three weeks of wining and dining.

Siem Reap - Terry in her angelic zen mode

Siem Reap – Terry in her angelic zen mode

The Shoe Blog

Hanoi - What is so special about these? Well they were sitting all by themselves with no one around in the middle of the area just before an escalator. I wonder where the owner went?

Hanoi – What is so special about these? Well they were sitting all by themselves with no one (and I mean no one except Joe and I) around in the middle of the area just before an escalator. I wonder if the owner was abducted by aliens.

And just for Peter who was disappointed with the lack of shoes in the previous blog, I give you these.

The young woman wearing these was in a really cute, dressy outfit. Her boyfriend was, as usual dressed like a slob as they wandered up and down the main street of Saigon on a Sunday afternoon in 28 - 30 degree heat. I would imagine her feet were ready to pop right out of these puppies by the end of the day.

The young woman wearing these was in a really cute, dressy outfit. Her boyfriend was, as usual dressed like a slob as they wandered up and down the main street of Saigon on a Sunday afternoon in 28 – 30 degree heat. I would imagine her feet were ready to pop right out of these puppies by the end of the day.

Remnants of a Vacation or Going “Home”

Well we have left Cambodia and are now in the air flying from Guangzhou to Shanghai. We had a relaxing morning in Phnom Penh – Terry got her nails done and  then got lost in the Russian market before finally finding her way back to the hotel and Geoff lazed around reading in the comfort of the air conditioned room.

When we arrived at the airport, it became clear that we were indeed on our way back to China. There was a couple in the line next to us in the check-in line – sort of. She was in line with the tickets and passports and he was standing off to the side with the cart. On it he had two suitcases and six shopping bags of stuff. Clearly the plan was to carry it all on. When we got to the agent I pointed it out and rather than dealing with it there, he said maybe security would deal with it. Unreal – don’t do your job, let someone else deal with the problem. Then this same fellow gave us our boarding passes. We had prearranged our seats and had two aisle seats assigned to us. When we look at the boarding passes we have been reassigned two middle seats in different rows. We start to walk away and Geoff loses it. “Why bother to get pre-assigned seats if you are just going to give them away?” The guy calls over a supervisor and after some conversation gives us two seats together – middle and window. Still pissed, Geoff reiterates his comments and then is shown that at least we had extra leg room as it was the first row behind ‘premium economy.’

When we arrived in Guangzhou there was a sign at customs inspections: “Remove all turbans and headgear – weapon sensors at work”. Can you see that in little old politically correct Canada working?

Next up is the customs line in Guangzhou. We are in the clearly marked “Foreigners” line next to the clearly marked “Chinese Nationals.” line. This does not stop the Chinese nationals family from splitting in to two so they can get the fastest line, though. We finally get an agent who processes one person for every three the agent next to her deals with. Can you say sssslllloooowwww? Terry observes that often the female agents are much slower

After that we get downstairs to pick up our bags. Now you know how in most airports each flight gets its own carousel to offload the luggage? Not in Guangzhou. The flights from Seoul, Osaka, Kuala Lampur and Phnom Penh are ALL on the same carousel. Can you say MAYHEM?

We finally get our bags and head off to make our connecting flight. We get to the counter, they take our bags and boarding passes (issued in Phnom Penh) and just as we are ready to leave, the guy scanning the passes says “This flight is tomorrow.” No we say, it is tonight at 8:15 (it is now 7:30). We look at the boarding pass and it says 7:20 Thursday morning. We show her our flight confirmation and she says “This flight has been cancelled”.  Geez, you would have thought the guy in Phnom Penh might have mentioned that when he issued the boarding passes, wouldn’t you? “Well you need to find us another flight – Terry has a doctor’s appointment in Shanghai at 10am”. “Sorry we are all booked.” “Find us a flight” – so she makes a desultory attempt to call someone over and talks to him. He gets on the phone and talks to someone else. He says he is waiting to hear if we can get on a Shanghai Air flight. And there we stand for about 20 minutes with no apparently doing anything to help us, but helping lots of others (strangely they were all Chinese and we are not…) Every few minutes they cast furtive glance our way – likely to see if we have disappeared and then quickly look away. The Chinese are masters at ignoring you. Finally Geoff says to the guy “What’s happening?” “Oh, I am waiting for one of my staff to come to take you up to Shanghai Air.” Thanks for letting us know, pal. There are 4 people doing nothing but after about 10 minutes a 5th shows up to take us upstairs. When we get there, another surly agent says something to our guy when he gives her a printout of something with our names on it. Apparently that isn’t good enough and she throws it back at him. We figure they have given the seats to someone else, but no he just has to fill out another form.

We finally get our boarding passes and our guy walks us halfway to the gate and points us in the correct direction. We still have our bags to check which causes us some concern since we are about to go through the security check with all sorts of stuff you aren’t supposed to carry on. However, despite all the forbidden stuff in our bags, the ONLY thing taken is the spent shell casing from Terry’s experience with the AK-47. Unbelievable.

We then get to the gate only to find that – here’s a surprise in China – the flight has been delayed 30 minutes, which of course turns into an hour. On the plane I get a woman in front of me who wants to recline her seat into my lap before we even take off. I say something to the flight attendant who points out that I can do the same with the little button on the seat arm.

After take off comes the announcement that they are going to serve us “Refreshments and beverages” This consists of a bag of peanuts, a white bun, 1/3 of an orange and a piece of chocolate sponge cake. Then come the beverages – “White wine please” “Oh, no wine”. All the while the woman in front of me is trying to get into my lap – my knees won’t let her. I’m sure they will be bruised, but I am making my point! “What point?” Terry says.

Leaving Siem Reap

Having seen enough temples to last a good year at least, we took today easy and strolled around town, buying a few more souvenirs of Siem Reap.  Then, we took up an offer of a ride from one of the seemingly thousands of Tuk Tuk drivers in the town to go for a ride to the lake.  It was well worth the cost and, while not quite an adventure, a fitting end to our trip.

What we saw on the route along the Ton Le river was the “real” Cambodia, that is, a picture of poverty.  We passed by the exact style of elevated reed huts that Pol Pot forced the city dwellers to adopt during his coup, and for these folks, it was same same.  As with everywhere in Asia, the roads, houses and vegetation were thick with dust.  Glimpses into the roadside homes showed living spaces with little or no furniture.  Hammocks or simple mats on the floor, serve as beds.  Cooking is often done outside, as is bathing.  We passed  by two adorable scenes:  one of a mother bathing her child in a 5 gallon bucket and the other, of a little boy, maybe 5 years old, rinsing off his little sister who was patiently sitting naked on the porch.  I spotted a few pumps in yards but suspected that most homes share a common water source, as our driver confirmed. Geoff googled Cambodia to discover that the GDP is the equivalent of $780 per year (Ed. note: Canada’s GDP is $56000).  It is cheaper for the locals than us to live here but still, life is hard.  We did not begrudge them their hard sells on goods.  Softy that he is, Geoff bargains, then gives them what they ask for. We cannot imagine how little they must earn.

(Ed. note: Excuse the jerkiness – rough road and I don’t think the tuk tuk had any shocks left.)

When we arrived at the river, the boat launch for tours on a huge lake to see an ethnic minority were uninviting.  The river looked as if it had been continually dredged and widened and has taken on a raw, scarred appearance, with little vegetation and unnaturally high, even banks.  We were not interested in the tours–we have had enough of coconut candy making, lacquer ware sales, ethnic minority trinkets, and ‘seeing how they live’–so simply turned around and came back. In a brilliant move, Geoff had requested a late check-out so we were able to stop in to a great cafe we found in the neighbourhood to have a salad and margarita (why not?), then go back to the hotel for showers, and final preparation for leaving.

I have come to the conclusion that I actually prefer longer flights–not really long flights but longer than 50 minutes.  It is a little unnerving to get off the ground, have a drink of water and hear the pilot come on, telling the flight attendants to prepare for landing.  Never mind that we got the same plane back to Phnom Penh as we took getting to Siem Reap.  How do I know?  Take a look at the photo. Yikes! (Ed. note: On the first trip we took on this beauty, we noticed that we had been assigned seats 1A and 1B – Great! Legroom, first off, etc. etc. Then we saw that the plane loads and off loads from the back. Great!)

Not nervous at all. Noooo...

Not nervous at all. Noooo…

We got our baggage and headed to the gate.  A monk came up behind me and excused himself.  “Do you have your bag?” he said to me.  I was pulling Geoff’s suitcase so was momentarily perplexed.  It seemed that I had taken the monk’s bag, although he never said so.  “Wait a moment, ” he says, and I look to see a Japanese tourist approaching with our bag, which was obviously much smaller than the one I was pulling.  How embarrassing!  He was good-natured about it and so we exchanged bags and jumped into the next cab in the taxi line. (Ed. note: Hey, I wanted to know why a monk, sworn to poverty, had such a big suitcase – plus I need a new orange robe!)

I think I would have looked quite fetching in an orange robe. Note the ancient wheel chair on the back of the scooter.

I think I would have looked quite fetching. Note the ancient wheel chair on the back of the scooter.

We got in the cab from the front of the line outside the terminal and about 10 minutes out, the cabbie pulls out a chit and says something to the effect that cabs are now $12 flat rate from the airport to downtown and shows me the list on the back (it was $10 on the way out).   I ask him to show me where on the list is our hotel address.  He ignores me and makes little nonsense comments and giggles, like this is okay with me.  I ask him what is his cab number.  Cab number?  He plays dumb.  Karma.  At the hotel we are told no, it should only be $10. You take a monk’s luggage and this is what happens.

By this time, it was around 6:00 and Geoff declared that he would be happy just to eat in the hotel, which was just fine with me.  My stomach had been a bit iffy since lunch so I searched the menu for something that would agree with me.  I asked the waitress if the tuna was canned or fresh.  She seemed perplexed.  Geoff told her to go ask the chef, who is French, if the tuna comes in a can or is fresh.  She comes back a moment later and says, “Tuna is a fish” and just in case we didn’t get it, makes a fish swimming movement with her hands.  Okay, says I, could you please go back and ask the chef if he could just scramble me a few eggs?  She flipped open the menu and went immediately to the dessert section, pointing out a crepe with fresh fruit and ice cream.  Okay, that works for me.  Sounds good.  What do I actually get for dinner?  Geoff had ordered lamb chops with French fries, so they brought that out with an extra side of fries for me and, when that was gone, arrived with a plate of fresh fruit.  Close enough.

(Ed. note: In the last year and a half we have seen many scooters/motorcycles with many many things on them. We have seen 6 people on one scooter (Hoi An), a live pig on his back (road to Ha Long Bay), women in 6″ stilettos (Jiaxing), tons of children asleep jammed in between the parents and a huge myriad of other items, but yesterday I had my heart broken. As we were returning to the hotel, a scooter went by with a dad, a mom and a tiny baby – who couldn’t have been more than 6 – 8 months old. The mother was holding up an IV drip. I can’t imagine what poverty they must live in that they couldn’t afford to have their child stay in the hospital. On our way out to the temples in the last couple of days we passed an internationally funded hospital which helps all  children up to the age of 12. At the gates there were always many mothers and children, I presume waiting patiently to get in to be seen. It was a heart wrenching scene. We have seen poverty before when we have traveled, but it has affected me more on this trip than ever before. We – all who write and read this – are so incredibly fortunate to have what we have.

Terry commented the other day that the maid at the Rex – the hotel in Saigon, always took her shoes off before entering the room to clean. The woman’s shoes were a pair of flats that the sides were split open – either they weren’t the right size or worn for so long that they just gave way. Terry felt there was no way she could wear those shoes even if they were new – absolutely no support to begin with.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of women and children we have seen sound asleep on a blanket on the sidewalk. How exhausted would one have to be to sleep so soundly on cement in the middle of a noisy city?

The number of beggars is also staggering – most with physical issues – no legs, or no arms, or no hands – or combinations of all of these. Some just beg, some have a trinket to sell “One dollar, sir, please”.  Many amputees are victims of mines, some of whom have formed small bands that play on the pathways on temple grounds; not begging, just with baskets set out for donations.

Yesterday a woman carrying a baby latched on to Terry just outside a convenience store “No money please, just buy milk for my baby”. How does one walk by that?

There is no safety net – medical or pension here. This is why people have big families, so that the children will look after the parents when they are too old to work.

Poverty is a mind numbing problem which I know I can’t solve and maybe that is why it is so upsetting. I remember my Mom always sponsored a child in Africa for something like $25.00 a year. You were a saint, Mom.)

The Shoe Blog

And now for something completely different. These were on the feet of one of the Korean tourists who descended on us at the boat launch. There will be more info coming on the tours in a later blog!

There was lots go on with these babies!

There was lots go on with these babies!

Siem Reap

Sunrise at Angor Wat

Sunrise at Angor Wat

We finished our second and last day visiting the temples of Siem Reap today and were awestruck.  What an experience!  Yesterday, we slept in, followed the guide book and did the “Grand Tour” that includes half a dozen lesser temples.

The trees at Ta Prohm were incredible.

The trees at Ta Prohm were incredible.

The temple was left 500 - 1000 years ago and nature took over.

The temple was left 500 – 1000 years ago and nature took over.

This one is called Anaconda as the roots look like a snake.

This one is called Anaconda as the roots look like a snake. Yes, those are the roots.

The trunks are quite large.

The trunks are quite large.

Unbelievable.

Unbelievable.

This temple had forty doors with a distance of 5 to 40 feet between them. If it is an average of 20 feet, then the distance from one end to ty other is 800 feet. Remarkable.

This temple had forty “doorways” with a distance of 5 to 40 feet between them. If it is an average of 20 feet, then the distance from one end to the other is 800 feet. Remarkable.

An example of one of the remaining buildings.

An example of one of the remaining buildings.

As we left one of the temples, we saw thousands of dragonflies. Obviously, Adeline wanted to share our experiences!

As we left one of the temples, we saw thousands of dragonflies. Obviously, Adeline wanted to share our experiences!

That was amazing enough, but this morning we went to Angkor Wat for sunrise and were (pick one: stunningly impressed, gob-smacked, blown away).  Thinking about this temple and what we had seen in Phnom Penh, Geoff  commented on the capacity of man to accomplish both marvelous and hideous deeds. (Ed. note: “It is amazing that the same species which can create something like this can also perform incredibly horrendous acts of violence. We clearly have the capacity to do extraordinary things when we set our minds to it.” A self-evident truth strikes Geoff at 7:10 am.)

Angkor Wat was built almost a thousand years ago and it is stunning to think it could be done with man-power alone. Huge stones make up the foundation, galleries, walls and towers.  They are made from a rock that is easily cut and which is full of holes so it is quite light in comparison to sandstone; but all those stones were then covered with more decorative sandstone and carved into fabulous bas reliefs and adornments.   I was entranced by the stone spindles, which were about 5′ long and carved, just like a wooden spindle–could the stone have been carved on a lathe of some sort?  Intricate carvings of flowers and shapes decorated each of the cuts on each spindle.  Amazing!

Scientists have speculated on how the stones got to the sites and it appears that they were floated from quarries many miles away along rivers and canal systems built for the purpose.  When you fly in to Siem Reap you see that the area is mostly wet lands, often flooded and almost always soggy.  Not a good location to build heavy rock temples, one wouldn’t think, but the structures were ingenious.  A huge man-made moat surrounds Angkor Wat.  The soil removed for it was placed on the temple site. The moat never dries as it is fed by underground springs, so the water exerts a steady pressure against its walls, which keeps the sand foundation in place.  Many of the other temples have crumbled over time but Angkor Wat is largely intact because of this engineering marvel, used almost 1000 years ago.

Angkor Thom was a city of 1 million people at the time when London had 50,000. It is just north  of Angkor Wat and contains a serious of temples and terraces, including the Bayon, the terrace of the Leper King and of Elephants.  The whole area of temples, including Angkor Wat and Thom, is vast, covering some 400 square kilometers or 160 sq. miles.  Some hearty folks might make it a point to see every structure but not us.  We were back at the hotel after 4 and a half hours, ready for a nap, a swim and (perhaps) a massage.  A glass of wine might be in the works, too!  Our guide tried to sell us on the idea of a floating village on a lake that ‘is very special” but we’re not buying it.

The moat around Anghor Wat. It is 100 metres wide and has four sides, each 1.5 kms long.

The moat around Anghor Wat. It is 200 metres wide and has four sides, each 1.5 kms long.

One of the temples on the Anghor Wat grounds in the pink light of dawn.

The main entrance to  Anghor Wat grounds in the pink light of dawn.

The stairs to the top were steep!

The stairs to the top were steep!

One of the two types of carved posts.

One of the two types of carved posts.

Type two.

Type two.

The Bas relief was amazing.

The Bas relief was amazing. While no one lived in Angkor Wat, the walls were peopled with a court of ladies and gentlemen.

They would stretch for more than 100 yards, all perfectly identical.

They would stretch for more than 100 yards, all perfectly identical, telling stories of historical events.

Another of the buildings at Anghor Wat.

Another of the buildings at Anghor Wat.

Approximately twenty of these head line each side of the "drawbridge" entering Anghor Thom, the former capital city. Many were taken by treasure hunters in the 1980s and 90s. The light coloured one is new.

Approximately twenty of these heads line each side of the “drawbridge” entering Anghor Thom, the former capital city. Many were taken by treasure hunters in the 1980s and 90s. The light coloured one is new.

One of the incredible face at Bayon Temple

One of the incredible faces at Bayon Temple

There were four faces on each tower. Can you spot 3 faces?

There were four faces on each tower. Can you spot 3 faces?

This guys eyes follow you as you move around him.

This guys eyes follow you as you move around him.

Last night we had a great meal at a Cambodian BBQ place, then ended up in a massage parlour.  Geoff asked for a body massage while I had a foot massage.  Definitely not the best place.  You know you’re in trouble when you don’t start with a nice foot soak in a hot tub of water and instead, the masseuse wipes your feet off with a cloth.  The fact that he was about 12 was another clue.  Geoff, meanwhile, was in  another room.  He started with one woman and was eventually joined by 2 more. Hmmmmm.  They aggressively pursued getting him to buy the “happy ending” but he didn’t go for it.  I don’t know why it would take three women but anyway.  (Ed. note: “6 hands very good, sir.”) All part of the Asian experience, although we haven’t found this in China.  Our guide seemed to think it only for foreigners as he hadn’t heard of it before. I bet.  Anyway, all’s well that end’s well.  Wait!  I didn’t mean….oh, to heck with it!

The Shoe Blog

A bit of a deviation for you. The first is a combination of a couple of women – one Korean and the other Chinese, who “dressed for the occasion.”

Who could ever think this would be good attire to go and traipse around temples, climb stairways, walk on dusty paths etc. etc.

Who could ever think this would be good attire to go and traipse around temples, climb stairways, walk on dusty paths etc. etc. Terry tells me that the outfit on the left is all one – which means she has to basically undress if she need the toilet.

These two ladies, also Korean, had “matching hats”. Must be Easter – somewhere.

Nice - keeps the sun off their faces.

Nice – keeps the sun off their faces.

Entering Cambodia

Usually one enters a country via highway or airport.  Coming in by boat was an altogether different experience.  Once we cleared customs in both Vietnam and Cambodia, both offices “rustic,” to say the least, we boarded our van with the other 11 “International Travelers” aka back-packers, and headed off down sandy, rutted roads and narrow, railing-less bridges.  Inexplicably, a casino stood just minutes inside the Cambodian border.  “Must be native land,” says Geoff.  Who on earth goes there?    Maybe the customs officers?  Maybe they bring tour boats in for the experience? Hard to say. It didn’t look too prosperous and given the living environment for the next 10 miles, it was easy to see why.   It was an eye-opening experience to see the homes of the locals, perched on stilts with water buffaloes housed below. Everywhere was dirt, sandy, dusty, dry.  No amount of sweeping could ever keep it at bay.

Note to self:  never ever pack white for Asia!  We have both worn everything many times and needed a laundry.  I had saved white capris for Phnom Penh.  It is to laugh.  The first day, we took a tuk tuk to Tuol Sleng Museum, then to the Killing Fields.  By the time we got there and back, my pants were beyond dirty.  Live and learn.

Tuol Sleng is the high school that was converted to a prison by Pol Pot and was the first step prior to being sent to death in the Killing Fields.  What a horrendous story!  Our guide was 15 when Phnom Penh was supposedly liberated, but the Khmer Rouge was only tricking its people when it told the citizens to pack a few things because they had to move into the country for a few days while things stabilized.  That was the first step in separating them from their homes, all belongings, and peaceful existence.  Our guide was separated from his family and forced to work in the fields every day for 12-14 hours.  The Khmer Rouge destroyed homes and most of Phnom Penh and built traditional bamboo platforms with straw roofs for the people instead.  This is just a part of the story.  What happened and what most of us remember something about is the on-going torture and genocide of a quarter of the population of Cambodia.  Pol Pot murdered indiscriminately, from every walk of life, including his own generals and ministers.  He imprisoned simple farmers, children, the elderly, and almost everyone was brutally tortured before they were killed in a most heinous fashion. I asked our guide if Pol Pot was mad, but he was circumspect and asked instead if it were possible that someone else, another government possibly, was pulling the strings.  It was hard to imagine.  Two of the elderly survivors of the prison were there, selling their books and bearing witness to the atrocities.  They had been spared because they had some special skill that was needed.  One was an artist and was able to paint portraits of the leaders and document the events in the prison.  When we left, neither of us could speak without emotion.

We followed the path of the victims to the Killing Fields, the main national monument in memory of the genocide.  It was an eerie experience to walk the fields (a small area, really) where 1000s of people were systematically murdered.  With one of the best audio-guides we’d ever heard, we walked without speaking around the grounds, ending at a stupa, filled with skulls of some of the victims.  It was heart-breaking and numbing to consider such inhuman treatment at the hands of their own people.

(Ed. note: Terry was much affected by this experience – close to tears several times. The barbarianism of Pol Pot was truly remarkable:

  1. 2.6 million of a population of 8 million murdered
  2. turned Phnom Penh and other cities  into virtual ghost towns – buildings deserted, trees, weeds etc. taking over the roads etc.
  3. they severely tortured innocent people for “information” and then just tortured them to make their deaths more painful
  4. virtually no bullets were used in the mass slaughtering of the people. They used shovels, clubs, knives, hoes etc. to kill – the excuse being bullets were too expensive
  5. if one member of a family was murdered because they were “traitors’, then all members of the family had to die – women, children and babies.
  6. in Tuol Sleng, prisoners were made to lie down 24 hours a day. There were three types of rooms – individual rooms where a prisoner was shackled by both arms and legs to a bed, individual cells where people were shackled to a cement floor by one leg with arms behind their backs or larger rooms where 50 – 60 people where shackled by one foot to a long bar and had approximately 1 metre of width and 1.5 metres of length to lie. They were “showered” approximately once a month with a hose washing them down where they lay. Some areas had holes in the walls where the water could drain – some didn’t and the water just stayed there until it evaporated.
The Rules to be followed at Tuol Sleng

The Rules to be followed at Tuol Sleng

The rooms were barb wired in.

The rooms were barb wired in.

They have left the barbed wire around the school to show what they faced.

They have left the barbed wire around the school to show what they faced.

A depiction by one of the survivors of one of the many ways they were tortured.

A depiction by one of the survivors of one of the many ways they were tortured.

For a while the people who found "The Killing Fields" - one area of 187 such fields - didn't understand the significance of this tree. They then discovered that the Khmer Rouge soldiers used this tree to kill babies before throwing them into a pit. They would swing the babies into the trunk and batter them until they were dead.

For a while the people who found “The Killing Fields” – one area of 187 such fields – didn’t understand the significance of this tree. They then discovered that the Khmer Rouge soldiers used this tree to kill babies before throwing them into a pit. They would swing the babies into the trunk and batter them until they were dead.

The stupa memorial. It contains 8000 skulls of the more than 20,000 people slaughtered here.

The stupa memorial. It contains 8000 skulls of the more than 20,000 people slaughtered here. There were more than 300 killing sites in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The Tour

(Ed. note; We decided to go loosey-goosey after leaving Saigon and so waited until we arrived at the 5 star Rex Hotel to book travel and accommodation. However, it is Tet. This  means that many, many people go home to the country,  many many businesses close and many, many services aren’t available. This means that getting from Saigon to Phnom Penh is very, very difficult. Terry finally found a 2 day one night tour that would take us through the Mekong Delta and then up the river to Phnom Penh.  Terry says “I wear this one, not proudly, but it is on me. Here it is:”)

I had a moment of doubt when I was booking but had already looked for hours to find a quick way to get to Phnom Penh while seeing some of the Mekong.  I didn’t want another trip like Ha Long Bay and so opted for this one through Get-Your-Guide, an on-line service via Switzerland.  Geoff checked it out on TripAdvisor to rave reviews but apparently the service stops at finding you a guide.  They are not responsible for the guide’s service.  Let’s just say it fits the adage, “You get what you pay for.”  For $75 each, I thought we were getting a mostly-by-boat trip down the Mekong to Chau Doc, where we would stay the night (included), and then get on a fast boat to Phnom Penh (also included).  Along the way we were going to have a MINIMUM of tourist stops and were going to be able to do a small amount of cycling.  But no, we got MUCH more than that!

This was at the beginning of the day. Trust me, she wasn't nearly this chipper at the end! But isn't she just so dar cute!. (This is a common pose of young girls - 20-30 yrs old - getting their photo taken.

This was at the beginning of the day. Trust me, she wasn’t nearly this chipper at the end! But isn’t she just so darn cute!. (This is a common pose of young girls – 20-30 yrs old – getting their photo taken.

The traffic was heavy on the day of the trip, slowing the drive to our first starting point.

You can choose not to believe me, but I swear this is the truth. For more than one hour at about 40 mph, this was the constant flow of traffic coming at us. They were all heading back to Saigon after Tet.

You can choose not to believe me, but I swear this is the truth. For more than one hour at about 30 mph, this was the constant flow of traffic coming at us – and then we turned off this road. They were all heading back to Saigon after Tet.

One of the many rest areas on the road. Apparently they are used to long "rests" since most of them carry hammocks.

One of the many rest areas on the road. Apparently they are used to long “rests” since the stops all have hammocks.

Consequently, once we got on the boat, we were hurried all day and “the tour” started to go sideways. We rushed by the floating markets (Ed. note: These are much different than in Thailand where they just sell crap. These sell vegetables and fruit only – mostly to restaurants but some “retail”. They pull up, drop anchor and wait.),

This fellow is bringing in rambutan (a fruit) to sell.

This fellow is bringing in rambutan (a fruit) to sell.

took time over the authentic coconut candy making,

A man REALLY excited about his work.

A man REALLY excited about his work.

This fellow pours rice into hot sand, then separates  it and

This fellow pours rice into hot sand, then separates it and

Voila - Poprice as opposed to Popcorn.

Voila – Poprice as opposed to Popcorn.

sped right past the snake wine demo (rats! I wanted to try it)

Some homes tried to make their environment more appealing...

Some homes tried to make their environment more appealing…

...some not so much.

…some not so much.

and back on the boat to lunch (blah!), by-passed the cycling but were later taken to a crocodile farm.  Is that a bye? (Ed. note: after the boat we enjoyed a 5 hour bus ride…)

We had five different guides by the time we were done.  At one point on the bus, we had no guide and drove for quite awhile with no explanation of where we were or what we were doing.  Finally, we stopped in a town and the driver said, “Washroom” and pointed.  A few people disembarked, then came back and got back on, but no driver.  We knew he had to come back because he had left the motor running.  After 10 minutes, inexplicably a Chinese couple got on board.  After waiting another length of time, we decided we should use the WC.  When we came back, the driver was leading a large group of tourists who filled the bus.  Our fourth guide arrived with a small lawn chair, opened it in the aisle beside me, plopped down and proceeded to make lengthy calls into two cell phones for over a half hour.  We had no idea if he was the guide or not.  The fellow behind us finally asked for some information and chewed him out a little. (Ed. note: We later discovered he had “lost” two people from his tour “Not my fault” he claimed.)

An hour and a half before Chau Doc, we were getting a little giddy…

Look out for a Crocodile with a machete.

Look out for a Crocodile with a machete.

Finally, after starting in Saigon at 7:45 am, we arrived at Chau Doc, 7:00 pm, much worse for the wear, and were directed to our rooms in the floating hotel. Imagine building an elevated dock with wooden planks, then framing rooms on top.  The planking carries right on into the rooms.  Click here: Chau Doc accommodations.

We went for a meal in the open-air dining room, which was fun, and had some grilled shrimp, rice and a spicy hot pot that we didn’t realize we were ordering.  Geoff rejects anything “Pho-like”  as he puts it,(Ed. note: For all you connoisseurs, it is actually pronounced “Fa” – as in fa la la la la…)  so instead of eating, he drank beer.  He had lots of fun wishing the patrons happy New Year:  Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Ha ha ha ha ha. (Ed. note: THEY started it!) Why is that funny?  Anyway…

Now, Geoff is very particular about some things and one thing he cannot abide is a running toilet.  This one had a constant kind of trickle, not too loud but seemingly disturbing to his sleep.  At 4:00am, he got up, turned on the light in the bathroom and in an effort to fix it, broke the float arm off, causing it to run for real.  No shut off tap, either.  I think, “It must be morning because he’s obviously in there showering” but soon enough he came out and told me to go back to sleep.  Righty-O!  Off we go, then.

Breakfast was what you might expect—a few eggs, a mini French loaf and coffee.  I paid an extra 10,000 dong for butter and jam.  We ordered an orange shake each, which was my attempt to get some fruit into me before the last leg of our trip. (Ed. Note: Did you even know Sunny-D made a shake?)

I tried to find out the night before if it were possible to bail on the rest of the tour and buy a ticket on the express boat directly to Phnom Penh.  Not possible, the guide said.  Why not?   Blah blah blah blah blah blah.  “The express boat is slower than taking the slow boat to the border then driving in the bus.”  Needless to say, we were once again uncharmed by the experience.

There were too many tourists for one boat; some were going to PP and some back to Saigon, but all of us were going, come hell or high water, to see the cheezy fish farm

The guides were incredibly excited to tell us that there were approximately 130,000 carp, catfish and some other type under our feet in an area 10 metres by 20 metres by 6 metres deep.

The guides were incredibly excited to tell us that there were approximately 130,000 carp, catfish and some other type under our feet in an area 10 metres by 20 metres by 6 metres deep.

and Cham ethnic village.  They had to play catch-up with the boats, dropping one group, off going back to get the other, then taking the first group on; repeat.  Fortunately, both these two stops were less than 15 minutes out of the city!  Poor guide #4!  He was as tired as we were and feeling harassed.  “New guide will answer questions!”   I guess so!

Anyway, here we are at the border, still on the water but in a waiting area, drinking our third café suda of the day (fabulous Vietnamese coffee on ice) and eating a package of Oreos.  We finished the blueberry ice cream flavoured ones on the bus yesterday so are reduced to regular.  Once we are done here being processed (1 hour but the guide does everything), we move on to the Cambodia customs office, then onto a bus and 2 hours to Phnom Penh!  I am praying that the hotel I booked is great!  Mind you, at this point, anything is going to look great in comparison.  But hey, it’s been a great adventure for $150!  And any minute now, we’ll be in Cambodia!

The Shoe Blog

In what must be another lifetime, Terry took this photo in the Museum of National History in Hanoi. They are from about 2000 years ago!

Classy in any era...

Classy in any era…