Friday, October 5, 2007
Elephants and Tigers, Thailand

We landed safely at Laem Chebang, Thailand, about 3 hours south of Bangkok. Many flew to the beaches of Phuket, others went to the big city. Yesterday I joined a group and went to Pattaya to an Elephant Farm. Teak logging is no longer allowed, so the elephants are trained for the tourist industry here. We rode on them mahoot style and on a platform and saw demos of their strength and dexterity. We also saw a reenactment of the old Kingdom style of dress. Today I joined a group to a Tiger Zoo. They have many Bengal tigers there, and little ones, 4 months old that you can feed milk to. The ships doctor, Dr. Linda Smith, joined me and we saw and held crorodiles, orangutans, wallabies, scorpions and the tigers. It was a fun day. Tomorrow I take a bus and then a boat to the island of Koh Samet where I hope to snorkel and SCUBA. Toodles.

Posted by Nancy @ 04:22 AM pst

Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Vietnam and Cambodia

We arrived in Vietnam and waited outside the Saigon River Delta until dawn. A pilot came aboard and we steamed up the river to Ho Chi Minh City. I got up and looked out the window. The river was a dirty brown color with floating plants and debris. There were palms and an occasional house on stilts. Small boats, some with only a single person worked the river.

The ship arrived at the pier in Ho Chi Minh City and was soon cleared after that. There was a pier with a souvenir stand and starboard across the river a dredge and billboards. It seemed old and used. My trip did not leave until 11:00 a.m. so I spent the morning getting ready, even though I was packed the night before. I arrived at the Union at 10:15 and Jennifer, my Bus 2 Leader, a Resident Director came soon after. We sorted students, checked them in, gave out lunches and itineraries, and I had the bundle of passports and plane tickets. There was great concern about their loss in Cambodia and I was tasked to carry them at all times. It soon became, and I called it, my burden. We boarded our buses and headed to Tan Son Nhat airport.

At the airport, our Discover Asia Guide took the tickets and passports and went to get out boarding passes. The airport was new, with shiny western toilets, and a post office where I bought stamps. It was 9,000 Dong for each card (14,400 Dong to the US dollar). We took off as the sun was getting low and saw all of the flooding from the recent tropical storm that had closed Cat Tien National Park.

On arrival in Cambodia, we went to customs and obtained a Visa for $25.00. We were driven by our guide, Rith, to the Sunway Hotel. They greeted us with juice in a glass and I gave out the room assignments. My BL Jennifer and I got single rooms, a plus. We dropped off our things and I put my burden of 58 passports in the safe. Across the street was a park with macaques (monkeys) and straight across was the US Embassy. We went to a dock on the Mekong River and in the sunset, our 2 buses and 2 groups of people went on a delightful float on the river. We talked to each other and glimpsed the life of the stick house people. Then to the Tonle Basac restaurant for dinner, a Cambodian and Chinese combinations that was very good. We decided the fried paper pork was the best.

The next morning we had buffet breakfast, being careful to avoid contaminants and then bused to the Tong Sleng Museum. It was once a school, and was the site of incarceration and torture of men, women and children deigned by the Khmer Rouge. 100 a day were picked for execution and their remains sent to the killing fields. It was horrible and sobering. The heat and humidity were as oppressive as the grounds, bars and wires, and countless photos if the victims. Additionally, of the thousands housed there, there were only 7 survivors. One survivor painted scenes of the many atrocities. I bought a book on the Khmer captors that looked very compelling. It operated from 1975 until 1979 when the Vietnamese army came into Cambodia (Kampuchea) and liberated the people from the Khmer Rouge. But until 1998, there were continued civil wars with more deaths. At the gate were maimed people, from the 2 million landmines in the country, only half of which have been found.

In a quiet stupor, we headed to the Killing Fields. Our guide, Rith, told us of his personal story. Separated from his family at 6, he was smuggled into the mountains and raised by forest people, who treated his malaria medicinally. His night blindness was a result of malnutrition and it cleared up with vitamins on liberation. Because he remembered his name, he was reunited with most of his family years later, missing only a brother. The Killing Fields were sobering. Mass graves with fences and signs and thatch roofs were the sites of educators, scholars and children who were killed. Many skulls had been gathered and placed as a memorial. There were little children who walked among us, asking for money and practicing their English. There was life…I saw a frog and a skink and a jungle fowl. I had a good discussion with students on communism and Marxism and why this genocide is still happening. Then we drove to the Russian market. I didn’t go in because I had the burden. LLL Nancy and I walked the periphery and I bought 2 DVD for $2 each. Then I waited on the bus. Carrying everyone’s passport was a nervous proposition and I felt compelled to be on my guard at all times. I was told we had been targeted recently and so they wanted me to carry them all. We then went to Sorya Restaurant for lunch. After, Nancy, Alec and I went to the Lucky Marketplace next door where I got a cheapo alarm clock and Nancy a battery for her camera.

At the Silver pagoda, the King was in residence with his blue flag waving. We took off our shoes and got a look at the throne room that the King sits in only once in his life. It is a Constitutional Monarchy. Then the skies opened up but the Destination Asia folks provided us with ponchos. They were a great group. Then a quick visit to the National Museum…lots of statues, and to the airport. We had a short flight to Siem Reap. We went to Kulen II restaurant with long banquet tables and were treated to traditional Cambodian Dance which looked a lot like parts of the King and I, the movie. We checked into a fine hotel called the Borei Angkor and had our own balconies. It was class. I love the custom they have of clasped palms under the chin with a bow for respect and thanks.

The next morning we were up before the sun for a 5:00 a.m. sunrise visit to Angkor Wat. We went to the pond areas and I got a local guy to take our group picture of Bus 1 with fill flash and the silhouette of Angkor Wat behind; awesome. Then I watched mynahs and rock doves as I walked through the temples. Finally, we came to the front where macaques were playing. We returned to the hotel for breakfast and checkout. I again took up my burden. We then drove to Ta Prohm, known for tree routes in the ruins. I bought a Tra, a musical instrument I paid a blind man the day before to play. I also got a $5.00 CD. One of the participants, Sophia from Greece, lost her ticket and out guide here, Khet, helped me help her get a new one from the guards. At the East Gate we went to some stalls and I got some scarves as gifts and a t-shirt. Back to the hotel for lunch, then to Bayon. The bas reliefs there were magnificent and our guide great at telling their story. I had to leave early with the burden and went to the airport with Kahn, the coordinator. I got 58 boarding passes and gave up the $1450.00 Destination Asia had given me for this purpose. We flew without incident to Saigon, where we were witness to a nasty motorcycle accident in front of us. A guy had a head injury and was dragged from the street with his motorcycle. The students had a great time. I was so proud of them!

On Sept 30, I was the trip leader for the Mekong Delta day trip. We headed to the river and received a very interesting commentary from our guide, Sa. He and I had a lot of interesting discussions. At one point we talked about the city name. He said those aged 50+ called it Ho Chi Minh City as they feel he liberated them. Those younger call it Saigon because they feel they didn’t receive promised changes and improvements. We also hear more of the bridge collapse that had happened a few days ago, killing scores and injuring hundreds. We went to a pagoda with some monks. We took off our shoes and listened to a spiel. The Buddha had an electric halo around it! Then back to the bus. I intercepted the persistent street kids and tickled them to get them off the students. Then off to the harbor. We boarded a large boat and steamed the river, looking at the boat houses and barges and floating debris. It is subject to tidal forces and storm surges. We went to Dragon Island and walked through orchards and ate Long yang (Dragon-eye fruit), Dragon fruit, red with white and black seeds inside, and more. We lifted a burden basket set and I bought some hand-embroidered hankies from the lady who did the sewing. We walked the rest of the way across the island, passing the orchard trees and the canals in between. We descended into the boat and went across the island to a coconut candy factory. Coconut shells were the fire’s fuel as they distilled and caramelized the juice into a candy. All tried it and many bought some. Then we got into horse carts. The horses were pony-sized with a flower in their bridle. Off we went across the island. Then we got off and a man with a python waited for us. It was a female and many held it. Then, we boarded 4 to a boat sampans with a small lady using a pole paddle in the rear. We wore the grass hats, non la, and went down a tributary of the Mekong River, looking at fish traps and eel holes. We exited back to our boat and then to lunch. The day had a nice variety. We motored back to the harbor, and bused “home” to the ship.

The next day I led a Field Directed Practica to a western medicine acupuncture clinic. Dr. Ciro Gargiulo, gave us a great talk about acupuncture, diet, life style and how his stem cell research and acupuncture use are evolving. It was very good. The students loved riding in an ambulance code three to and from the one clinic to the next.

After, Diane Thompson, the Physician’s Assistant RN, went to a modern mall and had Pho Tai at the food court. The soup of traditional Vietnam noodles and meat was excellent. Then we taxied to Ben Traing market and spent an hour. I got an eggshell painting, umbrella, alarm clock and smelled the bad open air smell of the market. Then we walked to get my two dollar T-shirt I bought in Cambodia sewn for 10,000 Dong (about 60 cents). I found a black silk top and bought it for 6 dollars. I also got another non la, t- shirts for gifts, and we saw what we later learned was a farmer’s uprising. Military arrived in trucks and on motorcycles and shop keepers were grabbing their sidewalk wares and running into their stores with them. We finally arrived at our shuttle bus and returned back to the ship. I did my paperwork and zonked out. I am caught up…yeah!

Posted by Nancy @ 02:25 AM pst