May 08, 2013

Beach Wisdom: Joy part 1

Beach Wisdom is a small inspirational book given to me (twice) by my mother; once when I moved to South Korea in 2009 and again in 2012 when I moved to Thailand. I feel as if the universe, or at least my mother, is trying hard to never let me forget the lessons learned while growing up at the ocean front. So this is a new series reflecting on each short page in the book....

Today's quote:

"Go in the water, even if it's cold"

This is something I often did when young. Virginia Beach isn't known for amazing surf, but when I stood up on my board for the first time, I was hooked. I remember waking up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning and trekking down to the ocean front to surf. I remember mid-night surf sessions with ol' friends hoping to God I could swim faster than my surf buddies if we saw a shark. I remember surfing bare back in sleet and snow because we thought the break was worth it.

When I was young the cold water never stopped me. As I started to grow-up and "mature", I started to realize that the discomfort of cold water wasn't worth it to my body in the long run. But that soon became my excuse for most things I stopped doing.

I think it's about time for me to rethink what it means to be mature. For me, the cold water is a metaphor for all the things I stopped, or quit, or gave up on, because it either seemed impossible or I simply lost the will to push past the obstacle. It is time for me to get back into the water, no matter how cold it is.


April 01, 2013

The Swiss Family Rhodes



I celebrated my birthday nearly a month late – a good thing too because I was in Burma during my real birthday and things were really rough. I discovered a lot about myself on that trip; but that is a story for another time. This is about how my awesome wife made one of the most memorable birthdays EVER!
I returned from Burma knowing that Aileen planned an awesome birthday excursion. The funny thing about the birthday trip is that I had no idea what was planned, where it was, how long it would be, or how to plan for it. I was told to pack some things and off we went.

We had a rough Saturday morning. Fortunately, the ticket Aileen received 10 minutes from the apartment did not prove to be a sign of how the trip would turn out. We stopped at one of our favorite western  spots for brunch – Butter is Better – and then Rimping to for a special treat of good western beer, cheese, crackers, and cured meat. All of this was for when we arrived at this surprise destination. 

Because of Aileen’s ticket, I ended up driving us to the secret location. We were worried that the surprise would be ruined because she would have to give me directions and signs would surly give it away. But, the entire 1 and ½ hour motorbike ride gave no hint of our destination.

We drove through smog filled mountains following a sweltering asphalt road. Clearly, dry season was in full force. The forests that we passed showed signs of recent burnings that reminded me vaguely of Yellowstone’s 1988 fire – black and gray ground with soot and ash everywhere, markings on trees where the flames climbed the bark. Everything was either black or dusty brown.

Finally, we pulled up to a humble looking entrance of what looked like a few wooden cabins nestled in a hollow. Just beyond the entrance were beautiful shallow pools and shallow waterfalls that split the property in two. The cabins were in fact wooden. But they were a 1000 times better than that!

We wanted to choose this one but it was too hot.
 Aileen chose to take me on a Swiss Family Robinson adventure. The cabin we chose was one of the 3 tree houses available. Stairs led to the first landing that housed a nice wooden table and chairs. The stairs continued up the tree to where our room was. It was a small room with a bed that took up nearly the entirety of the room. It came equipped with a separate bathroom with a western toilet, running hot water and a bath tub! Now that is something I haven’t seen in a long time!

Our little tree house!
Then continuing up the tree about 3 stories above the ground was a covered patio. Our place was AWESOME!!! I always dreamed of living in a tree house for a night – this was a tree house + some, with friendly dogs and cats, a basket to deliver things to the balcony!

The family that owns this small tree house resort is wonderful. The father-in-law is a retired architect who designed all the houses while the husband and wife team up to run the place. They also have a wonderful small restaurant that goes with it. While the food was pricy for Thailand (300 baht for dinner – ya I know it’s only 10 dollars) the dinner was sooo worth it. We had whole tilapia fried and served in sweet chili sauce - thanks to the big guy in Bangkok apparently (ask Aileen), Japanese style mushroom medley, ginger pork, and a huge fruit tray with mulberry.

All in all, living a childhood dream was well worth the 28 years of waiting!

March 28, 2013

Wanna know where I've been?

So, I realize that I haven't been here in a few months. Well I guess on the internet, here is a rather relative term... I have, in fact, been a lot of places since I've been gone -

    Malaysia:
      - Kuala Lumpar
      - Penang

    Thailand:
       - Mae Sot
       - Chiang Mai
       - Hua Hin
       - Bangkok

    Burma:
        - Yangon
        - Hmawbi

But really, what have I been doing this whole time? Why haven't I been keeping an accurate log of my life like I keep promising I will do? Well, I decided that being jobless was less fun than I first thought. So, I created an NGO. We are called Green Communities Consulting. We do pretty cool stuff but to get a better idea really just check out the site.

I promise once I get this thing up and running smoothly, I'll be able to write here more frequently... If you want to help with my new adventure go click here

December 10, 2012

Same Same but Different

The air was cool and heavy with moisture when the rooster finally quit his song. Fog lingered on the limestone cliffs and the thatched roof tops dripped with dew for most of the early morning hours. Eventually the sun would greet the peaks and spread through the fog like fingers reaching in water - rippling and rolling the fog until at long last, the green of the jungle was visible.

Over the past two weeks, I woke up every morning to that beautiful beautiful sight.
 Morning view of the Mt to the east 
to

Almost the exact same view 3 hours apart
Just to the west, less than a mile as a crow flies, lies the forbidden lands of Burma. And for some, both students and orphans alike, that land just beyond the narrow river, was home.
look it... it's Burma
These last few weeks with my students from NEED-Burma proved to be one of the most memorable times with them. Well, previous students now. Before arriving to the training at Grace Garden with BGET, I began mentally preparing myself for the end of the contract. I left 5 days before the students to return home briefly before meeting them again at the training site. I had hoped leaving early would orientate me to a quieter less hectic life. 

But, when I met up with my students at the training, I realized that I enjoyed the constant intellectual discussions at random hours of the day. I looked forward to hearing "Teasherrrr" without the 'ch' because it is too difficult for some to pronounce. I enjoyed the communal meals and latest gossip in a language I couldn't understand and I loved seeing the students transition into educators. 

The latter is one of the greatest moments in teaching. Watching a student who, just three months before was too afraid to say "hello" in their native language, teaching a room full of students in English - a skill I wish I could claim as having taught them. 

In the past two weeks, I am certain that I witnessed what all educators around the world hope will become of their students - confident, capable, compassionate human beings with a desire to better themselves and the world around them. As an educator, I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn from my students. My brief time with NEED-Burma turned out to be life changing. It is kind of funny really, those who go through BVP always say that their placements are life changing. I guess I am 'same same but different'...?

November 15, 2012

Experiments of light

Photo set 2 of NEED-Burma.  Now that I have a real camera and not just the ipad for photos (which all of photo set 1 came from), I have an NEX-5 take proper pictures of my workplace. Oh yes, be jealous - this is where I work. :-D Enjoy.

Only one of these photos has been altered. Can you find it?

1) Morning light

2) Jupiter

3) Micro

4) Glamor shot?
5) Ethereal San Htay

6) Starlight
7) Experiments with Light

8) 6:30 am

Papaya in the Sun


I stayed up late to experiment with the camera and night shots. When I finally fell asleep at 2 am, the gods must have thought it funny to wake me so soon at 5:00 am.  I figured this was a sign that I needed to get up and photograph the sunrise.

However, one major difference between here and taking photos at the oceanfront where I grew up is the lack of mountains at my childhood beach. Rather than the typical sunrise at around 6:32am, which the weather channel suggested it would rise, the sun appeared at 7:10. Why you may ask... well the mountains kinda make the sunrise a lot later. So much for needing to get up at 5:00 to see the sunrise.

Please let me know what you think of the images and which you think was altered and how.
If you get it right, you'll get a high-five. Metaphorical of course, because I won't actually high-five the screen nor will I expect you to receive it by doing the same. Cheers.

October 05, 2012

Worth A Thousand Words

Some people say that a picture is worth a thousand words; well, here are a few:

















September 14, 2012

King Chao Anouvong

Vientian turned out to be an absolutely beautiful place. The waterfront is an amazing stretch of boardwalk that looks out onto the Mekong River and Thailand just beyond the waters. It is beautiful, so long as the viewer can ignore the cost of development. While development is a necessary process, especially in Laos, the cost for the waterfront was oddly negotiated. The stipulation China made for funding was to give Chinese citizens property to then rent to Laotian residents, effectively preventing Lao citizens from owning property in specific parts of the city. 

This is at least one version of the story. I haven't had the opportunity to research this subject because I have been engaged in a slightly less important research topic: a bronze statue of Laos' final king Chao Anouvong, arm outstretched waiting for a friendly gesture and eyes looking longingly at the Thailand boarder.

The story I was told is a bit depressing. A once upon king of Laos looks to Thailand for peace and economic partnership. When the Laos was ready to take the next step and was prepared to start a life long friendship with her neighbor, Thailand abruptly stops, turns away and leaves the Laos king on his shore waiting. A few hundred years later, Vientian erects a statue in honor of this king. The statue is to forever face Thailand waiting for his counterpart to accept his friendship. Maybe one day, Thailand will put up a statue on their shore with the king accepting.

Well this is how the story goes anyway. After a few quick searches, I found absolutely zero to corroborate it. The true story, has more to do with conquering, rebellions, and a sad tragic death. Read Marc Albert's story of the statue. According to the research, it is more correct than mine. Click here for his blog

Anyway, the statue is magnificent really. And while I may never live in Laos, I will gladly be your friend King Chao Anouvong... if my retelling of the story were true anyway.