From Jamie's Philippines Pics

We have also had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places in China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bali. We have archived all of our travels and living experiences abroad; and if you wish, you can read about our adventures by finding the archives on the right of this page and by checking our Photo Album.

We appreciate all of our family and friends who have stayed in touch and emailed us with encouraging words throughout the year. We hope you will continue to keep us in your thoughts as we continue our adventure of living abroad teaching at an international school. For those who have stumbled upon our site, check out the "About Eric and Jamie" section on the right for more information.

Thanks for checking us out!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
- Mark Twain

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."
- Maya Angelou






Skype: "ericandjamie"



Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 11 - Luang Prabang

From Laos

Jamie and I made sure we had plenty of rest and finally woke up, checked some email, and had a wonderful lunch down the road. We were able to turn in our laundry and have it done today too, which was good because we were out of just about everything.

Today, we took a minivan to the Kuang Si waterfalls about 29 km out of town. We didn
t know what to expect but they were quite nice. Several people swimming and even though we had prepared to, we didn't go. Also had a small sanctuary there for Asiatic bears they had saved from poachers. The whole trip didn't last much longer that 3 hours, but it was a nice some of the surrounding countryside.

We made it back to town and decided to walk up and down the street night market. Dozens of booths are set up that sell all sorts of handmade items. Of particular interest (if we had the space) were the duvet covers, lamps, and some wooden objects. We are simply overpacked and can't purchase too much.

Dinner was at an amazing little restaurant called Tamarind which served us authentic Laotian food of stuffed lemon grass as well as stick rice, buffalo meat, sausage, and veggies. VERY very good and we might go back. Jamie was hoping to catch a cooking class, but they are full until after we leave.

We walked back through the night market and will probably go back there tonight.

I think tomorrow will be a trip to the Buddhist caves. Check out the pictures. I have rearranged them.

Day 9 and 10 – Kunming to Luang Prabang

From Kunming

Jamie and I slept in and checked out of our hostel at noon and then grabbed a quick bite to eat. We had nearly 4 hours to kill before leaving for the bus station.

We finally caught a cab to the new bus station. It apparently had just opened that day and people were everywhere trying to figure out where to go. We figured it out and caught the bus just in time. The sleeper bus was divided into 3 equal sections of beds. Jamie and I were beside one another in our narrow little beds. Cheapest way to get into Laos. We had time to spare and settled in for our 25 hour bus ride.

The evening was pretty simple just lying on our little beds. The bus stopped MANY times to let people on and off. Apparently, the bus drivers (there were 3 who rotated) would pick up random people if they had room on the bus for some extra money. At one point, we stopped for 3 hours. Not sure why.

Morning came and we still hadn’t reached the China/Laos border. About 10:00 am, we finally reached the border. It was simple enough. The Chinese border building was brand new, rather large, and very nice. 200 meters down the road, we entered the border for Laos which was literally a one room little shack where you overpriced you for a visa. We paid nonetheless and continued our bus ride into Laos.

The roads in China were nice and paved and pretty straight. Once you hit Laos, the roads became sometimes gravel, sometimes dirt, and very very curvy. Luckily, we had stocked up on some Dramamine and were good to go.

At exactly 24.5 hours, we rolled into Luang Prabang. We found a tuk tuk driver to take us to our guesthouse. LP is a charming little city from what we have seen. We ate dinner at a great place right on the river tonight and look forward to our “warm” stay here in Laos before heading to Bangkok in a 7 days.

Day 8 – Kunming

From Kunming

We somewhat slept in this morning and headed out to breakfast before catching a taxi to the bus station.

Our destination of the day was the Stone Forest, a large section of karst landscape that has formed over the last few billion years. It has developed just what the name suggests, a stone forest. You can check out the photos and see for yourself.

It was a cool place, but we only stayed for a couple of hours because it was rather cold plus I was still feeling pretty weak. We took a bus back 2 hours and it dropped us off in a different bus station, so we had to take another bus back to the city before taking a cab to our hostel. This is typical in traveling in Asia. If you do it yourself like we do and save money, you have to go through some hoops before getting somewhere. Or, you can hire a private car and guide to take you everywhere. This of course is more expensive but still pretty reasonable and something many of our coworkers do.

We arrived back at the hostel near dinner time, and ended up just snacking there. Tomorrow, we’d have a day to kill before taking a 25 hour bus ride into Laos.

Day 7 – Dali to Kunming

I was weak and my stomach was still a bit rumbly, but we had wanted to shop for some more marble while we were here, so we hit the streets of Dali to find a certain vase that Jamie had seen 2 days ago. There are dozens of shops selling usually either vases or other containers made of marble or framed slabs of marble which have the most beautiful designs. We finally did buy a vase and headed back toward our hostel, checked out our things, and caught a ride to the bus station for the 4.5 hour bus ride to Kunming.

The bus to Kunming was uneventful and we are continuing to enjoy reading our Kindles. They have been a lifesaver on all of our trips. After being dumped on the side of the road, we caught a taxi to our new hostel in Kunming, The Hump.

We still hadn’t decided what to do for the rest of our journey. I was feeling better, but figured we’d at least see the Stone Forest while we were in Kunming the next day.

Day 6 - Dali - Christmas Day

Yesterday at some point (I believe it was the Hawaiian pizza), I became very ill with food poisoning. Apparently, I have been a bad boy this year and Santa decided to give me food poisoning for Christmas. I was up most of the night doing things that people normally do with food poisoning.

Jamie and I were supposed to go to Kunming today; but because of my condition, decided to stay in Dali in bed all day long. I slept most of the day, ate nothing, and drank some water. Jamie took the time to read all day long, which of course she didn’t mind.

We were able to awake at 2:30 in the morning to talk with Jamie’s family and again at 4:00 am to talk to mine for Christmas day back home. By that time, I was feeling somewhat better, so we figured we would be able to leave Dali tomorrow.

Not an exciting Christmas this year, although we were serenaded all night long pretty much by our hosts at the hostel who had 20 friends over eating, partying, and singing Christmas songs all evening.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Day 5 - Dali

From Yunnan Province

Great day overall as we took in the sights of Dali. Several things to do here, but less so in winter months. After breakfast at our hostel, we headed out to the center of town to walk around and then caught a ride to the entrance to the ski lift chairs that went up Cangshan Mountain. It was a nice 30 minute ride to the top and very peaceful and quite. It somewhat reminded us of Gatlinburg, but only larger and of course, with a Chinese twist.

At the top was a Buddhist temple which we decided to not linger around, but instead head south along a VERY level and maintained path that took us 11 km winding around the top of the mountain. As you can tell from the picture above, great overview of the city. Certainly a cake walk hike compared to Tiger Leaping Gorge and Elephant Hill the previous days and we welcomed the nice stroll through the mountain. We ended our walk and took a cable car back down the mountain.

A very late lunch was a local fried cheese and a pizza. We then walked the streets of Dali Old Town and made our way north to see the old Three Pagodas at Congshen Temple. These have actually been restored as early as 1986. It is expensive to go into the grounds and it was late in the afternoon, so we decided to take a couple of pictures from the entrance and head back to town.

On the way out, Jamie did find a marble pestal and mortar she had been wanting. Solid marble and very heavy, it was a bargain here in Dali because Dali is very famous for its marble. It is everywhere and very beautiful. If we were going back to Shenzhen, it would be tempting to purchase more marble pieces (vases, framed art, etc). Incredible deals that are literally 90% off of what you would pay in the U.S.

We strolled back through town and will probably stay in the hostel relaxing for the evening. We aren't sure if we are going to stay in Dali all day tomorrow (Christmas Day) or head to Kunming.

Check out the pictures of today and check the blog again for our upcoming trip to Kunming.

We hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. We miss our families...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 3 – Lijiang to Dali

From Yunnan Province

We didn't really have a plan for today, so we packed up and checked out of our hostel around 10:00 and headed out for our last day in Lijiang. Our first stop was N's Kitchen for brunch and a fabulous western breakfast.

We then decided to check out the Mao statue on Red Sun Square, then head toward Black Dragon Pool. Black Dragon Pool is a feeder pool for all of the canals in Lijiang as well as a rather nice park area. Wonderful views of Jade Snow Dragon Mountain as you can see above. Despite still being tired and sore from Tiger Leaping Gorge, we decided to check out the view from above on Elephant Hill. Jamie decided not to trek the entire way, but I decided to go all the way up. I can't find anywhere that says how many steps the hill was or how high it was, but it was enough to cause me to gasp for breath several times and stop periodically. It was one of those times where you had already gone so far, so you might as well go the rest of the way.

I was rewarded with a great view of all of Lijiang as well as Jade Snow Dragon Mountain. Jamie sat and waited patiently, and I finally made it back down after an hour. Our next stop was supposed to be on Jade Snow Dragon Mountain, but for some reason, the cable cars weren't running. We decided to grab our stuff back at the hostel and head for the bus station for the 3.5 hour bus ride to our next destination, Dali.

We have arrived in Dali and are sitting now in a very cozy guesthouse, Sleepfish Lodge. Our dinner consisted of a wonderful homemade stew and tea. Dali so far is warmer and we are certainly enjoying it. We are able to sit in the room without bundling up.

We'll head out early for a full day in Dali. Be sure to check out the Photo Album for pictures.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day 3 – Tiger Leaping Gorge to Lijiang

From Yunnan Province

We slept in after our utterly exhausting day, then packed up and headed out to walk the low road back to Qiaotou. We knew we would have to walk at least 6 km and climb over the road rubble before we might be met with a van to take us back to town. We had walked about 8 km before we hitchhiked with a truck that was headed into town, That truck dropped us off about 7 km outside of town and we began walking again. After 10 minutes, another truck came along and we hopped in the bed to ride all the way into town. After hitting up a store for some lunch (Oreos, almonds, Chinese Pringles, and dove bars we loaded a bus headed back to Lijiang. The ride was uneventful and we made it back safely, climbed into a cab which dropped us off near our hostel.

After a quick rest, we headed out to N’s Kitchen for some western food. I was able to download the VPN and get blogger and Picasa working.

Check out the PHOTO ALBUM for all photos.

Day 2 – Lijiang to Tiger Leaping Gorge

What a day! Jamie had an early morning skype call and after a quick breakfast we taxied to the bus station to head out for a two and a half hour bus ride to Qiaotou, where we began our long hiking journey to the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. Check out the map above and follow along. We were lucky to find a driver who took us on the low road the first 12 km. From there we walked along the low road until we reached a fork in the road. We knew that they were building a new road and we could here the blast of dynamite throughout the gorge. At our fork, we thought one way (the low road) was blocked due to rubble. So we headed up. And up. And up. Eventually, rather than continuing on the switch-backing road, we decided it would be faster to take a path, which was really just a goat trail. We ended up in someone’s yard, and they managed to communicate that we had arrived at one of the mountain villages on our map, no where near where we had intended to go. However, we knew where we were and our destination. Our helpful villagers pointed up onward (and up, again) until we found a sign leading us to a hostel where we promptly sat down, exhausted, and had a pancake lunch.

Refreshed from our meal and looking at our map we now knew that it would take us about two hours to reach our original destination, so on we went. Our unplanned route took us past some beautiful waterfalls, a herd of goats, and on our way down we met a guide dog that we named Scout. Scout led us down to Tina’s, a landmark hostel for the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. We rested a few minutes, dropped our bags off, and continued the climb all the way to the bottom of the gorge. After a few wrong turns we made our way to the path which was 2 km almost straight down. We hurriedly enjoyed the reason for our hike before trudging our way back to Tina’s, this time 2 km straight up. We stopped several times due to utter exhaustion, with Scout faithfully checking on us and barking encouragement to continue.

We rented our room, dropped off our stuff, and headed back to the dining room where we made some new traveling friends from California and England (Avi, Chuck, and Lee). After an okay meal and some great conversation, we fell into our beds.

Day 1- Shenzhen to Lijiang

From Yunnan Province

Jamie and I woke up early to finish packing and took a cab to the Shenzhen airport to catch our 2.5 hour flight to Lijiang. Lijiang is in Yunnan province in southwest China. You can read more about it HERE – LIJIANG

After arriving, we lucked up and caught a free ride to downtown Lijiang, then a quick taxi to the Panba Hostel. After settling in, we headed out to walk around the old town and ate lunch at a café overlooking one of the canals. After lunch we walked around some more, shopping and taking pictures.

We then took a nap and headed out again for supper. We ended up eating at a VERY Chinese restaurant (with live music). Our meal included a mushroom and chicken stew (complete with a chicken foot) and some fried rice. Walking back we bought a paper flower with a lighted candle which we then floated down the canal for good luck. We were exhausted after our day and knew we had an early morning going to see Tiger Leaping Gorge, so we crashed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter Holiday Trip


Just finished booking our initial flight to Lijiang where we will start our next trip for the winter break. Lucked out on some tickets by actually messing up the booking and then getting a better rate when I had to rebook. I'm not sure how well you can see the #s above on the picture, but I'll list them in order of what our plan is.

1) Leave Shenzhen on a direct flight to Lijian, China in the Yunnan province - here we will hike Tiger Leaping Gorge among other things
2) Take a 3-4 hour bus ride to Dali to check out some more scenery in this backpacker paradise.
3) Take either an overnight bus or train to Kunming to check out the city and surrounding sites.
4) Take a 28 hour bus ride south to Luang Prabang, Laos. Here we will enjoy this UNESCA Heritage Site and hang out with the Laotians.
5) Take a 5-6 hour bus to Vang Vieng, Laos where the highlight is apparently tubing down a lazy river.
6) Take a 3-4 hour bus ride to Vientiane, the capital of Laos for site seeing.
7) Take a flight from Vientiane to Bangkok, Thailand for our job fair and hopefully land a great job for 2010-2011.

More details to come on this, but I wanted to go ahead and set up the geography.
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winding Down

It has been a couple of weeks since I last posted. I didn't have much response from our Top 10 Lists, plus we have become super busy at work here.

The last few weeks have been quite up and down. My grandfather passed away the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but I was unable to go home for the funeral due to costs and my length of stay being so short. Fortunately, my family was very understanding. The funeral was held on Thanksgiving Day and the local church provided my family with a nice Thanksgiving meal. Thanks CUMC. When Jamie and I first began discussing moving to China, we knew that the death of a family member would be tough. We knew that this could potentially happen and we have both lost grandfathers since coming to China. This is certainly the hardest part about being away from home, and we only have each other to comfort us in these times.

Onto other news... I finally have Chapters 1 - 3 sent to the school for approval. I will then just need to apply to the IRB and then I can begin my research coming in January. If all goes well, I should research and write Chapters 4 and 5 next January and February, and hopefully finish up by June. Jamie is on a similar course, but it will depend on the speed of her committee and school as to how long it might take her. We predict no longer than next August.

We have been working hard on our dissertations as well as at work. Jamie is in the swing of things now with her IE classes, and we both are busy planning middle school lock-ins, running the school store, and preparing for the Southern region middle school Model United Nations conference. We are hosting it and preparing it has been quite the busy task. It isn't until April, but we have had to prepare for teams way ahead of time.

We had initially wanted to go home for winter break this year, but the costs of airline tickets are just too much. We are instead, as of now, going to take a tour of southern China (Kunming, Dali, Lijiang) and then head down through Laos (Luang Prabang, Viang Vang, and Vientiane). We'll finally end up in Bangkok on January 4, 2010 and prepare for our Job Fair. We are hoping to land a job at a school that we both like. We have a list of schools that we are willing to interview for positions.

Griffey is doing well. No change there and he still sleeps 22 hours per day it seems. We just bought a new travel laptop that we are excited about. It only has an 8.9" screen and we think it'll be perfect for traveling. Certainly weighs less than what we've been using.

I am finally recovered from my kidney issues, although I did bruise a rib pretty badly playing basketball 2 weeks ago. It is healing nicely though.

We are just hanging on for another couple of weeks until winter break. This first half of the year has flown by, and the 2nd half I'm sure will too. We are looking forward to Jamie's parents coming over for Chinese New Year and we'll be going to Vietnam to tour the southern and central parts (Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Hoi An, and Hue). Should be a blast for all.

Hope all is well everyone else's way. Feel free to drop a comment on Facebook or our our Blog if you see this. Also be sure to check out our Top 10 lists. As I said, not many people commented on it.

Take care everyone...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Top 10 Lists after 15 months!!!

Jamie and I have been overseas for a little over 15 months now. Hard to believe actually, but it has been one jam packed year of teaching in an international school, traveling to various countries, and meeting new people.

After our recent trip to the Vietnam, I thought I would post our Top 10 Places and Top 10 Experiences that we have seen. We have also created a Top 5 Most Disappointing Places/Experiences. Jamie and I both agree on these lists and have previously discussed and ranked them. You can search on our blog concerning these places as well as check out all of our Photo Albums on Picasa HERE. Hope you enjoy...

Top 10 Places:

1) Angkor Archeological Site, Cambodia - This was the #1 place we wanted to see when we found out we were moving to China, and it didn't disappoint. We spent 3 full days and an evening at these Hindu/Buddhist temples and each one was unique and special in its own way.

2) Great Wall of China - Everyone knows about it, most have seen pictures, and a few have had the pleasure of walking on this amazing human feat. We were able to go in the winter and the summer and each time was equally special for us. It is simply one of those jaw dropping moments in your life and certainly unforgettable.

3) Hong Kong - We have had the pleasure of going to this wonderful city several times because we are just a 40 minute ferry ride away. It has just about everything you can ask for in a city and is especially great for us as we find places to eat great western food and see English movies.

4) Coron Island, Palawan, Philippines - The beauty of this place was simply breathtaking. We spent 4 days here and the water and beaches were amazing. It is really paradise and we had entire beaches and islands to ourselves on some days. It is a bit difficult to get to, but definitely worth it.

5) Chiang Mai, Thailand – This walled city was perfect getaway for us after our not so wonderful visit in Bangkok (Bangkok has since grown on us). We stayed at the cleanest little guesthouse for only $5/night and were able to see a Muay Thai boxing match, zip line through the trees, and see the famous Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand. We only wish we had stayed longer in Chiang Mai. As a side note to this, we stopped by Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, on the way to Chiang Mai and thoroughly enjoyed the ruins.

6) Hanoi and the Hill Tribes of Sapa, Vietnam – We found the city of Hanoi delightful. The food was great, and the Water Puppet Show was entertaining. The traffic with all the motorbikes leaves little to be desired, but it is still a great place to visit. Sapa is a sleepy little mountain town an overnight train ride from Hanoi. Despite battling kidney stones, we took hikes in the rice terraces led by the local H'mong hill tribe guides. Wonderful experience seeing the yellow rice terraces.

7) Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an, China – Certainly one of the highlights of visiting China is going to see the Terracotta Warriors if you have a chance. It is simply amazing what has been discovered there and still being discovered. Perfect day trip and the city of Xi’an has a lot to offer the traveler. I can see us finding our way back to Xi’an.

8) Boracay Island, Philippines - We were surprised at how much we enjoyed Boracay. We knew it would be touristy, but the beach is arguable the best in the world and the convenience of the restaurants along the beach was nice.

9) Karst Landscape of Yangshou, China - We were fortunate enough to take a river cruise along with my parents and niece to see the landscape up close as well as stay in the midst of the landscape in a little lodge outside the city. Perhaps the most memorable event of this trip was the hot air balloon ride over the landscape - stunning!

10) Tiananmen Square/Forbidden City, Beijing, China - The history behind these places and the sheer size of them are staggering. You can spend days in the Forbidden City. Again, we went here twice and was amazed each time.

Just outside Top 10 (in case you were wondering):

11) Macau - Macau is a Vegas like town about an hour ferry ride away from us. We have went there to see a Cirque de Soliel show and eat the world famous egg tarts at Sir Henry's. Macau has just been a great getaway for us this year.

Top 10 Experiences:

We listed these separately because they are bigger than just a visit to a particular place. These are truly experiences that are not necessarily good or bad but definitely important to our world view.

1) The Adventures of Seymore - This is fun. After buying Seymour at IKEA in Shenzhen, we've taken him on each of our trips to pose and take pictures. After each trip he gets a commemorative tattoo and he stands on our dining room table waiting for the next adventure. Loved by all who meet him (other tourists and local vendors love him), Seymour is our keepsake from every place we get to visit.

2) Killing Fields/Tuol Sleng S-21 Prison, Phnom Penh, Cambodia - It is difficult to describe this place and the fundamental horror that you feel by being in it (which is why we list this as an experience rather than a great place to go). Since most people don't know much about it the easiest way to help you understand is to say that it must be similar to visiting Aushwitz (which we haven't done so we are just assuming). Obviously not fun but it had a huge impact on us emotionally.

3) Living in Shekou, China - Definitely an experience. Western enough that we don't feel totally lost, but we still get the experience of living in China. What can we say? It's hot, humid, dirty, with good food, odd (to us) customs, and people who are quite polite but not necessarily friendly. TIC (This Is China) explains everything without explaining anything, i.e. kids peeing and pooping on the sidewalk with their split pants, odd ways of arranging work orders, Communist policies in action, and crazy driving.

4) United States of America - Ah, the good ole US of A. We are so enormously lucky to have been born US citizens and even luckier to get to see the rest of the world that increases our appreciation of our homeland. From freedoms to cleanliness, and of course the food, we enjoyed our trip home for the summer and were sad to leave our family and friends. We'll be returning next summer for another visit.

5) Teaching in an International School - Has certainly changed our view on teaching. It would be hard for me to go back to teaching in a public school in the states. Class sizes less than 15 and practically zero discipline problems. Students who genuinely want to learn and support from the parents. It has been challenging teaching English language learners, but we have learned so much about ESL and this knowledge will help us in future schools in which we teach. Long term, it will make Jamie and better future administrator and me a better college education teacher. We have written extensively about the teaching throughout the year. If you go back to the archives and start at August 2008, you'll get a basic idea.

6) Trying Kopi Luwak Coffee - We were able to try some in Bali at one of the coffee plantations. We only spent a few dollars for a cup, but this coffee is the most expensive in the world selling for as high as $38 in Australia and a blend at $99 in London. Certainly an experience to remember, but we won’t be buying any anywhere but Bali.

7) Seeing and playing with the Tarsier monkey - The smallest primate in the world, we'll remember these little guys because the worker let us get our picture made with them and hold them. Great pictures of us with them.

8) Traveling in Asia – Walking, Taxis (metered and not), Buses, Metros (subways or skytrains), Overnight Trains, Light Rail Cars, Trolleys, Begging for Rides, Motobikes, Tuk Tuks, Jeepneys, Bicycle, Large Commercial Airplanes, Private Leer Jet, Small Prop Planes, Motobikes with Sidecars, Horses (really just donkeys), Ferries, Small boats, Riverboats, Hot Air Balloons, Kayaks, Private Vans, Cable Cars, and Escalators that go all the way up a mountain. You simply find your way around. Whether you plan or not, it is still an adventure.

9) Bumrungrad Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand – Certainly an experience that we’ll never forget. I stayed here for 12 days when I had kidney stones and surgery. We took a private leer jet from Hanoi, Vietnam to Bangkok where they took care of me. The doctors, nurses, and facilities were simply top notch and it would be difficult to find a place in the US that could be better. Certainly a place I do not want to go back to, but something we’ll never forget.

10) Buying Cookbooks – Our souvenir from every country we have been is to purchase a cookbook. Whenever we get back to the US for good, Jamie can dig up all of her cooking utensils and kitchenware, and we can host our guests to some of the marvelous food we’ve been able to eat abroad. Sometimes hard to find, but we’ve managed to purchase one in every country so far.

Top 5 Most Disappointing Places/Experiences:

The following are things that we just weren’t wowed by. None of these were horrible experiences because they were all new and exciting at the time. However, they just didn’t live up to the hype.

1) Manila, Philippines – Dirty and incredibly difficult to get around. We will probably only go to the airport from now on.

2) Bali, Indonesia – In general, Bali just didn’t do it for us. Beaches were touristy and overpriced. We had one great day of traveling in the countryside, but other than that, it was a letdown.

3) Bangkok, Thailand – 1st couple of days only. We know actually enjoy Bangkok now, but those 1st 2 days were just annoying due to the constant hassle with tuk tuks and cab drivers and being lied to.

4) Kidney Stones – Hate the fact that I had to deal with them, but also hate the fact that we missed out on our last day of Hanoi, which was going to be spent drinking cobra blood wine.

5) Things We Miss – Family, Friends, Food, College Football in the Fall, Rome Braves games, golf, Jamie misses her job at Sonoraville, our kitchen table and all of our wonderful kitchen utensils, and finally, Cloey and Kitty.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Busy Times

Some of you may feel like the above photo. Some of you might not have any idea what it is talking about. Nonetheless, we all can be connected somehow.

Jamie and I have been busy the last couple of weeks finalizing our curriculum vitae and applications gearing up for our job search. I just finished applying to one school in Beijing and we are crossing our fingers on that one. We'll see. We plan on attending an international job fair in Bangkok, Thailand (yes, we'll be back at the scene of my most recent horrors). Some 30 or 40 schools will be there and we might land a job there that we like. We enjoy where we are now, but there are some interesting options out there in the international teaching world that also appeal to us.

My diet is going well. No chocolate, nuts, and black tea. I have switch to white chocolate some and have switched to the sugary candy of starbust and skittles. The only time I break it is when we go to our favorite Chinese food restaurant and I eat the peanuts in the dish because it is too frustrating to pick them out with chopsticks. I still drink about 2 or 3 liters of water per day, which I have found is actually not that bad. I've taken up drinking more lemonade too.

I would like everyone to be thinking and praying for my family in TN. My grandfather fell and broke his upper leg, so he will be in a nursing home for about 3 or 4 weeks. It'll be a strain on the family there.

On another note, I am gearing up to begin my research for my dissertation. My friend over here and graciously agreed to help and she's been translating documents for me into Chinese and will accompany me to the interviews with the high school economics teacher. I will also be interviewing economics teachers in Georgia via Skype or video conferencing. Or at least I hope it works out that way.

Hope all is well everyone else's direction. I haven't received an email from anyone in quite some time, but I understand everyone is busy. Just try and stay in touch with the million options we seen to have today at our disposal.

Friday, October 23, 2009

First Week Back

This week was tiring for me, only partly because of my recovery process. Grades were due and narratives were due this week because status reports were going home. I knocked it out all in pretty much 2 days, but it wasn't much fun. By the end of the week, I had pretty much caught up with everything and was back into the full swing of things.

I am excited for this weekend. I'll go into work to grade some papers and plan for next week, but overall I feel pretty good. I had one bad evening where I had pain and it was only on a 4 level. Apparently, I still have some internal scabs that are passing through me.

I still have to fly back to Bangkok next weekend for my check up. Have yet to book the flight and hoping insurance will cover it. We'll see.

Just wanted to update some people. Hope all is well everyone else's way.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Back in China Finally

Jamie and I arrived back in Shekou at 7:15 on Friday night. Checking out of the hospital on Thursday was literally an all day affair. Doctor cleared me at 9:00 am or so, but we didn't leave until 6:00 pm. Last thing they did was take my IV off of me.

We checked into a hotel in Bangkok near the hospital for Thursday evening and even made it down to Hard Rock Cafe for a great meal. We both deserved it. We had to figure out our flight the next day through the insurance, and it was finally finalized around midnight.

We slept a decent night's sleep but had to wake at 5:00 am to eat breakfast and then take a cab to Bangkok airport. Bangkok is really only about a 2 hour flight into Shenzhen, but the insurance booked a flight for us to go to Taiwan first (4 hour flight) then back to Shenzhen (2 hour flight) after an hour and a half layover in Taiwan. Frustrating, but we made it.

Today has been a day of resting and getting the apartment back in order, including getting our open VPN set up so I can write and post on the blog as well as keep up with everyone via Facebook. I can now post pictures in China too.

With that said, I'll be writing a bit more on the blog. I have a doctor's appointment in Bangkok again in 2 weeks (Nov. 1), so I'll be flying on that Sunday to Bangkok for a 2 hour appointment with 2 doctors. Kind of a hassle, but I guess it'll be worth it to know I'm in good health.

My new diet has taken effect. No chocolate, nuts, black tea, and soy sauce. We've had to adjust some of our eating habits, but I'll manage. We put white chocolate chips in our oatmeal cookies this evening.

Thanks again to everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and get well wishes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bustin Out!

It is now Thursday morning, October 15. I have been in this hospital in Bangkok going on 12 days, 13 counting the 1 day in Hanoi. They tell me I will be checking out of here today though. I am delighted. I have been pain free for 4 days and fever free for 5. My last ultrasound on Tuesday showed that the swelling in my kidney had gone down, but was not 100%. The dietitian came by yesterday and told me that she wants me on a low oxalate diet. That is no surprise. We had been reading up on it, so we knew what to expect.

The surgeon wants me to jog 20 minutes per day. The kidney doctor wants me to drink 2 cups of water as soon as I wake up in the morning, 2 right before I go to bed, and 2 liters during the day. I have to eliminate chocolate and peanuts from my diet as well as cut back on some other things that I normally eat. Except for the chocolate and peanuts, none of it are too life changing. I need to eat more fruit, which is fine because they are available in China all the time and are quite good.

We are quite fortunate to have some amazing insurance to cover the costs of this whole ordeal. I'm not sure we'll ever see the total bill, but maybe someone can take a stab at what 12 days in a private hospital in the the United States would run plus a private airplane transport and a commercial flight home would run as well as surgery, 2 CT scans, 3 sonograms, and enough morphine and medicine to knock out a herd of elephants.

I won't make some of you cry by telling you how much Jamie and I are out of pocket for this.

We should be leaving Bangkok either this afternoon (Thursday) or tomorrow. It depends on the insurance company and when they book our flight.

I'm looking forward to things getting back to normal. Looking forward to starting my new diet, not looking forward to running 20 minutes a day, but I'm looking forward to dragging Griffey along for the run. He certainly needs to run.

I would like to again thank all of my co-workers and friends in Shekou who have looked after Griffey while we've been away as well as subbed for me and taken care of my classes. We certainly didn't plan to be out for 2 full weeks, but it is nice to know we have such wonderful and caring people to help us out in our time of need. We would like to think that we'd be equally wonderful if the shoe were on the other foot.

This has been the worse experience of my life to date, and I hope I never repeat it. Sure, I'm sure I'll be in the hospital for something again eventually, but let's hope I can take care of myself and delay it, at least for something like kidney stones.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Still Here

Tuesday night and I've been in this hospital for 10 days. Again, it is an excellent hospital, but I'm getting a little stir crazy. Had another sonogram this evening and I hope that my kidney is back to normal. No fever or pain for 2 days.

Here is a picture of Ronald at the McDonald's downstairs in the hospital. Decent food court down there. Jamie has eaten about all her options down there over the last 10 days. I have been eating the hospital food. Some good and some bad. I've chosen western meals and stayed with the chicken for the most part. The pork goulash was particularly tasty for lunch today. The always have some sort of juice, but my favorite is the apple.

As you can tell, no news here. Same bed, same couch, same TV with same stations. I've about finished my book. I take naps and play solitaire just to pass the time. Jamie and I roam the hallways to get out and stretch our legs. They actually brought a wheelchair for me today to take me down to my sonogram, but I just walked behind it. The nurse put my folder, which is now 2 inches thick, in the wheelchair instead. Nurses are insanely nice here. Their English is pretty good, but sometimes they just smile and repeat themselves when I ask a question.

I hope to get of here tomorrow. The insurance lady from Aetna (the nicest person we have ever spoken to from a major corporation) called tonight to check in on us and tell us the steps for getting home. Aetna has been simply amazing, but I'm sure it is costing our employer a pretty penny. We certainly couldn't afford worldwide insurance back in the states. In fact, I don't know anyone who has it back in the states.

I'll keep everyone updated as best I can...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kidney Smidney

Still in hospital recovering. Kidney doctor told me today that the infection where the stone was lodged is not getting much better which is affecting my kidney. My days are getting monotonous. I have not been outside in 1 week. I feel as though I am typing this from some prison room or a prison camp. I have the same pain in my side where the infection is about once per day and have to ask for some pain killers because the pain is unbearable. I was hoping to go home tomorrow; but instead, it'll be more sonograms, antibiotics, billions of liters of water, and crappy hospital food.

I wish Jamie would get out some, and not because I don't want her here, but because I feel she needs to get out. Maybe she'll heed my advice and get out some tomorrow. She has been wonderful during the whole process. There is really not much she can do when I'm in so much pain, but she stands next to me the whole time holding my hand or rubbing my back. Really is a good wifey.

I'll post some more when I know more, but as of now, we are here for several more days. We made our lesson plans for all week. I have never been out of work for so long due to an illness, never been in the hospital overnight much less 8 nights, and have never had this much cabin fever.

On a good note, as soon as I recover, I can begin research for my dissertation. Still hoping to knock out the research before winter break, but we'll see.

Feel free to drop me a comment on here or on Facebook. I appreciate all who have already done so. Keep both of us in your thoughts please.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Quick Update

It is now Friday night and I'm still in my lime green hospital PJs hooked to an IV pumping me full of antibiotics. The surgery gave me an infection (of course), I have to go a couple of days longer without a temperature or sharp (curl up in a little ball and scream) pain.

I'm moving around more and staying awake most of the day. I have learned that anywhere are 37 degrees Celsius is a normal body temperature. There are some English channels here in our room (42" LCD) that shows HBO, Cinamax, and Star Movies, as well as CNN, ESPN (Asia), AXN, and Star World. I have watched Star World the most because it has the best shows. Just finished watching Boston Legal.

Still drinking water which I'm getting sick of. My temperature goes up and down, so I sweat from head to toe sometimes when I sleep. When I get up to use the restroom, I come back to a cold, wet bed. Once, in my morphined pain-induced state a few days ago, I asked Jamie to check to see if I had urinated on myself because I was so wet. It was just sweat.

The nurses are very nice and all weigh about 75 pounds. I have my blood pressure and temperature taken about every hour. It is amazing how much your blood pressure fluctuates. Is that even normal?

Jamie has been awesome, but I know she is bored out of her mind. She says she dread the time when I will curl up in my ball and begin screaming because of the pain. Luckily, it hasn't happened in 24 hours. Pain free for 24 hours, sounds like a T Shirt.

I'm rambling, but wanted to post something lighter than surgery procedures or doomsday material.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Update on Surgery

I'm going to be candid and little detailed here, so if you have a squishy stomach or do not want to hear the details of my horrible experience, you might not want to read ahead. I'm writing to detail my account as best as I can experience it.

It is now Thursday morning (Wednesday night for most of you). My surgery went well. They removed the stone that was lodged in the opening of my bladder from the uterer. The stone was about 2.2 by 4.7 mm. Not huge, but because it was lodged, it was causing some kidney swelling.

After the surgery, the placed a catheter in me. Along with the catheter was a wire that ran through my penis, up the urethra, into the bladder, up the uterer, and into the kidney. You can see the wire above, look closely toward the bottom of the picture. Might be a strange thing to keep, but that wire was not stabilized, so it was constantly moving inside my body irritating it with a pain that was much worse than the stone itself.

When they removed the catheter on Wednesday morning, I began feeling better, but had some constipation problems due to all of the morphine and other pain killers. Also, my urination burned because it was half urine and half blood. This only lasted a few hours though. My back also had severe pain because of the wire that had been inserted had irritated a path all the way to the kidney. About 2:00, they finally gave me some more morphine after I had my first bowel movement in 4 days. I slept for about 2.5 hours which was the longest I had continuously slept in 4 days.

After I awoke, I felt normal for the first time since Friday night. Since then, I have been recovering and have just had some overall body pains and trying to regulate my stomach issues by eating more regularly.

I would like to thank everyone who has emailed or FB me with best wishes and get well comments. It is nice to know you have people thinking about you when you are sick, much less being 8000 miles from home. Luckily, our hospital has been very good and the doctors and nurses have been very helpful.

We are hoping to leave the hospital today or tomorrow and fly back to Shenzhen over the weekend. Our insurance flies us back home, so we have to wait for them to finalize arrangements after hearing from the hospital.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vietnam - Day 9 (The worst day of my life)

From Vietnam 2009 Jamie

At 7:30 am, I woke up with some pretty extreme back pain. I knew it was a kidney stone trying to pass.

For those who do not know. Kidney stones hurt because they develop in the kidneys and pass through the tube called the ureter before entering the bladder. It is this part of the process that is the most painful. It is difficult to describe, but imagine someone sticking a knife in and out of your back or perhaps imagine one of those little sand spurs you get at the beach or the ones in the ones in the woods and having it pass through a section of your insides. Once the stone reaches the bladder, most of the pain is gone. All it has to do then is pass through the urethra and out of the penis or vagina.

My pain killers that were prescribed to me by a Chinese doctor didn't make a dent in the pain. At 11:30, I told Jamie that we needed to go to the local SOS International Clinic in Hanoi. We found it easily and took a painful cab ride there (the roads in Hanoi are extremely bumpy).

As I walked in to the clinic, I was nauseated due to the cab ride and the pain, so I threw up immediately. We quickly told them (and I think they could tell) that I had kidney stones and need pain medication (preferably morphine) immediately. The complied and took care of me right away.

The rest of this story could take days and pages to write. I'll abbreviate here.

The clinic took a sonogram and noticed 2 stones that were quite large. Since they didn't have the facilities to do any kidney or urinary tract procedure, they suggested they air ambulance me to Bangkok. After some problems with the insurance and plane, we finally took off for Bangkok at 9:00 am on Sunday! I battled the kidney stones, vomiting, morphine, dry mouth, and no food the whole time.

The ride to the airport because of the roads and my sore condition was the worst part. The flight was decent. We were in a private jet of only 2 pilots, a doctor, a nurse, me, and Jamie. After landing and passing through customs in Bangkok, we arrived at the Bumrungrad International Hospital at about 11:30. They settled us into our own private room. The hospital easily rivals the best hospitals at home. It is large, clean, and the staff have been amazing.

Again, I'm going to cut it short, but it is now Monday at 2:45 pm as I type this and I'm still here. I am scheduled to go into surgery to remove one kidney stone that is stuck in the opening of the bladder from the ureter. It isn't a large stone by stone standards (2.2 mm by 4.7mm), but simply won't move. I have bouts of pain that will last a few hours, then a period where I am fine. I thought since I felt fine right now, I'd go ahead and catch up on blogging.

I'll report back soon after the surgery when I feel like it.

Jamie has taken a few pictures I'll upload for you.

Vietnam - Day 8

From Vietnam 2009

Today was a day that Jamie and I were excited about yet still dreading. Most of dread came from the fact that we were a bit unprepared for hiking in the mud and rain. However, the day turned out great, we rented some little rubber boots from our hotel, and started off our hike with a 3 km walk through the streets of Sapa and down a country road.

After making a quick pit stop, we headed down the hill into the rice fields and terraces. When I say down hill, I mean it. Our little train was slick, rocky, and muddy. Many people fell (I fell once or twice and Jamie fell once), but we had local villagers there that acted as our "guides." These 80 pound women literally held us up as we slid down the mountain for over 3 hours of hiking. The scenery was amazing as we went from the top of the mountain down the steep rice terraces toward the valley with a river running through it.

We went through 2 different villages of the Black H'mung people and one of the Zai people. These villagers make their living by growing rice or working in the city of Sapa (men) or making hand made items to sell to tourists (women). The items are quite nice and authentic.

I had to battle through some kidney stones about half way through our hiking trip, but pretty much walked them off. I had some help from my guide as she talked to me about village life and basically got my mind off of my pain.

After a quick bus ride back to our hotel, we showered up and ate a quick dinner before heading to the train station in Lao Cai which was about an hour drive from Sapa. Our train left promptly at 8:10 pm and arrived in Hanoi about at 4:15 in the morning. Luckily, we had arranged for an early check in at our hotel, which meant we could go straight on in (after waking up the poor guy at the desk who was flaked out on the 2nd floor).

Be sure to check out our pictures from our hike today. I look great in my camouflage boots and shorts.

Keep reading... You definitely don't want to miss what happened on Day 9!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Water Puppet Show

From Vietnam 2009 Jamie

I mixed these video clips together into a small little video to give you an idea of what we saw at the water puppet show. It is a bit blurry but hopefully you can still see. I had to lower the quality so it wouldn't take forever to load up. Enjoy!

Trying a Bun Cha Meal

From Vietnam 2009 Jamie

Here is a little video of Jamie explaining our Bun Cha meal. I finally was able to upload the picture.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Vietnam - Day 7

From Vietnam 2009

Jamie and I woke up by stepping off the train in Lao Cai. We then took a van up the mountain to our hotel, The Sapa Summit, in the little mountain village of Sapa.

After checking in and showering after our train ride, we headed out with our local guides through the village of Sapa, through the rice terraces, and down to the small 300 person village of Cat Cat. The H'Mung villagers live here and make all sorts of arts and crafts. They follow you around in packs asking and hoping you'll buy a little handmade item from them. The items are very pretty and you can tell they are hand stitched. We even saw the indigo plants they use for dye and the girls' and women's hands were dyed blue, black, and purple.

We hiked down to the villages before seeing an impressive waterfall and then hiked all the way back up to our hotel. After a great lunch, we wanted to rest a bit before seeing the town.

We had not really prepared for the weather, so I bought a little cheap rain jacket. Thank goodness I had brought a long sleeve shirt, but after we started our hike, I was hot, so I took if off.

Since it rained the whole afternoon and evening, we just took it easy and read and enjoyed the view from our hotel window. The rice terraces are yellow this time of year because it is harvest season. Back in the summer when we went to the Longji rice terraces, they were green. It is interesting to see the color change.

All for now. I've uploaded the pictures, but can't upload the videos because the rate here just isn't high enough. I'll wait until I get back to Hanoi or China for those. We have a long day of hiking on Day 8.

Vietnam - Day 6

From Vietnam 2009 Jamie

Jamie and I had to check out of our hotel today, but not until noon, so we just slept in and rest in the morning before heading out for the day. We knew we were going to leave on a 9:00 train to Sapa, so we had 9 hours to spend in Hanoi. We weighed our options, and the day went pretty well.

Our first stop was to try the famous Bun Cha meal at a very local restaurant. Not too many tourist in there. The meal consisted of grilled minced pork balls (basically sausage) in a sugar/vinegar dipping sauce, rice noodles, twice fried spring rolls, greens, and some garlic and pepper for flavoring. Jamie and I didn't really know how to eat it, so we just watched some of the locals mix it all up so we'd have the proper flavoring. It was delicious and one of our favorite meals we've had in Asia so far. Jamie does an excellent job of describing it in the short video above.

After lunch, we walked saw St. Joseph's cathedral from just the outside and then walked along Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. We went to the Ngoc Son Temple on the island in the lake to see the grounds and the giant mummified turtle that is the legend there. As the legend goes...

According to a tale that dates back to the 15th century, King Le Loi, also known as Le Thai To, the founder of the Le Dynasty, found a holy turtle during a cruise on the then Luc Thuy, or green lake. The turtle told the King to return the sacred sword that had helped him defeat the northern Ming aggressors now that peace had returned. Le Thai To unsheathed his sword and threw it to the turtle. He later named the lake "Hoan Kiem" (Lake of Returned Sword).

Afterward, we found a small little ice cream place that was in our tour guide that was refreshing and headed out for some more walking in the Old Quarter. It was raining, so we dodged into a cafe to wait until the showtime of the Water Puppet Show.

I have a video that I am going to try and compile and upload of this performance. It is hard to explain, but the had 18 small performances using puppets on water. It was very interesting and definitely worth it if you visit Hanoi. The theater was crowded, but all seats were very good.

We went shopping and found some great deals on pashima cashmere scarfs and silk dresses for Jamie and some linen pants for me. We even bought 2 silk sleeping bags because we had been warned that the beds on the trains might not be too clean.

Dinner was at a famous (according to the guidebook and owner) restaurant that served only fried fish. It was good but not great, but certainly worth the walk up the street to check it out. It had a decent sauce that came with it and of course veggies and other condiments to complement it. Overpriced, but decent.

We were supposed to be picked up at the hotel at 7:30, but weren't until 7:45. We then waited around the train station while our travel guides wheeled and dealed for some tickets for us. Apparently in order to make a profit, they don't actually purchase your train tickets until you actually get to the train station. Then, they wheel and deal hoping to purchase them for less, and take the profit after you have already paid full price. Like scalping football tickets back home.

The train was nice and Jamie and I were actually separated at first, but a nice Australian gentlemen gave up his bed so we'd be in the same room. The beds were "soft" for Asian standards, but very clean and well kept. There was even a flat screen TV on the wall, although we didn't turn it on.

We chatted with our Isreali train mates for a few minutes before reading and going to sleep. When we awoke, the conductor was banging on the door because we had arrived in Lao Cai.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vietnam - Day 5

From Vietnam 2009

Jamie and I rested up in the morning, but headed out into the town. We had the typical tourist sites we wanted to see and decided to walk the town instead of dealing with the motobikes, cabs, and other various forms of transportation you have to haggle with in order to get around.

Walking the streets of Hanoi isn't the easiest of tasks. The sidewalks are full of the motobikes, so you constantly have to dodge into traffic in order to go around them. Hanoi traffic is notorious for being full of motobikes and taxis. Even one of the postcards to buy around here is of the motobike traffic wheel to wheel and side by side.

Nonetheless, we headed out and found the Hanoi "Hilton" a few blocks from our hotel. This was a Vietnamese prison camp, but most notably to Americans, the prison camp that held the POWs shot down during the Vietnam War. They have converted it into a museum of sorts, and the propaganda and slant of the museum is very pro-Vietnamese. All of the pictures of the American soldiers are of them having a good time (fixing Christmas dinner, playing basketball, smiling) and generally being treated like kings. I'm sure that there were times like that, but what about the other times. We found it interesting.

Our next stop was a few blocks up the road for the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's oldest university built in 1076. It is mainly a tourist destination today, but the main feature of the "park" is the section that has all of the university graduates carved into these large stone blocks held up by turtles. Seymore got his picture taken among some of the graduates. We also bought our cookbook of Vietnam here.

As a side note for those who do not know, Jamie and I trying not to accumulate too many "things" from the places we visit. Simply, we don't do "knickknacks," and souvenirs we do buy we try and make them serve a purpose. We do, however, purchase a cookbook from every destination we visit. So far, we have cookbooks from every country we've visited and it is a tradition we hope to continue.

After the Temple of Literature, we headed north toward the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It was closed for the public to enter, but seeing it from the outside is quite outstanding. We walked around through the presidential gardens behind it and headed to the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

This museum is a dedication of the life of Ho Chi Minh, most notably North Vietnam's leader during the Vietnam War. It is difficult to describe this museum, but I saw it as an artistical interpretation of someone's life. You can see our pictures, but I'm not sure they do the museum much justice. One section of the museum, you walk into "Uncle Ho's" "brain." Yes, I know, strange, but informative. They seemed to have every letter and document and journal he'd ever written on display. Truly insightful.

We walked back through the presidential gardens and stopped by the famous One Pillar Pagota. We thought it was charming, but I'm sure some tourist would considering it utterly pointless.

It was early afternoon by then, but we decided to go back to the hotel and rest up before heading out again for dinner and general site seeing.

However, as I were resting and watching some TV, I passed some kidney stones that crippled me for the night. They finally passed about 9:00, but I was too exhausted to do anything.

We'll head back out into town tomorrow and check out some things before taking a night train to Sapa.

Be sure to check out the pictures...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vietnam - Day 1, 2, 3, and 4

From Vietnam 2009

Jamie and I flew out of Hong Kong airport on Friday night on a 9:45 flight. We arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam that evening about 10:30, and was promptly driven to our hotel in the old quarter of Hanoi, the Little Hanoi Hotel DX.

We had previously worked out a package deal with this hotel for a 3 day tour of Halong Bay as well as a trip to Sapa, a mountain village an overnight train ride west of Hanoi.

On Saturday morning, we were picked up by our Halong Bay tour company and by 12:30 after a 3 hour van ride were on our junk boat with 20 other people seeing the karst landscape of Halong Bay. After a brief tour around some of the mountains, we took a trip inside one of the mountain caves. They had it spectacularly lit up with all sorts of lights and did the typically laser light showing us all sorts of cave formations in the shape of horses, turtles, kissing couples, etc.

After our cave tour, we went to a water village. Like the one in Cambodia we saw this time last year, the people that live in the water village number about 200 and they fish and cater to the tourists that come by on the junk boats selling fruits and trinkets.

The afternoon on the ship was relaxing and we enjoyed the sunset before sleeping on the boat that night. Our room was decent enough, but we awoke early for some kayaking around the mountains.

Afterwards, we went to Cat Ba island for some "trekking." We had not really been told about our little trek beforehand, so Jamie and I were both still wear our Teva flip flops while we hike straight up a 250 meter mountain. At several points in the hike, we were actually just climbing straight up the mountain. It was severely hot, but we made it to the top, and I even went up the rusty swaying tower for an additional view.

Afterward, we were exhausted, so we decided to nap in our little hotel on the island. The island is completely catered to tourist, but it was quite nice.

The next day, we awoke and took the junk boat back to the mainland and took the 3 hour van ride back to Hanoi and the Little Hanoi Hotel. We rested a bit before heading out into the Old Quarter to walk around the lake before finally finding a restaurant. We camped out overlooking the busy streets. Be sure to check out the pictures of the electrical wiring that surrounded us. If we don't have brain cancer, it'll be a miracle.

Great trip so far. We have some touring in Hanoi for the next 2 days before taking an overnight train to Sapa. Decent Internet here, so I should be able to post every day and upload pictures.

Check out the photo album at the top as always.

Year 2 in China begins

It has been a while since I have been able to post. China has blocked blogspot and picasa, so I haven't been able to post since leaving the Philippines August 21.

Jamie and I have completed 4 weeks of school for our 2nd year in China at QSI International School in Shekou.

I am teaching Reading/Language Arts, Math, and Cultural Studies while Jamie teaches Intensive English and Science. We are both sponsoring Student Council in the middle school and overseeing the hosting of the Model United Nations for middle school next year. It has been a busy beginning to the school year, but much different than our brand new start last year.

We have moved into a new apartment that is just 2 buildings down from our old one, but it is much nicer and much much quieter. We enjoy our new furniture and Griffey enjoys riding the elevator down 19 floors. He has adjusted quite nicely in China and still enjoys the smells and has actually been better with the larger dogs in the city.

Jamie and I decided to visit Vietnam for our first trip this year. We have heard nothing but good things about touring in Vietnam, so we decided to check out northern Vietnam and check out the southern part later on. Check out my next post for information concerning our trip to Halong Bay and Hanoi.

I hope everyone stays in touch despite the blog and Facebook being down. I only hear from a couple of people, but hope we can stay in touch with all of our friends and former co-workers from back home.

We hope everyone's new school year has started out well or that everyone's work year has continued through the summer.

Take care and read some more about our visit to Vietnam.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Back in Shekou

Jamie and I arrived back in Shekou after about 12 hours of traveling from Taglibaran to Manila to Hong Kong to Shekou. We finally arrived about 10:30 pm in our apartment. Griffey is doing great and we are so glad we had a few days about in July to set up our new apartment so we wouldn't have to do it all this weekend.

We counted that since June 20, we've taken 14 flights. I won't even count the number of ferries, taxis, tricycles, or jeepneys we've taken.

We'll be settling in to a routine here in Shekou and preparing to start school.

Since we are back in China, that means no Facebook status updates or pictures on the Blog. You can always go to our photo album at to see all of our photos. I'm not sure how I will be uploading them from now on. Perhaps just from the country or I might switch to Flikr or something until the Picasa/Google thing blows over here in China.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day 13 - Panglao Island and Bohol

From Jamie's Philippines Pics

On Wednesday, we took a day long trip around Bohol Island. We first went to the famous Chocolate Hills in Carmen. As you can see from our pictures, there are hills scattered about the countryside each and of themselves. Some are connected, but many are just large mound hills. During the dry season (not now), they turn all turn brown, thus Chocolate Hills. They had cut down the vegetation on a couple of them so tourist during the wet season could see the chocolateyness of them.

The rest of the day was stopping and going in various stops. We saw the world's largest captivated python weighing in at 250 kg and over 26 feet long. She was named Prony and was 12 years old.

We saw where the original natives signed a "Blood Compact" with the Spaniards, were a statue now stands commemorating the treaty.

We stopped off briefly at a bamboo swinging bridge.

We drove through but stopped at a manmade forest. A university in Bohol started a project 50 years ago where any student going to the university would plant a tree in this "forest." Many of the trees are tall and skinny and all seemingly perfectly lined up. Interesting.

We saw the areas oldest cathedral, the Baclaran cathedral. I think they are just now in the renovating stages of this, but it is already beautiful, but will be gorgeous when the do restore it completely.

The highlight of the day was the Tarsier monkeys. This is one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of the Philippines, and it didn't disappoint. Literally on the side of the road near the river, they have set up a little area where 14 tarsiers can be seen by anyone. The tarsier is the world's oldest mammal (someone can fact check that for me) and the world's smallest primate (pretty sure about that one). It has huge eyes, and I think I remember reading how it was the inspiration for the little fuzzy creatures in the Gremlins, a Mowgwi (although I have no idea how to spell it). Gizmo was one.

We had only seen one for about 10 minutes, but then one of the workers showed us several more, then when he noticed we were really into them, he plucked some off of the trees and let us hold them, pet them, and have our pictures. Great pictures by the way you have to see! This by far was the coolest part of the day and certainly a highlight of the trip.

We arrived back at our villa in the afternoon and took naps and just relaxed the remainder of the day.

Day 12 - Cebu to Panglao Island

From Jamie's Philippines Pics

On Tuesday, we slept in and had decided to take the 4:30 ferry to Taglibaran before heading to Panglao Island. We decided to see some of the sites of Cebu. There isn't really that much to see, but we saw a cross that had been given the area by Magellan as well as a couple of different cathedrals in the area. We had wanted to see the place where Magellan had been killed by the tribal leader Lapu Lapu, but it was too far away for us to go.

We made it in time for the 4:30 ferry after having all day but needing to rush to get there in time. The ferry ride was about an hour and 15 minutes, but we had to wait for our ride from Panglao Tropical Villas to arrive to pick us up.

Our villa here is actually just a room in a rather large villa with 5 bedrooms, a large living room area, and kitchen. Our room is the "master bedroom" and by far the nicest thing we have stayed in on this trip. Even has a bathtub which isn't common for mine and Jamie's typical accommodations. The beach area is fantastic, but it is really on a harbor side of things, so you don't really get in the water. They have excellent facilities and very helpful staff.

Day 11 - Boracay to Cebu

From Jamie's Philippines Pics

On Monday, it was just a long travel day. It didn't need to be, but became that because the airline was delayed for 3 hours. The people who were getting us to the airport didn't know of this flight change, so we still left at 6:00 am to get to the airport for a 11:00 flight. Turns out the flight wasn't until 1:30, we after being transported around by tricycle, ferry, van, bus, we finally arrived at the airport in Kalibo. The flight to Cebu was only 35 minutes and we arrived there at 2:30. So, it took us 8.5 hours for a 35 minute flight.

We decided to just nap and rest the rest of the day and even ordered delivery to our hotel, the Palazzo Pensionne. Nice little place, and even though we booked on hostelworld, it is more like a hotel.

Tomorrow, our plan will be to see the sites of Cebu.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day 10 - Boracay

Today, Jamie and I had another relaxing day on Boracay beach. It rained for 2 minutes, but we were able to scamble inside before heading out to this great little Italian restaurant for lasagna. We stayed out at the beach hoping for a wonderful sunset like last night, but it was just too cloudy after the rain. It was a bit disappointing, but we ate at a Spanish restaurant and had Paella Mixta which was absolutely delicious!

We have to get up at 5:30 and head out by 6:00 to catch multple transports to Kalibo airport for our 11:00 flight to Cebu. Bunch of traveling and waiting for just an hour flight.

Boracay is definitely a place we'd come back to for another vacation. There is quite a bit to do here, but we were content of just hanging around the beach area. If we ever return, maybe we'll get into the other activities.

We've added a few pictures from our last day on Coron Island and here at Boracay. Be sure to check them out in our Philippines albums.
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 9 - Boracay

Jamie and I had a relaxing day of absolutely doing nothing. Because our room doesn't have windows and we didn't set an alarm, we slept til 10:00, but were at the beach by 11:00. The beach here at Boracay is just as beautiful as advertised. I have never seen such blue turquoise water all the way down the beach. Sailboats sail by with various colors contrasting the blue sky and water and the beach has the powdery sand you always want at a beach.

Boracay is very touristy with shops, restaurants, and vendors all along the beach, however, and there are dozens if not hundreds of people hanging out at the entrances to the beach asking if you want a tour, jetski, ATV's, or scuba. They haven't really bothered us that much and our little "resort" here furnished us with a couple of beach lounge chairs and an umbrella, so we were all set.

Tonight, we ate at The Hobbit House, which I had heard about, but wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. I had thought it would have more atmospere, but it was really just some midgets serving us in an overpriced themed restaurant of the famous Lord of the Rings. We actually had some mexican dishes. The only good thing about the place was that they had a wide selection of bottled beer from all over the world.

We have decided not to go on any tours and just hang out tomorrow before we leave to go to Cebu. We'll save some money this way and still be able to just relax at one of the most famous beaches in the world.

I'll take some pictures of the beach tomorrow. I took some of the sunset tonight, but we were a bit late for it, so we are definately going to catch it tomorrow. Tonight looked amazing, so we'll get the full thing tomorrow.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Day 8 - Transfer from Coron to Boracay

The last 24 hours has been tough. I know, I know, I don't think I'll get sympathy from anyone back home reading this; but despite island hopping in the Philippines, I have had: my big toe nail rip off, a sore on the bottom of my foot that sand does not cure, sunburn on my back, and just last night I might have ate something that really upset my stomach (if you know what I mean).

Nonetheless, we woke up this morning and have been shuffled around the Philippines ever since. After a transport to the Busuanga airport in Coron, we were delayed for 1 hour. After a 1 hour flight to Manila, we were delayed 4 hours before our flight to Kalibo. Catilclan, the "gateway to Boracay," was not accepting our plane, so we had to fly to Kalibo. We were then transported by bus for an hour and a half, a quick ferry, then another transport to our hotel, the Villa de Oro right on Boracay beach.

I feel better, but have not eaten. Jamie just found me some sour cream and onion Pringles and... a DR. PEPPER. I am hoping my stomach settles.

Tomorrow and the next day, we'll hang out on the beach here in Boracay before heading to Cebu for a day, then Panglao Island.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 7 - Private Beach to our Own

Jamie and I spent the day today at small little private beach about hour and half boat ride from Coron Town. Jamie and I have both gotten quite a bit of sun (too much actually), so we took it easy and stayed in the shade. I snorkeled a little bit, but there was not many coral. The sand was powdery fine and felt like flour under our feet and the water was turquoise blue and emerald green. Truly a paradise place. We relaxed in a little hut on the beach and read our Kindles for most of the day. I took a few pictures, but left the camera in the room, so I'll upload them later for those of you who have been following along.

Tomorrow, we leave Coron and take a connecting flight to Manila before taking a small flight to Kalibo. We would have gone to Catlican, but the airport is not currently taking smaller flights, so they have redirected us to Kalibo. We'll have to take an hour and half bus ride, then a ferry to Boracay Island. May take all day.

Hope all is well with everyone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Island Hopping and WWII Ships - Day 6

From Jamie's Philippines Pics

Jamie and I woke up at 5:15 this morning and left at 5:45 to go to the top of Tapyas Peak to overlook Coron Village and Island. We walked about a half mile then scaled up 786 steps to the top. We made the whole trip in about an hour and were back at 6:45. After a quick clean up, we headed out for breakfast and then met up with our guide for a trip to a private island for some snorkeling and relaxation in some hammocks.

The snorkeling was amazing as we were able to see coral of many colors as well as some beautiful schools of fish. No need to scuba because the coral stretched out from the shore for about 75 meters and stretched down the shoreline 4 times that. After lunch consisting of squid, seaweed, rice, and beef, we were on our boat again to go see a Japanese battle ship sunk in 1944 by the US. The water was shallow, so we actually were able to stand on the ship for it was turned on its side with a coral growing all over it. View was great. Jamie and I actually paused for a second and were amazed that were actually standing on a Japanese battleship from WWII. For 2 history majors, that is a pretty amazing feeling.

After another brief stop at what our guide called the water garden which was some snorkeling examining some more amazing coral, we snorkeled around another sunken Japanese cargo ship. This was a great day as it started out with a rather difficult but rewarding climb, moving to a relaxing stay on a beautiful beach, then snorkeling around WWII ships.

Tomorrow, we go to a small island all day long for some fun in the sun. We are looking forward to it!

Check out the pictures of today in Jamie's photo album of the Philippines.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sign at the Manila Airport

Jamie and I thought this was hilarious. We didn't crack too many jokes about it. They had these signs all over the place. There was also a sign that said "Hoof and Mouth Disease Free" that we thought was funny, but we didn't take a picture of it. I will when we go back through if I get a chance. Just too funny not to.
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Coron Island, Palawan, Philippines- Day 4 and 5

From Jamie's Philippines Pics

On Monday, Jamie and I headed out of our not so great accommodations in Manila (Green Mango Inn), and headed out for our 9:40 flight to Busuanga, Palawan, Philippines. Our flight was a little prop plane on Zest Air. The amazing thing about this flight is that there were only about 14 people on board the plane and the total cost for us was $20. The departure fee from the airport was $9.

We arrived safely literally in the middle of a cow field in the middle of nowhere. We took an odd little trip for about 45 minutes to the village of Coron. The reason why it was odd was because only sections of the road was paved. No big deal, but they would pave one section of the road for 200 yards, then pave the other side for 200 yards, then switch again. Go figure...

We arrived at the Coron Village Lodge and checked in. We bought a package deal that would take us island hopping for 3 days, but it didn't start until the next day, so we just hung around the village, walked around, read, and had a great dinner down by the water. Our place isn't on the beach, but once you see the pictures of this place, you'll understand that there aren't many beaches.

Tuesday (today) was one of those days for the books (or blogs in this case). After breakfast, our guide took us on a little boat across the bay to Coron Island to this little small beach, no longer than 100 yards. The water was the emerald and blue that you always see in magazines and the sand felt amazing. We took some snorkling gear with us and spent an hour or so snorkling around the beach area and around. After lunch, we swam some more and were off to another little section of the island for another beach. We only stayed here for 30 minutes, but the water was just as beautiful.

Next, we took a trip to the Twin Lagoons, and in order to get into it, you had to swim in under the rocks. It was part freshwater from being fed by a lake, and part salt water. It was here that Jamie said, "This water is so blue it looks like the water in at a putt putt course." Quite true, but this water is real and the bottom certainly isn't painted or food coloring added.

After the Twin Lagoons, we went to a lake where we had to hike up some steps. Before we reached the lake, we saw a little cave where our guide told us that the people of Coron hid from the Japanese during WWII. From the opening of the cave is the picture you see above, perhaps one of the most beautiful sites I've seen. Jamie and I have our picture taken there too as well as Seymore. The lake was great, but we actually just rested in the shade there.

Next, we went to "7 Islands," a little clump of islands in the middle of the bay where we snorkled and fed the fish with some bread. They all came in droves to nibble away at the bread under the water. Only when it was gone or a larger fish came did they stop. The fish were beautiful colors and neither Jamie or I had ever fed them this way.

Next, we went to the local hot springs for a relaxing dip. The water was quite warm but very refreshing considering our muscles were tired from swimming practically all day.

Dinner tonight was a great fish served with veggies and a mango shake.

I've uploaded all of the pictures and a few videos. I doubt they will do any of it justice, but maybe you can get an idea of our day through them.

Let me know if you have any questions. Great wifi here at the hotel, so I'll post tomorrow about our day along with some pictures.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Taal Volcano - Day 3

From Jamie's Philippines Pics

Jamie and I woke up pretty early so we could catch a bus heading out from Pasay City to Tagatay. Because of the hassle of getting around and the fact we didn't book a single thing prior to coming here, we are forced to somewhat just play every day by ear here in Manila. Amazingly, you can't really find a map anywhere, and the best map was available at the airport. We forgot to pick one up. Nonetheless, we've just about mastered the tricycles, jeepneys, and busses after today.

We were out by 7:00 and caught about a 10 minute tricycle to a main road. There, we found a taxi that would take us to Pasay City bus station. The driver said there were many bus stations in Pasay and was confused about which one to take us to. We went to the right one the first time, I bought a donut from Dunkin Donuts, and we settled into our air conditioned bus. We had no idea how much it was, how long the ride would take, or even which stop to get out on; but we figured we would figure it out.

The bus ride took about 2 hours and we froze to death. The tempurature this morning was only about 70 F and they had the aircon in the bus blasting. Jamie even wrapped up in the towel we had brought. We made it to our stop with some help from the passengers and immediately were approached by people selling "packages" for the Taal Volcano. We had read up on these and were prepared to bargain.

Our first mini trip was straight down a curvy road to the bottom of the lake. For those that don't know, Taal Volcano is actually a volcano within a lake which created another lake in the crater, which then had the volcano. You can check out the pictures. I'm not much one for science, so you can fact check me if you want. They call it the world's smallest active volcano as well as a 10 year volcano as it erupts about every 10 years, although hasn't had a major one since 1974. There have been some rumblings since 1991 though.

Once we arrived at the bottom of the lake, we haggled a price for the boat, horse, and lunch. They gave us a ridiculous price and we settled on less than half of that. We may have still overpaid, but it was what we expected to spend.

The boat ride across the lake to the volcano was bumpy and they even gave us a little tarp to cover ourselves with because we were splashed so much. Had it not been for that tarp, we'd been soaking we as well as all of our belongings in our backpacks. Next, we saddled up on a horse with a guide and made a 30 minute ride up to the rim of the volcano. Inside, you could see the inside lake. It was beautiful and we had heard it was breathtaking. I was a bit disappointed and Jamie mentioned that it is hard to wow us anymore. Keep in mind that in the last 2 weeks, we have walked on the Great Wall of China, seen the Terracotta Warriors, and taken a hot air balloon ride over the karst landscape of Yangshuo.

The Taal Volcano was nice, but I guess somewhat disappointing. We walked along the rim and took some pictures. It was very windy (see video above) and we were picking dirt out of our faces for a while afterwards. We took our little horses back down from the rim to the lake, took an even wetter boat ride back across, and then feasted on some rather tasty fried chicken and rice for lunch. Another tricycle ride to the top of the mountain, a non-aircon bus for 2 hours, a 30 minute jeepney ride, and a 20 minute walk later, and we were back at our little inn after a rather long day. We walked the remaning 20 minutes simply because we had ridden something for the last 8 hours straight.

After napping, we decided on a little pasta restaurant walking distance from here.

Overall, we weren't thrilled with Manila. The transportation around the city is hectic at best and the place overall is a bit dirty. We expected more. However, tomorrow our trip really begins as we take a small little plane for an hour to Coron Island. We have a package deal there of island hopping and snorkling and perhaps scuba diving around some old WWII ships.

Check out our albums for photos of today and the rest our trip. Click on the picture above to go directly to the video of the Taal Volcano.

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