August 2008

Laos is about the size of Great Britain with over 70% of the country  covered by mountains and plateaus and has a population of only about 6 million people. The 12th longest river in the world and the 10th largest in terms of volume, the Mekong is also one of the world’s most untamed rivers and the main means of transportation and source of fish, the staple of the diet.  We arrived in Vientiane, the capital city, a week after the worst flooding in forty years and although the water had receded, we saw much evidence of the damage that water can do.

In the north the Mekong River follows the Annamite Chain of rugged mountains with peaks as high as 2500 m.  We spent two days days on a “slow” boat and covered about 350 km of this 4000 km long river, mesmerized by scenes of awesome beauty, quiet little villages and local fishermen and their families.  Along the way we stopped to visit in some villages and the Pak Ou Cave, which houses thousands of Buddha statues of various sizes.  Fortunately, we had a fairly large and powerful boat with a very experienced driver as the swollen river was moving very rapidly and we were headed upstream.

Accommodations in the two villages on the river were pretty basic, to say the least, but it was neat to experience a bit of village life and it made us appreciate the lovely little guest house we had in Luang Prabang, with mattresses made of wood. 

The people of Laos may not have the best of resources but they have “Customer Service” down to a science.  Our every need was catered to by the most gracious of people, especially the cook (the drivers wife) who travelled with us on our boat and prepared amazing Laotian dishes for our lunches.  She, of course, was cooking on an open flame on the back of the boat.



One of the highlights of our visit was an afternoon trip into the hills where we climbed up to the Khouangsi Waterfalls where the water crashes down the mountain and over multi-tiered limestine formations and forms cool, clear pools which are perfect for swimming.

Summer break is not what it used to be. Used to be I’d get two months. Plenty of time to veg around the house or tackle a major renovation project, if I felt so inclined. These days I’m lucky to get three weeks. But although Taylor’s may not have long school breaks, at least they have frequent ones. We are headed off first thing tomorrow on a week’s break to Laos and Thailand.

I have long wanted to see the Mekong River, and we finally did see it flow past Phnom Penh in Cambodia around Christmas last year. We thought of taking a cruise then, but the boats were tourist traps and the trip was not worth the money. This time we will be on it for two full days with friends Gary and Kveta exploring the ancient culture of Laos from the relative safety of the river.

We exit in northern Thailand where we’ll spend two days, and then fly home from Chaing Mai. Pam was in Chaing Mai earlier this year on a conference, and although I have never been there, her pictures showed a terrain much like the Hill Tract area of eastern Bangladesh: rolling green hills and lush rice paddies. It doesn’t look like we will be able to post for a while, but will continue to pick up our email when we can.


I am so happy because my dad is on line finally! 

 At 83 years of age Dad is still excited about learning new things and is not daunted by the challenge of entering the age of computers. 

While we were home we set up the old computer from our condo for him and Jon was able to find a new modem for it so he is finally connected.

Kuala Lumpur is a city designed for shoppers!  The malls are massive and beautiful, open virtually everyday of the year and always crowded.  Sunway Pyramid is our local mall, as seen from our pool deck in the picture, and it comes complete with a Skating Rink, a Lagoon waterpark and three theme parks.

We have been perplexed as we watched the sales promotions throughout the year.  When the “Spring Sales” arrived the malls were decorated with trees in bloom, umbrellas and spring flowers.  Lately we were attempting to find some light weight pants but when we asked the sales clerk he was quite shocked.  He informed us that we would need to wait for the summer clothing to come in before we would find light clothing.

In the sixteen months we have lived here, we have rarely seen the daytime highs at less than 32 degrees, with lows consistently around 26 degrees.  We finally asked the question, “How do you know that it is winter?”  The very helpful young man said he had no idea but they always use the same promotional themes as America so he thought it had something to do with their culture. 

 I guess our heavy pants will need to do for now because I m certainly not buying corduroy or knitted sweaters but I hope summer comes around again soon.

This year we have decided that we need to make a real effort to see more of our adopted country and to gain a better understanding of the culture.  This has been a challenge without a vehicle as public transportation takes you to a specific destination efficiently but does not allow you to experience much along the way.

We learned from our visit to Fraser’s Hill, that outside of the cities people are much less apt to understand English and sometimes the cultural differences mean that what seems obvious to us is not necessarily obvious to others.  We had lunch is a local restaurant, where Steve and I both ordered Chicken Fried Rice and Gary and Kveta each ordered Chinese Fried Rice.  The waiter misunderstood and bought food for only Steve and Gary, clearly not finding it the least bit unusual that only the men were eating.

Anyway, we have now begun spending a half hour each evening in language study and it is evident that our ability to memorize is not what it used to be.  It has taken us a full week to master the numbers and the days of the week.  Fortunately, we hear that Bahasa Malaysia is not a difficult language to learn.  The big challenge is the fact that they build on nouns and verbs to derive new words, so until you are very familiar with the root words, the language looks very confusing.

Additions can be made before, after, in the middle off or even around a root word.  So masak (to cook) becomes memasak (is cooking, memasakkan (is cooking for), dimasak (cooked), permasak (the cook) or masakan (cookery) and the list goes on.  By the time I figure out what the root word is, it is way too late to follow any conversation.

Oh well,  I figure that if I am not learning something new, it is probably time to pack it in.