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When you fly into Chiang Mai, you can see it, up on the mountain to the west of the city, sparkling in whatever light shines through the smog. A huge temple, gold and white, draws the eye. I nudged Donn, in the next seat. “What do you think that is? Let’s try and go there.”

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Cursory research gave us a name and lots of information about how to get there. Our hotel had flyers. Everyone said to go in a tour, pay about $35/person to troop obediently into an air-conditioned new van with wide seats, be driven there and back, be provided with a small bottle of water, see a hill tribes village as a bonus. We declined. You can get a red bus for $7/person each way! These are pick up trucks with covered backs which have benches along the sides. We had met up with a Brazilian friend*, Tell, by walking to the plaza of the 3 Kings and getting a Grab, which is Thailand’s version of Uber, to the edge of town.  While there, we were chatting with our Grab driver, and he offered to take us and bring us back for a total of about $35 for the 3 of us! I felt that sitting in air-conditioned comfort was worth it, and we quickly agreed.

We drove past the zoo and began our journey up the steep side of the mountain. Northern Thailand is mountainous and forested, although the trees are of course different species than I’m used to in the Pacific Northwest. The road wound through hairpin bends and past tiny outcroppings teeming with people selling things, which reminded me of Morocco.

The temple entrance proved to be just another wide spot on a steep road, albeit one lined with permanent shops. We arranged a pick up time with the driver, and then began the steep ascent to the temple itself. The name of the temple is properly Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, but everyone calls it just Doi Suthrep, after the mountain on which it is located. You can learn a lot about it by just reading the wikipedia page, but for this blog, I’m just going to relate our visit.

Start with 309 steps! They are cleverly lined with the long, sinuous body of a dragon. Thailand is so colorful!

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That’s Tell, and I can tell you in private that we were both dying! 309 steps! I am not sure if that even counts the first 50 or so from the street up to the start of this. Although it wasn’t the “hot” season, it was still really hot and bright and, of course, humid. It was always humid.  We trudged our way up to the top, where we paid our entrance fee (I’ve forgotten how much it was), passed the guardian at the gates, and entered the temple complex.

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The hands on the hips stance was very no nonsense. Do not mess with this guy!

As with all temples, proper modest dress for women was required, and there were parts that were off-limits to women altogether. I amused myself by guessing which women were actually wearing wraps provided by the temple around their hips or shoulders, hiding tiny white shorts or plunging tank tops. We were okay. We added our sandals to the growing pile and entered the main section.

There were innumerable representations of Buddha in all sizes, shapes and forms. The temple grounds are extensive, and every corner and niche is full of statues. Some are green, some are gold, some are white, some are wood. Some have peaceful expressions, some look more like they’re in pain.

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A blog post we’d read mentioned the large number of collection sites, and I can attest to the truth of that. If you want to give money at this temple, you don’t have to go more than about 5 steps to find a box or slot just waiting for you to do so.

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There were masses of people there. This is considered a very holy site, and so there were masses of serious Thai people, paying money and pacing round the center in prayer, or kneeling before statues and being blessed by monks. There were also masses of tourists, their bare feet perfectly pedicured, snapping selfies in the bright sunlight. (I was one of these. Seriously, pedicures are $6! I got three in two weeks!)

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We walked over to see the view down the mountain to where the city of Chiang Mai is spread out under a blanket of smog on the plain, and joined with a woman who was scolding her partner to get off the parapet. We were highly amused to round a corner and discover this tribute to motherhood.

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hashtag sorry kids. hashtag some days are like this. hashtag I feel seen. 

Of course Donn took a pic and immediately sent it to our 3, all of whom seemed to relate far more than I would have thought.

There were tons more statues and buildings to see and admire. But you reach a point where you can’t take any more in. We headed down that long stairway and met up with our taxi driver, who whisked us down the mountain the 15 kilometers back to our hotels.

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*While on this trip, we also met up with friends who live in Morocco and a friend from Portland. Chiang Mai is a place to see old friends!

 

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Thailand is a deeply religious country. There are signs all over the airport and a huge billboard just outside, warning you that it is disrespectful to get a tattoo of a Buddha. Every shop has a shrine, either inside or just outside, with flowers, fruit and incense changed daily. And every block, it seems, has at least one or two temple compounds, large spaces where usually visitors are invited to wander, at least in certain areas.

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I felt very shy just walking onto the grounds, as if someone would appear and scold me because I’m not Buddhist and had inadvertently transgressed some norm, but that never happened. There were, however, certain areas where women were not allowed to go. They were clearly delineated with signs. And there were also signs saying women needed to dress modestly, not in short skirts or tank tops. If you wanted to enter a sanctuary, you could, you just needed to remove your shoes.

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Some of the larger temples offered wraps to cover up inappropriately dressed young women.

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Feet of a statue. Looks rather like when I attempt my own pedicure.  

Everything was extremely colorful. Thailand is really a sensory delight, multi-coloured, fast-paced, with everyone on scooters weaving in and out of traffic. The streets are lined with food carts and the smells of smoking oil from the cooking blend with flowers and fruits laid out in the small shrines which are outside many of the businesses. The sidewalks are crowded with people selling scarves made of Thai silk, or small fabric elephants in shades of pink and purple and gold, or wooden carvings, or t-shirts. And this is between markets! Some days, there were markets set up in the grounds of the temples. Every evening around 4, vendors would begin to set up for the Night Market, which is huge. But you could find the many of the same things for sale everywhere on the city’s sidewalks.

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I took millions of pictures. The dragons, painted and bejeweled, beguiled me. I loved the eaves of the temple, with their version of gargoyles to guard treasures within.

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I was rather bemused by all the statues. Not just the statues of the Buddhas, of which there were thousands upon ten thousands, it seemed, or the statues of the demons, or whatever they were. But the kid statues.

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Maybe they’re just monks, not kids, but their height and chubbiness made me think of children. I did like the glasses on these next ones though.

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I was about as touristy as one can get. I didn’t research my host culture or religion at all, although I had meant to. So I can’t explain these things to you. I just wandered round, photographed, and then went for a Thai iced coffee.

 

My attempts to revitalize the blog aren’t going so well. The problem is time, time management, and time sucks like Twitter, where people are so much funnier than I am.

It’s a really long time since I’ve written at all regularly, and I would imagine pretty much anyone reading this is new here. So here’s a bit of background and an update. I live in Oregon, but I spent 9 years of my life in North Africa, plus a year in France. I started this blog while we were living in Mauritania, which was so different from anywhere we’d experienced before that we used to say in wonder, “It’s like another planet.” Our nickname for Mauritania was, in fact, Planet Nomad, since they still retain a lot of their very-recent nomadic past. And that’s where the name of the blog came from, although of course it also worked well as a name for us, a family who moved internationally 6 times in 9 years, and who continue to live cross-culturally wherever they land.

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Random pic of Latourell Falls, down the Columbia River Gorge. Oregon is beautiful! 

In 2010 we moved back to Oregon, and started working with Iraqi refugees, and that’s kind of when the blog died. My kids were teenagers, and as funny and infuriating as ever but much more aware of social media. And my new friends were internet-savvy and had such dramatic stories that I didn’t feel right telling them. I’ve always been careful, changing names and some details so that my Mauritanian friends would never feel exploited if they ever stumbled across the blog, but this felt different. Plus, so much of it was about raising kids and living in a culture not your own. So the blog died, in spite of my efforts to write of our visits back to North Africa and France.

So now, my kids are all grown. Elliot lives in Iceland, where he’s in grad school, getting a very practical MA in Medieval Norse and Viking Studies. That’ll just open doors for him around the world, right? He speaks about 6 languages now*, and I am v smug about this, because I told him that someday he would be grateful to me for making him go to French school, that first year when he cried every Sunday and said he didn’t want to go and refused to speak French. There are few things in life more satisfying than telling your kids, “I told you so!” The essence of good parenting in a nutshell!

*(I counted Icelandic but I really shouldn’t, since he is learning Old Icelandic by translating the sagas, so all he can say are phrases like “Thor swung his hammer and shattered the giant’s skull.” Fun, but probably not going to be super helpful if you need to know where the bathroom is.)

Ilsa is going to art school on the other side of the continent, in Rhode Island. Donn suggested she go straight to homeless as a way to avoid having school debt plus being homeless, but she declined. She is majoring in Painting, and will someday no doubt have a gorgeously-decorated section of the sidewalk to call home. She is very talented.

Abel lives at home, which makes me happy. He is working, photographing a lot, and keeps very busy with needing to rewatch “The Office” and “Parks and Rec.” I assume he does other things as well? He is never home and when he is, he’s either editing pictures or glued to his phone, watching Netflix. I think he’s doing well? Seriously, he’s a talented photographer, in an age when it’s nearly impossible to earn a living that way. Between our kids’ choices, Donn and I are almost certainly going to be joining them on the sidewalks in our old age. At least they will be beautiful, and we can pass our golden years learning about Thor and his hammer, and maybe adding some Icelandic vocabulary to our requests for spare change.

Donn and I now have an official non-profit. (Ilsa did that pic on the homepage, if you click through that link). Donn is the president. I am the Director of the ESL program, and we’ve grown a lot–we now have 5 levels and about 60 students if everyone comes (which they don’t), plus a small army of volunteers teaching them, ferrying people back and forth, watching little ones so their mothers can concentrate on English for two hours straight, etc. I actually love my job, except that it keeps me from spending hours staring out the window, reading books, and drinking tea, but all my jobs do that. I do drink a lot of tea but it tends to be in my students’ homes, accompanied by a lot of food and conversation.

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Many of the attendees at the ESL Thanksgiving Party. We ate turkey and qubbah and potatoes and dolma and biryani and pumpkin pie and baklava. 

And now that we’re all caught up, I will resume my travel writing. Come back for more pics of Thai temples, a treatise on the toilets of SE Asia (no really, I have to show you these signs), and if you’re lucky, pictures of various lunches! You know you care what I had for lunch, at least while in Chiang Mai!

 

For an entire 2 calendar years, I did not leave the USA. I came home from Marseilles, France on Nov 5, 2016 (very depressed, and you can figure out why if you remember what was happening then) and here I stayed. I was stuck! This is hard for a nomad used to roaming parts of the planet. Oh sure, I didn’t stay in Oregon–we went to California and even Florida. My kids traveled to places like China and Iceland and Rhode Island. But I locked my passport away and didn’t use it at all.

But 2019 is different. This is the year that, even though we are Gen-X or, as my husband likes to call us, pre-millennials (that’s a joke for all you current or former baptists out there!), we are traveling as if we were millennials. We started off January by going to Thailand, and in June, we are planning to go to Iceland. We may look more like aging hipsters, with our grey beards (Donn) and oddly wrinkled necks (me), but you’re only as young as you feel…no that won’t work, as we don’t feel young. In fact, we are already beginning to discover the joys of stiff necks and pinched nerves. We are just traveling to trendy spots!

Why there? You might ask. Why not return to France, with all their lovely cheeses and pastries and cobbled streets? What about Mauritania, with your good friends there, or Morocco, where you can bore us with yet more pictures of the markets? Simple. We went to a conference in Thailand and managed to squeeze in several days of vacation round each end. And our oldest kid moved to Iceland to go to grad school, and we want to see him, not to mention his new country. Iceland is so pretty!

We got home from Chiang Mai 2 weeks ago and I’m still sick, but I miss writing and who cares that blogs are dead unless you were smart enough to never quit? I like writing about my trips. So, I will leave you with a picture of a Buddha from the Doi Suthrep Temple, and I’ll be back soon to tell you all about it!

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Abel ready to go! 

This summer, Donn’s mother broke her hip. They live in the Southern California desert, and she went outside barefoot in the blazing sun to get the mail, and fell. We rearranged our lives and spent nearly a month total with her after she got out of rehab, and she was stubborn and determined and did really well. Then, in November, her heart stopped. Happily she happened to be at a concert held at a retirement center, and a nurse stepped in. But that fire and determination were lacking the second time around. She just wasn’t fighting as hard. And so we put our heads together and decided to drive down the 1200 miles and surprise her for Christmas.

Every year, we hold a Christmas party for our Iraqi refugee friends, and every year, it just gets bigger and bigger. It’s always held the Friday before Christmas, which was of course the 22nd. This year, we had about 250 guests, mostly from Iraq, with a good representation from Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Iran as well. It was a huge success. The food was fantastic! We had it catered by a local Iraqi restaurant which does great dishes, and we went all out…kabobs, chicken skewers, falafel, hummus, bread. For dessert we had baklava and then a friend made hundreds of orange-fig shortbread cookies and coconut lime shortbread cookies that were amazing. We had an awesome program for the kids, run by talented people who run our church’s all-day summer camps, fantastic live music, and SnapBar donated their services!

We had tons of help but it was still exhausting. And so, it was with no great joy that we dragged ourselves out of bed the following morning, loaded the car, and headed south. Abel, who is still youthful and energetic, was the only one excited at that point. Donn and I were just trying to make sure we’d packed everything–the air mattresses, the presents, the snacks, the plates of food that Iraqi friends had made up for us to bring. Because yes, that was a feature. We had a plate of leftover kabobs, plus an ENORMOUS platter of fresh falafel and 2 plates of hummus from another friend, and a plate of quba from someone else. It was, frankly, a bit much. We drove to Eugene and Elliot’s house, where we ate lunch and left some falafel and hummus for his roommates to enjoy.

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I suck at selfies

We drove down through the forests of Oregon, which don’t seem like much until you leave them behind. Of course it was dark shortly after 4. We wound our way through the foothills of Mt Shasta, then hurtled down I-5 to Sacramento, where Ilsa lives.

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Blue winter’s sunset, somewhere at the bottom of Oregon

We picked up Ilsa and saw her new apartment and met her puppy, who wiggled out of her arms with joy at meeting new people. We went for pizza, crowding round a small table in a noisy bar because the restaurant end of things was already closed at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. One thing I did not expect to find in Sacramento was the best Starbucks I’ve ever been to, serving juniper lattes and affragatos and all done in cool blonde wood and stainless steel, huge and beautiful and open till midnight.

After that, we settled into the dreary part of the trip. Because we hadn’t been able to leave till December 23rd and because we needed to get to Hemet in time for me to do some shopping on Christmas Eve before the shops closed and because we were now 5 and that meant 2 hotel rooms, we’d decided to drive the night through. We’d rented a car–our Volvo sedans don’t really have room for 5 adults, 4 air mattresses, presents, luggage, etc–but the kids were still too young to be able to drive. Donn and I spelled each other, the passenger trying desperately to sleep while the driver played music to stay awake. Amazingly enough, no one got grumpy. We were all too happy to be together again, excited to surprise Grandma, tearing through the night which stayed dry and bright.

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These photos are from my snapchat

We stopped in a rest area for a while, where Elliot and Donn made fun of my desire for an eyeshade to help me sleep under the glare of the street lamps. “Something to cover your eyes? What about eyelids?” they quipped while I glared at them. Then we drove on again, into a terribly bright sunrise where all was certainly bright, and mostly calm too.

We stopped at Starbucks time and time again. I know all the arguments against this store but I don’t care. You can get decent coffee all the way to the inlaws now, and that’s always a good thing. We stopped for breakfast at one point, playing for time as we were in danger of arriving before my mother in law was up.

Finally we arrived. Abel knocked on the door. “Come in!” we heard her yell. We all trooped in, holding our phones like shields in front of our faces as we filmed her. “Merry Christmas!” we yelled! She just sat there, in shock. My father in law appeared with tears in his eyes. We’d made it, we’d surprised her, and, as they’ve told me approximately 1000 times a day, we were the best Christmas present ever! All together now, “Awww….” Also, I am, as always, their favorite (and only) daughter-in-law. So there’s that.

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Christmas in the desert. I personally think they’re trying too hard… 

 

Happy New Year to you all! Any plans for 2018?

In 2017, I didn’t leave the USA at all. (yes I know I still have 2 weeks, but I have no plans to do so) I went neither to Canada nor to Mexico. More notably, I didn’t go to Mauritania, or Morocco, or France. No Spain. No Thailand. I didn’t even go to Florida, as I did in August 2016. I didn’t leave the West Coast of the United States.

This blog came by its name honestly. I get itchy feet. Our family moved internationally 6 times in 9 years, and we lost count of all our temporary housing along the way. Then we kind of washed up in the suburbs of Portland, and we’ve had the same house, and almost the same neighbors, for 7 years now, which is mind-boggling to me. But even though we haven’t packed all our belongings into boxes and inexplicably lost things along the way, we have still traveled. We went to North Africa 3 times, once to France, once to Thailand, and once to Korea.

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this year, I didn’t go to Marseille. pic taken Nov 2016

This year, I didn’t go to Marseille. Or Arles. I didn’t wander the dusty streets of Oudane, an ancient village in the Sahara, or sip coffee in the uptown shopping district of Rabat, Morocco. And I feel fine about that.

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Looking down at some ruins in Oudane, a city  built in the 12th century in the middle of the Sahara desert. Another place I didn’t go this year. Picture taken in October 2016.

Because somewhere along the way, dealing with jet lag and exhaustion while still trying to maintain an everyday schedule of full time work, I got really tired. I was ready to stay for a whole autumn in Oregon, to pass out candy on Halloween and take a language class at PSU and not be as tired.

We still did some scary things this year. For a start, we remodeled our kitchen. Elliot, now 22, was very stressed when I told him this. “So this means you’re never leaving?” he asked. He’s innocent, poor lad. We explained that the element caught fire in the oven so we needed a new stove, which meant we needed a new floor, and if we were going to do that we should repaint the cabinets, right? This should probably have its own post. We managed to choose a new cabinet color without even mentioning the words “divorce,” “over my dead body,” or “of course your mother would have loved this color; she had no taste either!” Success! We didn’t even scare the salesman at the paint place, as we rapidly went from our first choices (wildly divergent) through our second, third and fourth (question: how have we stayed married 27 years?) until we landed with a thud on our fifth choices, a lovely spring green we could both live with, although it gets mixed reviews from our friends. The most common reaction is, “That’s bold!” which of course means, “You’re crazy.”

It was very strange to remodel a kitchen. I felt like a real grown-up at last! We’ve never remodeled anything in our lives. In Morocco, we lived with a kitchen designed for Wile E Coyote after he falls off a cliff and turns into an accordion; there was no other person it could possibly have been designed for. I’m 5’2″, and the counters were too short for me while I had to stand on tiptoes to reach even the lowest shelf of the cabinets. But we didn’t change a thing.

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Outside one of our favorite restaurants in Rabat, just opposite the medina. Another place left unvisited in 2017.

Overall, I’m okay with my lack of travel for a year. But every so often…

…Donn’s sister just moved to Amsterdam.

…Elliot might move to Iceland.

…We just had coffee with a friend who is moving to Jordan, a place I’ve wanted to go for years.

In the meantime, it’s snowing on the blog, there’s a fire in the fireplace and Christmas jazz on the free-trial of Pandora Prime. Life’s good in Oregon.

For now.

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This kitten’s not going anywhere! Taken at the Chellah, Rabat, Morocco, in October 2016. 

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Colosseum at Arles, France. Taken on a sunny but freezing day in November, 2016.

Since I have such a bad habit of never finishing my accounts of our travel, I’ve decided to do this one backwards. How will that help? you ask. Because we’ve gone to Morocco and Mauritania 3 times now in the past 6 years, and I’ve never finished an account of a trip yet. In fact, I never told you the two funniest parts of the 2013 trip. Maybe I will do so now.

Funniest Thing #1: Moh is in many ways a typical Mauritanian man; generous to a fault, proud yet insecure about his country. No matter what we said, he tried to out-do it. We were telling him about how we now live in Oregon, which is known for its tree-huggers. We know, of course, that this is a metaphor. Oregonians don’t typically actually hug trees. But he was not to be outdone. “I love trees so much, I kiss them!” he announced, going up and kissing a tree.

Funniest Thing #2: We had just finished tea on the dunes with Aicha and were heading back into town. It was after 11. Elections were coming up, and we began to see the familiar tents and men in voluminous white and pale blue robes gathering in them. (Here is a post about Mauritanian elections) We turned onto another road and found ourselves behind a truck with a loudspeaker. As we drove, the people in the truck turned on the loudspeaker and began to broadcast a song extolling their candidate’s virtues. Frustrated, Aicha glanced at the clock. “It’s only 11:30,” she fumed. “Elections don’t open until midnight! They don’t have the right to disturb people until after midnight!”

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On this most recent trip, we went once again to the dunes to drink tea. The weather was pleasant, even a little cool at midnight as we stumbled in the moonlight to the top of a small dune at the edge of town. Here’s a picture of the herd of camels who were right next to us, silent shapes in the gloaming, until the headlights of a car turning around caught them in its beam.

We’ve been back 2 weeks now. We’re over jet lag, and we’re mostly recovered from traveling for an entire month. We visited friends in 3 countries, were served everything from exquisite cheeses to couscous in rancid butter, wine in stemware to camel’s milk in wooden bowls. In many ways, the month flew by. In each country, the time was too short to see everyone we wanted to see. But it’s good to be home.

 

 

So yes, this is still happening. This is the last day of that trip we took to Thailand, oh, 7 months ago or so. I have a bad habit of never finishing my little travelogues. The sad fact is, the only way for me to finish this is to allow myself 7 months. But you don’t care, right? My one day in Korea was in November and I’m writing it up in June, yes, but what difference does it make on the internet whether it’s October or January or November or June?  none. None at all. 

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Warning: I have way too many pictures! 

We left Chiang Mai, Thailand, at midnight at Saturday and arrived in Seoul for a long layover at about 7-something Sunday morning, Korean time.We flew out at about 5:45 or so Sunday night, had an 8 hour flight, landed in Vancouver BC, had a 2 hour layover, flew down to Portland, and got in about 4 on Sunday afternoon.

It messed with my mind. And that’s the joy of crossing the International Date Line.

With a 10 hour layover, we knew we had to go into the city, although I do want to take a moment to rave about their airport. They have free showers and nap options, a museum of Korean history, a place to do Korean-themed crafts for free, plus live music to entertain you. When we were on our way to Thailand, it was a string quartet playing Bach. On our way home, it was a boy band in white suits, crooning away. I tried to get pictures but Donn was in Capt Stress mode and wouldn’t let me even pause, so the pictures are too blurry to post. More on Capt Stress’ appearance later. But that airport is fantastic! OH and free 5G wifi.

Donn googled “what to do with a long layover in Seoul” while we were still in Thailand so we were prepared. Then we found that the airport offers a free bus (I know! Amazing! WHY must American airports suck so?) that went to all the sites we were planning to see. However, being us, we opted instead to buy two $10 tickets for the hour-long bus ride downtown and just be on our own. We don’t like tours. We like to explore on our own, although this inevitably means we miss some things and are usually in a rush at the end.

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It had been hot and humid in Thailand, but Korea felt like Oregon on a mild November day. Of course we hadn’t brought warm clothes. I was wearing sandals and 3/4 length leggings under a cotton dress, and Donn was wearing jeans and a cotton shirt. I did have a scarf. It was spitting rain and freezing as we wandered through downtown Seoul, stopping at a cafe for a hot drink in a desperate attempt to warm up.

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Although admittedly I have a very limited acquaintance with it, I have to say I loved South Korea and hope someday to go back for longer.

Our first stop was the Gyeongbokgung Palace (linked to wiki and including lots of information which I won’t go into here except to mention it was originally built in 1394 and it is right smack in the middle of a very modern city, which makes it even cooler). First we admired the funny hats of the people outside the gate.

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Then we watched the changing of the guard. More really great outfits!

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We walked into the first courtyard. The palace is built with 3 very grand entrances. One thing I learned on this trip was how very little I actually know about Asian art, architecture, religion, and culture in general. But I guess the Korean palace was purposely designed to be simpler than others throughout the region. There was still a lot going on though. We passed through three very impressive gates into enormous stone courtyards, ending up at the third peering into the throne room.

Then we sort of turned to the left and went through a little wooden doorway and found ourselves in a magic kingdom. Ok not exactly. For one, there were still lots of tourists, and we were still walking on pavement, but the farther we went, the more beautiful the views.

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The detailing was fantastic!

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There were lots of beautiful wooden buildings, set over water that reflected the autumnal trees, leaves drifting down to add to the palette of various tones on the still grey water.

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Eventually, regretfully, we reached the end of the palace, and came out the opposite end.

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We asked the guards for directions to our next destination–a neighborhood of art galleries and trendy boutiques tucked amongst ancient alleyways. They gave us directions to a certain point and said, “And then one more ask,” which I found an adorable way of telling me I’d have to find someone else to question at that point.

We wandered past entrancing shops, stopping for the best Bulgogi (a sweet pork dish. I’ve always had it with beef in the US. Seriously amazing) I’ve ever had in the tiny, hole-in-the-wall down-that-ally round-a-corner restaurant, a place with quilts on the back of the chairs and only room for about 20.

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Entrance to restaurant. I don’t know if we could even find it again, but it was great! I recommend it, if you’re ever in Seoul. And this is one reason why we don’t like tours; we like to at least have the opportunity to find places like this on our own. Sure you don’t always, but it’s worth a shot. 

We came down into an area that reminded me of Chinatown in San Francisco–lots of outside shops selling cheap knick-knacks. I bought socks with the Gangham-style guy for the twins, and a fancy bookmark for a friend of mine who loves Korean culture.

We still had HOURS to get back to the airport, but Donn, rather like Bruce Banner under stress, began to transform before my eyes into his super alter-ego, Captain Stress. Captain Stress looks like Donn, but he possesses incredible powers of Worry and Fuss. He appears at times involving airports, the birth of our firstborn, and car breakdowns in the desert. The problem was, we had to find a bus going to the airport and buy tickets to get on it, and we didn’t have much Korean money and didn’t really want to change as who knows if we’ll ever even go there again? We walked fast, and he refused to let me stop and photograph anything. We still had hours to get back, I pointed out reasonably. We walked through a gorgeous hotel lobby, decorated for Christmas, in hopes of changing money. I used the fanciest toilet in the world. It had push buttons for everything imaginable that you might want from a toilet.

Meanwhile, Capt. Stress was continuing to manifest. We talked to a bus driver but…I forget why, but his bus wasn’t an option. We found our way to a subway station, where there were trains going to the airport, but we were short the equivalent of 25 cents in Korean money. Remember that it was Sunday, and everything was closed. A very kind young man with a black umbrella tried to help us, and practice his English at the same time. I will skip how very complicated everything was, and how we ended up taking a taxi to another subway station where there were actual people working, and how we bought tickets and ran to catch the fast train and made it back to the airport just barely in time, sigh, so he was right, sigh, which was just so lame.

We rushed past the boy band and made it to our gate with enough time to wander round the folk museum. Our flight to Vancouver was not full and we EACH got an entire row in which to stretch out and sleep, which made me wonder if in addition to crossing the International Date Line, we might have crossed the Planetary Time Travel Line and were actually enjoying a bit of 1985. Seriously, planes are always full nowadays. Can you remember the last time you got extra room?

We had two hours in Vancouver, enough time for coffee, and got home at 4 p.m. the same day we left. It took me two full weeks to get over jet lag. And with this very long post, I have finished a travelogue.

Sigh. See post title for where I’m at with this.

Last time we saw our intrepid heroine, she was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary a mere 2 1/2 months after the fact in Thailand (!!!). In fact, she was in a lovely boutique hotel, with the Queen of Concierges bringing her dry toast and jasmine tea, lying in a very comfortable bed having a very uncomfortable time. Was it food poisoning? A virus? No one knows. There was a fever involved, and if someone is going to get gastrointestinal distress it’s usually Donn, but still. The fact remains that out of 8 precious days, she lost an entire 2…and then spent the 3rd wanting things like crackers and yogurt instead of super-cheap-and-delicious Thai food. Sigh. Obviously she needs to go back.

We had scheduled me to take a Thai Cookery class on the Monday, but when I got sick on Sunday (the day we rode elephants; I was running a slight fever and actually slept in the van both ways), Donn spent ages moving my appointment to Tuesday. Then on Tuesday he had to move it to Wednesday. By Wednesday I was determined to go. They picked me up from the hotel in a little pick-up with benches down the back, and I climbed in and met my fellow students–one from Brazil and a couple from New Zealand.

IMG_6317The school slogan was “Our food is guaranteed to make you look pregnant,” which I found of dubious desirability.

The cooking school was great. I learned to make 6 items, many of which I have actually made here in Oregon. First they took us to the school where they served us tea and pastries, then they took us to the market where they showed us what to shop for. I took a million photos, roughly, but I’ll only make you look at a few close ups of dragon fruit, bananas, and mushrooms.

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Then back to the school. I made (you know you care!) chicken coconut soup, green curry paste (which I will never make here. Let’s be serious. It has about 20 obscure ingredients and you pound it in an enormous mortar and pestle), green curry itself, Pad Thai because Abel loves it so, green papaya salad, and mango with sticky rice.

IMG_6328I made this Pad Thai and green curry. You could choose from a variety of dishes, but I picked these because my family loves them. I have made Pad Thai in America now but it wasn’t as good. I was missing an ingredient or two though; I need to try again.

I ate everything I made! Actually, I took a lot of it back to the hotel with me, because my stomach wasn’t up to 5 meals in the space of a few hours, but really I did great. It was so much fun. I loved the people who ran the school, and my fellow learners. We all promised to keep in touch and send each other photos and everyone else did but me because I have good intentions but lousy follow-through.

IMG_6397I didn’t make this particular sticky rice with mango, but I ate it! I did learn to make it and mine tasted great but wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as this dish from a restaurant. I felt you needed more beauty in your lives so went with this photo. And yes, I have successfully made this in Oregon. The mango was the least successful part. 

Chiang Mai really was fantastic. The old city has an ancient, 700-year-old wall and moat around it, which is now filled with fountains and lined with flowers and crossed by charming bridges. There are masses of temples and many many markets filled with fun, cheap things to cram into your luggage. Our time was far, far too short and we hope to go back some day.


ancient wall chiang mai

 

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I think this will be the last part! (unless I decide that Korea gets its own post…) Then I will return to my regularly-scheduled life, which is actually far from boring. This week, for example, I sat with a newly-arrived refugee (she’s been here a month) and admired the way she has made a home from other people’s furniture–faded red couches, light teal chairs, a new-but-dinged dining room table. She has decorated with embroidered cloths brought from Iraq that tie the colors in the room together. She insisted I eat with them so I did, even though I’d already had lunch a few hours earlier. She proudly showed me how she’d arranged her tiny bedrooms, and I saw her teenage son taking a nap on the single bed in the room he shares with his 22-year-old brother.

But enough about my current life…let’s finish Thailand!

12278652_10205275234387376_4702043969865991117_nThai dragon guarding Thai temple

This is the first thing you should know about Thailand:  everything is SUPER cheap. You can get an hour-long massage for $6. You can get a mani-pedi for $10. You can buy a plate of fresh, hot Pad Thai for 65 cents. You can buy a journal made of paper that is made from elephant poop for $1. You can buy Thai silk scarves, in gorgeous colours and patterns, two for $3.50. Get your hair highlighted for $15. “I could get used to this,” you will think.

IMG_6067Spa treatments are very cheap!

And you’re not the first. We were in Chiang Mai, and it is hands-down the place with the most tourists I’ve ever been, with the possible exception of Paris. Of course I’m used to Nouakchott, which rarely makes the list of Top 10 Places on the Planet to See This Year, but still. I’ve been to London. I’ve been to Marrakesh. Never before have I been in a foreign land where I stood out so little. They were used to people like me only, in general, younger, thinner, showing a lot more skin, and actually looking good in the baggy elephant pants.

I didn’t look good in the baggy cotton elastic-waisted pants, but I did get food poisoning or something so I didn’t care, because I didn’t feel well and they were so comfortable! And cheap, of course. $2/pair. I didn’t buy any for myself, knowing they wouldn’t be flattering, but we had bought several pairs for Ilsa and then I took the purple ones. She still got 5 pairs to share with her college roommates. (I know this from snapchat) Donn, on the other hand, looked good, and loves comfortable cotton clothing that we might call ethnic, and he now owns more Thai clothing than many actual Thai people. He could probably clothe an entire small village.

IMG_6262Donn photographing a shrine. Apparently I have no real photos of him; I included him in this one to give an idea of the size. But you can see his comfortable, loose cotton clothing. It was very hot and humid even in November, and jeans were right out. Also notice the shrine. They were literally everywhere–most businesses had one inside and one out, and there was at least one public shrine or temple per block.

Since we were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, we splurged for luxury, and stayed in the nicest hotels. One was $40/night and the other was $50, but we were living it up! I spent two entire days sitting by the pool and reading books and going for dips, because that is my definition of complete relaxation. Donn gets bored so he’d go out exploring, get a massage or two, join me for a bit late afternoon, then we’d go in, shower, and go out for dinner.

IMG_6357Pool. Picture taken in morning. It curved round the side of the hotel and was very refreshing, since it wasn’t heated. It was surrounded by deck chairs to lounge on, and there were umbrellas to shade under (I really didn’t want to burn). It was, in a word, absolutely delightful (oh I was never good at math).

We did touristy things. We rode elephants. We arranged this by stopping by a random barber shop with a table outside covered in brochures. The very sweet woman who manned it in between hair customers was named Ma and she spoke enough English to get by with people like us, who spoke no Thai beyond “hello” and “thank you.” She pulled out several brochures, made some phone calls, and arranged for us to be picked up at our hotel.

Next day, we were picked up in a nice, new, air-conditioned 15 passenger van and driven into the nearby mountains to an elephant farm. We fed them bananas, which they slurped up so eagerly that I couldn’t decide if they were being starved or if they just love bananas and always slurp them down eagerly, leaving little bits of elephant slobber on the proffering hands.

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Then we crossed a bridge over a river and went to a sort of platform halfway up a hill. The elephants walked through the river and then up to the platform. We left our shoes on and stepped on their heads, which I found stressful but they didn’t seem to mind. They each had a little bench tied onto their backs, and we settled ourselves there (2 people per elephant. That was specified in the brochure. You don’t get your own elephant.) A driver settled himself in front, on the elephant’s neck, and we were off for a ride that was mildly terrifying, to be frank.

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We were up amongst the forested hills, and the elephants (3 of them) headed up a steep hill. The elephant swayed back and forth, up and down, as we went up an uneven tiny track that wove in and out of the trees. That was all right, but when we were going straight down the other side, I started to slide forward and nearly fell off the elephant. My bag kept going but I managed to catch it with my foot. I had to wrap my arms through the little railing across the back to stay on. So it was a little stressful.

The elephants walked for about 45 minutes, through the forest, through the river, past the most enormous spider I’ve ever seen–big as my hand!–and back to the platform. Afterwards we walked down to the river where we bathed the elephant while the handler tried to get it to splash us. It was more fun than I expected. Then we went back across the river and played with a month-old baby elephant for a bit.

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They let us get in the pen and play with it. It was kind of shy, and mostly liked the handler best. They played chase. It was pretty cute.

AND you know what? I’m over 1000 words and blog posts are supposed to be short. I still have at least one more about Thailand, plus we did have that day in Seoul. So stay tuned…

 

 

 

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