Truly Amazing Borneo!

Borneo was amazing, just like the commercials say.  Our first adventure was to KK to hike up Mount Kinabalu.  Staying the first night in the national park, we were able to constantly gaze about our goal and wonder where the actual summit might be, as the outline of the mountain is not the typical conical shape, but more of a rigid like this:

Inline image

The next morning with started the ascent, reaching 3,272 meters by the afternoon.  It was a tough hike, as there are no switch-backs and they’ve added several steps to help prevent erosions (meaning that the step sizes were twice as normal…similar to the size of the Great Wall of China).  But, it was well worth it…the views from 3,272m were amazing, as there is a deep valley near that mountain that catches the clouds, so you have this feeling of being ‘on top of the world’.  It was an early night, as we needed to be up and ready for the final ascent by 2:30am, so we could catch the sunrise.  While quite chilly, the hike was also very rewarding.  The last 800m or so was pure rock with ridges and plains that made me reflect on just how long this mountain has been growing.  Here’s are two pics from the summit:

Inline image

Inline image

The summit was soon in the background, as we started our decent to 3,272m to get breakfast and begin the long day down to the bottom.  It took us 4 hours to go the last 6 km, as going down those large steps prove much more difficult for my knees than coming up.  What a feeling, though, to finally reach the entrance gate.  
After another night in KK, we caught an early morning flight to Lahad Datu which is further east.  The rainforest lodge was waiting at the very small airport to whisk us away into secondary and primary rainforest jungle.  It was just as I had imagined….gigantic trees towering over a lush forest.  Sounds of insects, birds and animals welcoming us to the jungle.  The treks was quite different than I anticipated, since I had assumed that lodge was going to be more about sitting on terraces with a glass of wine while listening to the sounds of the jungle and spotting birds.  Instead it was walking through the jungle for 3 – 6 hours at a time to spot all different forms of wildlife…tarantulas, tree frogs, birds, civet cats, monkeys and even an orangutang!  Absolutely lovely!  Here are a few of my favorite pics:

Inline image

Inline image

Inline image

Inline image

I’ve posted several more on my flickr album.  If you’d like to see more, you can go to this photo album: Malaysia – Feb. 2015.

It’s been awhile…

…since I’ve written due to the lack of internet access here. We received a message from our school’s computer office about a month ago stating that one of the internet cables to Vietnam had been severed by a shark.

Yes, a shark. I didn’t believe it until I saw this picture:

shark

The good news is that it has been fixed and the even better news is that they have buried it, so it won’t happen again.

In the meantime, I’ve been busy with school and life in Hanoi. The highlight of the last month was the annual MSHS Talent Show. It is run by the HS senate as a fundraiser and students from grades 6th – 12th can audition and participate. This year there were several highlights; a young sixth grader who sang ‘I feel pretty’ without any background music, the sister who sang an Alicia Key’s song while her brother played the piano, the drum performance to a Guns and Roses song, a 15 minutes classical piano piece and, of course, the dance performance by Pixalated.

This is a dance troupe of Vietnamese high school boys that has been around for several years. I remember the first time I saw them was during my first UN Day celebration three years ago. They were wearing all black with traditional Vietnamese hats that hung over their faces, so that they seemed to be electronic or animated beings on TV. It was amazing. Every time, they are just mesmerizing.

The MSHS Talent show provided a wonderful night of entertainment because of Pixalated, but also due to the courage that each student had to get up in front of full-house and share their dreams and wishes. It’s a long night, but one that is not to be missed.

Here’s a link to Pixalated final performance from last year’s talent show.  It’s with their founding members – Pixelated.

I hope you enjoy!

Sweet corn!

During one of my recent (or not so recent…as it has taken me quite awhile to get this posted) Sunday bike rides, I stopped and enjoyed a bit of sweet corn.

I was a bit skeptical, as this –

sweet corn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wasn’t where I was used to buying sweet corn.

 

It didn’t even follow all of our family’s ‘rules’ about sweet corn:

  1. Must Should be from Iowa.
  2. Can be from Missouri, if there is an excellent batch.
  3. Must be eaten within at least 2 days of being picked.
  4. Is eaten in July.

 

I was eating it in October. It wasn’t from Iowa or Missouri, but I do think it was fresh.

The women at the sweet corn stand was tickled that we had stopped, enjoyed a few ears of corn each and took pictures of how it was being cooked.

They say that a smile is an international language….I would add sweet corn to the list, as well.

me and some sweet corn

 

 

 

 

 

 

the sweet corn

 

my first bite

 

 

 

the cooking pot

 

 

 

 

 

the kitchen

Being a Tourist in Hanoi

I don’t get much of a chance to actually see Hanoi during the normal school year. There’s always something else to either do or go to. So I thought it was just about time that I became a tourist again this week, my first week of winter break.

On Tuesday morning, I set-off ‘early’ (that’s vacation time ‘early’) to see Ho Chi Minh in his mausoleum. I had read the description of the long winding path to the mausoleum and the etiquette of dressing appropriately, being quiet, not sniggering and keeping my hands out of my pocket, so I was prepared.

It was exactly like the description…a long walk from the entrance to the actual mausoleum that took you past several guard stations…a line of people from all over the world walking through with the majority being Vietnamese…guards in all white uniforms enforcing the rules…and the body of Ho Chi Minh in a glass case with his hands neatly placed in front of him on a dark blanket. He looked serene.

I must say I did go to kind of say that ‘I’ve been to see ‘Uncle Ho.’. Yet, I came away wondering about this whole phenomenon. I went to see Lenin in ’93, because it was part of the tour. I passed up the chance to see Mao in 2000, as I didn’t really know what I would gain as a tourist from seeing him.

Visiting Ho Chi Minh, though, made me realize just how important he is to the north Vietnamese and how much he is still revered for his thoughts and actions. But, I still wonder why he was embalmed and put on display…was it for the memory and opportunity for future generations to see and ‘meet’ him or was it to stop any concerns or disbelief about his life and death?

We did visit on someone’s (or many people looking at the number of people in uniform) special day. Just outside the mausoleum was a huge crowd of men and women in uniform. We couldn’t tell if it was graduation or just the end of a class, but the whole complex (the mausoleum is just one of several buildings there) was filled with green uniforms. I couldn’t resist this picture when we were in the Ho Chi Min museum:

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Learnings

Over the past two weeks, I have learned several important lessons about living in Vietnam…

 

1. A closed road has many possibilities.
There is a new highway going in near my school. For the past two years, I have watched it being built, knowing that it would someday change my route to work. That day happened about a month ago. Now I’m just waiting for the rest of the highway to be completed, so it can officially open. For now, though, it serves several purposes…a parking lot for taxi’s, a track for morning exercise, and a test road for new drivers. Each day I see the creative uses on my way home from work and wonder what will happen when it official opens and there is a constant flow of traffic. Will the taxis still park there? Will people still be able to use the wide sidewalks and flat surface for exercise? Only time will tell.

 

2. A plastic bag poncho is better than a side-vent poncho.  
For the past two years, I have been using one of those ‘disposable’ plastic bag ponchos. Each time I put it on, I vowed to myself that it would be the last, that this would be the day that I actually went out and bought a ‘proper’ poncho. That day finally came about a month ago and then the rains stopped. Last week I finally got to use it. It was one of those 24-hour rains and right when I was ready to go home, it started to bucket down. I knew I would be fine, as I had my new poncho, so I got all ready and headed home. I quickly learned that while side vents are great for letting in the air, they are also great at letting in the rain and the big splashes from cars. I arrived home soaked and sorely disappointed that my new ‘proper’ poncho had failed. Lesson learned!

 

3. Coconuts now come with their own easy-access straws.
Living in SE Asia, I regularly see fresh coconut milk. They are everywhere on the streets.IMG_1417 Piled high next to a small table and chairs; you simply stop, wait for the owner to chop off the top and then you are on your way. Easy and delicious! This past week, I learned that it can be even easier. Just unwrap the straw, pop it into the coconut and enjoy! Who knew!?!

 

My Bicycle Adventure

First stop, Hanoi train station to catch the night train to Hue, the ancient Vietnamese capital.

Train from Hanoi to Hue.

Train from Hanoi to Hue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The train offered small comforts like blankets, pillows and hot coffee in the morning. This was a welcome relief after a rough night’s sleep, as the train stopped at several small towns along the way, so my sleep was punctuated with the rattle of brakes, the jumping starts and the very loud speaker announcing each stop.

My much needed caffeine fix.

My much needed caffeine fix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had just one day in Hue, so spent it walking around the old citadel, a walled city built from 1804 – 1833. This walled city

A statue inside the citadel.

A statue inside the citadel.

suffered from two major events; in 1885 the French forces stormed the citadel in response to a Vietnamese attack burning the library and removing all valuable objects and in 1968 the VC seized the walled city for 3.5 weeks which resulted in a response by the South Vietnamese and US forces. The complex is now being restored, so I was able to experience both the new and the old.

Just one of the many buildings within the walled city.

Just one of the many buildings within the walled city.

An impressive statue.

An impressive statue.

One of the long corridors.

One of the long corridors.

One of ten gates.

One of ten gates.

IMG_1357

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My relaxing day was also filled with the exciting thought of ‘hitting the road’ and getting on with the purpose of being in Hue – my first 3-day countryside bicycle ride.

Laura, a colleague from work, and I had carefully planned our route, arranging transportation and accommodation through a local travel agent.  Our plan was to get a ride over the big mountain just west of Hue and then bicycle to Hoi An, 180km away.

October 13th – Huong Phong to P’rao (45km) – The driver, Linh, cautiously wove his way through the mountain road getting us to our starting point – 40km south of Huong Phong on the Ho Chi Minh highway.  The whole ride, I’m grateful that we had decided to get a bit of help in the beginning, as the road is narrow, filled with patches and is on a constant incline.  When we reached our mark, Linh stops, helped us set-up our bicycles and then waved good-bye as we glided downhill around the first bend.  I can only imagine his thoughts about two foreigners bicycling through the countryside for three days.  It must be something like, ‘Why?’.

My bicycle..all ready to go!

My bicycle..all ready to go!

Our transportation over the mountain.

Our transportation over the mountain.

Lunch...rice noodle soup with fresh herbs.

Lunch…rice noodle soup with fresh herbs.

Views along the Ho Chi Minh Highway.

Views along the Ho Chi Minh Highway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 14th – P’rao to Thanh My (50km) – After a wonderful night’s rest at a local guest house or Nha Nghi, I picked Laura’s brain for hill climbing strategies, as I knew that we had many more to climb today.  It was actually the day we climbed our longest hill (or should I say mountain) – over 4km up with several points at a 10% grade.  Was I ever grateful to see the road marker stating that Thanh My, our next overnight stop, was just 11km away!

Gas pump in P'rao.

Gas pump in P’rao.

Relaxing in the guest house.

Relaxing in the guest house.

Dinner in P'rao.

Dinner in P’rao.

Waiting for traffic.

Waiting for traffic.

Laura and I with one of the owners of the coffee shop by the hydro-electric dam.

Laura and I with one of the owners of the coffee shop by the hydro-electric dam.

Vietnamese coffee.

Vietnamese coffee.

Road sign.

Road sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 15th – Thanh My to Hoi An (80km) – The final day of bicycling was much longer, but found us coming out of the mountains to the plains as we approached the ocean and the town of Hoi An.  Not much time for pictures, as we were anxious to get to our final stop and had our first and only encounter with rain.

Main drag of Thanh My.

Main drag of Thanh My.

Yummy, hot soy milk for breakfast in a take-away bag.

Yummy, hot soy milk for breakfast in a take-away bag.

Preparing young coconut water during one of our breaks.

Preparing young coconut water during one of our breaks.

The ocean...finally!

The ocean…finally!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last two days of the holiday were spent in Hoi An at a lovely guest house located between the ancient town and the ocean.  It was a perfect way to end the bicycle trip – hanging out in the hammocks tied between coconut trees on a small fish pond.

Hammocks next to the fish pond at our homestay.

Hammocks next to the fish pond at our homestay.

View from the breakfast room.

View from the breakfast room.

Fishing tools.

Fishing tools.

Just a pretty picture of the fishing pond.

Just a pretty picture of the fishing pond.

River going through Hoi An.

River going through Hoi An.

Ice blocks being transferred to fishing boats.

Ice blocks being transferred to fishing boats.

A tea shop in an old Hoi An.

A tea shop in an old Hoi An.

Just One Week and Counting…

Check out my bicycle, all outfitted for an upcoming trip from Hue (okay, not Hue, but on the other side of gigantic mountain just west of Hue) to Hoi An…

my bicycle

 

Less than one week left, now.  My bicycle leaves Friday on a train to Hue, where I will meet up with it on Sunday morning.  From there it is a few nights in small guest houses about 40 – 50 km apart, before we make it to the beach and fabulous food of Hoi An.  Fabulous!