Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A River Running Through Me in Vietnam

After a long trainride back to Bangkok, I flew from Thailand to Vietnam where I met up with a fellow tsunami volunteer. Although the NGO I worked for in Thailand turned out to be less than stellar, it did connect me with some fabulous people from the US and UK. Andrea made a splendid travel companion with her uncanny ability to make even mundane events interesting and quite humorous. (Luckily, after finishing at Columbia in NYC, she returned to her hometown of Boston and we get together every so often to reminisce . . . good times.)

Highlights from Vietnam include wandering the streets of Hanoi, dealing with pushy shopkeepers and sometimes violent city residents (I actually watched a man get beaten by a pipe after an argument--I ran into a side shop for shelter. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time), being entertained by a water puppet show, exploring the city's past by visiting museums and historical sites, eating delicious Vietnam fresh rolls (I've had a serious addiction ever since and visit the Vietnam restaurant in my neighborhood at least once a month . . . I do have to say it was much cheaper in Hanoi and tasted better), and joining a 3 day group tour of Halong Bay.

Joined by throngs of other tourists clamoring onto boats to sail around the bay, visit floating villages, hike an island, and swim in the bay, I hardly expected to enjoy myself as much as I did. Although far from being off the beaten path, our tour group of 12 or so ended up being splendid company. Waking up on the deck of a boat surrounded by floating houses was almost magical. The humidity though--in the heat of summer with temperatures at 100 degrees F, and nearly 99% humidity, my body sweat like it never had before. I drank water and immediately a "river ran through me." In the photo, it may look like I just forged a river, but my wet clothes are simply drenched in sweat. Who knew it was possible to sweat that much? I could hardly keep my eyes open to enjoy the views at the top of the hike. Any water I poured in, came pouring right out. So there you have it--the sweatiest day of my life.

I began the trip to Halong Bay with a wallet--but returned without one. Some lucky person made off with all my forms of monetary exchange. At the mercy of Andrea's and a few other tourist's generosity, I pulled together enough cash to get to the airport, pay the departure tax, and return back to US soil. Otherwise, I could very well still be wandering around Hanoi avoiding street fights and begging for water.

Weaving Silk Laotian Style

To quench my ever present need to explore, I spent a couple of weeks traveling around Northern Thailand, Laos and Vietnam before heading back to the US. In need of renewing my visa, I crossed over the border into Laos--lovely, enchanting place I'd love to revisit someday. The Laotian leg of my journey was a quick one, just two days. I spent the first one wandering the rainy streets admiring their ornate architecture and learning to weave silk. I think deep down I've always had an obsession with weaving. I've dreamed of someday having a room in my house just for a large loom where I would weave beautiful things out of homespun threads. The idealist in me has all sorts of ideals and dreams I never quite live up to . . . the thought of the loom is very peaceful to me. Actually weaving though, not so much.

I took a cab out to the outskirts of town. We turned off the main road and meandered down a dirt one until I found the artisans' silk/weaving workshop in front of me. For the random tourist like myself, they offered day courses of personal instruction followed by use of their looms to make a small piece of silk. Personally, I like to learn trades and get up close and personal with local artisans when I travel. Although I read about the workshop in some travel book, travel to Laos in general was off the beaten track and my only classmate was a lady from Japan. The teacher's swift hands and choreographed movements made it look simple--I, on the other hand, was rather clumsy and it took me hours to make just a little progress. My aching back gave me all sorts of appreciation for the "backbreaking" work these women weavers did. Interacting with these women, working with the loom, marveling at the other weavers' skills, learning where dyes come from, biking to/from the main road for lunch--the whole day is etched in my memory as a small piece of heaven. (Although I have backed off the idea of buying a loom any time soon . . . )

My 2nd day, I walked around the capital's main marketplace and marveled at all the scarves and other silk masterpieces. I imagine someday either work or a random trip around the globe will take me back to Laos. I look forward to it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

DC to SouthEast Asia and then off the face of the earth . . .

I departed my comfortable, semi-established DC life over 2 years ago. Apparently staying in touch isn't my strong point. No, I wasn't trampled by an elephant or swept away by a tsunami. I eventually did make it to Boston to begin classes and believe it or not I'm now almost Master Emily. (I think it has a ring to it, doesn't it?)

There are so many happenings, travels, and entertaining life events I haven't filled nearly enough of you in on . . . an update letter just didn't seem to do the trick. So I've decided to record it all here where friends and family (and any other random web folks who happen to navigate their way here) can read about the last 2 years of my life at their leisure. (And this gives me a great excuse to take a break from writing my never ending thesis. Don't worry Dad--I'll get it done. Promise.)

Thailand turned out to not only be a fabulous adventure but a pivotal point in orienting me to the field of international education. I learned that I love teaching, I adore kids, I care deeply about educating them and making the learning process interactive and engaging. Finally, I grew some roots in a field of international development that I could sink down into the earth (mainly SouthEast Asia and Africa) and anchor my skill set in a subject I feel passionately about. You can ask friends who come over for dinner--international politics, educating kids, equalizing opportunities--all topics that get me riled up and fiery inside.

I lived with a delightful Thai teacher who treated me like a daughter. After 2 months, I started to feel Thai--Pi Nan had me convinced that there are some facets of Buddhism that all people should believe in, desserts made of coconut milk and exotic Thai fruits in large quantities might make me chubby but they were worth it, and being a teacher in Thailand was the best profession in the world. A kinder person I have never met. Occasionally I have dreams of being back in Thailand trying to hunt down Pi Nan and my Thai students for a "Hokey Pokey" reunion.