Thailand – Spring Break

Happy Hour

World’s Best Happy Hour

Robert & I are back from Thailand.  We had a completely lazy vacation (well, almost) with LOTS of food and drink.  We flew Thai airways to Bangkok and had a quick connection to Krabi where we were met by the hotel driver who whisked us to our resort about 45 minutes away.  It had just finished raining and the sun was setting so were were lucky to catch a few glimpses of the tropical area before nightfall.  Once we got out of the ‘city’, we saw lots of cliff-like mountains rising straight up out of the jungle.  We saw lots of palm trees (for palm oil) and rubber trees (yes, for rubber).  We even passed some elephants.  At one point Robert was beginning to wonder if our hotel actually existed…since we just kept getting farther from civilization.  We arrived at the hotel around 7pm and had our welcome drinks and a tour of the grounds.  We took a quick dip in the pool and were eating dinner by 8:30.

The resort was great.  The view was spectacular – it was like being in a postcard, especially during sunset.  Combine the view with live music and half-priced drinks and there was no way were going anywhere else in the evenings.  We could (and did) take tons of sunset pictures.  The service was amazing and the food was very good.  The Thai set meal we had was fantastic and the khao niaow ma muang (mango with sticky rice) dessert was awesome!  Robert loved the “drunken-style” noodles, and I couldn’t get enough of the curry dishes.

Dinner

Delicious Thai Dinners

Breakfast was included and we could have anything we wanted.  There was a soup table, a pastry table, a fruit table, a cereal table, a manned station for eggs, waffles and roti (thai-style pancakes), and a huge buffet station with potatoes, sausages, bacon, cooked veggies and a few Thai rice and noodle dishes to choose from.  We ate so much for breakfast that we were never hungry for lunch.  Almost every day we’d walk on the beach then hang out at the pool (or on the beach), read our books, maybe get a message (or two).  There were bikes and kayaks to use. We took a walk down to the end of the road where the National Park was and found a trail (which we never took, because Robert found out there are King Cobras in the jungle.  I’m not sure I really wanted to encounter any of their large (meter sized) lizards either).

As content as we were, curiosity got the best of us halfway through our stay, so we took a speed boat to the island of Koh Phi Phi.  It was another absolutely beautiful, sunny, and calm day – perfect for cruising around the Andaman sea and admiring all the little islands.  We loved that part.  We first went to Phi Phi Ley arriving at Maya bay (where “The Beach” was filmed) very early before the crowds arrived.  We walked around taking pictures and walked to the other side of the island as well.  By the time we were leaving, it was getting obnoxiously crowded so our captain took us to see Pi Ley (a shallow fjord like area, well protected from the sea).

Maya Bay

Phi Phi Ley

The colors in the limestone cliffs, mixed with the turquoise water was really amazing.  We then went to view the Viking Cave which houses a family armed with guns to protect the swallow bird nests inside (since they are a delicatessen worthy of stealing we were told).  From our distance, we couldn’t see any nests or swallows, but there sure were tons of little tropical fish everywhere.  We soon moved on to Phi Phi Don where we stopped to do some snorkeling and then anchored ashore for some lunch and shopping.  We both could imagine that Phi Phi was once incredibly beautiful – before it was exploited with all the tourism.  The amount of people and trash that has accumulated on these islands was heartbreaking to see.  It really made us appreciate even more where we were staying.  After lunch we were off to a quiet snorkeling spot near Mosquito Island and then to Bamboo Island just to relax (Robert napped on the beach).  From our vantage point on the beach we could watch sailboats in the distance and the afternoon thunderstorms building in the east.  We raced back to the mainland fortunately making it back before the rain.

Massage at the Beach

Massages at the Beach

One afternoon it was overcast so we decided to spend the afternoon in the nearest town, Ao Nang, which was 20 minutes away by taxi. We walked up and down the streets which were lined with street vendors, shops, restaurants, bars, tailors, and other tourist attractions.  Fortunately, it wasn’t anywhere near as crowded or dirty at Phi Phi.  We then followed the beach to the end past several dozen massage tents to a shrine area, a mountain creek, and LOTS of monkeys.  We eventually made our way back to the street vendors and ordered a banana roti (yum!) then moved on to get some drinks and an appetizer since it was getting late and a thunderstorm was fixin’ to let loose. We always looked forward to those afternoon/evening storms since it really cooled the temperature down.

Overall, we had an awesome time and would stay at our resort again if we ever found ourselves in this area.  We will especially remember all the beautiful plants and flowers, all the jungle sounds (bugs, birds, frogs and monkeys), the tasty food and fruit (especially the bananas and pineapple), and of course, the wonderful Thai people.

So Ready for a Vacation

One week ago we were informed of the earthquake outside Tokyo.  When I first heard about it I thought they were referring to the 7.2 that occurred two days prior.  When I was informed it was another one and registered 8.9, I still didn’t think anything of it…no one felt it and no one at the school seemed alarmed.  We went out to Happy Hour at the Hard Rock Café and afterward to a friend’s house for some more conversation.  It wasn’t until we got home that we realized the magnitude of what was going on – given the missed Skype calls, emails and posts on Facebook.  We immediately called our parents who could barely talk due to worry and concern.  Even after hearing our voices and assertions that we were OK, it probably wasn’t enough to put them totally at ease.

We watched the videos of the earthquake and the even more destructive tsunami.  It seemed surreal…more like a Hollywood movie.  The casualty numbers were amazingly (and gratefully) very low – given the magnitude of what just happened…a testament to how well prepared the Japanese are – even for something they hadn’t imagined.

We immediately checked the tsunami warning charts, and learned that Fukuoka only had a slightly elevated tide level.  Since we were over 700 miles southwest of the disaster area and on the opposite coast, we were very fortunate to be in one of the safest places in all of Japan.  We actually had a decent night’s sleep.  I recall hearing about the damage at the nuclear plants, but it sounded like it wasn’t too serious and that it could be stabilized.

Saturday was a gloomy day and we were glued to our computers absorbing all the news and information we could.  Sunday was so beautiful we had to get outside and joined some others for a barbeque on the river.  At that point, the extent of what had happened was still sinking in, and it still seemed like they would get the nuclear plant problems under control.  They were still expecting a significant aftershock, so that kept things unpredictable and very unstable.

Arriving at school on Monday set the emotional rollercoaster in motion.  There was a solemn feeling around the school.  Not knowing who at the school knew someone in the affected area.  But beyond that, even if you didn’t know someone, somehow it cut to the heartstrings.  Here it’s about ‘us’, it’s not about ‘me’.  And everyone feels it.

We don’t have a TV, and even if we did we wouldn’t know what they were saying, so our news sources are the same as those in the US.  The local sources were saying stay calm, no reason for alarm, no danger.  Our sources were saying- apocalypse and evacuate.  I imagine it’s somewhere in between and probably closer to the Japanese being more accurate because American news sources are the equivalent to the modern day ‘boy who cried wolf’.  They exaggerate the story so much you can’t believe them.  For some reason, they all want to be actresses and actors instead of news people.   The story is still unfolding, so maybe I shouldn’t be so critical, but if I were in Vegas and making a bet, I think I’d be sitting pretty.

Back to the emotional rollercoaster: I can’t explain how often this week my brain was doing backflips from stress, to panic, to sadness, to helplessness and frustration, to fear and confusion and then back again to relief and some state of calmness.  I was constantly exhausted….mentally and physically.  It was hard to concentrate at work and I was subconsciously always thinking ‘what if’’?  In the back of my mind, Spring Break couldn’t get here soon enough, and I was hoping things would stay stable so we could leave for Thailand.  We are really hoping the situation sorts itself out over the next week, so Japan can get on with it’s rebuilding and recovery.  While we still think everything will be OK and have every intention of returning, we will take with us everything we absolutely need (which isn’t much), just in case we have to extend our vacation.

 

Winter Wrapup

Where has the time gone?  In less than four months we will be done with our first year in Japan.  January and February flew by.  We’ve had lots of little events over the last 8 weeks, so we thought we’d wrap them into a summary post.  I have to admit, after New Zealand, most events almost don’t seem worthy of a post; however, we have had some interesting experiences that we don’t want to forget, and want to share with you.

Chuck Wagon Bar

1) The Country Western Bar Downtown:  It was a night out for the whole school….an “All You Can Eat & Drink” – choice of various types of bar food, whiskey, beer and box wine (ha!) courtesy of the Chairman of the Board of Directors.  He apparently is a big Country Western fan and frequents this place a lot (but he’s obviously not a wine drinker).  This place even had a live band singing various honky tonk songs!  I was actually really surprised such a place existed here…but it does and they do a pretty good job creating the right atmosphere.  It’s not a very big place, but somehow we all managed to fit in….and a few people even “danced”.  I was actually hoping there would be a nice big thick steak and baked potato there, but no such luck.  They had pizza, pasta, salad, sausage, some rice dishes, and various other finger foods instead.  And as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t get use to the Japanese band dressed in cowboy hats and tight blue jeans.  It was almost as entertaining as seeing the Japanese waiters dressed in Mexican attire at El Barracho.  They just shouldn’t do it.  I wish I would have remembered to bring my camera to this event, however, the images in my mind still won’t go away.

Van Gogh Exhibit

Van Gogh Exhibit

2) The Van Gogh Exhibit at the National Museum in Dazaifu:  This was truly a delight to see.  It was so good, we almost went back to see it again.  I’ve been to other exhibits and been disappointed by the number of actual paintings on loan of the featured artist(s) you get to see – and how far away you have to be from them, so I didn’t have high expectations going to this one.  Well….to my (and everyone else’s) surprise, there must have been a hundred of Van Gogh works there AND you could literally get within inches of them.  It was amazing to see all the detail, the depth, and the brush strokes!  The way the paintings were arranged, the progression of his work from his first sketches to his most famous paintings was very apparent.  Occasionally, there would be works from other famous painters that were either from the same era or which influenced his style.  I would have loved to have taken pictures in there, but (even if I was allowed) pictures just can’t capture stuff like that yet.  I also need to mention the number of people that were there…we were nearly packed in there like sardines!  At times it was almost frustrating, but fortunately, they were able to keep the lines moving so that you could eventually see everything.  You were also allowed to go back if you wanted to see something again.  It was like walking through a maze, but it took you by every piece of work.  I suppose the narrow halls would have bothered those individuals who like to study paintings from a distance, but I find his work more enjoyable close up.  The only painting that wasn’t there that we would have really liked to see was Starry Night.  Everyone seemed to have a different favorite.  I’m not sure I could choose just one.  Oddly enough, Van Gogh happens to resemble the person that works in the library with me…the students had a good chuckle with that.  Lucky for him, he knows who to ‘dress up’ as for Halloween next year.

3) The Prom Lunch Fundraisers:  As some of you might know, Robert is in charge of the Junior class who is in charge of funding and planning the Prom.  After some initial frustration (and a temper tantrum) he decided to take it on by doing something he enjoys doing:  cooking!  So he planned 4 lunches at the school in order to raise money.  One time we made Chicken Soup (which went over well with the healthy eaters) and the other three times we made Chili (which was enjoyed by all, including the junk food addicts).  We had to go a little low on the spiciness meter for the children, but that was easily remedied for us adults with some Tabasco sauce.  Anyway, all these lunches meant we’ve been going to Costco every other weekend and loading up on beef, beans, onions, tomatoes, corn, and various spices (I also loaded up on wine & cheese 🙂 ).  We chopped and prepped on Sunday afternoons.  Robert got up early on Mondays to get the stuff cooking…the whole school smelled wonderful!  The last batch was perfection.  There was absolutely nothing left over….no bowls, no spoons, no cheese, no sour cream.  It was awesome.  Makes me want to do it again….alas, they have made enough ¥ now, so chili will not be on any future lunch menus. 🙁