A Travellerspoint blog

7 Months Growth of a Thai Souvenir

The Progression continues in the 5th State of the Belly Report

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A ship under sail and a big-bellied woman,
Are the handsomest two things that can be seen common.
-Benjamin Franklin

Daily, Nadine and I think back to our travels, and for good reason, her belly is growing on a daily basis from our time on Koh Tao, Thailand. Soon our Thai souvenir will arrive, but until then, I figured I would show you the progression of Nadine's belly across continents and countries to what it is now, large and kicking.

State of the Belly Report #1 - Saigon, Vietnam

State of the Belly Report #2 - Kunming, China

State of the Belly Report #3 - Hogsback, South Africa

State of the Belly Report #4 - Rome, Italy

Brand new State of the Belly Report #5 - Omaha, Nebraska, USA

As you can see, our reminder of Thailand is growing daily. Oh Thailand.

Within the week, we will decide whether we will be living in the frigid winter of Omaha or the frigid winter of Denver, either way, it will be frigid, and don't forget cold.

You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.
-Dave Barry

John, Nadine, and Sophie Christine

Posted by TulsaTrot 22:57 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

Clean Impressions of a Fat Place

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Prelude of our final flight of our around the world trip

Greetings all and hope y'all are doing well. It has been roughly a little over a month since Nadine and I have been back in the States, and there have been a few things that jumped out at us from our home country.

Stepping off of the plane in Texas, two things jumped out at us as we drove to our first meal in the U.S., (*and we're not proud of this*) McDonald's, this country is clean, really clean. You don't have any trash blowing around the streets. I would go as far as to say that I feel comfortable dropping some food and not feeling like I should pick it up in 5 seconds, per the 5 second rule, but at least 7 or 8 seconds. That is how comfortable the cleanliness makes me feel.

The second item is that people here in the U.S. are big-boned, a.k.a. fat. Not everyone is, and especially not you the American reader. Not only are we Americans heavier, we are also much larger. Walking around Asia, Nadine and I felt like giants with our height, but in Texas, we felt like medium sized, thin mesquite bushes blowing in the breeze. Everyone and everything is big in Texas, but I guess you can't forget the motto: Everything's bigger in Texas.

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Contingents from Odessa, Texas; two from San Antonio; Tulsa, and Omaha

And finally my third impression, people eat fast. I am always the last one to finish, and Nadine is second to last. We're not sitting there playing with our food making miniature mashed potato castles, we're just eating at a leisurely pace. But by the time I would comment to everyone that this food is pretty darn good, and rich for that matter, after my first bite, people would be setting their forks down, pushing away from the table, letting out a burp of relief.

Who would have thought that my second snow in a year would be the day before Easter in Odessa

Nadine and I initially spent two weeks apart to spend time with our respective parents. With my folks, we dashed over to San Antonio to watch my niece's cheerleading competition. Entrance to the competition was $15 per person! Just returning from our trip, that price felt like 3 nights in a hotel in Thailand.

Fortunately and unfortunately, being that my dad has a tough time walking with a bum knee, I kindly asked the lady if they had a wheelchair he could use. Instead of paying that hefty little fee to watch our niece, Maria wheeled us, ok, just my dad, down a long corridor underneath the convention center and directly pass the entrance table to the cheerleading auditorium.

Now this is what I found really silly, we waited two hours for Morgan to perform for 3 minutes, and they wanted to charge us $15 a person. Wow. At least Morgan did well and had her favorite uncle there.

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Whose diaper fits better?

You have to look long and hard to find diapers on some kids all around the world, but you know you are in a different world when the dogs are wearing diapers.

To complete our time of leading a non-regimented, wake up when you choose life, we were going to make stops with friends and family on our way to Omaha, Nebraska. But before we left the thriving metropolis of Odessa, Texas, the local newspaper did a short article on our trip. If you notice the picture, I think they decided to photoshop Nadine's photo with that of someone else. Doesn't look anything like her.

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I guess this is for Sophie

So the end of our travels saw us visit San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Tulsa, and finally into Omaha. We currently spend our time looking for permanent jobs in Omaha, San Antonio, and Denver, but there has been one contingent pushing hard for Denver. Via a gift basket including some clothes that turned out to not be for me, but for little Sophie Christine who has scheduled a cameo appearance the beginning of August.

Hope all are well. This is our second to last entry pertaining to this trip. The final one will include a picture of our Thai souvenir when it finally arrives.

Stay classy world!

John, Nadine, Sophie Christine

Posted by TulsaTrot 20:24 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (6)

The Best and Worst of Globetrotting

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Over the last 9 months and 5 days, life saw us circumnavigate the globe as 2, and come back as 3. In this blog entry I am going to cover the best and worst of our trip around the world as well as what people voted for as their favorites. Nadine and I also sat down our last night in Zurich, Switzerland and went over what we thought was the best and worst of everything. Enjoy.

Best A) swimming, B) snorkeling, C) to look at, and D) overall beaches

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A) Pulau Perhentian Kecil's Long Beach, Malaysia. Soft sand in a peaceful cove.

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B) Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. Hard to believe this beat the Cook Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, but with clear water and massive amounts of colorful fish, this got our top snorkeling award.

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C) & D) Without a doubt, the beaches of Aitutaki and the lagoon get our top nod for best looking and best overall beaches. Congrats Aitutaki. Maybe we can print up a certificate an mail it to them so they know they got this award.

Most historically interesting

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We saw some pretty great stuff, but Rome is chock-a-block full of history that would take years to take in.

Most mordern city

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Hong Kong and plenty of their lights to prove it. Of note, we don't base modern on the number of lights in the skyline.

Best Food

Thai, Indian, Australian barbies, and Tex-Mex come in a distant second to Italian food. Any dish is a winner.

Best A) beer B) cider C) wine

A) Suprisingly the best beer wasn't found in Australia or Laos, but in Macau with their Macau Blond Beer.

B) South Africa has a smooth cider in Savanna Dry.

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C) With good wine all over the world, our #1 was some of the Barossa Valley Shiraz.

Best experience with A) people B) adrenaline C) nature

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A) Our time with the Bennetts in Melbourne, teaching English to the nuns in Saigon, and staying with the Brothers in Rome all tie, and that doesn't take into account all of the travellers we hung out with along the way.

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B) Skydiving in Taupo, New Zealand was tops as we fell from 12,000 feet on a clear day.

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C) Even though Nadine wasn't present for this one, being chased by mating orangutangs in Indonesia in the middle of nowhere was great.

Best A) natural wonder B) man-made wonder

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A) Halong Bay was just a bit more amazing than the Great Barrier Reef and Punakaiki with hundreds of islands jutting out of the sea.

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B) Angkor Wat compares equally with Machu Picchu, but distinguishes itself by being located over a much greater expanse of land.

Best place to conceive a child

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Easy one here, Koh Tao, Thailand. Great beaches and buckets help. But given the number of kids we saw along the way, I think any place is a good place to conceive a child.

Friendliest people

We have the opinion that people are great all over the world, and we met some great people, but the Cook Islanders friendliness, constant smiles, and the fact that a random guy have us a ride to the airport at 6 in the morning as we walked in the dark, has us giving the nod to the Cook Islanders.

Cheapest and most expensive countries

South East Asia as a whole is very cheap, but Indonesia and Thailand stick out the most, while Switzerland and Italy are the most expensive. We almost paid the same amount for a train from Rome to Zurich as we did for our flight from Zurich to Texas. Yikes!

Best and Worst Hostels

The best hostel was in Shenzhen, China with a very clean double with a very good strong hot shower and comfortable beds.

We liked Malaysia, but the worst hostel was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where we did let the bed bugs bite, several hundred times.

The top place to return to

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So many places were fighting for this honor, but New Zealand is incredible with mountains, glaciers, sheep, great people, wildlife, sheep, and lots of adrenaline activities. Oh, there are lots of sheep too.

One visit was enough for us

Our visits to *Vietnam and Macau were suffice one time. *The only reason we would go back to Vietnam would be spend time with the nuns in Saigon with whom we taught English. I can go to Las Vegas if I want to gamble under bright lights.

Where you will meet the most backpackers

Thailand! Thailand is spilling over with backpackers. In some spots you have to look hard to find Thai people.

Most isolated location

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Mt Moorosi, Lesotho was devoid of visitors, other than Nadine and myself, and maybe a few eagles flying around.

Best meal and dining experience

We have a tie on this one between our fish and chips at Pig & Whistle in Rotarua, New Zealand where I commended the chef that "it's gotta be a great meal when you completely forget that you have a large cold beer" and our Italian dinner at Il Sandro in Viareggio, Italy.

Best airline

Emirates Airlines had plenty of leg space to go along with stars on the ceiling of the plane.

Best and Worst Bus

The best bus was in Thailand as we went from Khon Kaen to Bangkok as our seats had a back massage, all for $5 a person.

The worst bus was a bone rattling, leg numbing, butts in your face, stuck in the fetal position trip from the isolation of Mt. Moorosi, Lesotho to the real danger and craziness of Dubran, South Africa.

Most enjoyable way to get around

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Scooter, scooter, scooter! Outside of Saigon of course.

Toughest place with language

We expected to China to be the toughest and it was, but at the same time it wasn't that difficult.

Most interesting language

In Lesotho and parts of South Africa where they speak Xhosa as one of their languages. Xhosa includes clicks in speech and a click is written as "!"

Most surprising country

Seeing the disparity between rich and poor along with the transition from apartheid to "equality" was interesting in South Africa.

Scariest experience

Arriving downtown Dubran, South Africa at night with the craziness of people running around and roaming the streets in large groups. That weekend there was 11 murders in Durban. Good thing we only stayed there a week.

Funniest experience

Our very first Thai massage on the island of Koh Lanta without a doubt was the one experience that left us in stitches having just had our crotches pushed on with the full weight of the masseuse and folded up like oragami. We came away feeling like we had been beaten up, but in a stretching, relaxing manner.

Longest amount of time backpackers had been packing

In Malaysia we met two English backpackers who had been traveling for 5 years. That pound really does go far.

Best and worst tours

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The best tour was running around Addo Elephant Park and Schotia Lion Reserve spotting 4 of the Big 5 along with Nadine's friend Melissa and her boyfriend Jesse in the back of our truck.

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The worst tour was to the Cu Chi Tunnels with our guide talking about American women all having fat asses. At first it was funny. Tenth time it was old. Twenty-first time was annoying.

Nicest train

Our ride out of Hanoi to Sapa was the nicest train decked out with wood panelling and soft sleepers.

Best and worst toilets

We encountered a really nice toilet in the land of Swatch and Lindt chocolate in Zurich. The toilet did double as the sink, didn't use the same water fortunately, but everything was hands free.

The absolute worst toilet I have ever seen were in southern China. I could go into more detail, but I will just say that aim was not important in any matters.

Worst day of travel

This is another tie between any travel within Indonesia and our 5 buses from Mt. Moorosi to Durban. Days like these make you wish you were on the massive paved highways of Texas.

Best reading spot

Hogsback, South Africa on the edge of a cliff with virgin forest and waterfalls in front of you as you can hear birds and monkeys in the distance.

Individual places we only were able to spend a brief moment, but would like more

The entire country of Burma with its' forbidden land, the Garden Route of South Africa with its' incredible topography, and Lucca, Italy with its' nooks all demand more time to explore.

Highlights of each continent

Australia - Aitutaki
Asia - Thai beaches and pregnancy
Africa - Big 5
Europe - Cinque Terre, Italia

Best targets for jokes

New Mexico and New Mexicans!

A few entries back, I put out the question to get people's favorites and here they are.

Favorite Comment

This quote is from Jill and what is funny about it is that she answered a question I didn't know the answer to, and the correct answer was New Mexico of all places.

Oddly enough, I found info on the WWW that states New Mexico has some pretty old prints - 210 million years old, and that David Loope, professor and chair in the Department of Geosciences, University of Nebraska, had studied depressions of dinosaurs in Nebraska and was the first scientist to recognize them as the fossilized footprints of large animals... but I don't think that I found the oldest prints. I just don't have the adequate internet searching skills to win these things... Miss you two to bits! Can't wait to have an evening with you in person sometime so we can listen to you tell stories. Take care and God bless - jill

Here is another funny quote. This is Jeremy's response searching for my question asking for a funny joke about New Mexico, where Jeremy is from.

How about "The New Mexico Board of Education actually doesn't care about citizens who drop out of Kindergarten because, in order to feel smart, most of them quickly move to Texas!" Or: "Why do so many New Mexicans have car accidents on Texas Interstates? Folks pass out after holding their breath a long time because of the smell." How 'bout them New Mexico jokes? Can I expect to receive a postcard? Or even better: "How does a New Mexico camera company make sure that their cameras are foolproof? -- They make sure that a tall, lanky Texan can use it! (refer to video in this blog entry)

He wasn't that bitter was he?

Most popular blog entry

With a total of 3,900 visits, Uncle Ho, Those Rice Paddies Are Way Too Green! was the most popular.

Favorite location

Hat Rai Leh was voted the most popular location.

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See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

Favorite story

Favorite story was my riding a scooter along the beach in Koh Lanta into a volleyball net.

Favorite Video

This video shows me crossing the busy, scooter filled streets of Saigon.

Favorite Photos, narrowed down to three

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Punakaiki, New Zealand

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Street vendor outside of Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

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Balloon guy taking it all in Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon), Vietnam

Whew, congrats if you have made it to the end of this entry.

Question - whoever can identify the location of this photo will win a personalized postcard from ODESSA, TEXAS!

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Have a great Easter
JW

Posted by TulsaTrot 17:20 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (6)

Mamma Mia, This Trip is Finito

But still enough time for a loop around the Midwest and the Final International State of the Belly

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Don't cry because it's over, be joyful because it happened."
- Modern Proverb

After spending quality time with in-laws, Nadine and I decided to spend our remaining time solely in Roma exploring as much as we could in 5 days, and meeting up with Monseigneur Dan from Tulsa and Brother Dominic Sassi who I met in Peru as a volunteer.

We arrived from Cinque Terre into Roma with immediate plans to attend a Papal audience and meet one of the future successors to the Pope, Monseigneur Dan.

With the help of Brother Kevin, he set us up with tickets to the Papal audience with the explicit directions to ask for Eugenio at the newstand just outside of St. Peter's Square located on the right, not the one on the left not the one inside the square. It couldn't be Oregano or Giovanni either, it had to be Eugenio. So we strode up to the very friendly Eugenio standing among his magazines as he handed us an envelope with 2 tickets to the audience. I can say that I understood 33% of what the Pope said. The part in English, French, and Spanish, I understood pretty well. Can't say I understood as well the Polish and German.

While Nadine and I studied long and hard at the University of Tulsa, Msgr Dan was chaplain at the Newman Center and was directly responsible for aiding our interest in travelling by taking us to Guatemala and Europe on service and educational trips. His current position has him in Rome working for the North American College and 171 seminarians. And this is all within a stone's throw of St. Peter's. Not too bad of a locale. Being the ever busy person he is, he still made time to meet up with us for lunch and show us around the school, and the great views from the college.

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Right to Left: Nadine, Baby, Msgr Dan (future Pope), Me, and St. Peter's

Compared to any other city so far, Rome without a doubt has the most history, sites, along with the combo of culture that has you running around in circles visiting them and then teases you with another dozen within a 5 block radius yet to discover.

My first time to Rome was back in 2000, and I saw what felt like hundreds of sites, but I still missed out on major ones like the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the insides of the Pantheon and the Coliseum, Galleria Borghese, and the Piazza di Popolo. So with 5 days to explore, these were on the top of my list as well as adequately walking around some classics, St. Peter's and Castel Sant'Angelo (made popular in one of Dan Brown's book).

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Pantheon Ceiling

During these 5 days, all 2 and a half of us walked all over central Roma with the nagging feeling that we had to get to as much as possible since we were at the very end of our 9 month 5 day voyage around the world. I think we can safely say that we saw as much as possible in our alloted 5 days, unless of course we hadn't slept or stopped for all of Nadine's bathroom breaks, then we could have seen a little more.

We also more religious to visit in addition to all of the Roman sites and Msgr Dan. While living and volunteering in Chimbote, Peru, I had met Brother Dominic Sassi, and he mentioned that if I was ever in Rome where he lives, to come by and see him. So we did. We also stayed with him and all of the Brothers blocks away from the Vatican. Brother Kevin, an Australian with an odd accent of someone from England, Ireland, and a bit of Aussie thrown in, took it upon himself to show us the ropes of the area. He pointed us in the right direction. That right direction was towards the gelateria.

Final International State of the Belly

Just as our time quickly ended in Rome, we were on a train to Zurich, Switzerland to catch our final flight back to the great state of Texas. But before we could call it an end to our adventures, we had to have one more light adventure. As we sat by Lake Zurich with lunch from a local supermarket, Nadine ate her sandwich and I ate olives with something other than the pit in the middle. Before I realized what I had consumed, I had downed 7 large green olives with an entire clove of garlic inside. You can only imagine the smell that began to waft from my pores. Still not as bad as a New Mexican locked in a car in the heat of summer. The full effects of the garlic cloves weren't truly "smelt" until the next morning as we waited to check in our bags. The garlic had overpowered the minty freshness of my toothpaste and required immediate attention. I ran over to the newsstand and spent my remaining euros on gum to mask my garlic breath. In duty free, I showered in Hugo Boss cologne to defer people's attention from my mouth. Fortunately my bad breath didn't prevent us from boarding the plane and passing through immigration back in Dallas.

We are now in the United States of America. Nadine is in Omaha and I am in Odessa. We will spend Easter with our respective parents, before embarking on a grand tour of the Midwest with stops in San Angelo, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Tulsa, before heading north to Omaha. You should check to see if there are still ticket and seats available.

Within the week, we will post our best of enty with the best of everything from around the world.

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This may be a short entry, but there are still a few left

Peace
JW

Posted by TulsaTrot 16:45 Archived in Italy Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

Ciao Bella Italia

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Even short people are allowed to be nuns in Italy

Greetings all from Bella Italia, home of the best food in the world. Our travels in the last week have carried us across three continents and the same amount of countries as we now seat here in Cinque Terre.

Our time in South Africa passed by in a flash compared to our 5 month stint in Asia, but in order to end our time, we had to leave. We thus began a lengthy 28 hour travel marathon. Instead of bussing it up to Joburg from Cape Town, we paid the money to save 26 hours of being on a bus in exchange for 2 hours on a plane. Great deal. The next flight was the nicest one we've had on the trip, an United Emirate plane to Dubai stock full of free drinks, video games, and all the music you could want, and this all includes leg room.

We touched down in Dubai as the onset of fatigue from a sleepless night playing Tetris crept up. I sleptwalk onto our next plane headed for Milan and slept a solid 2 hours on the 6 hour flight, a rarity. With one last flight, we were in Roma . . . but only long enough to catch a train on to Florence where we were set to meet up with Nadine's mom, Clare, and sister, Susie.

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We walked across Florence feeling dead to the world, but still with a bounce in our step. Italy is an easy place to navigate compared to our last 6 months of travel. This is with public transportation leaving on time and clean 2,000 year old surroundings. When we found the hotel, we were amazed how nice our room was looking over the Arno River, but that was nothing compared to Nadine seeing her mom and sister and them seeing Nadine's every growing belly. From that point on, it was chat, chat, chat, chat, and chat.

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How many Peppers does it take to climb Il Duomo?

Over the next couple of days, all four of us made the rounds at the major sites, the Duomo, Michelangelo's David at the Galleria dell'Accademia, the Ponte Vecchio, but it was spent among the constant happy chatter of Nadine, Clare, and Susie.

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Ponte Vecchio. You can find at least 5 gelaterias here

From the fine views of Florence, we traveled onto to some even finer views in the region in Pisa with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, excellent calzone in Lucca, and the region where 5 small villages perched on rocky picteresque outcrops make a national park, Cinque Terre.

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Obligatory photo by each tourist, hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Doesn't seem to work that well though

Among the activities to do in Cinque Terre is the popular intercity hike. That was the activity of choice among 3 Bissonnette girls, and being outnumbered, that is what one White boy had to do. We jumped on the path and began our hike. We walked from Vernazza to the small village of Corniglia with the ocean waves crashing below us. Along the way, we stopped for an excellent lunch of meat and cheese sandwiches, then we continued to Manarola by train, because of a rock slide, and finally to Riomaggiore. It was some easy hiking with great views, definitely worth 3 Bissonnette girls dragging me along.

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Great views along the way

We stayed in the town of Vernazza, and home to one of the best Italian restaurants in the world, La Sandro. After a packed house left us literally out in the cold Saturday night, we made reservations for Sunday night. We returned promptly at 7 that next day to begin a feast. We all indulged in a perfect meal of pasta, ravioli, penne, and house red wine. Every bite was followed with a healthy "mmmmm" and "can I have a bite of yours?" We left satisfied. If you ever think about going to La Sandro in the near future, let me know, I will meet you there for dinner.

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Good morning Manarola

That leads us to our next topic, a very important one for that matter. In life and in all our travels, we have come across some great food. Mexican. Tex-Mex. Indian. Thai. Vietnamese. But they all come in for a distant second to Italian food. As Nadine said, "All meals are either good or great." It's amazing what Italians are able to do with a tomatoe, pasta, olive, a few spices, and tahdah, perfection. And to top off the perfect dinner, you can pick one of the 10 gelaterias on every street serving creamy Italian ice cream, gelato. Now if you love food, this is the place to come to indulge and then walk it all off. Back home, you find all types of restaurants. Here, you only find restaurants serving Italian food. What does that tell ya?

Ok, time to finish this blog entry as I slip off into food comotose.

Question of the week: Every week in the blog entry I make a joke about New Mexico, New Mexicans, or a set of twins from New Mexico, but not this week. What is your best joke about New Mexico, New Mexicans, or a set of twins from New Mexico? Best one received in the next three days will receive the last postcard from outside the U.S.

JW

Taking you back to Hogsback, South Africa. This is what happens when you set the camera for video rather than photo and everyone sits and smiles.

Posted by TulsaTrot 22:02 Archived in Italy Tagged round_the_world Comments (6)

Much Addo About Elephants

Keep it Grassy, Buffalo

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No ifs, ands, or BIG BUTTS about it, this is the last entry from South Africa

Greetings all, hope all are well with this last entry from South Africa. If you didn't notice or see, we've added photos, videos, and important questions for you to answer to the two previous entries, Surfing and Sliding Over Coffee and Hogs and to Life on the Sub-Sub-Continent. The internet connections haven't been participating, but we have finally found a solid one here in Cape Town. Thank you Cape Town. Since then, we have ferociously tackled our next two destinations, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

In addition to picking up Melissa's boyfriend in Port Elizabeth, Jesse, we were set on one thing, seeing wild Africa. Truly, that was our number one goal for Africa. You can't come to Africa and not see a bunch of large mammals running around. At the beginning of our trip, we planned on going to Kruger National Park, but with the onset of Nadine's belly expansion and malaria present in the park, we had to cut it out, and find an alternative. Initially, we thought about Pilanesburg National Park in the north, but we took the lack of movement by the tour company combined with our desire to get out of Johannesburg, as proof enough that we should find another one later in South Africa. This proved to be a great decision. We went with a combo trip to the Addo Elephant Park and Schotia Lion Reserve.

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I had previously mentioned the Big White Five, a creation all my own, but there is one more well known, the Big Five. They consist of the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and the rhino. Within these two parks, you could find the Big Five. Our hope was to catch a glimpse of all five this day. Count along with us in the blog.

Early in the morning, all four of us saddled up into the nicest mini-van Nadine and I had sat in during our time in South Africa. It had air-con and soft seats with only 6 of us in the spacious van, we could have lived there.

Our first stop was the Addo Elephant Park. We entered the 16,000 hectares park in our mini-van. We are trend setters. No open-air vehicle for us with unobstructed views. We soon began following roads where we were greeted with a couple dozen African elephants cooling themselves off by slinging mud with their trunks onto their backs. Pretty sweet. Check #1 from the Big Five. Don't confuse these with the Big White Five.

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Somewhat difficult to find this guy, being that his head camouflages so well with the green shrubbery

From there, a large male came strolling down the road forcing us to stop and admire him passing in front of our family mini-van. The next stop brought us warthogs, just like Pumba from the Lion King, and a moon walking male elephant.

This guy was showing off by pulling out the Moon Walk

During the next hour and a half, several elephants passed us, poked their heads out from around corners, and stood in the horizon. After all, it was an elephant park. But in addition to the warthogs and elephants, we came across the massive Cape buffalo with his 50's style hairdo. Check #2. Over the 10 minutes we sat watching him, as the inactive animal he is, he turned his head twice, blinked once, farted three times, and moved his tail half a time.

Our mini-van guide Nick told us how these buffaloes are quite strategic and powerful. The buffalo can easily flip a lion with its' flipped up locks and with humans will act as if it is injured so whenever you are within distance to its' horns, he can simply jab you. Sneaky guy that buffalo. Or as if that isn't enough, he may run away from you and when you think he is long gone, he is planning his revenge by circling back and coming from where you never expected him to be, right behind you. Clever animal. But when we saw him, not as clever or eager at the moment, was just conserving energy and staying cool. Luckily, he wasn't waiting for us at the next corner with a broad grin on his face.

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You have to admire the effort they take in doing their hair every morning

Completing our visit in Addo, we passed zebras, not part of the Big Five, a tall snake eating bird, thank you bird, and antelopes, no relation to the cantaloupe.

From Addo, we stopped for lunch where Nadine had one of the best sandwiches we've had in 9 months, yes, I did help her, and arrived to Schotia Lion Reserve, which would be our home for the remainder of the day. We traveled around Schotia in our own personal Land Rover. Ed was our guide. As the park was divided into two sections, simply by one with lions, and the other without lions. The first one we were to visit was the one without lions, a considerable relief for Nadine.

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Everyone is accounted for up to this point

On the non-lion side, we immediately met the blue and black wildebeests. You recognize the blue because of his black tail and the black because of his white tail. Or is that vice versa? We also ran into the animal my former car was named after, the impala. Unfortunately it wasn't called the 1968 Impala, or it would have really been special. Riding through the bush, we came upon some animals that were heads and tails above the rest, the giraffe. Imagine this, 7 giraffes running between trees in front of a pond. Perfect.

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In the pond they were drinking from, laid two hippos submerged underwater with only nostrils to reveal that they were actually present. After the ease of seeing the amazing giraffes, we sat in the truck waiting for the hippos to pop out of the water. It never happened. The loud noise of air exiting their nostrils was the only proof that they were actually there in the tiny pond.

Nadine with running commentary on the giraffes

As our 1978 Land Rover went in search of the single rhino in the park, Jim Bob, that is the moment when we had the most dangerous moment in the park. As our Land Rover was following the path with deep ruts in it, our front tires caught the incline and caused our truck to jerk to the left into a big bush and instantaneous stop. Being in the open, exposed cab, it threw us from our seats to the right and due to the fact there wasn't a roof, it could have thrown us from the vehicle. Fortunately it didn't. Nadine and I both have small bruises our knees from the incident. That was as dangerous as it got.

Our search continued for Jim Bob, the single white rhino. As we climbed back safely into our seats, we went up the hill for the two ton animal. How could you not find or even lose a two ton animal with a chubby body, large horn, and a face only a mother rhino could love? Quickly, further up the road, there was our 37 year old rhino lumbering forward. Check #3. That was a massive creature.

Someone has forgot to count correctly?

After quick snack at the lodge, we were back in the Land Rover and passing through the gates to the other half, the half with the 5 lions. As soon as we entered this half and descended down a hill, we found 4 of the lions lazing in grass just watching trucks roll by. Check #4 for everyone counting at home. We sat there watching these guys from a safe distance as the sun slowly set. It was reminiscent of a West Texas sunset, not a New Mexican one, minus the lions. At the end of our time with the other half of the reserve, after all the other trucks had left, we pulled to within 15 feet of the lions, close enough to make Nadine scoot towards me, and me towards her so I could see better, but still hanging out with the lions.

No leopards this day, but we did see 4 out of the 5 Big Five.

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King of the . . . Afro

After the excitement, and both Nadine and I agreed, this had been highlight of South Africa, we parted ways with Melissa and Jesse, and took to the road again on our 12 hour bus to our last stop, Cape Town.

With two days to play with in Cape Town, and not long enough, we made our way to the top of Table Mountain. Table Mountain is a flat mountain looming large over Cape Town. Any trip to Cape Town has a requisite cable car ride to Table Mountain, and as luck would have it, we went on a day without a single cloud in the sky, but a camera with a low battery. We hiked around, had short conversations via echoes with the help of a gorge, and took as many pictures as our dying battery would allow.

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We're on top of the . . . Table Mountain

With half the day gone on Table Mountain, we spent the final half walking around the pier and running into familiar travelers for the third time, Carlos from Argentina. Good day, one left.

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Next day, we boarded a train towards the Cape of Good Hope to the town of Simon's Town, a small little town closest to the cape. Our reason for visiting Simon's Town was the population of Jackass penguins there. Anytime you can see a penguin that lives in a warm climate and makes a sound like a donkey, you can't go wrong. (*Insert your own New Mexico joke here*) Something that hit home for Nadine and I was a pair of babies asking for food from their mom, and eventually the mother had had enough and let this loud jackass sound. Thus, if you happen to hear Nadine make this sound in 6 months time, you know where it came from.

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Look at that Jackass Penguin

This week we have two questions, both equally challenging and both equally worth a postcard from Italy.

1) What mammal causes the most deaths every year to humans in Africa?

2) Out of the Big 5, which ones are diurnal?

Remember, if you have any favorite pics, videos, anything from this entire blog, email them to me at jwhit003@gmail.com before March 27th and I will post them on the final entry outside of the U.S.

Life is good and hard to believe that our trip is almost over. March 27th we fly back to the States, with Nadine going to Omaha and me back to Odessa. Yes, we are going to live with our parents in separate states. After Easter, we will be making a short little trip through Colorado (Nadine only), Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Did we mention New Mexico? Nope, skipping New Mexico.

Peace
JW
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Posted by TulsaTrot 22:34 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (4)

Surfing and Sliding Over Rough Coffee and Hogs

Plus State of the Belly Part 3

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

  • **Photos and videos have finally been added. Internet connection here has proven to be pitiful. I added photos to the last blog entry as well.***

Hope all are well as you read this, our second to last entry from South Africa. At the end of this entry, I have added our third installment of the State of the Belly Report. Watch as Nadine expands.

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Your local lifeguard on duty

From the confines of Durban, Nadine have made a steady trip south along the southern coast of South Africa to Coffee Bay. There were not any coffee beans floating around in the surf for those of you caffeine addicts looking for a new Mecca or free coffee. Nadine, Melissa, another medical student Molly, and I took advantage of Coffee Bay to work on our budding surfing skills. From our 4 person hut, we jumped in a van lacking 4 seats for 4 sets of butt cheeks, and ran over to Long Beach. It was at this point that we realized in the van that one of the other passengers, with a seat, was from the same area as Melissa's grandmother in Minneapolis. In the end, we found out that they only live 4 houses away from each other. Who knew it would take a trip to South Africa for these two people to meet? It really is a small world. But back to Long Beach, that is what I am going to call it, since we never caught the real name, and the beach was really long with the added home comfort of steers as lifeguards looking on from sand. "Moooo, grab onto my udder. I will bring you ashore."

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Who is following their own surfing lesson?

We started off with a small surfing lesson from English Sam and the warning to avoid blue bottle jellyfish, a small jellyfish that is not officially a jellyfish, but looks like a jellyfish looking for human legs to attach themselves to. Molly threw on a wet suit for safety, you can never be too safe, but that must have attracted them to her. On her first opportunity trying to hang 10 on her board, she was attacked by a blue bottle, and instead of hanging ten, only caught one. After several attempts on standing on our boards, we all rode at least one wave in.

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Hanging a full 2 on this one. That is one big wave

A little later on, the next blue bottle jellyfish, still not a jellyfish despite the name, grabbed a hold of Melissa's foot. From the recent history, I then politely asked the rest of the non-jellyfish to not grab me. They peacefully complied. After another afternoon session in rough, tide riddled waters, I had my fill of surfing and salt water. Next stop, the Hawaii professional surfing circuit only if they have Texas cows lifeguarding.

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A classic Nadine and Melissa pose from high school

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A classic Nadine and John pose, her arm around my neck

Our surfing day offered great weather, the next two did not. We planned on hiking the coast for 3 hours to the Hole in the Wall. It's a natural hole formed at the base of a small island that water rushes through with every coming wave. Instead of a miserable hike through the rain and wind, we jumped on a truck. We did hike to the top of the small islands which made me imagine what Ireland must look like with those way too green hills dropping off at the water's edge.

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That is a large hole in the wall. Need a little more than plaster

From Coffee Bay, we were on another bus to Mthatha and their bus station located at a big, clean Shell gas station stocked with delicious Magnum ice cream bars. At this point, Molly returned to her medical rotation in Durban while the three of us went to our next stop, East London. What made this 100 rand bus ride great was the fact that it was free, some glitch on their part. I rode with this guy from Argentina spending his first trip abroad in South Africa. It was the first time in a long time for me to speak Spanish and talk about Nadine and Melissa without them completely knowing what I was saying about them. I would say something to Carlos while pointing at both of the girls, and then begin laughing. I also learned a very useful expression for Argentina, tener rose. I can't reveal what it means here unless you have studied Spanish for over 2 years. Another thing, as we ate dinner at an East London restaurant, the waiter revealed that his mother was from Elma, Washington, the city right next to where Nadine lived while volunteering in Washington state. Once again, it's a small world. Next thing you know, you may have New Mexicans leaving the state and running into other green chili loving people. Ok, that's not too likely.

From East London, not anything like the actual big London over in England, but we jumped on a shuttle up to the mountain town of Hogsback. It gets its' name from the three hogback mountains towering over the area. I can also say with authority that Hogsback has the absolute best reading spot. From this point you can read, watch parrots fly by, listen to monkeys rustling in the trees, and sit right on the edge of a cliff. I called it first.

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Best spot in the world that we've found to read

Hogsback was made for hiking, and that is just what the three of us did. It had been raining heavily two days earlier and it made the first part of our hike tough. We descended down a few paths that had a stream flowing down the middle, so we simply had to straddle the trail with each step. Our first stop was at the "Big Tree." It was big and old, 800 years old. We continued on to a point in the trail that you had to cross a simple little creek, but this creek had metamorphized into a stronger, wider creek with the help of a heavy downpour. I attempted crossing it and just as soon as placed my foot down on the opposite, slippery rock, I was down in the water, with the water up to my butt cheeks. Any normal New Mexican twin would have had water up to his big nose and snorting.

Third Official State of the Belly Report

The rapids caused us to change our original route. Further on, we came to another point that we had to cross the river, less dangerous, but still intimidating. We crossed successfully, but with no path on the other side. The entire time we had been going with an 18 year old English teenager, and he had become the unofficial guide. He also stated a few times that he got lost the last time he went hiking. Not an enthusiastic endorsement. On the other side as we began bushwacking in search of the trail, it was at this exact moment that I felt the fatherness come out in me. Immediately I stopped our group, and said we had to get back to the path and stay on it. It was interesting for me to note the father-to-be in me come out. Good sign. Nadine and Melissa noticed it as well. So I would like to tell everyone right now, "Don't run with scissors in your hands! And, brush your teeth tonight! I mean it. I will pull this car over!

The rest of our hiking was enjoyable and safe. We ran up to the Swallow Tail and the Madonna and Child Waterfalls. Both were great and left us mildly wet.

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Madonna and Child Waterfalls

One of the things anyone coming to Africa or South Africa usually have at the top of their list is a trip on safari to see the Big Five. The Big Five consist of the black rhino, Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, and lion. Since we have yet to go on a safari game trip, we have created our own Big White Five. These are animals that we've seen and have commonly seen across South Africa and they are ferocious. Don't allow your children to read these as they may have nightmares. The Big White Five are the horse, cow, sheep, goat, and donkey. We have found them in abundance crossing roads without heed to cars roaring towards them, sitting in groups under trees, and just lazing in the sun. So when you return home or are at a party after a weekend in the Texas countryside, you can tell that special someone that you saw the Big White Five, and then hike up your pants. They will look at you with envy.


From this interactive map, you can follow our entire trip by simply clicking the arrows

Life is good and our threesome is about to become a foursome as Melissa's boyfriend Jesse arrives into South Africa to travel with us for two days on a visit to two game parks. Then we head directly to Cape Town.

This week's question is a little different. Since we only have a maximum of 20 days left on our trip before we head back to the U.S., we would like to get all of those faithful readers favorites from this entire trip. So simply send me an email with your vote to jwhit003@gmail.com

What has been your favorite or most interesting picture?

Video?

Location?

Story?

Blog entry?

Comment?

Favorite traveler between Nadine and I? We already know who is going to win this one?

Favorite anything else.

Enjoy your week and let your friend know how much you like them by suggesting that they read this blog as their weekend activity. They might buy you a beer.

JW

Posted by TulsaTrot 11:27 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

Life on the Indian Sub-Sub-Continent

Located in Durban, South Africa of all places

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

*** Internet connections here in South Africa have proven to be a pain. I finally got a couple on this entry.***

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Just don't look over the edge

Greetings all in the 30 something installment of Globetrotting Around the World. We are back in South Africa after our brief week excursion into Lesotho.

First of all, congrats to Jill on unknowingly answering correctly the question from last week's entry. Give yourself a nice pat on the back Mrs. Hall! No relation to Arsenio.

In our travels around the world in the last 8 1/2 months, we have been pretty good at not losing things until recently, and now all-losing chaos has struck. It started it when I lost a homemade bookmark made by my good friend Rene in Peru. It is now floating somewhere in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Then, I lost my French Bible from Hermano Domingo, also from Peru. I don't believe I have any other items with me from Peru. Then in China, I lost my sunglasses after playing basketball in Yangshuo. Wait a minute, I had those with me in Peru 5 years ago. Uh oh, I'm beginning to see a pattern. Somewhere along the way I lost a Nalgene water bottle. Not an easy item to misplace and it was the only one with duct tape around the midsection. No more using the multipurpose duct tape now. Not sure if I had that in Peru. After returning from Macau, Nadine mistakenly left her knife on board with some food provisions. Pretty sure neither had been in Peru, but if had been, that food would be pretty difficult to chew. Better door stop than digestive value. Finally, this has never been in Peru unless it was made there, a towel. Not sure what it is, but I am beginning to lose things. If I come back to the U.S. without Nadine, it's because she has been to Peru three times and mistakenly misplaced her somewhere in one of our hostel rooms. Keep your fingers crossed.

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Hanging out again

Now imagine this scenario, two little girls go to kindergarden together for a year and a half. They become best friends and go to birthday parties arm in arm. Then one of these two girls moves off to a far away land. Sad, I know, pull out the hankerchief if you need it, but the short story must go on.

9 years later sitting at a high school lunch table in a new city, two young adolescent girls look at each other and ask, "did you go to Annunciation Elementary School back in Minneapolis?" The other responds, "yeah, what's it to ya?" (adds a little extra drama) And they both realize they were best friends back in Minnesota where mosquitoes are bigger than the average New Mexican graduating class. And from this point on, these two girls have been friends. Who are these two girls? It's Nadine, my wife, and Melissa, not my wife. We do have a history. We travelled together back in the summer of 2001 around Europe with mixed results, but we are back at in again here in South Africa running around the coast.

Back when we first started planning this trip, we originally planned on going to India after Asia, but due to the fact that Melissa was going to be in Durban completeing a medical rotation, we changed our route for South Africa. A very interesting fact about Durban is that it houses the largest Indian population in the world outside of India. Great to know if you have a hankering for some Indian curry. Don't eat too much of it though, your belly bloats like a jellyfish stuck on the seashore.

We met up with Melissa at Ushaka, a combo of Sea World and a water park. Melissa and Nadine had a moviesque, running across concrete steps, imagine a wheat field though, into a big fat hug. From that point, you would have thought I was a mute, far from it in reality, but as a passerby you might have thought so, as they walked and chat, chat, chatting about everything possible. I faithfully walked along side them just listening and observing.

Ushaka itself was a great place to visit, even better if you get there early enough to get a free ticket. First half of the day we spent running around the acquarium watching penguins wobble around so that they could be fed a whole sardine. The highlight was circling a tank with large, eat-you-in-one-bite circling sharks. There was also a really ugly fish that looks just like a grumpy old man with the typical extra large nose and droppy lips. Didn't notice if there were large hairs sticking out of its' ears.

The second half of the day, and defintely the most fun, less educational part of the day, was at the water park. Unlike the water parks back home, the lines on every single slide were much shorter with a shorter wait time, 12 seconds on average. This giving you plenty of time to ride each ride several hundred times if you had the stamina. I tried my best to ride each slide a dozen times, while the girls had a different strategy, talk and talk and talk floating in the lazy river.

We did take a chance to see another part of South Africa as we ran over to Port Shepstone for 24 hours. From Port Shepstone, we trucked it over to the Oribi Gorge. This gorge holds an extremely large and deep rope swing down 300 feet into the space below. We roamed around the edge of the gorge posing for dangerous looking pics that would make any mother cringe which you can now enjoy on this blog. Try to stifle your ooohhh's and aaahhh's.

After a day in Port Shepstone, we were back in Durban lazing at our hostel working on my surfing skills within the realm of a swimming pool. We decided to spend the rest of the week relaxing waiting for Melissa to finish the last day of her medical rotation.

This week's question with an estimated value of a South African postcard - Where is the world's longest bungee jump and how long is it? More importantly, can you do it for free?

Life is good and we hope all are well.

JW

Posted by TulsaTrot 19:56 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

African Electricity Not Included

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

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Greetings fellow blog readers. This witty entry is coming from the continent of Africa, a long haul flight away from Hong Kong.

After a 12 hour flight from Hong Kong to Johanessburg, South Africa, we had officially ended our time in Asia on this remarkable trip. We had enjoyed it, but were ready for something new and refreshing. Actually before leaving, we volunteered to be on the bump list so we could enjoy a nice hotel for free along with some free food and it appeared promising, but in the end they didn't need us as they had plenty of room underneath the plane for us with the bags. Frigid ride down there.

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Really cute little girl in Malealea, Lesotho

Joburg brought some immediate changes. The first was the ability to drink tap water without eyeing it suspiciously and also this odd concoction of lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, and salad dressing, the South Africans like to call it a salad. Haven't had one of those in a long time. We readily consumed both. Secondly, everywhere we have been in our travels, people have always mentioned the danger in Joburg. Don't go out after dark. Don't talk to strangers. Don't carry a camera. Don't do this or that. Joburg does give you a feeling of dread, but even worse than that is the fact that Joburg is ugly. Plus, the people we encountered there tend to be just a smidgen off. Probably the same feeling you get entering any town in New Mexico.

One redeeming quality about Joburg was their very well done Apartheid museum. This outlined the struggle that apartheid (segregation) held on South Africa from 1948 until as recently as the 1990's. Nadine and I were familiar with apartheid and that it was is in South Africa, but we never knew the complete story, and now we do.

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Pregnant ladies are allowed into Lesotho

Our form of transportation around South Africa and Lesotho to this point has been mini-van taxis. Simply, and similar to Indonesia but not as crowded, it's a mini-van with 5 rows, 3 in each row, unless you are in the back seat, then there are 4 people. Instead of going from the capital of Lesotho, Maseru, to Malealea with one single van, you go a third of the distance, switch vans, jump on another van, go another a third of the way, get on another one and finally make your way there. A little more effort than one would like to spend, but it gets you there. That has been our only form of transport, other than our feet and horses.

We found people from Lesotho (Lesothians, Lesothanauts, Lests?) to be very friendly and warm. As we were crossing the border into Lesotho, a girl that we had been talking to on the mini-van from Joburg decided to help us through immigration, even though we are well versed in border crossings, and getting to Malealea, virgins to this experience, she helped us find the first van leaving. That turned out to be very helpful as we quickly passed through a parking lot of 100 mini-vans where we would have been roaming around searching for the perfect van for quite awhile.

We spent the next 3 nights in Malealea. A great place overlooking a valley with electricity from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and peacocks running around the grounds. This was the perfect place to sit back and take in the sites.

Our first order of business in the unbusy town of Malealea was to have a brie (bbq). This onslaught of beef, chicken, curry, veggies, juice, and dessert was just what we needed. I ate until my belly ressembled Nadines. Mine went down though.

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Halfway on our hike to the waterfall

All of the great food from the brie gave us adequate energy for the next 3 days to take on a couple of adventures. The first was a several hour hike down a river valley and then up to a waterfall. As we made our way down the mountain on our own trail, as the trailblazers we are you know, and began following the river to the bend when a guy asked us if we wanted a guide. Being that the directions were pretty easy we really didn't need one this time. But later on this wannabe guide passed us as we stopped for a water break. As we resumed, he just kept walking in front of us on the trail, eyeing to make sure we were still following, and basically voluntarily lead us. We shared our food with him. So we followed and soon enough, we were at the feet of this 40 feet tall waterfall. We took time to swim in the foot and a half deep water. It was refreshing though!

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Shallow swimming relief

Our second activity was a pony trek on horses to 400 year old Bushmen paintings down in another valley. Being the Texan I am, riding a horse was just like riding a bicycle, I didn't need my Dad's guiding hand. We rode through corn fields with mountains in the foreground without any problems. Nadine and her horse did have something unique in common. Being that Nadine is from Nebraska, she naturally has an afinity for corn, and so did her horse. Everytime we were close enough to corn, her horse Corny would crane his neck and bite the top off of stalk. I am sure Nadine felt the same way. Needless to say, Corny had a great corn meal that morning and we had a great time looking at old paintings of Bushmen and the animals they hunted from years back.

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Scenic trek down to the Bushmen Paintings

Sadly we left Malealea, but we had to get moving. Our next stop was to Mt. Moorosi on the southern edge of Lesotho. After a couple of bus exchanges, we were in Quthing waiting for our bus to fill up. We ran over to some dinosaur foot prints that were reportedly supposed to be 1,800,000 years old, but I never saw the writing in the rock that you always find on a sidewalk back home in freshly drying cement, Chops was here, 1,797,093 B.C.. Interesting stuff, but the tiny office didn't give any information about the tracks. When I asked about the tracks, the lady handed me an old encyclopedia opened to the dinosaur entry. Hmmm . . .

As we returned to the mini-van taxi terminal, we waited and then waited a little bit more. To pass the time, Nadine and I began throwing rocks at a can. First one to hit the green Sprite can won, Nadine won. During the second round, as folks started to pass by, they looked at us curiously, and I took advantage of this to invite them to play with us. Soon we had a nice crowd around us, and I won the second round to my own personal jubilation. We then got to the point where this man and I were quizzing each other with math quizzes as a crowd was looking on. It was at this point, that the crowd really started forming. It was a great example of drawing in the dirt under the hot sun trying to figure out each other's puzzle with 20 other Africans and 1 American around us. We didn't figure out each other's puzzle, but it left us with a smile with the mental challenge from another country.

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When our bus finally filled up and reached our Mt. Moorosi Chatlets, we were the only people there to occupy one of the 6 chatlets over the next 2 nights. So for the next two nights, we were simply entertained by three things in the area, the bright stars, a small forest fire caused by lightening, and sitting and talking on the porch while watching the tall mountains sitting there as well.

The stars shown brighter there than I have ever seen anywhere else other than the middle of Nowhere, Bolivia 6 years ago. You could easily see the outline of the Milky Way. Mmmm, Milky Way.

Tired of reading, I sat on our bed and for the next hour and a half, I gave Nadine running commentary on which flames were flaring up and which ones were dying out up on the mountain facing us.

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Wide open Lesotho spaces

Finally, in our isolation, we took time to sit on the porch and just talk. Between topics we would also include, "dang, that is a big mountain," "whew, they flies won't leave me alone," and "this sure looks like the U.S." It was peaceful and perfect for belly rubbing.

The majority of our time in Lesotho was spent without one item, electricity. Because of this absence, we never had access to telephone, t.v., internet, and any other item that requires electricity, and we liked it. It was good to spend a week without the convenience of electricity. Maybe we all should do this for a day. Just head over to New Mexico for a little bit and you can experience the same thing.

Our short time in Lesotho was great, but to meet up with Nadine's friend Melissa on time, we had to spend an entire day on 5 separate buses to Durban. All were uncomfortable, but the worst one was in the back of a mini-truck with a hard shell as we were tucked in the fetal position for 50 minutes. We were so glad to be back in our hostel in Durban that night.

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Back into South Africa, only two hot crappy vans left

This week's question with the first correct answer posted on the blog will win a postcard from South Africa: What's the oldest ever dinosaur footprints found and where? I could make a mother-in-law joke, but I like Clare and we are meeting up her in three weeks, so joke has been omitted.

Life is good. We are now here in Durban and will be here until we begin travelling with Melissa south down the coast of South Africa from Durban to Cape Town.

Peace
JW, NW, HDW

Posted by TulsaTrot 07:46 Archived in Lesotho Tagged round_the_world Comments (4)

Made in China - Escalators and Shopping Galour

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

  • **Photos for this blog entry will be added when a willing and capable computer presents themselves. Please be as patient as possible and try not to pee your pants waiting to see a video of Nadine and her Buddha belly***

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Staring through Moon Hill

Greetings all. No video of Nadine's belly this week, but we do have a video. What might it be of this week?

Travelling south of Guilin, we went to the green, quaint town of Yangshuo. Now when you initially think of a town in China, you automatically congers up images of a town being 1 to 4 million, while a Chinese city being at least 10 million or more, but the town of Yangshuo wasn't that big, not even close, at least not yet.

Our greeting to Yangshuo was interesting. Several times in our trip, we have been dupped by touts, but in Yangshuo, we outsmarted a scamming tout. The Cliff Notes version is that a tout waited at the bus station and latched on to us and told us of a great hotel and what a great deal it was. Along the way to the hotel, I asked two Israeli guys where they were staying and how much they were paying, just to size up the local prices for a room. While we looked at a nice room, this tout sat down and began writing out a receipt at the end of the bed, rather than downstairs at the lobby desk. Very odd. Maybe he had intentions of staying with us for the night too. After realizing everything was a little strange, we packed up and hit the road Jack. At a more reputable hostel, the owner warned us about a guy wearing wire glasses and guilty of ripping off tourists, the same guy we were just talking to, but he didn't get us!!!

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Downtown Yangshuo

We took advantage of the time in Yangshuo to chill and wander the cobblestone streets and enjoy some excellent food. And everywhere we ate, literally every place, we had a great meal, not a single sorry dish, and all of the juices were freshly squeezed.

Walking around Yangshuo, my eyes spied several basketball courts and teenagers running around with a basketball in hand creating my goal for Yangshuo, play some ball. In my search to find a court and a game, it got to the point where I followed kids holding basketballs. Yes, I was stalking Chinese kids. Their response was one of bewilderment. Why was this tall white man following me? Is he working for the government? Did I forget to share my lunch with someone? Why is he still following me? RUN!!! Eventually by happenstance, I found a game with players that were actual adults. This is after I had reached the point that I didn't think I would find a game. I didn't follow anymore Chinese teenagers around town after I got to play a couple of games. My remaining basketball needs were fulfilled with Nadine as we played pop-a-shot 4 times a day in the city square.

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Not a bad view on our bike ride

Nadine and baby got some exercise as well, but Nadine did all the work while the baby just sat back in its' comfy womb-chair. We rented some bikes and went out to the Chinese countryside and to Moon Hill. At Moon Hill, it's not a rite of passage to pass through the cave and moon someone, but the thought did cross my mind a couple of times. It's actually a large domed-shaped hole at the top of a mountain and perfect for photos of the green rice paddies below.

Now Yangshuo is a great place, but we had places to get to before leaving on a jet plane, and we couldn't linger too long and the next stop was Shenzhen.

Hammer Pants in Action Overlooking Hong Kong

To reach Shenzhen, we took a form of transportation we hadn't taken before in our travelling experiences, a true sleeper bus. On the bus were three rows of small, narrow, short beds. Each one was made for a passenger to sleep while travelling overnight. Great idea in theory for most Chinese folks, but for me it proved to be too narrow for my wide shoulders and too short for my long legs. Instead, I threw the blankets down in the aisle and slept there in a mummy position.

Shenzhen took us back to the reality of China, large skyscapers, loads of people, rather clean, and shopping galour. We believe that shopping happens to be the #1 Chinese pasttime. Everywhere you go, people are running from shop to shop with a big plastic bag in hand. We bought a couple of dvds and later found out one was dubbed into Russian. Anyone want a russian movie? I'm sure if it was Внезапно повернул назад Гора, my Pepper friends would be the first to ask for it.

From Shenzhen, we crossed the border to ultra-clean, ultra-modern, and a slight reminder of home in the city of Hong Kong. We've enjoyed this city, a little change from the majority of cities we've visited in Asia. We took advantage of the city to enjoy some Burger King, come to daddy Whopper Jr., the quick and efficient public transport, and some great sushi.

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Downtown Hong Kong at day and at night

In Hong Kong, we rode a required tourist trolley up to Victoria Peak, the perfect lookout point over downtown Hong Kong Island and all its' neon lights. We did this, not once, but twice. Once at night and once during the day.

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Macau

Four days was too much time for us in Hong Kong, so one day via a high speed boat, we ran over to Macau. While Hong Kong used to be an English territory, Macau used to be a Portugese territory, while New Mexico is still a territory of Texas. That last point is a little known fact, but it is true, and we can still secede from the Union. Back in Macau, there was a notable Portugese influence in the architecture and language. All signs were in Chinese, Portugese, and English. Just as often you as you would hear Chinese spoken, someone on your other side would be speaking Portugese. And just to balance it all out, I would start speaking really loudly in English to even it out. Yes Nadine, I do want to have lunch.

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I guess I haven't given Nadine enough kisses

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Firm like mutton and was anyone looking?

Across the news, you constantly hear about SARS and other diseases, but there is one that is affecting a large number of my peers, pregnancy. Like no other time in my life, friends are catching this quite regularly and the result is an added member to their family. It is only contracted by women, unless you happen to be the Governator from California. I know of 7 friends off of the top of my head who are pregnant or just had a baby. So many congrats to our Peruvian volunteer friend Rene and husband Tim who just had a baby boy, Hoksila, and Anna who we know from TU (University of Tulsa) who had Gabriel. It seems that almost every month until October, someone we know is having a baby.

After 5 months and 3 days in Asia, Nadine and I are about to embark on a new stage of our trip, Southern Africa. For 26 days, we will run around South Africa and Lesotho experiencing a new continent and people. Should be fun and hot. Remember it's the end of summer here.

Congrats to Aunt Jane and Hien for both correctly answering last week's question. There were two correct answers, one for Nadine and one for me.

We hope all are doing well and healthy. Until next entry, you stay classy readers.

JW

Posted by TulsaTrot 15:21 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged round_the_world Comments (4)

Kunming to Frigid China

Plus the State of the Belly Report #2

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

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To cross the Chinese border, you must successfully solve a Rubics cube

I am sure you can feel the excitement building with not just another blog entry, but the second installment of the State of the Belly Report. Don't worry, you won't be seeing my hairy belly, just Nadine's rounder one.

Last time you read, Vietnam was holding us up once again with a suit I had had made to my exact measurements. The first time the measurements were close, but the fit was Vietnamese (aka: tight). After another consultation with my little tailor, we hoped everything would be worked out second time around. The stitching of this fine English wool was keeping us away from our already diminished time in China. But when the pressure was put on this little Vietnamese lady, and she met the challenge head on and had it ready right at 2:00. Then I tried it on, wasn't singing soprano, thus happy with the fit, so I paid for it and left. Just like that I had a new fitted suit, and then just like that, I went to the post office and mailed it to the States. I hope it makes it there before I do for Easter.

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That's a smile of relief

Tired of Vietnam and ready for a change of country, we boarded an overnight train and railed it to the border. Once at the border, we jumped on a moto-taxi and happily, no, eagerly went to the border. Just to finish our time in Vietnam, I exchanged 6 dollars worth of Vietnamese dong for Chinese yuan with a money changer. I received what I thought would be a fair exchange. On the other side of the border when I tried to buy something in the store for 6 yuan, they said I didn't have enough. The guy had given me the equivalent of 45 cents. 50 cent bills are smaller and have the number 5 on them, just like the 5 yuan larger bills. Even at the end of our time in Vietnam while crossing the border, we got screwed, but what a relief to be out of the country for $5.

The first destination in China was Kunming, just a short 12 hour bus ride from the border. Mind you, China is a big country, even bigger than the great state of Texas, so distances are far.

State of the Belly Report #2 from Kunming, China

To our surprise, we learned on the bus ride that it was snowing in Kunming. What?!? This was supposed to be the best time to visit this country with respite from the cold. Stupid random weather.

On the bus ride, we equally caught headcolds (everything is 50/50 with us, except in pregnancy, Nadine gets to carry the baby the entire 9 months) and were introduced to a few Chinese customs, hawking up big loogies and their incessant smoking. And I think these contributed to our colds since we had our heads sticking out the windows into the frigid wind to avoid the smoke inhalation.

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Welcome to Kunming, China

During our week we have been in Kunming, it's not uncooth to sit in church and start hawking up a big ol' loogie during the sermon. That's just as common as yawning. If you have to do it, there's no reason to hold back. This hawking starts deep in their bellies and finishes up with a hefty hhkkkkssssss 5 seconds later, and for some reason, it just kills an appetite. But in the meantime, noone takes notice of it other than Nadine and I as we have that perplexed "how-did-the-bears-make-the-Super-Bowl-with-that-quarterback" confused look at each other. That is part of the culture and that is why we travel, to learn and experience and incorporate it into our lives. For that very reason and the addition of our colds from the bus ride, we are running around China spitting loogies like pros on every tree we pass.

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A pretty awesome Chinese building we walked upon

Kunming is two things, cold and clean. We've enjoyed it all the same. Plus it wasn't Vietnam.

We stayed at a nice hotel to help nurse us back to the health, but our rooms were missing one vital thing, heating. Instead of a centralized form of heating or heater in the wall, they had heated mats in the bed. Not the most convenient, but it works. So whenever we happened to be in the room, we could only be found under the covers of our separate twin beds. 3 years of marriage and we are already sleeping in separate beds. Sad.

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Early Sunday morning dancing lessons in the central plaza. Tango anyone?

So far in China, everyone that passes us seems to take notice of one thing, Nadine's Hammer pants. Not a single glance at me or at Nadine's face, they immediately turn to her black and white pregnant Hammer pants.

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Some traditional Chinese checkers under a pagoda

One evening while I was watching t.v. and Nadine was fast asleep, I heard a common sound originating from her, her sleep talking. But this time, she wasn't speaking in English, but in French! This is all after spending a short stint on a bus and dinner at a cafe next to an older French man, and now, miracously, she is speaking fluently French. Maybe she has been holding out on me with her French, just so she could understand it when I would tell her in French Nadine, ta souffle pue.

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A) We both like Teresa and Suzy, so we didn't eat there B) Lighting did occur while we were out there and we didn't climb C) If they can't get their sign right, who knows how good their surgery is

We did see some sights in the modern, clean, westernized looking city of Kunming, but those aren't as interesting as the individual little stories that stick out in our minds. Rather than visiting a museum and a few parks, watching the Super Bowl is more fascinating. The Super Bowl is the one sporting event that is a must see for me. The Special Olympics in New Mexico and syncronized swimming come in a close second, especially when your good friends are competing in Alberquerque, but the Super Bowl still is #1. I had seriously looked for places to watch the game for 4 days, but to no avail. I figured I would just try my luck with Chinese cable, but at 6 a.m. Monday morning, I turned on the t.v. hoping to find the game, but no luck. At 8, just for the heck of it, I turned on the t.v. again when miracously the Super Bowl was on in Chinese with the Bears up 14-9. That didn't last long. I sat there with a happy grin on my face and a heated mat under my butt. Instead of commercials during timeouts, they were exchanged for a view of the entire stadium from the stands. Pretty uneventful.

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This kid has a full load in his pants!

With a couple of long bus rides ahead of us, the thought of a 24 hour ride to our next stop of Guilin wasn't inviting. We broke down and bought a plane ticket. That 24 hour bus was substituted for an hour plane flight.

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Pull tabs still do exist


At the baggage claim upon arrival, something you would never dare to do or hear of in the U.S. happened, unless of course someone was shot in the process, as we stood waiting for our packs to arrive from the plane. After 8 minutes of waiting and there was only a handful of us, and there was no sign of anyone's luggage, a Chinese man decided to take things into his own hands. He poked his head through the opening out to tarmac wondering where his precious bags were. Then with a look of agitation, he climbed through the hole and started making his way onto the tarmac determined to find where the heck his bags were hiding or who stole them. It was at this point with a look of disbelief and laugh on my face, a lady from the airline and a guard with a gun chased him demanding that he return to the baggage claim. Like a kid with his Christmas presents taken away, he begrudgingly came back. Within a couple of minutes, all 12 of our bags came out accounted for. The ride into town on the airport shuttle, guess who sat next to me. Yeppers, the same guy who ran onto the runway. Hilarious!

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Bridge says in Chinese : Bridge Made in China

With one day in Guilin, before we rushed to our next city, we walked around to every park with a climbable hill. The only negative about this was the fog, pollution, and/or cloud cover combination had made it impossible to see any real distance or sights from the aerial view. It might have been a river we saw, no maybe a building, not sure really.

We've finally arrived to Yangshuo. We only have 9 days left in China before we head on over to South Africa and a big change in travel from the previous 5 months. We should probably think about buying a guide for South Africa in the meantime. Could prove helpful.

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Qixang Park, Guilin, China

This week's question: How many countries are there in the world and what percentage, carrying it out to the tenths, have we visited on this trip so far? First correct answer, and you don't have to show the math, but must have the correct answer, will receive a postcard in the mail from somewhere in the world.

Life is good and we hope all are doing well and getting excited for either Valentine's Day or the Chinese New Year.

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See you next entry

JW

Our secret handshake and now you know. Did Nadine really snort?

Posted by TulsaTrot 22:47 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (4)

Uncle Ho, Those Rice Paddies Are Way Too Green!

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

Greetings all from cloudy Hanoi, Vietnam. Within the past week and a half, life has carried us to northern Vietnam, among hundreds of islands, and a fancy smchancy new looking suit. Bet you can't wait to read, neither can we.

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We're happy you're here

We left our last Asian beach at Jungle Beach and passed on to the city located at the skinny, Slim-Fast mid-section of Vietnam, Hoi An. Hoi An is a town renowned for retaining its' culture and architecture from the past, AND, and this is a big AND, as a place to have suits, dresses, and any type of clothes you want tailored to your exact specifications.

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Would you like some souvenirs?

Basically you can't walk anywhere without being approached by those 3 magic words, "you want clothes?" Nadine and I thought about having some clothes made in Hoi An, but since we planned on staying in Hanoi a little longer, we decided that I should have a suit made there. More to come about this suit later in the blog.

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Shoe-eye view of Hoi An's streets

Several centuries ago, Hoi An was popular as being a major port in Asia. Trading took place all over Asia and as far as Europe, but then Hoi An was replaced by a more attractive port. This other port must have worn a little nicer makeup and heels. But the houses and architecture of old town Hoi An would have all been torn down and replaced if not for the help of our good buddy, tourism. Hoi An has been protected by the surge of tourism and is now recognized as a World Heritage Site. Thank you tourism.

With our time wilting away in Asia, we jumped on a 16 hour train taking us even further north to the cool capital city of Hanoi. H-A-N-O-I has the same letters in its spelling as H-O-I A-N, but different spelling. Same same but different (very popular t-shirt slogan all over SEA).

We have spent our time in Vietnam, and especially in Hanoi with a mix of delight and frustration. We did advantage of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, the Ho Chi Minh communism, in addition to Ho Chi Minh ice cream shakes and Ho Chi Minh miniature dolls. Anything Ho Chi Minh, you might be able to find it here in Vietnam. Maybe even a city named after the guy. Actually over at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, they have the founder of Vietnam's Communist Party in a large mausoleum on show 9 months out of the year. We just happen to be in Hanoi during the 3 months when his body is sent to Russia for upkeep to fix any leaks and old patches of Ho Chi Minh's body that might be falling off. In reality, Ho Chi Minh really wanted to be cremated. Sorry about that Uncle Ho, but everyone wants to see you in Vietnam.

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How about that for a tomb?

We've now hit a stage in our trip where we are experiencing travellers fatigue. It's a result of constant, daily hassle to buy t-shirts, fruit, suits, books, small children, belly button lent, mototaxis, random pieces of paper, sweet bread or that same souvenir that is offered to you by every other store you've passed in the last 30 seconds. You do try and walk down the street and keep your composure while smiling and saying "no thank you" and continue on your way. With Nadine's famous psychology degree in hand, she has helped us create a few coping strategies. One of the more interesting ones we have for moto taxis is that when they yell "Mototaxi," we respond with "poop." Simple as that. We just say "poop." That baffles them long enough that we are able to make our getaway giggling like small children.

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Huc Bridge, Hanoi

Truly, unlike any other country we've been to in 7 months, we've had to constantly be on guard with locals automatically increasing prices on everything by 400% and consequently having to bargain the price back down to it's normal price range. If we were on a short trip, that wouldn't be much of a pain, but having to watch our budget, it's a hourly headache combined with having to dodge mototaxis at the same time. That is why we welcomed our retreat from Vietnamese city life to the calm of Halong Bay.

Now before we jump on a bus to the incredible Halong Bay, let me enlighten you with some interesting facts we've noticed about Vietnamese daily life. We have travelled the length of this country by train and bus and no matter where you are, you will pass rice paddies that are a green's green, proud of their chlorophyl and not afraid to show it off. Green rice paddies substitute for front yards. "Ok kids, go play with your friends in the rice paddies, don't step on the rice though. That's your supper for the spring. Have fun!" Keep in mind that we've never been to Ireland, and it's supposed to be quite green there, but this is the same green I imagine a leprechaun eating his Lucky Charms on in Ireland. Reminds me of a young 10 year old Texan after he returned from Minnesota one summer, this place is way too green.

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Everyone is welcomed to Hanoi with this poster and a rose

What do Vietnamese women taking public transportation and New Mexican twins on a first date have in common? They always get sick on the way there. Ok, just had to get my one required jab in on New Mexico. Really, every bus and train we have been on, there is always at least one Vietnamese woman throwing up in a plastic bag and always seems to be close to us. Maybe it isn't the actual transportation, maybe we just stink. Nah, that can't be it. Not sure what it is, but they can't handle the rocking of public transportation.

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Majestic Halong Bay

Back to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a spot where hundreds upon hundreds of islands jut out of the sea making an impressive show for anyone lucky enough to pass by on a junk boat. We intended on visiting the bay on our own and jumped on a bus from the crowds and hassle of Hanoi to the peace and tranquility of Halong City, our jumping off point to the islands. We did have an afternoon to pass, so I made my way to the casino with $11 in hand and Nadine's chagrin etched my mind. Now if I lost a couple dollars, I would join Nadine for a walk back along the boardwalk, but if not, we might enjoy two cans of Coke for dinner. So when Nadine noticed I hadn't walked out with my head down for almost an hour, she knew that I hadn't played yet or I was winning. It was the latter. By the time I was done, I walked away from the Roulette table with $55, a small travelling fortune. Also a perfect way to pay for our two day, one night tour of Halong Bay.

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Just soaking it all up in our easy chairs

The following morning a warm sun greeted us and noone pushing small children or t-shirts on us to buy. Great start to the day. After being exchanged by several guides at the wharf in the guides own version of the stock exchange, we hopped from boat to boat until we set foot on the correct one. For the rest of the afternoon and evening, without real knowledge what we were going to visit other than impressive islands, we calmly and peacefully cruised along Halong Bay in a chair admiring all of the beautiful vistas popping up in every direction. That was just what we needed to help our travellers fatigue.

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Some of the great pics from Halong Bay

Another great part of the trip out on the bay was that we had a great group of jovial people on board with us. In addition to two older couples from Quebec, we were joined by some German, English, Australian, and Chinese travellers. That night after kayaking and dinner, we sat around a table and learned a German card game, Scheiße, while we taught them our American college version of Arschloch. Both games were a hit and when we come by your neck of the woods in the near future, we will teach you the German card game.

Some moving pictures of our boat ride through Halong Bay

After the retreat from big city Vietnam, we had to go back to Hanoi where we are now waiting for a suit to be completed. It was supposed to already have been sewn together, but after a fitting in the store in front of everyone, i.e. no dressing room, everything needed a little adjusting. First of all, the pants were more like lycra for a workout at the gym, and one sudden bending over would be fatal in a social situation, even a New Mexican wedding. Secondly, the shoulders and back were too tight. I would feel like Chris Farley as a fat guy in a tiny coat. Finally, the pants weren't long enough. Suits in Vietnam are fitted to specifications of a man half my size and attempting to lure the opposite sex. The result was a suit with a bad fit and a bit tight all over. Thus, a suit is keeping out of China and a date with the Mao dynasty.

But life is good, yet we are ready to exit Asia and head further southwest over to Africa. We promise that we will have "State of the Belly Report #2" on the next blog entry as well as our secret hand shake for all to enjoy.

Some stats for you, our blog has now officially had over 10,000 hits over the past 7 months of which 1,243 have been from me reading people's comments.

As long as a particular suit cooperates, we will be heading to China tomorrow for two weeks, before catching a plane from Hong Kong to South Africa on February 15th.

This weeks question, who is going to Win the Super Bowl, and what will the final score be?

Stay classy readers!

JW

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That's the sun setting on this blog entry and on Halong Bay

Posted by TulsaTrot 21:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (7)

Welcome to the Jungle . . .

We Got Food and Hammocks, shunahnahnahnahhhh!!!

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

Literally Going Around Dalat

Vikoda natural mineral water which is exploited from Danh Thanh mineral source, is becoming the famous quality in Viet Nam. It was being exploited directly from the depth of 220 meters. The mineral water is conducted to the workshop and bottled by modern line from Germany. Vikoda provides necessary mineral for our body and it is very good for our refreshment.
- Label off of Vidoka bottled water in Vietnam that leaves one wondering many things: all the way from Germany?; what is that one mineral?; do they really need to exploit Danh Thanh?

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Gateway out of Jungle Beach

Greetings all! Nadine and I are finally out of Saigon and we hope all are well.

Previously on Globetrotting Around the World, Nadine and I had just finished our teaching stint in Thu Duc, but we were still being held as we waited for our visa extensions to be granted. Exactly a week after we turned in our passports, our passports were returned with a small stamp (#89 out of 89 stamps Peppers) extending our stay, as we were free to roam Vietnam without having an unexpected quick departure to China.

After a month in Saigon, from the side of the road, we jumped on a bus headed for the cool mountain air of Dalat and began actively travelling again. No more staying in one city for a month crap. So I would describe Dalat as the Cusco of Vietnam for its unique feel and the relief from the warmer temperatures closer to sea level. We passed a lot of time commenting to each other on how cool it was in Dalat.

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Overlooking Dalat and overlooking Nadine overlooking the city

Actually we did do a few things in the city of flowers. In addition to strolling around the man made lake in the middle of town, we made a visit to the Crazy House. Now this house was designed by this artist in Dalat and the house is still being constructed. This house is very Gaudiesque. There were a bunch of rooms called the frog room, bear room, or some other name of an animal or plant, along with concrete giraffes standing around the premises. The house itself was pretty interesting and when I asked the lady who designed it later on where another site was in Dalat, she gave the perfect lifetime, hippy artist response, "well . . . I am not exactly sure where this church is. . . maybe it's by the hospital or by the lake . . . I . can't . tell . you." After this interaction which should have taken max 20 seconds, took 2 minutes, and I left wondering where this place was even though the city of Dalat is not a big city. So what do those artists do when they are not being artistic? Hmmm.

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Two Crazy People at the Crazy House

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She's not so crazy now that she is pregnant, unless you count that crazy hairdo!

After two very cool days with two very cool people, we jumped on another bus and headed down the mountain to the beach. Jungle Beach that is. Jungle Beach is described as an isolated beach with great swimming, tasty food, and basic bungalows. All was correct. The beach was the most isolated beach we had visited on our entire trip outside of Aitutaki, Cook Islands. We spent the next two days lying on the beach reading or lying in a hammock deciding where to go with the remaining 4 weeks in Asia.

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The View of the Jungle Beach from the South China Sea

All of our meals were included in the price, which was good since there was no other places to go. For lunch and dinner, everyone staying at the Jungle Beach would come to one big communal table where all of the food was laid out in front of you. With your bowl of rice, you would pick what you wanted and mix the two. The food was great. Good thing we had a little volleyball in the evening to offset the sumptuous food.

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3 months pregnant inside our bungalow

Life is still good and enjoying non-freezing weather. We are now at the point of moving up the coast until we hit China. February 15th, we leave Hong Kong and Asia for South Africa. Hope all are well and you can always email me at jwhit003@gmail.com or Nadine at pickles9178@hotmail.com

This weeks question, which group performed the song that is our title of this week's entry?

Peace
JW

Posted by TulsaTrot 18:33 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Sandy Bottoms and Hammer Pants

This is our 30th Blog Entry!!!

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

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Greetings all in this our 30th blog entry. In our last entry, we asked y'all what the former name of Ho Chi Mihn City was before 1975, it was Saigon, and the very first person to answer was Hien from Kuala Lumpur. He will be receiving a nice postcard from Vietnam in the following weeks. We also had our 100th comment posted by Morgan. She will be the proud owner of a new Vietnamese postcard as well. Now you can hope to get your very own Vietnamese postcard signed by Nadine and I only if you are the next person to correctly answer this week's question OR post the 150th comment. It's always good to set goals.

We are still in Thu Duc, Vietnam, the city outside of Ho Chi Mihn City, or Saigon, if you knew the answer to last week's question you would have known that. We just finished teaching English to a group of nuns and are about to resume traveling north through Vietnam. Before our trip started, Saigon would have never been a city either one of us would have thought we would end up staying in for a month.

After our first week of classes, we were eager to hit the road again, even if it was for a weekend. We jumped on a late night bus and headed to the beach town of Mui Ne where we arrived early in the morning. Our only plans for Mui Ne were to soak up some sun on the beach and a little more on top of some sand dunes.

As we walked the beach under a cloudy sky, we were amazed by 2 things, 1) the number of white people/tourists, as we had seen none in Thu Duc, unless you count looking at each other, and 2) the number of wind and kite surfers gliding across the water. Everywhere there was someone in the water flying in the air or roughly being dragged by the wind. Mui Ne was the perfect place to take in some wind or kite surfing. Because as you walked on the beach, you were either face first into a slapping wind, or pushed down the beach by the wind. Kind of like that nagging relative trying to get you to eat that old fruitcake from last Christmas. Alright, I'm going grandma.

From these aerial escapades, we walked back along the safety of the wind blocking, tree-lined road. Within the hour, we ran into two people that we had met earlier in our travels, a girl from Quebec, and a couple from England. We had met the girl from Quebec at the Vietnamese embassy in Laos a month earlier and the English couple in New Zealand back in July. I have a strong suspicion that the English couple may be following us. We caught up with all three of them, made plans for dinner, and headed right back to the cloudy beach where we spent the afternoon watching people get battered by massive waves and an old scraggy looking dog playing with an old fishing net. Oh, the pressures of travel.

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White Sandhills

The followingt day, our jeep greeted us in front of our hotel to take us on a tour of the area and sand dunes of Mui Ne. We passed our first sight, the fishing port, being that we wanted to see the sandy sights while having enough time to catch our bus back to Saigon that afternoon. We were on a tight schedule here.

At the white sand dunes, we jumped out of the jeep, and walked to the top of a couple of steep sand dunes. The only drawback was that fact that the wind was blowing like an angry stepmother and it felt like small needles piercing our skin, so we ran away, and went to a smaller, less windy hill.

Tilt your head to the left, now you can enjoy this video. Talk about an adventurous hill to take on!

After sand had entered many of our orifices, we jumped back in our jeep, even though I'm not sure why we needed a jeep anyways since we were on a paved road the entire time, except for a small portion of sand at the White Sand dunes, and made our way to the Red Canyon. This small clay canyon was a great spot to climb and take some panoramic photos of the South China Sea, Nadine, and some red clay. While we were searching for a way to reach the top, we crossed a group of monks bypassing all paths and climbing straight over the rocks to the top.

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Deep in the Red Canyon

After a few photos, we started making our way down. Instead of returning from the point where we just came from, we decided, what the heck, why not go the other direction. Other than having to lower ourselves down some rocks and climb over a few fences, the way down wasn't that difficult, even though we happened to be the only ones going down this way, but we made it back to the original path safely. Later on, when Nadine asked a local why that area had been fenced off, they promptly responded that "some of the rocks had been crumbling and falling down, so officials didn't want anyone to get hurt." Oh! Maybe we shouldn't have come down that way. And that is where we just came from. I can't believe a pregnant woman like Nadine was making those type of dangerous decisions. Shame on her. Clare, I promise you, it was your precious daughter's decision to go down that way, not mine.

We finished the jeep tour by visiting the red sand dunes, but after the red canyon, it didn't seem quite so red, more of a light pink. We then ran back to the hotel like Lloyd Christmas in Dumb & Dumber while the driver drove, packed our stuff up, and waited for the bus out on the street. Unfortunately, our bus was about as on time as a 9 fingered Alberquerque kid with a date with a hand model, not very. More accurately, our bus was two and a half hours late. That left us enough time to do several sets of jumping jacks on the sidewalk and have a strawberry shake.

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Nadine teaching in a traditional Vietnamese hat

For the past two weeks, Nadine and I have been teaching English, and staying in one place longer than 4 days. It has been great, and we have found a solid daily routine. We wake up at 6:30, get dressed, catch the bus to the nunnery, eat breakfast with fresh orange juice, teach English for an hour and a half, take a 20 minute break where we try to avoid eating all the food being offered to us by the nuns, finish our morning session at 11, eat a healthy lunch of fish and fruit, either take a siesta, check email, or both, teach from 2 until 4, eat dinner with the nuns or on our own, return to the hotel, go to the gym to lift and run 2 miles, and finally back to the hotel and off to sleep. That has been our consistent routine for the last two weeks. And you know, it's nice to have a routine every once in awhile. But then again, after these two weeks of work, we are ready to start travelling again. It's amazing what two weeks of hard work will do for you.

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Using a scooter to get to the next clue

We have tried to make the past two weeks educational AND fun for Sisters Vianney (Sr. Fix-It), Thuy Linh, Thu Trang, Tuyet Tring, Rosa Bong, Marie Marthe, and Mi Hanh. We played Go Fish one day, bingo another, and had a couple entertaining Scavenger Hunts. Once again, we went in wanting to give of ourselves in a concrete way, but we came away feeling that we had received so much more than we were able to give to these Sisters.

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I know where the clue is hidden

One of the gifts that we are coming away with is a pair of fat pants for Nadine. Now that her belly is expanding, and we are positive it's not a result of some occasional gas, we have had to get an extra pair of pants made for her, some Hammer pants. You know the pants I'm talking about, the same pants M.C. Hammer wore back in the 90's. Big, baggy, colorful, you can pull them over your shoulders they are so big, or even hide a small animal inside them. You probably have a pair yourself. If you would like to be in solidarity with Nadine, pull them out this weekend, and sport your very own pair of fat pants. Even if people laugh at you, just think of the fact that Nadine is wearing hers around the world and not letting it bother her at all. I know that at least her friends from JVC Washington are wearing theirs. Anyone that wears their fat pants and emails me at jwhit003@gmail.com with a pic of them, I will post it on our next blog entry.

State of the Belly, Part 1

Here is our inaugural State of the Belly video report. We will post a video report of Nadine's belly every couple of weeks so you can follow her expansion. It might also help you to better guess the sex of our baby in the near future.

Once again, we are both feeling good and energized to complete the last two and a half months of our epic around the world trip. We will barely have enough time to break the ice in that tiny country we call China, which we will follow with Hong Kong, Macau, South Africa, and Italy. Then we make our return to the U.S. to embark on a miniature tour of the Midwest.

This week's question is the following. First correct answer will receive a personalized Vietnamese postcard signed by both Nadine and I.

In alphabetical order, what coutries border Vietnam? Spelling does count!

Peace and love from Vietnam
JW

Posted by TulsaTrot 13:42 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (6)

The Vietnam Dong Song

With Cu Chi Tunnels on Backup

semi-overcast 0 °F
View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

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I know where to get you a balloon?


Thanks to Travellerspoint and our nifty little digital camera, we are now able to upload videos to our blog. We've received a few requests and overwhelming people want to see videos of Nadine. Thus, at the end of this witty blog entry, you have your wish, Nadine in the video form. We've also added a few photos from Angkor Wat and other spots, in addition to two new videos of Nadine, one on this blog entry, and one entry from Thailand. Links are on the bottom, enjoy.

Also, the currency of Vietnam is the dong, and everytime we have to pay for anything with dong, we sing it just like Nelly's Thong Song. Thus, the reason for the title.

So after our crazy Christmas Eve Mass at Notre Dame, we spent Christmas Day just like anyother Christmas. We woke up to cake for breakfast. We found out we couldn't go on a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels, so with no other choice, we went back to sleep for another couple of hours. In the afternoon, with a few errands completed, we called our parents to wish them a Merry Christmas from the other side of the globe, and then went to the gym. I sure that is what you did for Christmas too? Needless to say, Christmas was a little different than usual for us. We did miss our families quite a bit. It would have been great to be with them and friends, but we did enjoy our last quiet Christmas for the next 20 years. Next Christmas, we will have another another member of the family joining us. Make your bets now whether it will be a boy or girl.

The day after Christmas, better known as Boxing Day to some, or St. Stephen's Day if you are Scuba Steve, we were on a bus to the Cu Chi Tunnels with Mr. Bean, our guide. Mr. Bean promptly informed us that he had indeed worked with the American forces during the Vietnam War and that all American women have big asses. I didn't see the coorelation there, but I would agree with him that quite a few do, but not all American women. That was pretty unfair generalization, and maybe a little unprofessional. Probably acceptable in New Mexico though.

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Former U.S. Military Tank

Back to the Cu Chi tunnels. They were tunnels built by the Viet Cong to move around without the American soldiers being able to spot them. They were small underground tunnels that had three levels. These tiny tunnels functioned, and they left the small Vietnamese undetectable while they still fought, ate, slept, cooked, all underground. They were miracously able to travel every night 3 miles to nearby American bases and steal their weapons. It wasn't until after the war was over that the Americans learned of these tunnels. As Nadine and I submerged our large, oversized American bodies into these tiny tunnels, I couldn't believe they were able to do this for years. When the first exit presented itself, we had a choice of continuing down to the second level or up to fresh air and room to move my arms, I was out of there.

Not only did the mountain of negative comments from Mr. Bean about Americans continue non-stop, he was even alienating several of the non-Americans on the tour. Two of those folks were Irish, Jacqui and Josephine. We began to chat with them, and broke the ice by saying that because of Mr. Beans' words of enlightenment, I now hated Americans as well. Recognizing the dry humor, they laughed along and mentioned that Nadine and I were indivudually responsible for everything wrong in the world. As we walked together recounting all the horrible things we've done together, I was able to cynically convince another young American girl from Philadelphia, that everything Mr. Bean was saying about the U.S. was absolutely true.

Me - "Everything that Mr. Bean says about the U.S. is absolutely true! I know it is."
Naive Philly girl - "No, it's not all true. He's wrong with a few things."
M - "I know it's true. I've been to the U.S. once before. And it's all definitely true."
N.P.G. - "No!!! It's not true!"
M - "But it is! I have been there once!"
N.P.G. - "No it's not! I'm American! I should know."

It was at this point that Nadine gave me "the look" as the Irish girls looked on curiously at this little interaction between two Americans. What made this interaction funny was that I didn't change my voice at all to sound French, English, or from anywhere else in the world accent. I was speaking English with a slight Texas drawl. To avoid making her look even more foolish, I admitted that I too was Texan and American. I then had to end my cruel little game, but I couldn't get over the fact that she didn't even suspect that I might be American. Segway to Dumb & Dumber, "let's put another shrimp on the barbie!"

That afternoon we spent lunch with the Irish girls, and laughed about the day's tour and our Philly girl. Hope she isn't reading this blog. We said goodbye and walked to our respective hostels. As we were walking, we came to find out that we were going to the same hostel. As we had sat in the hostel that morning waiting for our bus to arrive, we groggily didn't notice each other in the very small lobby of our place.

Next day we were eager to do another tour, and this morning we did notice J.J. in the lobby, and we both hoped that Mr. Bean wouldn't be on board with his bag of slander. As we waited in our hostel chatting, guess who came to pick us up. None other than Mr. Bean himself. With looks of worry and grief on our faces, he drove us around the block a few times, until we were moved to another bus, and out of permanent earshot of Mr. Bean.

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The Mekong tour carried us to the massive Mekong River that runs from China and through the vast majority of Southeast Asia. A selling point of this tour was the chance to see floating markets. Floating markets turned out to be a couple of boats just sitting in the middle of a tributary of the Mekong. But an interesting factoid was that the handful of boats selling would hoist up their vegetable of choice on a stick to identify what they were selling to buyers, but other than that, the "floating market" was a sinking letdown. As we passed the few boats in the water, we all looked at each other perplexed wondering if this was it. It was. So we dutifily took photos like a good tourist.

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I hope this python has had his lunch already

The rest of the afternoon, we stopped at a coconut candy making factor, excellent candy without processed sugar, a rice popping exhibition, and an authentic Vietnamese lunch on a large island in the Mekong River. Before eating lunch, I stopped to throw a python around my neck to squeeze a little extra space for the meal. The perfect way to quelch an appetite for others. For the rest of the time on the island, we sat in a hammock rocking the afternoon away.

The tour up to that point, felt like a big shopping tour around the Mekong, and as we neared our last stop, a brick factory, we began to wonder if they were going to sell us some bricks. "The prefect gift for your loved ones, an authentic Vietnamese brick to put in their Christmas stocking." I couldn't get over the fact that they took us to a brick factory. What?!?! What did the people who designed this trip think when they included, "to complete the tour, why don't we visit a brick factory. People will love that." Nadine made the most of it to learn, but I just keep shaking my head and wondering why we were there, as I took obligatory pictures of a pile of bricks. I can't wait to show my pictures of bricks when we return home.

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This crowd in just 15 minutes!

During our time in Ho Chi Mihn City, Nadine successfully set up a teaching job for us. We would teach English for two weeks to a group of nuns in the town of Thu Duc outside of HCMC. On the day before we began teaching, the nuns took us up to the mountain village of Long Dien. Here we met what seemed like half the village who worked with the Congregation de Notre Dame des Missions. Not knowing that there was going to be some foreigners visiting, they set up an impromptu concert and presentation in the spam of 15 minutes. One of the most amazing organizational jobs I've ever seen. Along with Sister Marie Therese (Australia), we were treated like royalty and to a concert. They also asked us to come back and bring our friends, because they would love to learn English. So, if you want to teach English in Vietnam, we know just the place.

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Can you find Nadine in this photo?

As far as our responsibilities of teaching, we've been running the nuns through a gauntlet of speaking and writing exercises in the morning, followed with a quality nap at noon, and then finishing up in the afternoon with readings and pronunciation. When you do come to teach English, they will properly respond to all your questions with an interjected "y'all," "yes maam," and "I didn't know there was a New Mexico either" in their best Texas drawl. During our first day of pronunciation of the letter "p", I sucessfully managed to have a nun say the word "poop". It could be useful.

These nuns are honestly some of the nicest people on earth you could meet. Others might be just as nice, but none nicer. Great people with big hearts. Even though their Vietnamese New Year is in February, they celebrated ours on January 1st with us and by presenting us flowers and necklaces.

What is Nadine teaching these nuns in the middle of the video?

Another quality that they own and have in common with my grandma White is that they will feed you until the cows come home. Everytime we turn around, it's "would you like some more fish, or some bread, or maybe some lemon juice. We have some tasty chocolate in the fridge. Nadine, you should be drinking more milk." So in preparation for our weekend trip to the beach, they even bought us some beer. They are doing us up right. Maybe we will have to stay longer, or maybe that is what they are trying to do by giving us a six pack of beer, bait us into staying longer.

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You never wear your shoes inside

Here are links to videos and additional photos that we have added.
Video of Nadine in Thailand, at bottom - Oh Koh Lanta, Get Off My Jungle Gym
Pictures from Angkor Wat - Running Among Cobras and Angkor Wat
Pictures from HCMC - Christmas Scooters Gone Wild

The person with the correct answer to this weeks question will win and receive a postcard from this weeks answer;

What was the former name of Ho Chi Mihn City before 1975?

Good luck. Life is good for us. We are doing well and enjoying teaching. Hope you enjoyed the 29th blog entry from our trip around the world!

JW

Posted by TulsaTrot 16:24 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (6)

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