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  1. Flu

    Friday, October 17, 2014

    I've been out with the flu for a week now. Which is the longest amount of sick time I've ever had to use.  I'm thankful that I have sick time to take, and that my work schedule at the moment means the world doesn't end due to my absence, but man do I feel guilty taking sick days!  When I'm feverish, sure, okay. When I can't get out of bed, yeah, that's okay. But when I'm quasi-functional? Guilt.  Yesterday was the first day I felt better instead of worse, and today is continuing that trend, so yay, but also: guilt!  I don't want to get my co-workers sick though (or drive them insane with my coughing), so I'm staying home today too, to be safe (with approval of my boss).

    Peter has been working late so that combined with me unable to do much of anything means our apartment is an incredible disaster. I keep hoping magic elves will show up in the night to clean everything but my scary coughing fits probably keep them away.

    The annoying part about being sick is that it's all this time at home wasted. You're too unwell or foggy headed to do anything at all aside from cuddle cats and watch movies. All these things I want to be doing that I'm not doing; so frustrating.  Well, I'm just happy that I can swallow without agony again - what a joy that is!
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  2. Nothing to See Here

    Friday, October 03, 2014

    Soooooo. I'm maintaining a fictional blog over here, along with twitter and tumblr accounts to try and get people to read said blog. Working on some video project for the blog. Plus a full time job. Plus dance. Also working to design adorable cat cards to sell to raise funds for shelters. And cat cuddling.  So, no time for this blog at the moment.  I expect this will change around March of 2015.

    Recap of the past month. Peter and I went to Nova Scotia/New Brunswick to visit my family. My sister and I were in the same place as our parents for the first time in.... 10 years?  We've been badly out of sync with our visits over the past decade. So that was nice. We went to a Moosehead's hockey game. We lay on the biggest hammock in Canada. We visited a distillery in an old backsmith's shop in Lunenburg. Met up with a good friend for lunch in Mahone Bay. Hung out at Dad's cottage. It was good times.  I'm very slowly adding photos of the trip here (don't really have time for editing photos).

    In other news, I finally learned how to bead crochet.  This particular craft defeated me previously, but not this time. I stayed up late one Friday night watching movies until I conquered it. This has been on my to-do list for years.

    Oh - and Peter and I went to see Stromae in concert at a small venue in Vancouver. This guy plays stadiums in Europe! He was amazing, the show was just fantastic, such great energy. I think every french-speaking person in the Lower Mainland was there. Here's the low-down on who this guy is.

    Finally - please think non-tumour-y thoughts for Kitty. We have a vet appointment tomorrow because her eye looks weird and we suspect some left-over tumour cells have decided to start growing... which would mean more surgery. We're hoping it's something else with an easier explanation.

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  3. Travel

    Saturday, September 20, 2014

    I am in the Moncton airport. It is so small that there is no official way to make a connecting flight - they assume when you arrive that you are staying so the only exit is to baggage claim.  we had to knock on a door to get let into the gate area.  Not a lot of connections made here. We are flying on points so our route is rather longer than normal - we head to Toronto next.

    The Halifax-Moncton flight was in a tiny prop plane and we were in the front so we had a great view into the cockpit for the flight, that was fun. The woman guiding everyone to their seats and storing cabin bags took off her coat once everyone was seated and she had pulled up the stairs/door - and turned into the co-pilot.

    Our trip to the east coast was crazy short and very busy. But it was good to see everyone, however briefly. Still, nothing is like home and so we are looking forward to being back in vancouver.
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  4. Web Entertainment

    Monday, August 25, 2014

    I assume everyone is making sure to check out my Persuasion adaptation, Half Hope every day, yes?  You can subscribe via email to get the posts in your inbox if you prefer. So far my site visit stats are not.... awesome.

    One of the things that inspired me to re-write a Jane Austen novel was the webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  Since that series ended I've found several other webseries adaptations of classic stories - and I'm going to share my faves.

    The format is usually easy-to-digest short episodes of 3-5 min each. Perfect for procrastination breaks! Because the distribution platform is (usually) youtube, it makes it possible for smaller, independent productions to find an audience (that isn't to say it's easy, just doable compared to getting a studio to pick up your show).  The other interesting aspect of web-series is the potential for transmedia elements - the idea that characters from the show can have twitter or tumblr or pinterest accounts, for example. So you can just watch the videos or you can delve deeper into the show and see twitter conversations between characters, or get a sense of the character's mood based on tumblr posts, possibly even interact with characters.

    Some of my faves:
    Lizzie Bennet Diaries - a modernization of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice done in the form of a vlog (video blog). Very well done. With amazing chemistry between Lizzie and Darcy.  It's interesting to note how the use of a vlog as a medium inherently changes the character - here we have Lizzie as a person who posts videos of personal conversations on the internet. The Lizzie I picture from P&P wouldn't do that, but if you can make that adjustment, you'll get on fine.  I followed the character twitter accounts while I was watching this show roll out and I got really obsessive about it - those little extra bits of character development were awesome.  They had a big fan following - mounted a successful crowd-funding campaign to produce DVDs, and have just released a book (Lizzie's actual diary).  www.lizziebennet.com 

    The Autobiography of Jane Eyre - by a team in Vancouver. A modernization of the Bronte novel. This is a tough storyline to update and I think they did a good job. Some wonderful characters, creative vlogs.

    The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy - I heard about this one and originally passed on it because I wasn't really interested in a Peter Pan story. Then I somehow watched episode one and fell in love with the characters and proceeded to watch the rest of season 1.  It's so charming and lovely. I love it to bits. They are currently crowd funding to try to do season 2 (and 3); I've donated - I hope they make it!

    Frankenstein, MD - an update of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Only 4 episodes in and I'm enjoying it. The main character is Victoria instead of Victor and she's great. If I recall this book correctly, it gets quite dark - I'm curious to see if they actually go there. I also love that they're using this show and it's transmedia elements (tumblr, twitter, blog) to talk about real science stuff.

    A nice list of the many indie webseries adaptations can be found here (there is a Green Gables one underway, I think).
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  5. Banff and stuff

    Friday, August 22, 2014

    When I reached the bottom of the trail after visiting Garibaldi earlier this month, Peter was waiting for us all with a giant Slushie, because he is awesome. He also had a plan for us to go on a road trip that he had planned out. I was able to get time off on relatively short notice and we packed the car with stuff and took off!

    We stopped in Sun Peaks where Peter did some mountain biking and I enjoyed our apartment in the village and worked on Project Persuasion blog stuff.

    LakeLouise-12After two nights there, we hit the road and made our way to Lake Louise/Banff. Lake Louise is really beautiful (and busy). We had an anniversary dinner in the Fairmont hotel, and enjoyed the amazing view.

    We had intended to do an overnight backpacking/camp hike but the forecast called for thunderstorms so we plopped our gear in a car-camping site and did a loooong day hike instead - to Helen Lake (12km round-trip, 455m elevation gain). The hike was lovely - lots of wildflowers out still.

    The lake at the end was small, but the surrounding scenery was amazing. Sadly there were also enormous flies - I've never seen flies this big... I think maybe they were horseflies (I say because they were HUGE). We hiked up a bit further to a peak where there was a great view and a breeze to keep the files away. This is always my fear with nature - that I'll go to all the trouble to get somewhere remote only to find it is unbearable and there is no escape. The hike down was a bit tense as we ran into other hikers who had spotted a grizzly on the way up and rangers who said there was a black bear near the trail head a bit earlier. We stuck close to other hikers and made it out alive - yay!
    Sweaty Hikers
    The best thing after a long hike? Taking off your hiking boots. Also showering. Showering wasn't an option in this case but we tidied up a bit and went to have a nice dinner in an old railway station in Lake Louise.

    Remote tea house The next day we hiked up to Lake Agnes from Lake Louise - to visit the famous tea house. Apparently everyone else on the planet had the same idea because it was mobbed with people. We got a table inside somehow and had tea and food and enjoyed watching the very fat chipmunks run around inside grabbing crumbs of tea biscuits from the floor.

    After hiking down we visited Lake Moraine. It's all just stunning there; quite unreal.

    The next day we were back to Lake Moraine. I had checked out the hiking guide and it identified a nice, flat, short hike to Lake Consolation that sounded just about right. The trail was in a busy bear area so hikers are required by law to be in groups of 4 - so we kind of tagged along with other people (and survived). Lake Consolation was pretty and much less busy - a bit of quiet nature without the torture of going up a mountain was nice.
    Consolation Lake Panorama

    Then we hit the road, stopping at a diner/cafe in Invermore for classic road trip food. And we arrived in Fernie very much looking forward to a proper bed. Fernie is a cute town and everyone we met there seemed to be a transplant from somewhere else who loved it in Fernie - so it definitely attracts people! Peter got another day of bike riding in, while I had some time to myself. We enjoyed the local pub scene.

    Then it was a long drive back to Vancouver, all in one shot stopping only for ice cream and wine in Osoyoos.

    That, my friends, is my hiking for 2014. I have gone up enough things and slept in a tent enough; it is worth it here because it is so beautiful, but I think I'm done for the season, thanks.

    It was wonderful to see another part of BC (and a sliver of Alberta) - we are lucky to live here - staggering beauty abounds.

    As always, more photos are on flickr.
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  6. Project Persuasion is Alive

    Monday, August 18, 2014

    So, the project I've been devoting a big chunk of my free time to since returning from our travels, has been launched!!!!  Yay!  There is still more work to do, but I'm glad it is starting to spool out into the world. Hopefully people will find it and enjoy it.

    It's Project Persuasion - a modern retelling of Jane Austen's novel Persuasion via blog (and a bit of twitter). I did the bulk of the writing while in Poland and have been working on the other aspects since I got home (also, lots of revising). Thankfully I had some friends willing to read early drafts and provide feedback, and my sister took on the daunting task of getting the website templates I found to do the functional things I needed.  People have been wonderfully supportive of the idea.

    And, voila - the first blog post of the series is up!
    You can find it here: http://halfhope.blogspot.ca/2014/08/the-beginning.html

    It will go on for several months, so check back often or subscribe to get the blog posts in your inbox via email.  Uh, also please tell me if you spot any typos.

    You can also do the following:
    - follow the character's twitter account @AliasAnneElliot
    - like the project Facebook page

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  7. I Survived Nature

    Wednesday, August 06, 2014

    What's this thing?  A blog?  I have a blog?  Oh yeah, I do!

    I spent my long weekend camping, like a proper Canadian. I hiked up to Garibaldi Lake with 3 other ladies. This was my first time camping where I had to carry all my own stuff (Peter is very accommodating and takes all my heavy stuff).  The hike up with a pack was very sweaty, but I survived. (1050m elevation gain in 7.5km.) And getting to Garibaldi Lake made it all worth it for sure. It's stunning there.

    Garibaldi Lake

    Everyone in the city was out camping so we squeezed our two tents onto one pad, as did everyone else and there were approximately 188219 people camping up there, but it was still very chill and everyone was very friendly. Only the poor forest ranger trying to accommodate everyone looked stressed out.

    The next day we hiked up to Panorama Ridge (7km from camp) which was several new kinds of stunningly beautiful. Definitely the most beautiful hike I've ever been on. We really are spoiled for scenery here in BC. We slid down the snow pack on the way down which was funny and cold (snow up the shorts in August is not expected).

    We relaxed by the lake, had lovely meals together, played new card & dice games, made friends. We had a beautiful view of the stars and saw some meteorites at 2am.  On Monday we hiked down and Peter picked us all up (greeted us with a slushie because he is made of awesome) and took us to the pub.  When I got home I took the best shower ever and scrubbed actual dirt off me.

    Black Tusk
    Either I am getting more accustomed to camping, or this trip was just really perfect because I had an awesome time.

    It's hard to complain about anything when you are lucky enough to spend time in such a pretty place.



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  8. Canada Day At Home

    Tuesday, July 01, 2014

    It's Canada Day and I'm at home! I'm planning to go enjoy some of the festivities today and ruminate on how lucky I am to live in this place - it's not perfect, but it's pretty good. Traveling does have a way of making you evaluate where you live and come from; it's impossible not to compare. For me, Canada and Vancouver came out looking shiny.

    You have not seen me post on here much because I am hard at work trying to complete a project I worked on while in Poland. If all goes well it will launch online in August! I think it will be fun - I'll put the link here when it is ready. It's a challenge to make progress in the scraps of free time left over after working full time, but I'm determined! It will mean a continued lack of interesting blog posts, however. Instead you should go check out my sister's blog - Bluenose Girl - she just did a great post summarizing her Poland travel experiences.



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  9. When I last left our tale, Peter and I had just returned to Bangkok from a few days in Cambodia.

    March 13, the same day we arrived in Bangkok, we got overnight train tickets and started our journey to Koh Samui Island (it was a train to Surat Thani, then a bus to Don Sak, then a ferry to the island). There happens to be a giant crazy party on Koh Phangan island every full moon - the "Full Moon Party" which you generally get to via Koh Samui island, so our overnight train was full of young people starting the party early. So that was.... loud.

    We managed to get some sleep despite the party. In the end we got ourselves to Koh Samui on March 14. We decided, after very little research, to go to Lamai Beach for two nights, and luckily when we got off the ferry we found a guy going that way to split a cab with.
    Beach
    Lamai Beach, Koh Samui
    We checked into our hotel and promptly went to the much anticipated beach. And had jerk chicken at one of the beach-front restaurants. As you do in Thailand.

    Beach Reading
    We spent some time in the shade on the beach, very happy to be by the ocean and not have to go anywhere or do anything.

    For dinner later that day we visited the main drag in Lamai and had dinner at a nice Thai place where Peter ordered a dish and requested it be made Thai-spicy. The server checked our table after he'd had a few bites and asked if he wanted her to have the kitchen moderate the spiciness, but Peter said no and continued on. He suffered, but he finished it! I had something tourist-level-medium and found that plenty hot (I did just spend a year in Poland - land of bland).

    Cafe Kitten
    The next day we started our day by finding a breakfast cafe that had resident kittens = win. One of the kittens was wearing a bow tie. One curled up in Peter's lap while he ate. An excellent start to the day. Then we spent hours on the beach on loungers under umbrellas that we would later discover were not adequately blocking the sun (bad sunburns for both of us - that's after sitting in the SHADE). We tried to swim but it was very wavy and I couldn't hack it.

    The beach was generally nice, but had occasional tiny blobs of oil that you would find on your feet or towel or shoes at the end of the day. I've never heard anyone else mention this about Thai beaches, but it was kind of annoying - finding black oil all over your stuff. So - you've been warned.

    We had a lovely moonlit dinner on the beach at a French restaurant called "No Stress". Then stopped for a pretty epic fire-twirling show on the beach at the party bar. All in all, beach life was proving to be excellent.

    Our Ride
    Ferry from Mae Nam to Haad Rin
    The next day, March 16, it was time to go to Sanctuary. We needed to get to Haad Tien beach on Koh Phangan Island. We got a cab to take us to a tiny ferry in Mae Nam that sometimes goes direct to Haad Tien. Sadly for us the waves were too wavy and we could only get to nearby Haad Rin beach.

    Fortunately for us one of the guys on the tiny ferry, a guy from Amsterdam, was also trying to get to Haad Tien and he'd been before so when the boat guy at the beach we landed on (Haad Rin) wanted an exorbitant rate to take us on the short trip, our Dutch friend knew there was another beach to try where another boat might be.

    LongTail
    A long tail boat delivers us to Sanctuary
    He was right and the boat guy there was also asking a high price, but it was within the realm of reasonableness and we were all keen just to get to Sanctuary already so we clambered into the boat that was already full of coconuts and other supplies and passengers and tried not to fall out as the boat (a 'long tail') bounced over the waves.

    The boat ride was refreshing and cool and fun. And they successfully managed to land on the beach and unload us.

    We had arrived at Sanctuary and it really felt like it; peaceful after the craziness that is the rest of Thailand. We parked our bags by reception and said hello and sat in the restaurant enjoying the view. We suddenly had nowhere we needed to be and it was wonderful.

    I was grinning like an idiot. After 2 solid weeks of trekking around, navigating strange places, I was at a yoga retreat on a beach and didn't have to go anywhere for a while. I was stupidly happy. We ended up loving Sanctuary so much that we extended our stay and used up the remainder of our time there. We couldn't think of a good reason to go anywhere else.

    Sanctuary10The magic of Sanctuary is it's somewhat remote location, , it's good restaurant (lots of vegetarian and raw food options), it's yoga studio, spa, and friendliness. The type of people who go to a place like Sanctuary are the type you can introduce yourself to and just start a conversation with. Everyone we met there was super nice.

    I got in the habit of going to yoga every day at 8am while Peter went to work out at the Muay Thai boxing place up the hill.

    HorizonsWe spent a lot of time in hammocks, on the beach, chatting with people in the restaurant. We wandered over to the beaches on either side. We thought about a day trip to some other part of the island - but in the end decided we were happy just where we were.

    It's definitely an island place - with the slow pace of an island. Going anywhere other than the string of 3 beaches in the area meant catching a boat (kind of on a schedule, unless they weren't; I never figured it out), or maybe a jeep over the 'road' if you could figure out if it was going that day. There was no clear explanation of how any of it worked, but it somehow worked. Sanctuary doesn't take card and the nearest ATM is a boat-ride away. We would see people handing over their ATM cards to new friends who were making the trip to town to get fresh cash - that's the kind of place it is; you meet someone and a few days later trust them with your ATM card and pin so you don't have to make the trip. That sums up Sanctuary.

    Although it is mostly a quiet area, there is some action. There is a party every Friday night at the nearby bar (Guy's Place) that goes all night and into the next day (then Sat night the party is at Eden bar). They warn you about it when you check in at Sanctuary and they give you earplugs. They suggest that you just go the party - that being the best way to avoid being annoyed by the very loud music that goes on all night. So we went and hung out with nice people and had our faces painted with glow paint and danced. And we stayed all night. And sat on a rock and watched the sun rise. And went to bed at 7am while the music continued.

    Sanctuary4
    It was good to get back to yoga. I did my first baby headstand. I learned to stay zen in downward dog despite ants crawling over my yoga mat. I sometimes struggled to hear the instructor over the deafening chorus of cicadas because the yoga studio was in the jungle. It was wonderful. Peter and I both remember Sanctuary very very fondly.


    Eventually, after 2 wonderful weeks, it was time to go. The only thing that made leaving Sanctuary bearable was the fact that we were finally going home.

    We made the reverse trip - Koh Phangan - Koh Samui - Don Sak - Surat Thani - Bangkok without problems (our 3 overnight train trip in Thailand) and got to our hotel super early. We spent the morning by the pool then did something in complete contrast to our life of yoga and friendly chats at Sanctuary - we went shopping in the huge mall district. There are so many gigantic malls in Bangkok. Our favourite was a less shiny wholesale mall called Platinum Fashion Mall. Sanctuary felt really far away already, sadly.

    Mall April 1 - departure day! We collected our luggage from the storage place and headed to the airport.

    Many many movies and meals later, we arrived in Vancouver. There was a bit of a mix up with the guy who was to pick us up, so we ended up hanging out at Tim Horton's for a bit.... but that was okay, it was part of being home. And the moment we stepped outside the airport and breathed in that cedar-scented, clean air, we knew we were home. Travel is great - but coming home is better, I think.

    It's impossible to try to sum up our year away, and I won't try here - maybe another post. Here I will say - Thailand was interesting. Challenging for me in many ways, bits of amazing beauty, some lovely people, but also poverty and infrastructure problems - it's a place of contrasts... like so many places are.

    Southern Thailand photos are here.
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  10. When I last left our tale, Peter and I had taken an overnight train back to Bangkok with our tour group. We arrived in Bangkok the morning of March 9. After saying goodbye to our fellow tour group friends, Peter and I went to the bus station to get our ticket to Cambodia for the next day (getting there from the train station involved some hard-core haggling with tuktuk drivers over the fare for the super short drive; fortunately our haggling skills had improved by this point).

    We left the bus station after successfully getting our tickets and thought we would walk to the Skytrain station and take Skytrain to our hotel. According to the map there was a giant park between the bus station and the transit station which looked like a pleasant place for walk. Which is true. Except the park is fenced. We ended up walking along some unpleasant streets (busy bus-filled streets, sidewalk-less areas) around the perimeter trying to find an entrance into the park. It was really annoying. Especially because the park was lovely once we were able to get inside - but what should have been a short, simple A-to-B trip was... not. Finding an exit on the other side that was near the transit station was also a problem due to the fence. The experience was kind of symbolic of our time in Thailand, actually - beautiful things surrounded by chaos, and difficulty getting from A to B.

    Yellow We did make it to our hotel. We went for something fancier than we usually do - the iSanook. Really nice staff, lovely facility. We spent the day relaxing and catching up on internet stuff. Peter visited the pool. We kind of ignored the fact that we were in Thailand, to be honest - took a day off. We used the hotel's free tuk tuk service to go to a nearby shopping area where we went to Pizza Hut. I have no shame in that like I normally would. I needed a day of comfort and familiar things, and that's what we did. It was a holiday from our holiday.

    The next day it was on to Siem Reap, Cambodia. For two people who had never traveled outside Europe, this trip made us a bit nervous, but we figured Angkor Wat was such a popular destination that the tourist infrastructure would be pretty good.

    We took a bus there and it was pretty easy - air conditioned travel, they give you water and food, the drive is smooth and uneventful.

    Waiting
    In between Thailand & Cambodia
    They do stop at a place before the border to change staff where they offer to prepare your visa for you for a fee (you can just do it at the border for free, which they don't mention on the bus); I recommend getting an e-visa before hand that way you don't have to worry about getting scammed or needing to bribe anyone (I don't know if that still happens at the border, online accounts vary.).

    The bus dropped us all off at the border. Going through Thai exit customs was easy, then there was a walk through a strange no-mans land before you hit the Cambodia border. This no-mans land has a casino in it. The difference between the Thai side and the Cambodia side is very stark and was the first sign of just how poor Cambodia was. Entry into Cambodia involved a long line and fingerprinting, but was otherwise no problem.

    The bus was waiting for us on the other side and once everyone was back on board, the trip continued. It passed through rural areas and that was our first glimpse of people living in places and ways that seem on the surface to be untouched by time. Such an incredible contrast to places that are part of my daily experience that I still have trouble wrapping my head around it. It was like this [link to images]. The disparity of living conditions in the world is really mind boggling.

    We arrived in Siem Reap at night, got a tuk tuk to our hotel and agreed to have that tuk tuk driver as a guide for the next day of touring. After checking in at our lovely hotel we walked to the main strip to get food. Notes: 1) not a town made for walking - the combination of busy street + no sidewalk + no streetlights was a bit stressful. 2) we ended up at an Indian restaurant (Curry Walla) where we had really good food. I felt bad for not having a more Cambodian food experience but after a year in Poland, I reserved the right to have Indian whenever the opportunity presented itself.

    Cambodia-29
    Baphuon, Angkor Thom
    So the reason for going to Siem Reap is, of course, to see the temple ruins. Any one of them would be amazing and destination-worthy, and there are a lot of them.

    Our first day of touring we made a rookie mistake by not starting out until 8:30am. In my world, that's early. In the reality of super hot places, you want to be out around 6:00am when it is slightly cooler and then you can hide during mid-day heat.

    Cambodia-11
    Bayon, Angkor Thom
    First we visited Angkor Thom which was huge, hot, and crowded, and amazing. Afterwards we let our driver take us to his friend's restaurant for lunch then we visited Ta Prohm (which you would recognize from Lara Croft). Ta Prohm was very very cool, but it was just too hot to stay very long (36C). We headed back to our hotel to cool off, stopping by a 10th century temple (Prasat Kravan) on the way, as you do.

    We cooled of in the pool at our hotel and thought about what a strange place we were in, this area with such a huge collection of ruined temples from so long ago. How civilizations rise and fall and how immense and important this area once was. At the height of their city-building days it must have seemed impossible to people then to think of their structures and way of life not continuing on; much like we are unable to imagine our structures and way of life not continuing on forever.

    Cambodia-101
    Angkor Wat sunrise
    The next day (March 12) we were up early to hit Angkor Wat for sunrise. Too many people said this was a MUST do, and we figured an early start was a good idea to avoid the heat, so off we went.

    We were part of the mob waiting for the sun to rise from behind the temple. It did. It was not a spectacular sight that day, but it was okay.

    We went in to explore - enjoying the slightly cooler weather at 6am. Angkor Wat is so massive it's hard to believe - given it was built in the 12th century by hand. The outer wall encloses 203 acres (only the temple remains; the city and palace buildings were made of perishable materials). It really is extraordinary.

    Cambodia-35
    Ta Prohm
    After Angkor Wat exhausted us, we tuk tuk'ed to Preah Khan, the other ruin with trees growing on the stones. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off at a lesser known gate to this ruin and we had the area to ourselves - a ruined giant carved structure with the jungle working to reclaim it.  My camera battery died here, so Peter was free of me taking a million photos of all the cool scenes before me.

    Once again by mid-day we found ourselves melting in the heat (I can't overstate how meltingly hot it is with the sun reflecting off the stones) so we retreated to the hotel to shower and visit the pool.

    Cambodia-106In the afternoon we visited a local Wat and made a donation to the Life and Hope Association as a small way to try to contribute to improving things for people in Siem Reap. I still feel very conflicted about visiting poor places - when I think about how much money I'm spending for a frivolous holiday and how so many people there lack basic necessities. I feel both very privileged for being born in Canada and having a life full of ease and opportunity and very guilty for not making more of an effort to help others.

    After the Wat we tuktuk'ed out through villages to Phnom Krom on top of a hill (many stairs) to watch the sunset. It was us and another couple and one young monk (there is an active temple on the hilltop in addition to the temple ruin). We shared snacks with the monk and he asked us for money which kind of spoiled our romantic notion of monks letting go of worldly goods and desires. But the view of the countryside from the hilltop was lovely. The sun didn't set into the horizon though, it disappeared behind a thick layer of smog. So that was weird.

    Cambodia-108The bumpy tuktuk ride back to town on the dirt road at night was interesting - a chance to get glimpses into houses lit by 1 bulb, parties, people outside having dinner. It's a whole different world.

    We had our own dinner at the Butterfly Garden Restaurant (no butterflies at night but there was a cat and a frog, and the business is a social enterprise, so: win) and walked through the market and Pub street (hello tourist central). When I showered before bed actual dirt came out of my hair from the dusty tuk tuk trip.

    There was a lot more to see around Angkor Wat - we skipped entire temple complexes; there's just too much, we hit our temple wall. It was time to go back to Thailand.

    March 13 we were back on the bus early in the morning and arrived in Bangkok at 4:30. When we crossed the border into Thailand, everything suddenly looked shiny and tidy - which was not our impression arriving in Thailand from Europe. It's all relative. Cambodia was an interesting experience, one I'm still thinking about. One clear thought I have: being a tourist in a poor place is a weird thing to do.

    The next phase of our trip was to get to an island and a beach. We bought an overnight train ticket to get us down south and discovered we were headed to the island that everyone goes to for the full moon party, just in time for the full moon! Uh oh.

    That will be Part 3 - Thailand Island Adventure!

    Cambodia pictures can be found here.
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  11. Thailand Summary - Part 1

    Monday, May 19, 2014

    We were in Thailand/Cambodia for 4 weeks. This is the first of 3 blog posts summarizing our trip. Photos of Bangkok are here.  Photos of Northern Thailand are here.

    Peter and I arrived in Bangkok (Feb 28) and got ourselves to our hotel with our enormous quantity of suitcases. I was sick - apparently as soon as the stress of leaving Poland was off my immune system went down. By the time we landed in Bangkok I had lost my voice. We were pretty exhausted and hot so upon arrival at the hotel we went against all travel advice and showered and took a nap. It was lovely. We discovered that the property next to the hotel had roosters in residence. That was unexpected.

    Bangkok SidewalkWe eventually realized it wasn't ever going to cool down (it was about 33C), so we headed out to find supper. We walked (as we always do in a new city), which was kind of a challenge because sidewalks in Bangkok are not really for walking, apparently, they are for markets and seating, and parking and anything other than a clear path for pedestrians. On the one hand - how interesting and different, on the other hand, how annoying.

    We found food and a nice cool place to sit in the form of a cheap restaurant below a mid-price hotel.  We dined with the other white tourists and then continued wandering all the way to the water and found ourselves in a park where a krump and break dancing competition was going on. After watching dancing for a bit we found our way to Khao San Road - the centre of the expat/tourist community in Bangkok. We walked the length of it, sat on a patio (on Soi Rambuttri, actually since Khao San Rd is insanely busy) and had mango and sticky rice and thought about what a funny place we were in. A community of non-Thai people in the heart of the Thai capital. Very strange.

    Bangkok-15Mar 1: After a tasty Thai breakfast at our hotel we headed to the Grand Palace by  tuktuk. It was really hot and we were not yet hip to the idea of getting up insanely early to avoid the heat, so we toured the palace in the hot hot hotness. (The palace loaned me a long skirt to wear to make up for my short skirt.) The palace was pretty incredible - probably the shiniest place I've ever been. I took approximately 40000 photos, as did the other million people who were there at the same time, so I'm sure my photos are super unique.

    Bangkok-66 After the palace we caught the river express boat back to our hotel and recovered from the heat. Later we took the boat back up the river to an area with shiny, fancy hotels thinking there would be pleasant places to stroll. There were not. But we found a market and a nice restaurant (Curry Queen) for dinner, so success! We then walked to River City mall and sat on a patio by the water, watching the dinner party boats return to dock and unload their partiers. Caught a cab back to the hotel. We were quickly learning that doing anything in Bangkok was very very tiring.

    We had one more day on our own, part of which we spent getting our giant suitcases to a self-storage place (didn't want to drag them around all of Thailand for 4 weeks) and a trip on their Skytrain. Then we moved to a hotel on Khao San Road where we met up with our tour group (16 total). Our first organized tour ever (with Intrepid)! We met in the evening and were off early the next day - to the bus station to head north.

    Mar 3: At the train station we learned that in Thailand they play the national anthem every day at 8am and 6pm(?) and everyone stands for it. We caught a bus (with AC, yay) for the 6hr trip to Sukhothai. The trip included a stop at a roadside place for food where our guide Tony warned us that any spicy dishes would be Thai-spicy, not tourist-friendly spicy. The food was quite tasty, certainly better than road-side bus stop food options in Canada.

    Hotel After our arrival in Sukhothai we piled into songtaews (open air trucks) to get to the hotel.  Songtaews are really fun for short trips. The hotel was lovely. We spent the evening by the pool and getting thai massages. This kind of travel is hard, eh?

    After a buffet breakfast at the hotel we were off early via 1 super-long songtaew to the Sukhothai Historic Park to tour some temple ruins via bike.

    Wat Sa Si We rode from temple to temple - they were all amazing. It was 36C out, so we did our best to stay in the shade. We stopped for lunch in a shaded picnic area and had homecooked food served to us by a local family that Intrepid hires. It was really good food. Also cold water. So good. The afternoon is spent back at the hotel, napping, swimming, chatting with the other nice people on the tour.

    Fair GamesThen we piled in the back of a pick-up truck (12 in the back, 3 in the truck) and got a lift into the centre of town where a festival/fair was going on. We paid our entrance and wandered the whole thing - sampling foods and enjoying the entertainment. It was really nice to see what a local fair looked like, rather than a market aimed at tourists. We attracted some attention, as a big group of white people wandering around. Afterwards we stopped for dinner at a roadside cafe and had okay food. (Everyone told me the food in Thailand would be amaaaaazing, so I think my expectations were rather high; mostly I found it to be okay.)







    3 Legged Elephant Our time in Sukothai came to an end. On Mar 5 we split into two minivans and headed to the FAE Elephant Hospital (with a pit stop in a mall for lunch - that was an adventure). The Elephant Hospital was pretty crazy - there are elephants there that have lost limbs due to land mines and they have given them prosthetic limb replacements. Incredible to see. Still sad, since these elephants can't live in the wild and some of them are chained up because the enclosures can't contain them. :(  I got to touch a little one, and he grabbed my hand with his trunk and pulled, almost pulled me off my feet. Amazing animals. We purchased one of the artist-painted elephants from Elephant Parade as a souvenir (funds go to help the elephants).

    Elephant Looking for Treats

    Pull a Block From the BottomAfter the Elephant Hospital, we arrived in a village in Mae On District where we would be staying. We sat outside in the large covered area and enjoyed some relief from the heat via fans (it was generally 36-38C every day). Our host's son enticed us all into a game of jenga before turning his attention to a game on someone's phone.

    MusicIn the evening, our hosts cooked us an amazing meal and played music on traditional instruments for us. Then some local girls performed traditional dances for us (pretty adorable). As if that wasn't enough, they provided a giant lantern for us to write our wishes on, which they lit and we all released. It was a very wonderful, full day. (The only downside was that I had my usual post-illness persistent cough and was prone to middle of the night coughing fits which I fear bothered my roommates all night long, instead of just keeping Peter up.)

    We had a wonderful breakfast at the home stay and took off on bikes they provided for a tour of the village.

    Classtime We stopped at Malee Handicrafts - a sewing business started via micro credit that employs 30 people in the village now. (Their sewing building is CRAMMED with fabric - it took me a while to realize, as we walked through, that it was a work space!) Then we visited a school where we sat with 7 year olds, quizzed them on some English letters, played duck-duck-goose and danced the hokey pokey. We all had to sing our respective national anthems (Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand) which the kids found amusing. They were very energetic kids and seemed to enjoy having us stop by.

    Shiny We rode by the ceremony for a local senior monk who had passed away - they built this incredible cremation pyre and there was a huge tent full of monks and others praying. It was quite the production to come across in a farm field.  We continued on to a mushroom farm and then a stop where someone showed us how rice used to be processed using manual traditional techniques (hint: it was harder back then).  We returned to the homestay for lunch and then loaded into songtaew buses for the drive to Chaing Mai.

    After cleaning up at our hotel most of us headed out on a privately booked minivan to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is a very shiny temple at the top of some cool stairs. We got back from that in time to join the others for dinner - since our hotel was just down the street from the night market, we had dinner on a patio there, did a bit of shopping, and called it a day. Another very full day.

    Picture Perfect

    ErgonomicsMay 7 was a bit of a missed opportunity for us - it was a free day in our schedule and we didn't research in advance what one should do in Chiang Mai, we thought we would wander and explore like we always do in cities, but it's just too hot and too unpleasant to walk around Thai cities so we ended up joining a few others on a tour of Doi Inthanon National Park. We would have been up for a hike but it sounded like a bus from destination to destination kind of trip which is what it turned out to be. The other more interesting tours involved elephant rides, which was not an option for reasons, so we ended up on this waterfall tour. It was nice, but it's really hard to be impressed by waterfalls when you live in BC. We also visited a hill tribe village which was shocking in it's lack of amenities. We bought a bed covering there to support their weaving industry because, wow, that looks like a hard life. Note: they do not haggle - the lady there did no budge on price even a tiny bit (we had to borrow some cash from a fellow tour group member). Anyway, the tour was okay - visited the highest point in Thailand! - mostly it was nice to get into the cooler forest area and to get to chat with the people on the tour with us.

    Market Peter and I did go for a wander around the city later that day. Found a lovely courtyard area away from traffic with a bunch of shops and restaurants and had some good food. We got lost getting back but managed to find the night market with enough wandering.

    We did some shopping at the market then met up with all the others for the ladyboy show at the local club.


    CostumesOur tour guide arranged front row seats for us and Peter and I were the last to arrive so we got the very front and centre seats. The girl sitting next to me got all the attention from the acts that came off stage, fortunately. She even got pulled on stage to dance at one point. Narrow escape for me, that one. She got off easy compared to the guy who got pulled on stage and had his shirt removed (pic here). It was an entertaining evening - definitely memorable!

    We ended the evening in the night market at a cool ice cream stall that makes the ice cream in front of you on a super cold plate, it was very fun to watch and tasty.





    Chef Peter Our last day in Chiang Mai we all went for a cooking course at Baan Thai. Our instructors took us down the street to the local market and explained the main ingredients to us. We brought the market purchases back to the school and divided up based on the dishes we were interested in learning. We did several dishes, and made an enormous quantity of food (far more than we could eat, which felt wasteful). It was all very tasty. We had a good time - definitely a good thing to do when in Thailand!

    We were delivered back to our hotel via songtaew, very full. All that was left to do was to clean up and head to the train station for our overnight train to Bangkok (arriving May 9). The overnight train was nice. We were in 2nd class sleeper seats which are seats for the beginning of the ride, then someone comes along and converts the seats into beds for the evening (pics here). The biggest complaint really was that the ac was too powerful!

    We quite enjoyed our Intrepid tour - we definitely did things we wouldn't have otherwise (particularly the homestay in the village), and it was very relaxing to have someone else handle all the details like arranging hotels and transport to/from. It was a bit of a switch when we were on our own once more - had to reengage that part of our brains. Because we had a night to relax in Bangkok and then we were headed to Cambodia!  That will be a whole other blog post....
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  12. Alive

    Monday, May 12, 2014

    I am still alive.

    Our boxes just arrived from Poland after their long boat trip, and their arrival feels like the last piece of the puzzle falling back into place. The trip seems so long ago already.

    Aside from not having enough free time, life is good. Catching up with friends, enjoying the bits of beautiful weather when they happen. I'd forgotten the extent to which Vancouver explodes into blossom in spring - it's pretty over the top and I love it. We went to a party at our dance studio and caught up with a fellow dancer who moved away but was back in town visiting. It was wonderful to see everyone again. I got pulled onto the dance floor by all the instructors and did okay but, man, I need to practice. Schedule is full this week but I think I'll get to a class on Saturday.

    Working on writing a post about our Thailand trip before I've forgotten everything but I haven't had a chance to upload the photos. Maybe this weekend? hahaha - I say that about everything now - maybe this weekend. It's my own personal joke.

    Here is something you should watch:

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