Sunday, December 9, 2012

Can Tho, Mekong Delta

The Can Tho Floating Market starts at dawn and only lasts a couple hours. Most of the food sold goes to restaurants or inland markets. Some goes to the people who live along the river or in house boats.

Melons and child monk at the floating market. 

Most boats were selling fruit and vegetables. This is the only one I saw selling a full cooked meal: barbecued meat and soup. 

 Big boat of pumpkin-like gourds. Most boats tied whatever they were selling to a long pole so that you could see what was available from far away.

 The river at night.

Can Tho's quiet streets at night.

Drive to Mekong Delta

On Saturday we drove with eight other people from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho near the southern tip of Vietnam. The drive there took most of the day and went through the rice basket of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta. We stopped at a few places along the way, including a war memorial. 

 Memorial stone for "Ap Bac Victory" (Jan. 2, 1963) amongst the rice fields.

Shot down helicopter with Southern Vietnam's colors. 
The memorial's staff were cleaning it while we were there. 

Traditional Mekong meal. Whole fried chicken (feet and head included), wild river eel and fresh chicken eggs. The eel was good, but I wasn't a fan of eating the chicken with the skin on it.

Puppy cleaning up the bones at the restaurant.

Lotus in pond at rest stop.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

School opening in rural Vietnam

The organization I'm interning with, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, built a school in rural Thai Nguyen Province with the help of the Boeing company. We went there today for the ribbon cutting ceremony. It took over three hours to get there by car and the last part was weaving through mountains and tiny unpaved roads. 

 A village baby I made friends with at the school opening. 
Note the blonde locks sewn into her bandana.

 Kids at the school.

 The official photo of school staff and VIPs. 
This is only a small percentage of the students at the school.

 The kids wore VVAF hats made for the occasion.

Boeing representative Kevin Heise and VVAF country director Thao Griffiths.

Around Hanoi

Tennis courts across the street from my house in Hanoi. 
People play between 5 am and 11 pm every day. 

 Drawing contest for disabled children at the International Day of 
People With Disabilities Festival in Hanoi.

Mural at Hanoi's Museum of History.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Around Da Nang, central Vietnam

 Dried shrimp at the market

Dried seahorses. 
(To use, soak them in white wine for a month and then discard seahorse. Supposed to be good for male virility.) 

 Wedding photos in hotel pool.

The view from my hotel balcony onto China Beach.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Moreton Island Trip

A couple weeks ago some friends and I went to Moreton Island (off the coast of Brisbane) for a "Driving Divas" day. We drove 4-wheelers around the sand island and took in the sun. The car ahead of us is our guide.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

We made the society page

At the QUT gallery.

Last Friday, we went to the opening of the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit here in Brisbane. After a few glasses of free wine, a society reporter for Weekend Edition asked to take our photo. We weren't sure if they were going to use it, but it was published today. Looks like we're finally in the "in" crowd!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day off in the CBD

Mike arguing with a dinosaur at Queensland Museum. 

Watching the CBD skyline on Victoria Bridge. 

Ice skating at King George Square in the CBD. 

Fresh fudge at the Jan Powers Farmers Market in the CBD. 

Albert Street Uniting Church next to King George Square.

I took a day off from paper writing today and we hung out in Brisbane's downtown area, aka the CBD. We checked out the dinosaurs at the Queensland Museum, then got fresh produce and chocolate at the farmers market. Before leaving, we stopped by the Winter Festival at King George Square to get some free chai and watch the ice skaters. That's right -- ice skaters. It was in the 60s today, but if you have a spare $30 you could ice skate in front of the city hall in Brisbane. While it had its charms, I'll take the Chriskindlmarket over Brisbane's winterfest any day.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rotary Fun Run... er, Walk

On May 27, we participated in the Rotary Club of Brisbane Centenary's Fun Run/Walk supporting a local breast cancer clinic. Since neither of us have been running lately, we decided to do the walk. But that didn't stop us from running though the finish line!

Tree planting with Rotary International President

Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee visited Brisbane the other week to plant a tree in the University of Queensland's peace garden. Once I graduate, they'll engrave my name in one of those white bricks in the bottom picture. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What you need to know about Australia

Think $129 is a little steep for a breathalyzer? Fear not, pay-per-use breathalyzer machines are available at festivals and outside of bars in Brisbane for just a few coins. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Noosa weekend holiday

We took a mini vacation to Noosa this weekend -- the "hippest beachside destination in Australia" according to Lonely Planet. To get there, we rented a car and drove two hours north to the area. Mike drove and he said that it was like looking in a mirror the whole time. By the end of it, he was really good at navigating roundabouts but driving on the left was still weird. We made sure to take full advantage of the car and made a detour to a ginger factory on the way to Noosa.

We got into Noosa in the afternoon and were able to hit the beach before the sunset. Then we went to a bistro along the river and had some fresh fish. The next day we went hiking in Noosa National Park and saw a family of giant sea turtles and a few different types of lizards. Afterwards, we went to the beach again and had lunch at the Noosa Heads Surf Club -- which was voted Australia's best surf club a couple years ago. (Surf clubs in Australia are volunteer lifeguard programs that patrol the beach.) Then we swam on the main beach and checked out a second beach on the other side of the national park.

The next day we got up early and headed to the next town over, Eumundi, to see their famous Saturday market. While we were expecting more of a farmers market, the entire town center was covered with arts and crafts booths. We were able to get some artisan olives, bagels and a great bratwurst before leaving, though. All in all, not a bad weekend holiday.

"The Round"

Mike playing the uke at The Round.

This past Wednesday, Mike participated in the singer-songwriter event "The Round" in Paddington, near the city center. Unlike most shows that take place in bars, this event was all about listening and learning about the craft of songwriting. The audience remained quiet during the songs and didn't talk until the break. Mike said it was one of the coolest gigs he's ever played ... plus we got a free pizza and beers!

During the Q&A session Mike made America proud by being the only one of the singers who knew who the Muppets were. Come on, Australia! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Aussie Rock

I guess it was only a matter of time before Nissa and I started getting Australian pop songs into our heads. The scene of the crime was the Caxton Street Food and Wine Festival, which sounds like a very formal and refined affair but reminded me a lot of the street fests that go on in Chicago -- warm, sunny and a bit crowded. The food was all right (I had my first ever canned whisky and soda), but it was the bands that were a real treat.

With the help of a couple friends from here who guided us along, we took a trip back in time to re-experience the best of 80's Australian rock. Don Walker, of the famed Aussie band Cold Chisel, was the first act we saw, and was fantastic. He had a great grizzled voice, his band was solid, and he told this one captivating story about a "bad bugger" named Harry. It gave me chills. Walker was clearly a guy with a lot of experience.

Don Walker (photo by Rhianna Patrick)

Next up was 1927, who had a much poppier sound and songs everyone seemed to know the words to. Songs like this one:

The biggest difference between the video and now is that now the lead singer is bald. Oh, the ravages of time. But our friend Rhianna insisted he was as good looking as ever. The lead singer for the next band, Boom Crash Opera, also turned out to be bald. Noticing a trend here? He was a true showman to the end, though, and they really got me with this tune:

The last band we saw that day was called The Jungle Giants. I really dug their energy and upbeat style. They were clearly the youngest band of the four we saw and it was really refreshing to see them after spending most of the afternoon reminiscing about the 80s. This was obviously a band from today. Being as they're from Brisbane, I'm looking forward to checking them out again:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Butcherbirds

Well, our hydroponic experiment from last month sputtered to an end pretty quickly. We had problems with the pumping system after a few days and soon after that, the lettuce died. So much for our foray into futuristic home gardening.

After a few weeks of seeing the garden rig gathering dust and growing algae in a corner of our kitchen, I decided today to finally tear the sucker down. But since we might try growing herbs or something else again, I thought I would let the gravel pots sit outside on our patio and dry out before putting them into storage. To our surprise, a few large, black and white birds from the neighborhood came swooping in immediately, thinking the rocks were food. They seemed pretty bold, coming right up to our door and window, so I started taking some pictures of them up close. I even caught one eating a piece of gravel, to our dismay, on tape.

Turns out these are pied butcherbirds, which are native to Australia. I've seen them around the neighborhood quite a bit but didn't know their name until now. Apparently they are also known as the "most accomplished songbird in Australia", with one writer referring to them as the "magic flute". They do have a really unique and complex call; it's pretty rich and resonant. I'll try to get it on tape soon. Right now I'm just a little concerned about the "swooping" that is mentioned on this website, which also says you should "maintain eye contact" with the birds in order to prevent them from swooping you. What does that even mean? I hope it's not like that Hitchcock movie. The fact they are called "butcherbirds" is not very reassuring.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Our Home Garden

Our apartment here in Brisbane is surrounded by lush forest and overgrowth, so I guess it was only a matter of time before we acquired some plants of our own. Last weekend, Nissa and I went to a free training seminar about home gardening where we expected to learn a few tips on growing herbs and small crops on a porch or in a backyard. So we were pretty surprised when we got to the class and the instructors told us we would be building and taking home a hydroponic gardening device. All for the price of... well, nothing.

Our kitchen garden.
The class provided us with all the tools and starter plants, as well as a small pump to drip feed water to the plants throughout the day. Actually, the pump was an air pump meant to oxygenate fish tanks, but with a little clever engineering we were able to transform it into a water pump that would normally be a lot more expensive. Really a brilliant way to save some money.

So as I write this I can hear the hum of the air pump from the kitchen and the light trickle of water coming out the feeding tube. Now to wait and see if this lettuce actually grows.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rotary fellowship

Rotary Peace Fellows, Ambassadorial Scholars, and a few Rotarian counselors in Brisbane.

I'm just finishing up my third week of classes here in Brisbane as a Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Queensland. It's been a strange transition becoming a student again, but I can honestly say that even six years out, the University of Chicago prepared me well. There's been a huge amount of reading and a lot of class discussions, but so far things are going well.

I'm taking three classes this semester -- Advanced International Studies, Principles of Deep-Seated Conflict Resolution, and Arms Control & Disarmament. The Advanced International Studies class is a required class and heavy on theory, but my professor keeps it interesting with Mr. Bean and Star Trek references. Unlike the University of Chicago, which is home to the famous Realist theorist John Mearsheimer, UQ is apparently known for its Marxist/Liberal bent. I guess that's why UQ has a Peace Studies and U of C doesn't.

I'm really enjoying my Arms Control class and am able to bring a lot of my experience from South Korea and with Worldview into the class discussion. My third class discusses conflict resolution methods in long-standing wars, something that also applies readily to the situation in Korea.

My experience with Rotary so far has been great. The Rotarians -- i.e., the members of Rotary around Brisbane -- have been very welcoming and I'm looking forward to learning more about the organization during our time here. The ten other fellows in my Rotary Peace Fellow program are interesting people from all over the world. In addition to the Americans, there's fellows from Iran, Columbia, Burma, Nepal, Germany, and Iceland. I can already tell it's going to be a engrossing year and a half here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Korean Heaven

So it only took us a little more than a week to find a Korean grocery store near our new apartment in Brisbane. It's called "Hanaro Mart", and the second we stepped inside it today we were whisked away to Korean food paradise.

A lot of our old favorites were there -- but most importantly a brand of kimchi we ate a lot of when we lived in Seoul. Along with enough ingredients to make a meal, we added a couple of classic Korean ice cream bars to eat outside in the summer heat. All in all, a good Sunday afternoon.

I forgot to mention earlier, but we just moved into our apartment yesterday. We're still settling in but the neighborhood is pretty nice and it's good to finally have a place of our own after vagabonding for the last few months. Let the nesting begin.

The Birds

7 a.m., Brisbane:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Walking and the art of motor-spatial maintenance

Lots of walking this past week, not always by choice. One of my biggest concerns when coming to Brisbane was the reliability and coverage of its public transportation system. In general, Asians do this kind of thing really well, mainly out of necessity. When millions of people are packed into a space meant for just a few hundred thousand at most, you figure out how to move all those bodies around in a disorderly, orderly fashion.

Well, it turns out that for a city this small, Brisbane's buses, trains, and ferries do a pretty damn good job of getting you nearly anywhere you need to go.

Up to a point.

The downtown area here is quite small, and once you venture outside of it, the region's layout gets very suburban -- fast. The advantage of this for people like Barry and Kay, who we've been staying with the last few days, is you can own a nice, big home and have a garden and a yard and your own little piece of heaven. The disadvantage is that to go most places without needing a change of clothes afterwards, you need a car.

I take that back. You don't need one. It is perfectly reasonable to lug a vacuum cleaner, brand new and in the box, out of the local shopping mall and bring it on the bus with you. The box, of course, gets a seat, too. But you don't see that kind of thing often, and I'm pretty sure it looks a little weird. We did exactly this today and while walking from the bus stop with this giant box in my arms, two of Barry and Kay's neighbors looked at me askance, as if to say, "Who are you... and where are you taking that -- thing?" (In all honesty, they were really nice, but I'm pretty sure they'd never seen a Yankee carrying a giant box around this neighborhood before.)

The fact is there is a lot of space here and to get around easily, a car really is best. Which is too bad because I liked not having a car for the last few years. It's interesting, too, that the way you get around makes a huge impact on the way you view your surroundings. When you can hop in your Holden (Aussie car company) and hop out at the mall that's just a couple kilometers away, it seems really close by. But it's a completely different story when you're trudging over to the mall underneath the blazing, midday sun. Now expand this idea out to a place that's an hour's drive away, and your sense of space changes fast. The phrase "nearby" means something completely different when your primary mode of transport is walking.

Luckily, the buses here run on time. Usually to the minute. They aren't nearly as frequent as they were in Seoul, and the network is not as convenient, but it ain't too shabby for a city of this size. And it still puts the CTA to shame (for shame!). Now if only we can figure out a way to get to the beach...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is this real life?

It takes an insane number of hours to get to Australia on a plane. I would guess if you tried to come here by boat or some other old-fashioned method you would be noticeably older by the time you arrived. But for all the time and energy it takes to get here, it really isn't that different from the US. After all, they've got everything here from Target to K-Mart to Colgate toothpaste (that last one is especially nice to have around after our experience in SK). But as they say in Pulp Fiction, it's the little differences.

They have colleges here, of course, but no one calls it that. It's "university", or "uni" for short. College apparently refers to high school here. I feel really weird whenever I say "uni", though, like I'm trying to be cool but failing horribly.

And everyone says "No worries" instead of "You're welcome" or "No problem". Oddly enough, and contrary to what the people saying it suggest, "No worries" makes me a little nervous. I always think, "Well, maybe in this case we have nothing to worry about but there are a lot of problems out there that we should worry about." Something keeps me from saying that out loud, though. Probably my desire to not get punched in the face.

As you probably know, Aussies drive on the left. That's not really a big deal but it is a little disorienting when trying to cross the street. Also, when walking on the sidewalk, because the same road rules apply. Luckily they still wear their shoes on the same feet here (not the case in New Zealand).

There is Coke and Pepsi, along with a few other familiar brands, but there are a couple drinks that are specific to Australia. There's "Lift", which sounds like a 5-Hour Energy sort of drink but is actually a really nice lemon-flavored soda that contains no caffeine. I've also seen a lot of ads for ginger beer-flavored Slurpees, which sound really good (oh right, and they also have 7-Eleven). Good Australian wine is in abundance, and apparently pretty cheap according to our hosts.

We've been staying with a really great couple named Barry and Kay for the last few days. Nissa met them through the Rotary Foundation, which is sponsoring her fellowship here, and they've been feeding us some great home cooked meals while filling us in on the fineries of Australian culture. They're big into food, and have been telling us about all the great kinds of local fruits and vegetables you can find here in Brisbane -- anything from mangoes to pineapples to pumpkin, it grows here. I'm looking forward to settling into our apartment in a couple days and checking this abundance out for myself.

Friday, February 10, 2012

We're Back!

Flash forward four months and a few weeks... Time circuits on.... Flux capacitor fluxxing... HANG ON!!! Ahhhhhhhhhh......

And we're back.

I'm sitting at my cousins' house again in Seoul and can hear the cats crying and fighting out in the cold. I haven't been here in months but strangely it feels like I never left. I took a flight in from Chicago last night and looking out the window of the bus from the airport, noticed the magnificent mountain ranges that circle this giant city. I had forgotten how much I loved them.

A few things have noticeably changed since the last time I was here. The sundubu restaurant we used to eat at after Korean class is now just another Paris Baguette. Too bad. And the Girl Scouts of Korea office near Insadong shut down. Not that I ever saw a Girl Scout in Seoul. Other than that, though, most things are just like I remember, which is comforting.

The last four months have been some of the best in my life. Not only did Nissa and I tour through Asia, seeing some of the most beautiful and marvelous things in the world, but we also got to spend a good amount of quality time back in the US with our friends and family. Obviously, we were too busy to blog. Or just didn't feel like it.

I'll be on my way to Brisbane to meet up with Nissa tonight. At the moment, I have a bit of a luggage problem (i.e. too much). I'll have to figure that out at some point before leaving for the airport. On the agenda today: see Yeon-hee and Andrew, get a 2NE1 cd, and record some street sounds.