Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Water's Edge

Yesterday I went for beach walk in the late afternoon and this is what I found.

A few birds...

A wedding getting over. The chairs were packed up and they were taking down the arbor, but the bride was still having some impromtu pictures taken. Speaking of weddings, I finally watched Kim Kardashian's wedding on TV. It took me a while to watch it, because I wait until TanMan is gone or asleep. He doesn't have much tolerance for their shenanigans. I consider myself a relatively intelligent woman, but for some reason, I love the Kardashians. The wedding show was great, I enjoyed all 4 (four? yes, four) hours of it. I even cried a few times... but back to the beach...

The hippies were setting up for the Saturday night drum circle. This is a new event for Manasota Key, I am excited to have one here, but not so excited that I stayed around for it. Sunset was over an hour away...

I am little concerned about the people who own this house - it is getting very close to the edge. I can see how the shore changes in the short time I have been here, I can only imagine what happens over the years.

For today's walk, I was able to go farther north up the key than ever before. I saw lots of step hanging in space, and was amazed at the power of the waves going in and out.

I got home with my shorts soaked from being splashed by waves, a few photos on the phone and three sharks teeth. I love it here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Back to normal

GI Issues: Gone (no more Imodium needed)

Sleep: All night (vs. late morning naps)

Hair: Cut and colored (yeah, the grey roots are gone... for now)

Toenails: Fresh pedicure (color dark red)

Age: OMG, I am one year older (still feel like I am 35)

I am back to business as usual!

(my favorite birthday gift!!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Home Sweet Home

TanMan and I are slowly getting our life back to normal. Suitcases are unpacked, most of the laundry is done, but we are having serious jet lag. This morning we were both up before 6am, which is unreal for me (but more common for TanMan). Lots of time to drink coffee and read the paper...

The only other left-over from vacation is some serious GI problems. We are taking Immodium, if that gives your more info that you really need! Needless to say, we aren't wandering far from the condo and our his & her bathrooms!

It didn't feel like I did much knitting on vacation, but here is the results! Isn't that the cutest basket? They used them as a bread basket on the river boat, so when we saw one in the market, TanMan had to have it. I think I added about 30 hexipuffs to my collection.
My hexipuff obsession continues, and I have purchased a supply of my favorite hexipuff yarn, Koigu KPPM, and have started selling mini-skeins on Etsy. Since I no long have my KalamazooKnits Etsy store (sniff, sniff), I opened a new shop, called Mermaid Knitting. It seems strange to have a new store, without all of the positive ratings and links to other knitters that comes with a 5 year old shop. Nothing like a frest start???

So what is next???

It just occurred to me that Christmas is only a few months away, so now I need to get serious about my gift knitting. I will need to go into a project "black-out" on my knitting, since some of the (lucky!) recipients also read this blog. So...let me just say that I spent a few hours on Ravelry this morning looking at patterns for my gift knitting. Picked out a couple of items and I will be headed to A Good Yarn this week to buy the yarn.

I also plan to get out the sewing machine this week too. Over Labor Day weekend, I went to a craft show with TanMan's oldest daughter - and she showed me an adorable jumper that she liked for her daughter. So, I bought a similar pattern and fabric so I could give it a try. I haven't sewn clothes in a long time, so I hope it turns out...

Okay, it is time for beach walk.

The weather has been perfect since we got back. Sunny days in the mid-70s and cool evening in the mid 50s. Fall in Florida is lovely.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On our way to Saigon, we stopped at the largest Viet Cong base in the south. The rains had flooded much of the site, so we couldn't visit most of it. Instead they arranged for us to travel through the jungle swamp on little wooden boats. From there we could see the tents of the commanders, land mines on bamboo stakes used to blow up helicopters, and huge holes where bombs had landed. There was just two of us in each boat, with a woman paddling us around. The women were wearing the black pajamas that the Vietnam Cong wore,and our guide said that most were children of the VC.

It was a total jungle swamp experience, and I was on the verge of hysteria the entire time. After we were done and safely on the bus, our guide told us that it was also the home of large pythons, primarily living in the water. Luckily, no one on our bus saw any.

The last stop on our trio is Saigon, or officially, Ho Chi Minh City. It is very different from Hanoi, much more "western". It is a city of 10million people, with 3 million motorbikes. Crossing the street is an adventure, because like Hanoi, you have start walking and hope they stop for you. At streetlights, there can be a dozen bikes across, with dozens close behind.

We visited the former presidential palace, where the president of South Vietnam lived and conducted business.

It is preserved as a museum - with the "war room" untouched, showing the maps, and phones where they planned their strategy.

The strangest part was the actual tanks on the lawn that were used to break through the gates as the North took over, arresting the President.

TanMan also visited the War Museum, where there were many pictures, guns, helicopters, etc, highlighting the US atrocities in the war and their defeat. I decided I had seen enough of the 'American War', so I sat and knit Hexipuffs for a while and visited their large market for some shopping.

We visited the outdoor bar at the Rex Hotel, one of the places listed in the book, "1000 places to visit before you die", and shopped at the large market, where negotiating is the name of the game. I bought a few more souvenirs and a few cotton tops for me.

We had to visit a jewelry market, and TanMan found a jade ring that is his early Christmas gift from me.

I found a ring also, and it is a birthday present for me.

I hope they are the real thing!

The city is hot and humid, and even the places with a/c seem hot too. I have never spent so many days in dripping hot weather. Really. Everything you have on is wet by the end of day.

I have not grown to 'love' Vietnamese food, and you have to be so careful where and what you eat, so every meal in the city has been a challenge. One of the men in our group became very sick with food poisoning, his wife is a physician and she didn't dare leave him alone. I had some GI problems in Saigon, but nothing too bad - I consider myself lucky!

Everyplace we stayed - from 5 star hotels to the river boat - the water thru the tap was okay to use for showering, but we couldn't drink it - or even brush our teeth with it. They provided free bottled watter in all of the rooms.

We are finally HOME - arrived at our Florida condo around 6pm at night and I was in bed by 6:30.

It took us approx 24 hours to get here - 20 hours of it on three different flights - not to mention the hours spent waiting between flights. I slept 13 hours last night - and am still not caught up on sleep. It will be an early night to bed tonight too.

God Bless America - all you have to do is travel outside the county - and when you return - you will appreciate our wonderful country with renewed love and appreciation.

This has been a wonderful experience, and I am looking forward to returning to Southeast Asia again sometime.

Hmmm, where should we go for or next vacation???

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Last stop in Vietnam countryside

In a small village, we visited a business producing several kinds of local candy. It was a production facility, Vietnam style.

First was a puffed rice treat, kind of like Rice Krispie Treats, Only not as sweet. First they heat up sand in this giant wok.

Then add the rice and stir until it pops up

They pour it into a shaker and removed the sand, then into a different shaker to remove the husks.

The puffed rice is added to the hot syrup,

Poured into this mold. Cool and cut.

Pass the cut pieces to the people who wrap and seal it. Yes, one of the girls is sitting on the table where they are wrapping the candy.

Then we were invited to sit down and have tea and sample the sweets. I liked the candy and tea - so of course we bought some,

Then they sampled a Vietnamese specialty, Snake Wine. Really. It is rice wine, where they place a dead snake, and let it sit for several years. Only 2 people in our group of 40 tried this, and TanMan was one of them.

And in case your muscles were aching, they also sold this medicine. As a pharmacist, I'll have to admit that this is a new one for me!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Last night on the boat

I am so sad to see this experience end. Tonight is our last night on the boat and it has been a vacation of contrasts. We traipse around the country to see the most unusual things in the hot, sweaty, muddy areas. Then back to our boat with robes in each room and gourmet cuisine.

Yesterday we went to a fish farm, where they were raising catfish to sell. We took a boat to get there, because it was another floating village. They had a platform over the fish cage, which had "fresh" water (I use that term loosely) flowing through it.

We had to climb of our boat, walk across another boat, to get to the farm. You can't even imagine how rickety these places are that we climb up and down over, with strong arms holding us so we don't fall. It is unreal.

A typical transfer looks like this - On the left is the ladder from the big boat, then take a big step to the next boat, walk across that and then step over to the third boat!

We take these tenders on to the land to visit local villages.

We passed a floating market where people bring there houseboats loaded with a produce, then sell them wholesale. Can you imagine living on this boat? They are poor and most can't afford to send their kids to school.

Next up, our visit to see candy making.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Our boat is leaving Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, after spending four nights. There have been morning and afternoon excursions into the city and countryside, the royal temple, touring Buddhist temples, pagodas and local villages.

We stopped at the Central Market for some shopping, and our tour guide introduced us to his favorite snack. TanMan and I both sampled fried tarantula legs and fried crickets. Before you eat the cricket, you need to remove the wings and the end of the legs (they are sharp and can scratch your mouth). I liked the tarantula, but had to wash down the cricket with water.

I bought a lovely cotton top in the market - I wanted to return for another, but we visited a casino for a few hours and by the time we left, the market was closing.

I love the method of transportation in Cambodian cities, it is the Tuk Tuk, a motorcycle pulling a cart. For a two or three dollars, they will take two of us anywhere in the city. Much nicer than a taxi in NY city!

Yesterday we visited a huge Buddhist temple, where our tour group received blessings from the monks. It was a lovely experience, sitting cross-legged on a mat on the floor, while the monks chanted and then blessed us by throwing flower blossoms on us.

Today our boat travels from Cambodia into Vietnam, so we be on the boat all day. I am ready for a day to relax - I think I will get out my hexipuffs and start knitting. If the Internet connection stays strong, I might watch Battlestar Galactica on Netflix on the iPad!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On my needles

Note: this was written before I left on vacation!

I think it is time for a knitting update. I was so focused on selling the pattern business and getting ready for the trip, I haven't had a lot of creative energy to take on anything new!

Since this hasn't been my favorite project, my goal was to get this done before I left on vacation. Goal was accomplished - all that needs to be done is blocking. The tiny bit of mohair in this yarn bothers me, so I think this will become a Christmas gift.

Spring Fling
One sock is finished and the other is traveling to Vietnam. Hopefully it is done when I get home!

Beekeeper's Quilt
My hexipile is growing, all done in Kauni.

Take a look at this stash of Kauni waiting to be used!

Featherlight cardigan
I like this project a lot, but I have neglected it ever since I fell in love with a hexipuff. Since it is knit using alpaca lace yarn, I need good lighting and a lot of patience. No instant gratification with this project.

When I get home from vacation, I will have to start right in on the Mystery Knit a Long. Did you decide to join the fun?

Cambodia, along the Mekong River

We boarded our river boat that will become our 'home' for a week. It felt good to unpack and settle in. It is a new boat, I think this is the 6th voyage - another sign of the increasing popularity of tourism along the Mekong.

It was surreal as we boarded, local people stood around and watched us get off the buses and board the boat. It is not the usual town for the boat to dock, since the flood caused us to modify our route - so it was like a huge local event.

Today we visited a village where we could walk around and see how they live. There is a small organization that tries to teach the kids English and encourages the adults to do local crafts. We saw a woman weaving cotton scarves, so you can guess what I bought before I left - yes, one of her scarves.

We then visited a Buddhist temple, where the nuns were celebrating the end of the rainy season. At that same location in the mid 1970's, the Khmer Rouge conducted interrogations in the temple - and the executions at an area nearby. We stood on the site of the executions - one of the many 'Killing Fields' - and I just wonder how we as a human race keep allowing massacres like this to happen.

Back to the boat for lunch and life jacket drill - the last stop for the day was a weaving village. This village could teach classes in sales and marketing. As we walked through the mud and tried to avoid piles of cow poop, the kids were asking what is your name, where are you from, etc. We went into several homes that were weaving silk and cotton blends, and cotton.

They can't afford to buy the silk thread to weave only silk due to inflation. Their looms are amazing, compared to the nice neat ones we use in the US. Just a pile of wood and bamboo, that create lovely cloth.

Check out these little boys pretending to ride horses with palm stems.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We flew Vietnam Airlines to Siem Reap, Cambodia, no problems except the usual knitter's dilemma when flying - to knit or not to knit. I chose wrong, hoping to work on some hexipuffs while flying. You can guess what happened, my needles were not allowed on the plane, so I lost one set of US size 4 knit picks metal tips. I wonder if the wooden tips would have been allowed? (No worries tho, I had a set of wooden tips in my checked bag, so I am back in business!).

Siem Reap, Cambodia is the site of many ancient temples, including the famous Angkor Wat. We spent three nights at the Sofitel Angkor, a luxurious hotel in the middle of a very poor country.

Each day we visited several temples, including the temple where the Laura Croft movie Tomb Raider was filmed. It was very hot, and combined with the humidity, and each day was a sweaty adventure.

When we drive through the country, on bumpy dirt roads, the living conditions of the people in the country is shocking. One room shacks in the dirt, maybe a scrawny cow and a few chickens. Our local guide says that people are happy, compared to the days when they were ruled by Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. Tourism is new here, and they are happy to see us and to provide services to the tourists.

We visited a small orphanage, where the children put on a little dance for us. They were learning English, and one boy showed me the boys' sleeping area, he was so proud of their bedroom, where the boys sleep 3-4 in a bed and each have a little cubby with their clothes. A husband and wife run the home, with 34 kids, some orphans, some abandoned at temples, several with HIV. I could see my own children and grandchildren in their faces, and just wanted to wrap them in my arms and take them home. Instead, we buy their paintings as a way to contribute money and tell them how good they speak English.

Outside the temple grounds, where the bus would park, we were surrounded by people selling all kinds of Cambodian items - "madam, I have a nice scarf for you, only $3 American dollar". It was hard to resist the children, who spoke good English, so we all ended up with scarves and bracelets for a few dollars.

I bought bamboo bracelets from a 16 year old girl, who walked with me to the bus. It was the weekend, so she wasn't in school - she told me all about the US, "Your capital Washington DC, Mr. Obama is your president, he has 2 daughters Sasha and Malia". TanMan was carrying my money that day, so I had to wait for him to pay her. I called to him, saying his name, and then he was surrounded by kids calling him to.. "mr. Reek, please buy from me!" It was a crazy mob, but it made me laugh like crazy.

The smiles of these kids just tugs at your heart - even the older, gruff men on our tour can't resist buying things.

Yesterday we had the afternoon on our own, so 6 of us went to the Old Market, where you can buy anything. We all had foot massages, for $5.00, that lasted one hour. It was an wonderful treat after traipsing through the temples for days, and we had a ball doing it together. We had dinner in the city too, but most of us passed on local food. I had a cheese pizza, but TanMan, who is a adventurous eater, had a local dish with shrimp.

At this point, I am tired of pho, a vietnamese dish of noodles and broth, and Cambodian rice dishes. We have continental breakfast at the hotel each day, which has local breakfast items, and breakfast items preferred by their travelers, including American, Japanese and European breakfast dishes. I love these meals and make it my main meal of the day.

So far, neither of us have gotten sick. We only drink bottled water or pop in a can, no ice cubes! We use bottled water to brush our teeth too, but you can't help think it is just a matter of time before we eat something that isn't right.

This morning we have on our own, then we have a 4 hour bus trip to get our boat. I went into town alone to get a facial for $6.00. The local transportation is Tuk-Tuk, a motor scooter pulling a cart.

Unfortunately the flooded river waters in Thailand have made it to Siem Reap, and the market was flooded. My Tuk-Tuk driver took me to a different place, then waited the hour it took for my facial. Then he brought me back to the hotel. The facial was wonderful, the best part was when she had a fresh cucumber and was slicing thin pieces to cover my face.

Now we take the bus for a 4 hour ride to the boat, our home for the next week. More flooded countryside and incredible poverty.

Halong Bay in northern Vietnam

Note: I have limited access to internet, so I am writing these posts in installments, and will publish them once I get Internet! Forgive me if the timing doesn't make sense!

We left Hanoi by bus to visit Halong Bay. It was only about 100 miles away, but took 4 hours because you can't travel very fast on the roads, which are shared by bicycles and many, many motor bikes.

Since tourism is so new to Vietnam, Halong Bay is just starting to be busy. There were quite a few junks on the water, and a few hotels in the town, but I can envision in a few years this will be a very popular tourism site. Halong Bay is in competition to be named by Unesco as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.

At Halong Bay we boarded a wooden boat or "junk", where we spent a day and a half. It was a wonderful experience moving around the bay which has over 3000 huge islands of limestone.

This is a junk.

The highlight for me was a visit to a "floating village". We took a tender there, then boarded a floating platform and waited for small fishing boats to arrive. We carefully boarded the fishing boats, only 2-4 of us in each boat, and were paddled around the village by a local person.

It is a fishing village, where Vietnamese people have lived for generations - fishing and selling the fish at market. It was hard to imagine living like that- yet after the kids go away to school, many choose to return and continue their life of fishing.

As we waited on the floating platform, I was shocked to see Chinese police monitoring the process. Apparently, the Chinese have decided that the ocean to the east of Vietnam is Chinese owned - obviously a concern and ongoing threat to Vietnam.

We visited another island and a woman paddled her boat in the rain to try to sell us pearls while we were on the tender. Since my middle name is Pearl, I couldn't resist, so I bought a string of pinkish pearls for $15. About an hour later we were in our cabin packing, and she was outside our window, trying to make another sale. TanMan decided to buy some for his daughter, so once again we tried to negotiate a sale with a non-English speaking person -I think he ended up with a longer string for $25 or so.

Halong Bay was a haunting place to visit, feeling like a place from times gone by. I loved it there and loved the experience of staying on a wooden junk.

Next: back to Hanoi airport and a flight on Vietnam Airlines to Siem Reap, Cambodia.