Monday, July 21, 2008

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Picture 056, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

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Picture 100, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Chenrezig (Avolokiteshira) Buddha of Compassion, Ganden Monastery, Ulan Bator, Mongolia

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Picture 105, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Monk at Ganden Monastery, Ulan Bator, Mongolia

Mongolia, Day 1

I didn't think I would have time for computer stuff once I got here but our apartment isn't particularly close to tourist sights so there's not much for us to do after dinner. I'm at the internet cafe on the ground floor of our building. We have just today and tomorrow to get in our sightseeing before heading off to the field site to work. Out of our group of six only two of us had done much reading about what to do in UB so we sort of pointed the way. Personally I don't understand just showing up in a strange city and asking "So what is there to see here?" I'm also the only one who brought a phrase book, which has already proven to be essential here.

Catching a cab to the main square was our first challenge-- turns out my pronunciation of the Mongolian name was terrible. It took us forever to get someone who would take us. There were large groups of people on an arm of the road and all sorts of buses, taxis, and unmarked cars (regular people making extra cash by offering an unofficial taxi). They would pull up and yell out their destinations, at which point people would come running from the waiting crowds to pile in. We just say our destination to anyone who would listen and ended up taking an unoffical cab. From there we stuck to the Lonely Plant's walking tour which allowed us to take in a few temples and monasteries, the Natural History Museum, the main square, and my first Indian-Mexican restaurant. Now we're back and chilling out.

Ulan Bator is more run down than I imagined and even more Soviet looking (architecturally) than I expected. Once you make it out of the central city though you start seeing more typical mongolian-style housing which is much nicer on the eyes.

People are a little reserved, but not standoffish. So far my attempts at Mongolian have successfully won us cab rides to the correct destination and bowls of dumpling soup-- hooray!

OK, must go now-- wish me luck in the Gobi!

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Picture 038, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Fermented mares milk-- airag-- mmm mmm good!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Almost there...

I'm in the Incheon Airport in Seoul right now waiting for my connecting flight to Ulaan Baatar. The newly opened Concourse A is pretty nifty with the best perk yet--- free high speed internet! With lots of groovy laptops and cute little cafe seats to enjoy it from. I also just enjoyed a foot massage and a shower (not free) which was much needed.

I have to say, I didn't really feel like I was a world traveller until last week when I had to get extra pages added to my passport-- extra pages! Since that day, two Thursdays back, I've been exhausted from travelling. We live a four hour bus ride from Chiang Mai, which is where I had to go to get the pages at the US Consulate and to secure a visa for China at the Chinese consulate (a whole other story). A few days after that we went on our little trip to Sukhothai (described below) and then two days later took off to Chiang Mai again. Although my flight didn't leave until Saturday night we came Thursday since Al had some days off from work due to a religious holiday.

We decided to take it easy in town, just doing our own walking tours with a lot of window shopping and temple hopping. It was a lot of fun but I was already tired before even leaving for the airport. I had some complications also because I bought my flight to Seoul and my flight to Mongolia at separate times so in Chiang Mai they wouldn't check my luggage all the way through. When I connected in Bangkok I had to get my luggage and check it in again, this time they were put through to UB. Then we had an overnight flight to Seoul, leaving at 11:30 at night and arriving at 6:30 am. It wasn't the best flight-- I have a number of complaints about Korean Airlines that I won't get into now but on this particular flight two things stood out. At 3:30 am they decided to have breakfast service! Lights on, hollering and banging, everyone wake up and eat. Seriously? It was 3:30 Korea time and 1:30 Bangkok time--- no one needed breakfast. We landed 2 hours after everything was cleaned up. Could the timing have been better maybe? I think so. Also, the man next to me wanted to switch and have my window seat (as translated by the flight attendant) I said no. I was polite, smiled, and explained that I took the time to request my seat early and was not inclined to switch. But she didn't explain to him why I said no, even when I asked her to please do, so the guy was pissed at me the rest of the flight. Look dude, check in early or call the airline yourself, don't harass other passengers for better seats. Grrr...

Then came the part I've been worrying about-- touchdown in Seoul. Here's the thing-- I just got paid two days ago into my Korean bank account. There are two possible ways for me to get this money--- by myself in Korea (difficult for me) or making a friend in Korea get it and transfer it to me (very annoying for them), I hoped and hoped there would be an ATM in the Seoul terminal where I could simply withdraw the cash and then exchange it for another currency-- after all Bangkok airport had ATM machines in the terminals, every international airport I've ever been to has cash machines in the terminals, Korea will too, right? I had this niggling thing in the back of my mind, I didn't remember seeing any the last time I went through. Sure enough, no, no cash machines within the terminal (but there are foreign exchange kiosks). I had to truck through immigration, get my cash on the other side and then-- wait three hours to be let back in because the ticketing desks on the other side weren't open yet (I had a six hour layover) fun, fun! Can't wait to do it again on my way back through.

Ah well, the shower and massage helped a lot-- almost there!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

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IMG_0606, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Wat Si Chum, Sukhothai Historical Park

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IMG_0594, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

My favorite!
Wat Si Chum, Sukhothai Historical Park

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IMG_0558, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Al, Wat Si Sawai, Sukhothai Historical Park

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IMG_0625, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Wat Chang Lor, Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai

We had a great time during our short trip to Sukhothai. If we had a car it would have taken around an hour to drive to it from Uttaradit but we took the bus which took two hours since it made so many stops. Unfortunately, most road signs do not have any English so we weren't able to keep track of what towns we were going through. Sometimes it was hard to figure out if the spots people were standing in at the side of the road were actual bus stops or if people could just flag down the bus anywhere.

We paid 120 baht (about $3.50) to get there on an aircon bus and half that to get back on a fan bus.

We came into New Sukhothai around dinner time and enjoyed some delicious sausage sandwiches at our guesthouse, J and J guesthouse before going exploring. Regular rooms were booked so we splurged on a bungalow for 900 baht with aircon. J and J had mixed reviews on the web so I wasn't expecting much but it was really quite nice. Staff spoke English and were friendly, the restaurant had extensive Thai and Western options and opened at 7 am, and our room was great. There was a pool as well but it rained the rest of that day.

Bungalows at J and J Guesthouse, Sukhothai.

We wandered around town a bit but there wasn't much to see. Since Sukhothai is so much bigger than Uttaradit I expected there to be a lot of bars and things to do but that was not the case at all-- in fact, the whole town seemed rather rundown. We woke up early the next morning to see the star attraction-- Old Sukhothai.

I won't rehash the whole history, if you're interested-- google it yourself! (Although, all the websites I found were pretty disappointing) I had done a fair amount of reading on the site when I took a course on Urban Archaeology in school so it was cool to finally visit it for real.

We hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the park and drive us around for the day. I'm glad we opted to hire a driver rather than rent bikes as the site was 12 kilometers away and then really spread out-- it is the ruins of a whole city after all! It was also extremely hot that day-- so the ride was nice. After more than three hours of sightseeing we were pretty worn out and finally headed back-- nice little trip! This is one of the reasons why we moved here-- now we get to see these sights at a leisurely pace, a little at a time, and really get to know this country. We're looking forward to more of these little adventures.

All of my pictures are on my Flickr page as usual but above are my favorites.
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

2 weeks in...

... and it feels like home.

Since I don't have my own transportation I hang out in the house all day while Al's at work-- unpacking, arranging and rearranging things, reading and studying for Mongolia, watching things on the net, and basically chilling out! It's pretty nice after what was a stressful last few months in Korea.

Al gets home between 3 and 5 and we usually take off on the motorbike to grab some food or groceries. We do not stock up on a lot of groceries at once because we have a small fridge and an open kitchen which easily attracts bugs. It's ok though, because then we eat a lot of fresh food. Thai food is delicious and cheap and most Western staples are available at the grocery store. On a really hot day (it's been in the 90's as this is the hot season) we go to the big hotel in town to use the swimming pool. We have a kiddie pool as well to chill out in at home.

Our time in Uttaradit will definitely be low-key-- really low-key-- as far as a social life goes, but there is fun to be had here.

We went walking down a dirt road with our flashlights in the dark the other night by the rice paddies but then turned around after we realized there were buffaloes out near us and our flashlights weren't really powerful enough for a night hike.

Checking out the weird bugs and other creatures we find around the house are also a constant source of amusement.

Our friends like to go fishing so we can join them anytime.

There are bars here-- open, wooden, rickety ones and bizzare 70s flashback ones with broken pool tables. So, that's fun.

There are a bunch of things to see around here so we won't run out of local attractions anytime soon. Today we went back to the Sila-at Temple (Wat) that we went to my first weekend and had a leisurely afternoon there. I'll post pics and more details about that in another post.

Al has some days off this week because of school events and a public holiday so we will go to Sukhotai for a day or two and Chiang Mai for a couple of days before I leave for Mongolia--- fun fun!

More later.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Uttaradit Tourist Map

This is the best map I've found on the web yet. We live in the capital city, Muang Uttaradit.
clipped from www.tourismmart.com
Uttaradit
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Saturday, July 5, 2008

My pathetic Chinese abilities...

I studied Mandarin Chinese as an undergrad from 1998-2002 and have been on and off trying to keep it up since. I always struggled with the language and have never had much confidence in it but haven't given up yet. I always try to emphasize that I study Chinese, not speak Chinese. Some people, with the kindest intentions, I know, tell others that I speak Chinese. Word of this inevitably reaches Mandarin speakers which leads to embarrassing conversations where I quickly exhaust my vocabulary and grammatical range. I spoke Chinese most fluently during the semester I lived in Singapore in 2001. I have hired tutors for a few months at a time when I had money and free time (relatively) or had language partners. However, these episodes were usually more review and catch-up for me so I really haven't gone past a certain point in years. If language learning always has its plateaus, you can say that I have been on a very, very long one. I've been really discouraged lately, but I keep trying to tell myself that even if I keep this snail's pace for another ten years, surely I'll be better off than if I give up!

It looks like I'll have some good opportunities here. I will apparently be employed by the newly created International College at the university which is dedicated to language and culture instruction. Most of their new teachers are Chinese and their Thai teachers all speak varying degrees of Mandarin as well. Our school has scores of students speaking the language and a few hundred exchange students from China. Al (with the best intentions of course) told everyone that I speak Chinese so I have already been introduced to several of these teachers and students. My new boss was also really hoping I could teach introductory level Mandarin as well so the other teachers could be free to teach more advanced courses! I'm doing my best to politely decline.

Anyway, it is really good a thing-- I need to get over my nervousness of speaking in Mandarin-- here's my opportunity!

It's about time I move from my internet studying to more speaking and listening, as I really am rusty.

Anyway, if any readers are studying Chinese, check out these sites-- my favorite resources:
Chinese Pod -free 10-15 minute lessons at varying levels, pay accounts gain you access to more study materials.
Yellowbridge - their flashcard database is a great way to structure your character study-- also easy to fit into lunch breaks and put idle time at the computer to good use.
Zhongwen -my favorite online dictionary
Chinese Perapera-kun --an add-on for Firefox, this is a nifty pop-up translator, run over Chinese characters on any website and see instant dictionary translations

Of course, the real test of my ability will be next month, when I spend a few days in Beijing visiting my friends. Yes, I will be there during the Olympics, but I probably will not be attending any events.

I have a serious dilemma with this one. Of course, I would love to go and do have access to tickets through friends but, as my friends and family know, I have been involved with Tibetan organizations in the past and support their bid for autonomy. Although the Dalai Lama is encouraging people not to boycott the Olympics, many other pro-Tibet organizations are, for obvious reasons. Either way, I will be disappointing either Chinese or Tibetan friends, which makes me sad.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

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IMG_0827, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Behind our house.

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IMG_0826, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Our house.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My first big outing...

As towns here are rather small, shooting over to another one is pretty easy. We stopped by for a short visit to this wat (temple) that happened to be having a performance. (photos in separate posts below) It's called Wihara Watphratansila Asana- when I find out what that means, I'll let you know. I'll definitely be going back there as the grounds were large and we weren't able to walk around much. There is also a small museum there I'd like to check out. For more pictures of this wat, visit this guy's site.

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IMG_0803, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Inside Wihara Watphratansila Asana. You can buy little bits of gold leaf and apply them to the statues.

Laplae, Uttaradit Province, Thailand

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IMG_0799, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

A close up of the show. Thai performers with a traditional orchestra behind them. Wihara Watphratansila Asana, Laplae, Uttaradit, Thailand.

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IMG_0807, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Traditional theater at a Buddhist temple called Wihara Watphratansila-asana in Laplae.

Ready, Set, Go!

Well, here I am, day three in Uttaradit. Where do I begin? For starters, I plan on using this blog not just to post about my personal experiences, but also to share resources about Thailand and archaeology as I come across them. For this reason I will employ "tags" to organize my posts. If you're family, and only interested in checking in on what's going on in my life, just look for the posts tagged "personal" and ignore the rest. As always, I will feature my favorite photos on this blog but all of them can be viewed on my Flickr page.

I flew into Chiang Mai late Friday night on a direct flight from Seoul (5 hours). Al was waiting there, tired after a five hour train ride (which was 3 hours delayed) and so we just shot over to our hotel to pass out for the night. We stayed at a cute guesthouse called Smile, recommended in the Lonely Planet. It was old but had a nice, cozy atmosphere. According to Lonely Planet it was an old hideout for Chinese opium smugglers-- cool! I saw my first starfruit tree there. There was no chance for sleeping in as the resident parrots decided our early start. We decided to head straight for Uttaradit-- we'll spend time touring Chiang Mai at a later date. We caught a comfortable bus which was actually faster than the train (4 hours instead of five) and relaxed while watching the jungle and farms go by.

Uttaradit is a pretty small city, but the provincial capital, so relatively well stocked with stores and activities. Right now we're getting around on Al's motorbike until we get international licenses and can buy a car. As there's a bike lane, and low traffic, it's pretty safe driving. We can cross the whole town in about 15-20 minutes.

We have a condo-type home out near the train station, in a cul-de-sac off the main town road. On our street are two huge homes and our row of 4 condos. We have a gated entrance/driveway and a small backyard with concrete walls. Right now the yard's covered in weeds but the landlady has promised grass soon. The place is two-story with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Of course, Thai style housing is different from in the West. A lot of people here live in wooden stilt homes, ours is concrete and Western-style but has a lot of parts that are open to the outdoors, which is more Thai-style. For this reason, we have to share our house with geckos. I don't mind though because they're cute and they eat all the bugs that I presume are also making their way in. I haven't caught one yet but Al assures me that they tire easily-- once I chase one long enough I'll catch it. :-) We use fans and only have AC in the bedroom. The top rooms all have balconies and huge windows so the breeze helps a lot too. Our landlady speaks English, which is great, and she has helped us with everything like getting Internet and stuff like that. The place is furnished, which has also been a great help in getting settled. I think Al did a great job in picking out a place for us!

He's already shown me around quite a bit including the most important part-- the best cafe!

We went out with Matt and Jiyoung (Al's friends who got us the jobs here) to a lake and temple in a neighboring town. So far, so good.

Al took me to school today to meet everyone. The university is Uttaradit Rajabhat University; it's quite nice. I won't know until September or October what exactly I will be teaching but they are already talking to me about how I can get involved in local archaeology.

As far as wildlife goes, this region was once rich in native Thai species, but, like everywhere in the world, sightings of some animals have gone down. The most exciting thing I've seen yet is a few Myna birds in our backyard.

OK, this is it for now. I'm glad to finally be here!