Friday, April 29, 2005

Kevin, his roomates, and their girlfriends enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Joy and I. You actually cooked the meat on the table and then wrapped it in a lettuce leaf filled with spices at this restaurant. It was delicious! Kevin really showed us a good time while we were visiting Korea. He's truly a good friend. Thanks Bro!

An elegant woman (on the left) in an elegant tearoom.

The national folk museum was beautiful on the outside as well as being extremely educational.

Unfortunately when we went to the largest palace in Seoul it was raining.

We encountered some really beautiful stuff in Korea such as this ceremony we happened upon at one of the temples

While we were in Korea we stayed with our friend Kevin from San Angelo. He's teaching English over there and has many friends that are also English teachers. We felt almost at home amongst so many westerners, and although I don't know exactly what he was thinking Kevin's actions seem to imply something along these lines. He's the one holding up the fork and ketchup, if it wern't so westernized there perhaps he'd be holding chopsticks!

Sorry for the wait

Sorry for the wait for the next blog, I haven't found a computer that will allow me to upload pictures for a while now. I hope to change the meathod I use to update the blog so that when I do find a good computer I will be able to update a lot very quickly. It may not be as pretty though so I appologize ahead of time. Anyway until then just know that Joy and I are having a great time. We've been to Korea, China, and Japan since I last updated the blog. We are currently in England. I hope I will be able to upload pictures soon, until then sorry for the wait!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Hong Kong is one the most complex cities I’ve ever experienced. I had expectations of a sprawling city completely covering the island that I knew Hong Kong was situated on. Once more my preconceived ideas were shattered by reality.

The first indication that my ideas were misguided were when we got out of the airport and were surrounded by beautiful green mountains. The double decker bus ride into the area where we had booked our hostel was no less stunning. The landscapes of Hong Kong are obviously similar to the inspiration for the antique Chinese paintings we have often run across, where the mountains, rivers and coasts are always much larger than the houses, people and boats that mix seamlessly into the backdrop. Hong Kong, even with it’s enormous buildings and huge population still seems to be harmoniously set into nature.

When we arrived at our hostel, we exited the bus into the Hong Kong of the movies. A crowded bustle of people engulfed us and immediately began trying to sell us a room in what seemed to be a hundred different guest houses in the same building. We had already booked a room in a guesthouse at the Mirador Mansion building, but even telling the hustlers over and over that we already had a room didn’t faze them. They tried to direct us to the wrong elevator to get us to the floor with their rooms, and lied telling us things like the New Garden Guest House (where our rooms were booked) was the same as the Lilly Garden Guest House (another of the countless guest houses in the building). When we eventually did get our room we didn’t know what to think about it. It was nice because it had it’s own bathroom and window looking out from the 13th floor, but it was also incredibly small. When I lay down on the bed my head touched one wall and my feet the other, and the bathtub was so small Joy couldn’t even sit in it comfortably.

We explored the area around our hostel, which I can only describe as Honk Kong’s seedy underbelly, before we found our way to Honk Kong Island. The Island is the wealthiest place I’ve ever been. There are so many tall buildings that they collectively mask their own magnitude. One of the tallest, eighty-eight floors, blends in with the others so well that you don’t realize that if you saw it in another city it would make the other buildings look like termite mounds (I think the tallest building in Seoul, Korea is sixty-three floors). It was also incredibly clean, almost sterile. We walked around for about an hour before we realized that there actually were restaurants around us, but they were neatly hidden inside the buildings. There were no obtrusive signs cluttering the beautiful exterior of the pristine buildings.

We eventually found our way to a restaurant, Hong Kong park, and up on the peak (an area that on clear days allows a view of the entire Island). It was not a clear day so all we saw was Fog. It was appropriate, we didn’t realize it but we were still only seeing Honk Kong from a haze. We did not experience the true Hong Kong until we met up with Raymond and Jessica Tang.

We met Raymond and Jessica while we were snorkeling in Cairns. They were vacationing from their hectic lives in Hong Kong and just happened to sit in front of us on the boat out to the reef. When they found out we were going to Hong Kong soon they exchanged email addresses with us and gave us their phone number to contact them while we were there. They were part of a club in Hong Kong that provided them with many discounts in dining etc. around town, and offered to let us use their discount for a five star hotel in Hong Kong (a benefit they obviously had little use for since they had a flat). It was a wonderful offer, it would have been about sixty dollars a night for a one hundred eighty dollar room, but even sixty seemed out of our budget. In hindsight we probably should have taken the room, considering what we stayed in.

We wanted to take Raymond and Jessica out to eat for their generosity, but when we contacted them we found them to be even more generous. They invited us to stay with them our last night in Hong Kong and took us out that day to see it from their eyes. The city they showed us was wonderful. We went out to eat at wonderful restaurants, they took us to beautiful beaches (yes there are beaches on Hong Kong Island), led us through intricate networks of shopping areas woven throughout the massive buildings, and finished the evening with a wonderful glass of wine at their home.

The Tangs went well above and beyond common courtesy, they even let us sleep in their own bed while they slept in Raymonds parents room (his parents were on a trip to Thailand). I do not remember ever experiencing such hospitality, and we owe them a large debt of gratitude for demonstrating the true beauty of Hong Kong.

Tanner Noguess

Friday, April 08, 2005

Bangkok, Chiang Mai

First off I have to apologize for being so far behind on the blog. It is very difficult to find time to write when we are experiencing so much. It is also very hard to consistently find internet connections.

Having said that Thailand provided many interesting experiences. When we first arrived we had no idea what to expect, except that Joy had read to take a meter taxi rather than the many offers we received at set prices. That was definitely good advise as they were offering to take us into Bangkok for 600 baht (about $15) which sounds about right for a taxi until you get used to the economy. Our metered taxi cost 55 baht and our driver was very happy to get a 5 baht tip so the ride ended up costing 60 baht ($1.50). Quite a bit of difference Thailand is, for the most part, extremely cheep. Our room cost 350 baht a night, 400 after we upgraded to air conditioning. That comes to about $10 a night, not bad.

Bangkok is a city with extreme duality. Our first impression was that it was dirty, polluted and impoverished. There were street venders selling food and wares on every inch of most sidewalks. If you were willing to chance it (we weren’t) you could eat a meal for 50 cents. The tap water was undrinkable (due to high chlorine we found out) but bottled water was cheap. And you wouldn’t believe how inexpensive you could haggle the products down, if you were good. At the same time the sky train and subway systems are incredible. They make the subway in New York look like a rickety old covered wagon. There are also multi story shopping centers that contain every name brand that we can’t afford, and ultra posh movie theaters on the top floor (we went to one on the seventh). Apparently Bangkok was becoming quite an economic power before the worldwide recession in the ninties.

Our first days were not spent on the nicer parts of town. We took a hop on/hop off river tour full of interesting stops. At one of the stops we wanted to go to the national museum, but found it closed. There was a “helpful” guy outside that said that he had wanted to go to the museum too, he suggested we go see the tall Buddha, the sitting Buddha, and when he found out that we were thinking of going to Chiang Mai suggested we go to a certain travel center close to the area. He also gave us advise on taking the tuk tuk’s (three wheel taxi), pay no more than 50 baht for a long ride where the driver will wait on you. He then caught us one and spoke to the driver in Thai, getting the driver to take us to four stops and wait for us for 50 baht. We didn’t realize what the traffic would be like. We saw all the sights, but after the end of an hour and a half sitting in the exhaust of cars with no catalytic converters, and being unable to communicate that we just wanted to go back to the museum and skip the last stops, we did finally made it back. Joy was of course starving and not feeling very well.

Standing Buddha

Tuk Tuk

On a later stop we went to a monastery called Wat Pho where we saw the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, and some really cool architecture.

Reclining Buddha

Foot View

Wat Pho

The next day toured one of the royal palaces (no longer used by the royal family) and watched some Thai dancing and traditional martial arts demonstration.

Thai Dance

Traditional Martial Arts

Later we went to see a real Thai boxing match. It was very exciting, Joy even enjoyed it. The boxers were quite a bit smaller than American boxers (the highest weight class of the evening was 118lbs) but the sport allows kicks, knees, and elbows, which makes it quite brutal. At the same time there was always traditional Thai music in the background that the boxers would bob and sway to that made it very artistic. The music would get faster and more intense along with the fight, and the crowd would make a noise every time the boxer they were rooting for scored a hit. Consequently it sounded as if the room would sway as they traded strikes hoo...haa...hoo...haa. We ended up seeing seven fights total, most of them went to decisions, but there were two knockouts. In Thai boxing a knockout is really a knockout, they carried them out on stretchers.

Thai Boxing

Joy had been fighting a cold for a couple of days, so we decided to spend the next day resting and letting her get to feeling better.

After some much needed R & R we went to shopping at the Bangkok Night Bizarre and watched an amazing performance of traditional puppetry.

The next day was spent shopping at Bangkok’s largest market (12,000 booths) where we bought a few gifts, shopping at the nice stores downtown (where we couldn’t afford anthing), then on a night train to Chiang Mai. We slept well on the ride, it felt as if we were being rocked to sleep in our curtained bunks.

In Chiang Mai we decided to spring for a nice room (we finally had our own bathroom), and it was like having a little slice of Heaven. I spent a nice long time trimming my beard until it was just right (you never can get them perfect), and taking a shower. Then we were off to the Chiang Mai weekend market, it’s amazing how much stuff is for sale in Thailand.

The next day we went to another smallish temple where I got to speak to a real Buddhist monk. I think I really amused him because the profound question I was pondering was quite easy to answer. “How are the robes worn, it seems to be quite an art the way they are folded to permit use of both arms?” He laughed and demonstrated folding the outer robe. He then asked if we would like to visit the Temple on the mountain. We decided to go and he secured us a Taxi.

Talking to Monks

The mountain temple was very interesting. There is supposedly a relic contained in the central pagoda. One of Buddha’s bones. The view was amazing although in the heat of the season (it was sweltering in Thailand) the smoggy haze was not blown away from the city. They say at other times it is quite clear.

Staircase to the Temple



After the ride to and from the temple we napped for a while in our ultra comfortable room then went out to the night market. I have to say by this time we were getting a little burned out on markets.

The next day we went on what they called a trek. We were taken out into the country in a van with a lot of other tourists where we hiked up a strenuous hill to a somewhat primitive tribe of refugees that were apparently persecuted in China and allowed to live in the national park in Thailand.

Indiana Jones?

Refugee Tribe

Next we were driven over to an elephant camp where Joy and I shared a seat on the back of a truly enormous creature. We could feel it’s amazing strength as it plodded along, we were no more of a load, than a woman’s purse to the giant. I think our muscles were more taxed just holding on to the seat.

Need a Shower?

Coming in for a Landing


After a delicious meal provided by what seemed to be a large family (I really don’t think it was a full time restaurant) we were off to another tribe. I spent two dollars and fifty cents on a hand woven shawl that must have taken two days to make, and was swarmed by children trying to sell me hand made necklaces for 5 baht (about 13 cents).

Hand Weaving


The final stops on the trip were spent in the water. We went swimming at a waterfall, then riding in a bamboo raft steered by a driver with a pole.

Under a Waterfall

See Ya' Later

Our final days in Thailand were uneventful. An overnight train ride, and a night at our familiar hostel, before flying off to Hong Kong.

Tanner Noguess