Signoff

December 24, 2009

Looking back on our trip, some things seem surreal. Did we really do that? We’re already starting to forget some of the details of the things we experienced. We’re glad that we have many photos, a journal, and this blog to help us remember.

People we meet ask us, “What was your favourite country”? We find this impossible to answer. Rather than a particular country, it’s been more about the individual experiences that we’ve had and the people that we’ve met. We started to compile a highlight list, but the first cut had over fifty items on it! Trimming it down to a top ten list would be very difficult.

This is the first time we’ve written a blog, and it’s been great. It was more work than we expected, but definitely worth the effort. We thought that it would be a way for family and friends to stay connected with us, and it has been that. It has also been a terrific way for us to stay connected with you. We’ve been able to share our experiences, thoughts, and emotions and get feedback as we go. It’s like you’ve come along on the trip with us. This has been a great comfort at times, especially for Diane. It’s ironic that while we’ve been travelling we’ve had more interaction with some people (generally those who don’t live near Vancouver) than we would probably have had if we’d been at home. We’d like to keep up these communications when we get home.

We’ve met many people while traveling. In a few cases, this has developed into friendships. We hope to maintain and enhance these going forward, rather than see them fade over time. We will do our best to not let the pressures of day-to-day life get in the way.

We are planning to do some presentations about our trip. We have lots of stories and photos that we’d like to share, many of which didn’t make it into the blog. We’ll be sure to let you all know when and where.

Looking back, Diane was surprised how many times she’s voluntarily done things that were beyond her comfort zone (canyoneering in Petra, rock climbing in Wadi Rum, tracking black rhino on foot in Zimbabwe, riding motorcycles in the Himalaya, spelunking in Laos, etc.) For a while she kept asking, “How did I get myself into this, again?” In these situations the expression “Bloody Hell” unconsciously become a new part of her vocabulary. Does she regret having done them? No. But would she do them again if she had the chance? Probably. In fact, Diane has already said that she’d be open to doing another trip like this in the future.

People are already asking, “What are you going to do next?” We have ideas, but no specific plans yet. We came home with a to-do list of over 100 items, which includes both the urgent things necessary to move forward with our lives, as well as making decisions about our future. We definitely want to travel again – South America, Central America, Europe, Australia, Canada and The United States. So many amazing places and so little time.

Travelling has been an education. We learned about the world, humanity, culture, religion, relationships, and most importantly, about ourselves. There is much more to see and experience, and we still have a lot to learn.

We feel truly fortunate to have had this opportunity. Thank you for all your emails and comments along with way. Sharing our journey with you made it even more rewarding.

Your humble bloggers,
Diane and Patrick King


Travel Quotes

December 24, 2009

Here are some inspiring travel quotes. They weren’t written by us, but they’re impressive nonetheless:

1. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

2. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

3. “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

4. “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” – John Steinbeck

5. “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

6. “All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” – Samuel Johnson

7. “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

8. “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

9.“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

10. “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

11. “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

12. “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru

13. “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux

14. “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

15.“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” – Robert Frost

16. “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

17. “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

18. “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain

19. “Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

20. “Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

21. “Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

22. “I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” – Lillian Smith

23. “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

24. “Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins


Things we’ve learned while traveling

December 24, 2009

We’ve learned a lot while traveling. We have seen and experienced so much that it’s hard to process everything, but here are some of the things that we think that we will stick with us….

  • How to sleep in our clothes.
  • How to ride an elephant.
  • How to make Tibetan and Thai food.
  • Things are never quite what we expect, but are always interesting in their own way and we are frequently surprised.
  • Potato chips come in many weird flavours in other parts of the world, for example seaweed, tomato sauce, buttered corn, masala, ham and cheese.
  • There is virtually no limit to the number of times one’s sandals can be repaired.
  • A family of five and their dog can ride on a single motor scooter.
  • Being a foreigner is sometimes an advantage, but never in the pocketbook.
  • You can never have too much toilet paper or mosquito repellant.
  • We can live much more simply than we do. We have way too much stuff.
  • We are extremely fortunate to have been born and to live in Canada.
  • When we work together, we’re a very strong team.
  • Our comfort zone expands quickly to adapt to our environment.
  • We can say ‘no’ to people in desperate need, but we often feel guilty afterwards.
  • Domestic animals have a really poor life in the third world.
  • In the third world, a soft mattress is hard to find.
  • It’s significantly more expensive to travel in Africa than in India. South East Asia costs a bit more than India.
  • Traveling in Africa was the most difficult, followed by India and Egypt which are about the same in difficulty. By comparison, it is relatively easy to travel in Jordan, Nepal, and South East Asia.
  • Eat where and what the locals eat. Street food is much cheaper and often better.
  • Traveling is better than working.
  • Everyone speaks more languages than Canadians do.
  • Local transportation is always cheaper if you walk away from the bus or train station or the tourist attraction first.
  • Not all 3-wheelers are created equal. There are many varieties and configurations in Asia. The tuk-tuks in Thailand, with front shocks and rear springs, are deluxe compared to those in India.
  • Traveling light is the only way to go. Sometimes even a small pack seems like too much.
  • Taking with a small notebook computer was a great idea.
  • Television is a brain sucking device. When we have it, we watch it. When we don’t have it, we don’t miss it. Perhaps we’re addicted, because despite this, we’re nowhere near ready to give it up.
  • White people want to be darker and dark people want to be whiter.
  • Sunscreen is expensive everywhere because only white people and wealthy Asians use it.
  • Seeing sights is a bit like collecting things. Having experiences and developing relationships is much more rewarding.
  • Life is short. We are all dying. Time is our most precious commodity. We should therefore spend our time doing things we are passionate about.
  • We don’t own our possessions. We are just their custodians for a period of time.
  • Worry is an energy drain. If we can fix something, there is no need to worry about it. If we can’t fix it, there is also no need to worry.
  • Life is lived on the edge. Calculated risk taking and actively pursuing our fears is where we live our richest lives.
  • We can be together 24×7 for a very long time and still want to be together.
  • We really love and appreciate our family and friends. We have a lot of people who love us.

Things we’re looking forward to when we return

December 14, 2009

Over the last ten months we’ve had some amazing experiences, but we’ve also missed many of the comforts of home. Here are the things we’re most looking forward to:

Food – we’re craving a lot of foods that we haven’t had in a long time:

  • breakfast cereal
  • properly cooked toast (not just bread; not steamed, dry, or cooked on only one side)
  • buttermilk blueberry pancakes
  • waffles with strawberries and whipped cream (Christmas morning)
  • salads
  • vegetables
  • peaches
  • sushi
  • brown bread
  • fresh bread with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and chilies
  • good pizza
  • Italian pasta
  • lasagna
  • fajitas
  • a good steak
  • turkey dinner (good thing we’re coming home just before Christmas!)
  • roast beef and Yorkshire pudding
  • barbequed ribs
  • popcorn with butter and salt
  • Patrick’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
  • Purdy’s Sweet Georgia Browns
  • Dairy Queen Pecan Mudslide
  • peach pie (can you get that in December?)
  • pumpkin pie (Patrick – I know that I can get this in December)
  • good dark chocolate
  • tap water that we can drink
  • a decent martini (Patrick)
  • good coffee (Diane)
  • red wine (both of us!)

By the way, we’re available for dinner invitations almost every night.
Also,

  • hot showers with water pressure and no exposed electrical wires
  • a hot bath
  • going to the movie theatre
  • seeing any good movies we’ve missed while we’ve been away
  • a big screen television (Patrick –how sad it that)
  • hockey (Patrick)
  • sitting by a warm fireplace
  • rock climbing (Patrick)
  • our own bed
  • running
  • our cats (more Diane than Patrick)
  • and most of all, our family and friends

The American War in Vietnam

December 14, 2009

Vietnam became a colony in the 1880’s, when France took control by force. Like most of South East Asia it was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. After the war, Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Viet Minh, communists from the northern part of Vietnam who had resisted the Japanese, declared Vietnam independent. They were not prepared to continue being a colony of France. Patrick thinks that this must have been due, at least in part, to the fact that the French had not been able to defend Vietnam from the Japanese, and that they were undoubtedly more concerned about defending French territory in Europe. This resulted in a war between the Viet Minh and the French, who didn’t want to give up their valuable colony. The French were supported in this war by money and weapons donated by America. In 1954 the Vietnamese captured many French soldiers forcing a negotiated settlement called the “Geneva Accords” requiring French withdrawal and temporarily dividing the country into North and South at the Ben Hai River until elections could be held. The neutral territory on either side of this river was called the De-militarized zone (DMZ). When the anti-communist leader of the South refused to hold these elections, the temporary division became a de-facto permanent one, creating North and South Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese were communists trying to ‘liberate’ their countrymen in the South, only some of who wanted to be liberated. In 1960, they began a military confrontation to reunite Vietnam under their leadership. America worried that if the North succeeded in defeating the American-supported leadership of South Vietnam that the resulting ‘domino effect’ could see all of South East Asia eventually become communist. This was in the late 1960’s, at the height of the cold war. America fought the war in Vietnam from 1965 to 1973 before a cease-fire was agreed to in Paris. Without American support, it was only a matter of time.


North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon, capital of South Vietnam on April 30th, 1975. Soon after it was renamed ‘Reunification Palace’ and opened to the public. It has been preserved in the state it was then. Saigon was also renamed Ho Chi Minh city, but most people still call is Saigon.

We visited the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. It is billed as a museum about the atrocities of war. What they don’t say is that it is a museum only about American atrocities from the war in Vietnam. This makes it even more interesting because it presents only the Vietnamese government’s perspective on the war. It displays much captured American weaponry including tanks, planes, helicopters, and small arms, implicitly reminding people of who won the war.


It highlights American war atrocities including bombing of civilians, torture of captured soldiers and civilians, and the use of toxic defoliants like Agent Orange. It displays many pictures of injured Vietnamese civilians, especially women and children, and of birth defects purportedly caused by toxic chemicals. The most gruesome artifact is the bodies of two still born children with physical disabilities attributed to dioxin, floating in a tank of preservative. We wondered what both the Vietnamese people and American tourists milling about thought of these exhibits. Did they feel the same things?

The Vietnamese and much of the world believe that America engaged in an illegal war in Vietnam. Undoubtedly their opposition, referred to here as ‘Vietnamese Communists’, ‘Vietnamese Patriots’, or ‘Liberators of South Vietnam’ and by American soldiers as ‘Viet Cong’ or ‘VC’, committed many atrocities too, but these are never mentioned here.

Today both French and American tourists are welcomed in Vietnam, which has diplomatic relations with both of these countries. There are a lot of French tourists here, probably because Vietnam was a former French colony. French tourists we’ve spoken to say that they do not sense any animosity or resentment from the Vietnamese.


Things you can do on a motor scooter

December 14, 2009

We’ve seen a lot of things done on a small motor scooter during on our travels. Here are some of them:

  • Lean against it while trying to look cool for the opposite sex
  • Make out with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend in the park while balancing on the kickstand
  • Pull a carriage behind it to transport tourists
  • Pull a cart behind it to transport goods
  • Carry huge lengths of bamboo, pipe, or reinforcing bar, like a modern day knight and lance
  • Transport a family of five at the same time
  • Take your dog for a ride in the front basket, so he can feel the wind in his face
  • Transport live animals, including poor ducks who strain to avoid scraping their bills on the pavement
  • Transport dead animals — Diane saw a scooter loaded with dead dogs going to market
  • Operate a motorcycle taxi service
  • Pull your friend riding a bicycle
  • Let your toddler stand up in front, holding onto the console, while you drive
  • Rent it to tourists without insurance or helmets
  • With thousands of other scooters, make it virtually impossible for pedestrians to cross the street

Observations about Vietnam

December 14, 2009
  • The government here is communist (or heavily socialist), but the economic system is capitalist.
  • Vietnam has been repelling invaders for the last two thousand years — the Khmers, Chinese, French, and most recently the Americans. They are fiercely proud of this fact.
  • Vietnam is one of the largest rice exporters in the world, which is amazing considering the amount of rice that they consume locally. Sometimes it seems that everything here is made of rice.
  • The Vietnamese love their soups, especially Pho, which is usually eaten for breakfast.
  • Coffee is very popular here, especially iced coffee. Vietnamese coffee is prepared using a simple drip device above the cup and is usually very strong and served with condensed milk.
  • A lot of women in Vietnam wear the traditional conical hat woven out of natural materials. They wear a scarf across their chin to hold it on.
  • They play a lot of easy listening music and ‘musak’ here. As we write this, we’re listening to instrumental versions of ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’ and ‘Feelings’
  • There are more motor scooters in Vietnam than anywhere else we’ve seen. Especially in Hanoi, where crossing the street requires one to just wade out into the sea of scooters, trusting that they will swerve to avoid you.
  • In Vietnam, traffic priority is based on vehicle size – perhaps not from a legal perspective, but certainly from a practical one. Larger vehicles have (or take) the right of way. For example, a larger vehicle will pass using the oncoming lane even if a smaller vehicle is coming in the opposite direction. The smaller vehicle will be forced to give way, which usually means running up on the shoulder. As the smallest vehicles, motorbikes get no respect. They spend most of their time driving on the shoulder and being ready to drive into the weeds if necessary.
  • The Vietnamese love little dogs. They are everywhere. They also eat dogs. We wonder how they decide which ones to love and which ones to eat. Perhaps they do both (love first, eat later).
  • Motor scooter taxis (called ‘xe om’ in Vietnamese) are common here. Diane and I both rode on the back of the same tiny scooter (with a driver) in Hanoi.
  • Ho Chi Minh, the man who led the fight for Vietnam’s independence from France and the war against the Americans, is revered here. Many people have his picture in their homes. His embalmed body is on display in Hanoi (against his wishes), just like the other two in the holy trinity of communism — Stalin in Moscow and Mao Tse Tung in Beijing. Uncle Ho’s body is transported to Russia for a couple of months each year for touchups (the guy has been dead for 30 years and he still takes an annual vacation!)
  • We met a Danish man here who is married to a Vietnamese woman and living in Denmark. He said that the Vietnamese are a ‘cruel people’ both in their treatment of animals and one another. We haven’t experienced these ourselves. An Australian living here said that the Vietnamese can be cold, but once you become their friend, they treat you like family.
  • Vietnam may have the cheapest beer in the world. On the street corner in Hanoi you can drink ‘bia hoi’ (draft beer) for 3000 Dong per glass (about 15 cents Canadian). At six for dollar, we can have a wild evening for just two dollars!
  • The Vietnamese eat dog, turtles, and fertilized duck eggs in various stages of development. We sat in a bar and watched, and smelled, a woman consume three of these eggs by breaking off the top and eating the contents with a tiny spoon and salt. The developing duck is clearly visible inside, and it’s the luck of the draw whether you get an early one (soft and squishy) or a late one (meaty and crunchy).