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

Advertisements

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).

Quotes from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

December 14, 2009

These words are from the leader of Himalayan Buddhism, a man who describes himself as ‘a simple Buddhist monk’. They had resonance for us, so we wanted to share them with you.

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

“I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed.”

“I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.”

“For those who may not find happiness to exercise religious faith, its okay to remain a radical atheist, it’s absolutely an individual right, but the important thing is with a compassionate heart — then no problem.”

“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

“Nowadays the world is becoming increasingly materialistic, and mankind is reaching toward the very zenith of external progress, driven by an insatiable desire for power and vast possessions. Yet by this vain striving for perfection in a world where everything is relative, they wander even further away from inward peace and happiness of the mind.”

“I truly believe that individuals can make a difference in society. Since periods of change such as the present one come so rarely in human history, it is up to each of us to make the best use of our time to help create a happier world.”

“Every day, think as you wake up,
Today I am fortunate to have woken up,
I am alive, I have a precious human life,
I am not going to waste it,
I am going to use all my energies to develop myself,
To expand my heart out to others,
To achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings,
I am going to have kind thoughts towards others,
I am not going to get angry,
or think badly about others
I am going to benefit others as much as I can”

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.”

“Be kind whenever possible…It is always possible.”


Observations about Cambodia

December 14, 2009

Here are some things that we’ve noticed about Camdodia:

  • Cambodia is officially a democracy, but the Cambodian People’s Party seems to control the place. They have signs up in every village and then win every election.
  • Much of the country is flat. It is covered with rice patties as far as you can see.
  • The food is very good. Our favourites are ‘amok’ – fish cooked with coconut milk and lemon grass in a banana leaf, and especially ‘lop lak’ – beef with lemon pepper sauce.
  • Cambodian food is generally not spicy, unlike its neighbouring countries, but you can add chili sauce or raw chilies at the table.
  • People eat using a spoon with the fork only to help maneuver food onto the spoon. Chopsticks aren’t common.
  • The Cambodian currency is the ‘riel’, with about 3500r to the Canadian dollar. US dollars are also widely used here. Many tourist attraction and hotel prices are quoted in US dollars but they will accept either currency. Change less than one dollar US is given in riel.
  • Tuk-tuks in Cambodia, rather than being an integrated 3-whelled vehicle, are a 2-wheeled cart pulled by a 100 cc motor scooter with driver. They are very comfortable (lots of leg room) and have better views than the tuk-tuks we’ve experienced anywhere else.

  • Some Cambodians appear resentful of their more prosperous neighbours Thailand and Vietnam. This may be rooted in history, as these regions have been fighting for thousands of years.
  • The official state religion of Cambodia is Buddhism, but for much of its history it was Hindu or Brahmist. The famous Angkor Wat temple is a Hindu temple.
  • Cambodia was a French colony from 1884 to the 1950’s. At that time the Cambodian King left the country and refused to return until the French left, which they did due to international pressure.
  • From 1974 to 1979 Cambodia was the site of a terrible genocide orchestrated by a group called the Khmer Rouge. During this period the country was called ‘Kampuchea’, and it widely recognized by foreign governments despite the atrocities committed here.
  • Anti-personnel mines (land mines) and UXO (UneXploded Ordinance, like bombs, mortar shells, grenades, etc.) are still common in Cambodia. There are estimated to be between 3 and 6 million land mines left in the country, most of which are unmarked. Many civilians are injured each year by land mines. Tourists are advised to stick to roads and marked trails only.

Observations about Laos

November 27, 2009
  • Laos is a communist country, but like most communist countries today, capitalism is alive and well. Communist flags fly from the front of many buildings.
  • The major tourist locations are quite developed, providing most of the services of Thailand.
  • There are far more tourists in the northern part of Laos than we ever would have imagined.
  • Luang Prabang is full of expensive guest houses and older tourists on packaged holidays.
  • Most travelers stick to the north, often as a side trip to Thailand.
  • Laotian people are lovely – mild mannered, even tempered, and quick to smile and laugh. When Patrick asked for a discount on a hotel room recently the woman looked at the floor at said, “My boss would get mad at me”.
  • Laos is a bit more expensive than Thailand. The currency is the ‘Kip’, with 7,500 Kip per Canadian dollar. We changed about $300 US recently and received 2.5 million Kip! A nice meal for two costs about 50,000 Kip ($7 Canadian). Large ‘BeerLao’ (650 ml) costs $1.5 Canadian.
  • Good food is plentiful. The staple here is sticky rice, which is eaten by rolling a small ball with the right hand and dipping it into the sauces of your dishes. Noodles, curries, and barbeque are common. No part of the animal is wasted. Would you prefer the ‘tripe on a stick’ or a ‘chicken head to go’?
  • It isn’t as warm here as we expected. Cooler than Northern Thailand. Last night we actually used sheets!