Saturday, January 29, 2011

Laos: Inequity Overwhelms Me

Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
Today, Rebecca and I woke up at our hotel, Kinnaly Guesthouse, washed up, organized a bag of laundry to have done, and went out for breakfast. Our tastes weren't for anything in particular so we walked up and down one of the main streets to compare prices. Unfortunately, the closer you are to the river, the more expensive the restaurant will be as the price goes up with the scenery. There is also the variable of what kind of food the place offers: Western dishes will always be at least twice as expensive as Lao food, and very nice Western restaurants will jack up the price even further. There is a French restaurant and a Japanese fusion restaurant we cannot even consider; on the other hand, there's an amazing Indian restaurant we could patronize daily without any financial alarm.

We settled on Pizza Luang Prabang—doesn't sound like a breakfast joint but they served omelets, continental breakfasts, fruit salads, all the like. The interior was much nicer than a regular place but a little rougher, a little more timeworn than the very upper-crust establishments in this city. Chalky white walls with dark wood furniture and floors are such a simple way to fill out an interior but still so classy. The staff wore tidy Polo shirt uniforms and hovered about the periphery attentively. If they got locked into conversation with friends passing by, they made sure to snap their head around and run their attention around the room every few minutes.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Heroes Are Bold With Food

Location: Phra Singh, Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
I don't recall where I first heard/read that slogan (I'll be embarrassed if it was only from a fortune cookie) but it sounded like a reasonable concept to live by. Food is a cultural identity: local dishes in any region tell you what resources are or were available in the area. Cuisine is the testimony to thousands of years of self-preservation, the tradition that formed after passing down all knowledge of edible or poisonous plants and animals from generation to generation. Many or most animals have food preferences, but what is so capriciously human as the need to have as much variety available all the time?

More than anything, food is the most obvious connection that spans all nations. We don't agree on how affection should be expressed, we have radically different ideas about shelter and clothing, but food is what makes brothers out of strangers. When I travel, the most important thing to me—more important than a museum or ancient landmark—is finding the cook who makes the local dish. With each spoonful, I begin assimilating the culture, the climate, the emotions and the spirit of the region in which I find myself; every plate provides a lesson that can't be imparted through conversation or guide books. Some people travel and see all the sights but still hide in their homeland's food, camped out in McDonald's or some expensive Western-style restaurant (that never quite gets it right, in my opinion), but I prefer to plunge into the new and expand my palate.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Branding: Clove Cigarettes

Location: Sri Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
One thing (among many) that I enjoy about foreign travel, or at least reading about other countries, is shopping. I like to see all the foreign brands and products I've never heard of, and I'm interested in seeing what the familiar US brands offer overseas but not in my own country.

My time in the goth scene imbued me with an appreciation for clove cigarettes. i began to develop my own favorite flavors: I liked Black because it came in a stylish box, though Sampoerna were my first love. I also really liked Bali Hai because they were so flavorful, but the bright blue box with a stylized surfer on it looked kinda goofy to pull out (when you're trying very hard to look cool). And once, I blew my shot at dating a very attractive woman because she insisted on pronouncing the "D" in Djarum. No matter how many examples of the silent D I provided—djinn, djellaba—she persisted in disingenuously asking me if I actually meant "Duh-jarum" cigarettes. I could have shut up and had access to her amazing body, but I probably wouldn't have lasted long with someone who posed a burr beneath my intellectual saddle.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thinking Aloud: Teaching English Overseas

Location: Sri Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Hmm. In the process of applying for work (teaching English) overseas (South Korea), it appears we've run into a speed bump.

Background: we left the US at the end of October. Over the course of November we lived in Bali and attained our TESOL certification. Now we're laying low in Thailand and searching for work in South Korea, but Rebecca's conversation with a job recruiter unearthed some unanticipated information (seriously, certain authoritative websites direly need to update their content).

As of the beginning of 2010, third-party visa applications are forbidden for first-time teachers to private schools. Applicants for the E2 work visa must submit their requests from their home nations--we would have to return to the US to apply for our work visas. Personally, this fills me with dread: it was so difficult to get out of the States initially, if we return I'm 80% convinced we'll never leave again--the end of the Grand Adventure. (Rebecca thinks it might be possible to submit the application from Guam...)

We could apply for work in a public school with a third-party visa application. However, we wouldn't be able to start work until August (assuming we can find work), and we would have to start applying in March because South Korea is increasingly popular for English teachers. Soon it will be as hopeless as trying to teach in any major European city.

As of Sept. 2010, all teachers applying abroad are required to submit a notarized copy of their four-year degree, authenticated with an Apostille. I interpret this to mean that I can request a copy of my diploma ($20), write a letter saying this is my degree, sign it, and get my signature notarized (have to find a notary here in Thailand); or I can have my College Registrar append a letter affirming its veracity and request that be notarized as well. As for the Apostille, I would have to submit the degree to the Secretary of State in Minnesota, inform him it's intended for South Korea, and pay five bucks for the Apostille stamp.

Official transcripts must arrive in stamped, sealed envelopes, but this is nothing new. I was troubled with having them sent to my apartment (when I had one, in Minneapolis) because I thought that would compromise the transcripts' validity, but apparently they are sealed and stamped inside another envelope, so they're good. I have two copies of my transcripts from both ARCC and SCSU, so I should be safe.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sabadi Bpi Mai, Thailand!

Location: Sri Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
It's the new year, 2011, year of the Rabbit if you subscribe to that. I haven't decided on horoscopy of any nation. I like the Chinese zodiac just because it's supposed to remind you of what you already know, like a Tarot reading. I think the Latin zodiac distracts from the point.

What did we do on our first day of the new year? Well, we celebrated it abroad, for one thing. We celebrated with the city and I kissed my wife at midnight, and the next day--this day--we walked around Chiang Mai, basking in the afterglow of celebration. The partying wasn't done, to be sure, and an all-embracing bonhomie yet persisted among the citizens and tourists alike. It was a rare moment and we took advantage of it.

The Year in Review

Got bored, thought I'd mess around with the collage function in Picasa. This graphic represents the entire year of photos I took in 2010 for my 365XN photo blog. I fell about 25 days short of a full year, but I'm starting over again for 2011. Why would I stop? I'm in a freakin' foreign nation! Why would I stop taking photos just when things are getting interesting?

Anyway, 365XN was much more successful than my first attempt at a photo-a-day blog, way back in 2006. I started out well enough but made the mistake of joining a Flickr community dedicated to similar projects. When I posted some pictures the community didn't like--aspects of my life and existence rather than literal self-portraits--I was reprimanded several times, and the fun drained away like pus from an abscess. I quit before reaching the middle of the year, I think.

So in that respect, 365XN was more successful. I saw it all the way through to the end of the year, and I found it so easy to do I'm extending for another year and on into the interminable future. Why not? And I'm trying to encourage my friends to do so as well.

The above photo links to a much larger graphic, 5000xtoo