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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Journey to Hong Kong and Macau #1

I've been late with this post mainly because my most of my photographs didn't turn-out all so well.

This past August, I went on a trip to Hong Kong for a few days in order to meet-up with a friend of mine (Vince) who happened to be visiting with his wife and daughter. It was a short trip, but I like Hong Kong a lot (this would be my third time there) and this was a chance for me to do something I'd failed mightily to do in the past: visit Macau.

The last time I was in Hong Kong (outside the airport, I mean) was in 1998. I was coming back from an internship in Shenzhen. Had I altered my schedule a bit, I probably could have ridden the ferry over to Macau, but I decided to save time and money by not doing going through with it. Ever since, I've sort of regretted making that call.

Anyway, back in August, I arrived at Chek Lap Kok airport, took the train to Central Hong Kong island and checked in to my hotel.

I spent much of the afternoon walking around Central.

The next morning, I made my way to the ferry terminal, got in line and boarded the Macau-bound catamaran. The voyage lasted about an hour and it delivered me to the Macau ferry terminal.

What happened next? That'll have to wait until the next entry...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Journey to Laos #3: Finishing up

My last night in rural Laos involved a damn good hot-pot dinner with plenty of Beerlao.

After the rural school, I returned to Vientiane and did some presentations at the Lao-American College. I had a free afternoon left to look-around town; I decided to mainly stick around the riverbank of the Mekong.

(Fun fact: Laos is one of the few countries which still displays the hammer and sickle without irony.)

Generally, I would say that I had a good trip. I can definitely see myself going back to Southeast Asia.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Journey to Laos #2: Homestay

For about 2 nights, I stayed with a English teacher named Bonleun about 40 minutes outside of Vientiane. So I got a chance to experience a bit of rural Laos. He supposedly built his house himself. It had electricity but, alas, no plumbing.

We commuted via a single motorbike and I got a chance to visit a rural Laotian high school.

I also had a chance to visit the local market where Bonleun and I could shop for dinner.

Next-up: Finishing in Vientiane!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Journey to Laos #1

Ok, at long last, I figured it was time for a blog update. In February, I headed down to Laos for five days. I went there to give a few presentations about computer keyboarding in an ESL context, but it was also a good chance for me to check the place out.

I mainly spent my time in and around Vientiane, the capital. Getting there involved an unexpected snag: I was supposed to go via Hanoi but my plane was delayed for 6 hours at Osaka. As a result, I had an unexpected one night stay outside of Hanoi. I thought getting through the place was going to be a minor disaster, but Vietnam Airlines handled all of the arrangements and it all went a lot smoother than I thought it would. So I arrived at my destination about half a day late. Here's a typical street scene in Vientiane:

That morning at my hotel, I was met by a group of English students from Lao National University; they were tasked with showing me around town. We went by tuk-tuk, of course-- how else would we go?

First stop of the day was Pha That Luang, the national symbol of Laos. It  had been repeatedly destroyed and re-built in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

After that, we visited Patuxay, the victory gate of Vientiane, which was built in the 1960s. It was less impressive up close, but you're allowed to climb up to the top level for a view of the city.

After lunch, we hit the Haw Phra Kaew museum. It's located in a former temple which originally housed a relic called the Emerald Buddha (which is not made of emerald) that was stolen by the Thais in the 1770s and is currently on display in some temple in Bangkok. The Haw Phra Kaew museum contains a collection of religious relics-- offering bowls and Buddha statuettes and the like-- that we were not allowed to photograph.

Next-up: a home-stay in rural Laos!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Journey to Saudi and Bahrain #3

It's been a while since I've updated, I know it. I had a very bad computer problem which made my pictures difficult to access. Thanks, Windows 8!

Anyway, after the conference I had a free day to explore Bahrain, the world's smallest Arab country. I managed to arrange a guide for it.

One of the first places I went was to the Al-Fateh Mosque, which is the largest house of worship in the country. It's not very old, having been built in 1987, and it supposedly has the world's largest fiberglass dome.

After that, we visited Bahrain Fort from which you can get a decent view of the skyline of Manama, the capital.

I also had a chance to go to a tea house in the old section of Muharraq, Bahrain's 3rd largest city. I think I enjoyed this bit the most.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Journey to Saudi and Bahrain #2

The campus of Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University looked freshly-built and well-appointed. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Association of Language Teachers (KSAALT) held a pretty well-organized conference despite the impression I got that the people in charge were relatively few in number.

I managed to hold my workshop without much problem. The audience was pretty engaged and enthusiastic.

The evening after the conference, I was invited to the KSAALT directors' dinner and I had a pretty memorable time.

The centerpiece of the dinner was kabsa, which is pretty much the signature Saudi dish. They slaughtered the sheep just for us.

Next up: touring Bahrain.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Journey to Saudi and Bahrain #1

It took a while to writing this series of posts, so thanks for your patience.

Back in May, during Japan's Golden Week holiday, I attended a teaching conference in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Getting there was not nearly as big a problem as getting the visa to get in because Saudi has one of the most restrictive visa policies in the world.

It was a lot of trouble to get this.

The visa required me to not only obtain a letter of invitation, but also a letter of reference from my university. The application form also asked me for my religion (with 'Jew' and 'Atheist' being inadvisable answers, or so I have heard), which felt like a rather intrusive kind of question. There was also a special agency in Tokyo affiliated with the Japanese Foreign Ministry which provided me with guidance on how to go through the steps of applying.

So, after finally qualifying for a visa, I flew on Emirates airlines through Dubai to wind-up in Bahrain. I was to be picked-up at the airport by a driver who would take me across the King Fahd causeway which connects the two countries.

The causeway wasn't anything special, though getting through customs on its artificial mid-point island was something of an interesting experience. (It involved huddling rather than queuing to get my fingerprints taken.)

So I arrived in Dhahran, which is considered one of Saudi Arabia's more liberal cities. (Apparently, women are not required to cover their faces there.) There was, unfortunately, a real paucity of interesting things to photograph. Pretty much every view of the city was a combination of nondescript white buildings, asphalt, strewn rubble and/or sand with the odd date palm or bit of heavily-watered greenery thrown-in.

Coming-up next: Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd University.