Cirque du Khmer

Isn't it just like me to find the circus folk where ever I go? Well sure enough, in the biggest little city in Cambodia (Battambang), I've found one. The story behind this one goes like this (I think): A dude started a school dedicated to bringing more art to Cambodian life. It was funded by NGOs and the like. It took a hiatus during the whole civil war thing, but afterwards, it was back to action. Since then, it has grown to be almost financially independent with the proceeds of the various arts (painting, circus, music, etc.) partially going back to the students and their families in hope of convincing the families that school is worth sending your kids to.

I arrived early to get a good seat and was immediately swarmed by children. In an attempt to entertain them until the show started, I busted out all my tricks (pulled my thumb off, made a flute from my hands, snapped in various ways, disappearing quarter, etc.). This just pulled in a larger crowd, and some of the kids didn't even want to give up my show when the real show started. Anyway, it was a great cultural experience. Who would have thought d-list magic tricks could forge such an international bond?

Coming soon: The temples of Angkor. How excited am I? This excited.
Monday December 4 2006File under: juggling, travel

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Cheap(ish) flights to Europe

Each December, SAS Airlines offers special deals on flights to Europe. There are loads of restrictions, and the price seems to get worse and worse each year, but it still prolly the best deal around. Their schtick is everyday, the deal is on for only one city. If you miss your city of choice, you miss the deal. Basically, it is $199 each way from Seattle (or $175 from D.C., NYC, or Chicago) with some taxes tacked on. Generally, the restrictions are that you have to travel in the cold months (Jan - March, I think), and you can only stay 30 days or so.

Jeff and Amanda used the deal to go to Madrid in 2002 and Lara and I mimicked their trip in 2003. Each year, it has been a fun diversion for me to check what city they are offering. I thought I might share. As compensation, if anyone takes the deal, I expect a postcard.

So the link is: http://christmas.campaign.scandinavian.net/us/ (or click here for the non-flash site.)

Oh, and thanks to Saxtor for doing the legwork on this one. Yet again he rises to the call of the Interchallenge.
Saturday December 2 2006File under: travel, links

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Bamboo Train

Battambang, Cambodia is the country's second largest city, I'm told. You wouldn't think it, though. The main streets in town are named No. 1, 2, and 3, and there is hardly a building over 3 stories. As far as "cities" go, I'll take it.

The downside to a small, off-the-beaten path city is that diversions are few and far between. (I've been spending an inordinate amount of time in internet cafes here, both keeping cool, and filling up the time.) But one thing that is unique to this area is the bamboo trains. These are cobbled together bamboo platforms balanced atop train axels hooked up to an engine. They can be easily disassembled in the case of an oncoming real train or to pass each other en route. It is really a great use of the otherwise seldom used tracks.

Having heard so much about these, I had to see them. I hired a moto driver from my hotel to take me. We meandered through villages and rice fields with him providing helpful tidbits along the way (Battambang rice is supposed to be the best in the country!). When we got to the "station", they built us a car, and me, my driver, and the taxi all loaded up. The ride took 20 minutes over some pretty rusticrailway lines. It was great. Halfway through the trip, we had to stop because there was another "train" on the tracks. It turns out, they were filming a movie. So I sat and ate some fresh coconut ice cream as they finished up their shot and carried their train from the tracks. It was really a great way to see something unique and to see the wonderful Cambodian countryside.
Friday December 1 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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The big book of SE Asian Transportation


If I ever wrote a book about automotive transportation in southeast Asia, I think I might call it Following the Horn. I thought up this title as my bus was barrelling through morning Phnom Phen traffic with the horn blaring about 80% of the time. I've spent a lot of time listening to how the driviers (whether bus, taxi, or moto) use their horn. They use it to say "move!", "I'm right behind you", "It's safe to pass me", "It's not safe to pass me", "You're going too slow", "Thank you", and just about anything else. Different drivers use it to different degrees, but enivitably, you feel like you are truly being led through traffic by your vehicle's horn.

The more I think about it, the more fun it would be to write a book like this. You could have a chapter named Hello Moto about the prevalence of motos, esp. moto taxis and their overaggressive drivers. Now that's what I call carpooling would be a chapter containing images of some of the most overloaded cars, trucks, and motorbikes that you have ever seen. The pictures for the chapter called The 100cc Family Car would be great, yet somewhat disturbing to mothers of young children. Necessary Daredevil would recount how transportation in SE Asia is often an at-your-own-risk type affair. Even crossing the street is a stunt worthy of Superdave.

Maybe it would have to be mostly a picture book. Which means this post shouldn't be a pictureless post. But it is, because I ain't no Ansel Adams. (Heck, I ain't even a Josh Root.)
Thursday November 30 2006File under: travel, transportation

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Cambodian first impressions

Cambodia, so far, has been a refreshing change from Thailand. Many things are the same (the climate, the prices (more or less), and the disregard of traffic "laws"), but many things are different, both for good and bad.

On the good side, things are less touristy here. I hate to say that, because it sounds so elitist, but it truly enhances my experience of the place. It is easy to find places that are like I imagine they would be if Sihanoukville wasn't a main tourist destination for Cambodia (which isn't saying much, as Cambodia isn't quite the tourist destination). Take for example this: Ryan and I were walking back from the beach, me with my juggling clubs in hand. Street kids are always pointing to the clubs with a questioning look on their face, and when I toss them up a time or two, their faces light up. Anyway, this time, I was doing just that when a rather jolly (read:drunk) looking fellow comes out of a back yard and beckons (read:drags) us into his back yard to put on a show for his friends. We oblige, naturally (for what juggler can turn down a captive, appreciative audience). Needless to say, they are extremely excited. The main guy comes out with drinks for us, which we beg off, but we do position him between us while we pass clubs around him. So fun. Things like this seem like it would happen less frequently in Thailand, or at least the touristy parts.

On the downside, Cambodia, or at least the parts I have seen so far, are poor. There are beggers everywhere, and the business people are a bit more aggressive, esp. the moto drivers. It is sad to come out of a store to 10 kids with their hands outstrecthed and a desperate look on their face. We had dinner the other evening at an outdoor place, and there was a kid that sat watching us eat the whole time. We've had many a discussion on this topic. We can never come to conclusions on what to do, how to feel, etc. etc. But whatever the case, it sure is a bring down.

Both the good and the bad is what makes it the experience that it is, and for that I am greatful. I'm looking forward to much more of each in the coming weeks.
Monday November 27 2006File under: Cambodia, travel

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Funny Money

Funny Money

One of the curiosities about travel - sometimes it is fun, sometimes it is maddening - is the money. Conversion rates, deciphering the value of a bill, making sure you have enough to get you to the next country, but not too much, so you don't lose money on the transfer back, etc. etc. And then there is the actual notes; I'm just totally enamored by just about all paper money I see, not because of its value, but because of what it says about the culture.

This money-aspect of travel was really punctuation while crossing the Cambodian border yesterday morning. The Cambodian currency unit is the riel, with an approximate conversion rate of 4,000 to the US dollar. The US dollar is widely accepted, though, and often prices are even quoted in it. Well, in anticipation of this, I converted the remainder of my Thai baht (except a few choice bills for my collection) into US dollars. When we got to the border, the border police refused to accept dollars for the [exorbitant] visa fee. So it was back to an ATM to get out baht.

The motos that met us off the ferry to give us a ride into town (Sihanoukville) quotes prices in baht. We then tried to covert that to dollars, because we had no baht. Since we didn't have correct change in dollars, we converted the amount to riels, which we picked up at a roadside money changer. All in all, it makes for some interesting commerce.

So having traveled for the past 10 weeks, I'm getting quite the stack of foriegn currency. In my wallet, currently, I have 6 different currencies: US dollar, Thai baht, Cambodian riel, Chinese yuan, Hong Kong dollar, and Macau pataca. But don't get any ideas. The sum total of all these is prolly no more than $50.

Yes, I realize this is a very pertainent post, it coming on the heels of National Buy Nothing Day and all.

Sunday November 26 2006File under: travel, Cambodia

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Haiku Challenge

Back on the beach

Sand between my toes
Crashing waves to frolic in
It's good to be back

Okay folks, there's my haiku. I don't think it will win any awards or move anyone to tears, but writing in such a structured way can be fun from time to time. Now have your go at it. Any comments to this post should be posted in haiku format (5/7/5). Have fun!
Wednesday November 15 2006File under: poetry, travel

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What I do for geocaching

What would you do with 3 hours in Macau, a city that is unique in its combination of European and Asian cultures? Maybe take a cultural tour of the city, or at least get a cab to drive you to the major sites? Well, I got off the ferry and went straight for the only geocache...by foot. You laugh, but I think I might have a serious problem. In Hong Hong, I tried for 4 caches but only found 2. But I suppose, in its(/my) defense, it is a good way to see some of the off-the-beaten-path sights. And it is a way to make Saxtor jealous.

Luckily, after some huffing and puffing to get up the hill (with my heavy backpack), I found the cache quickly so I had enough time to stroll through a few of the narrow streets and see a few of the gorgeous building facades. I didn't, however, get a chance to check out any of the casinos. But for a traveller on a budget, maybe casinos aren't the best idea.

Anyway, my time in both Macau and Hong Kong were way way too short, but there might be a revisit in the near future. Stay tuned for details.
Monday November 13 2006File under: Macau, travel

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A conversation with Hong Kong

HK: Welcome to Hong Kong.
me: You speak English! I'm so glad to be here. That bus ride was a bear. Those beds were not made for 6' Westerners. It really makes you appreciate train travel.
HK: Technically, you're not there yet. You first must fill out this form and go stand in that line.
me: No problem.
HK: And then this form and that line...and then that line over there.
me: What's the deal with the customs. Aren't you still part of China?
HK: Yes and no. It's complicated.
me: Hmmm....
HK: Oh, and you need different money. My dollar is far superior to the RMB.
me: (yeah, but .01%)
HK: What was that?
me: Nothing. So how much should I get out of the ATM? I'm only here for 2 days. This ought to be more than enough.
HK: Ha!
me: We're not all here to shop for Gucci, you know.
HK: Have it your way. Where are you staying?
me: I was hoping you could help me out with that. Any particular district you recommend?
HK: You mean you don't have a guide book?!? Well, all my districts are nice.
me: Alrighty then. Thanks for the help. I'll just roam around in the heat with my big bag until I find something.
HK: Well, enjoy your stay. (And maybe you should stop by to see one of my many tailors, grubby)
Sunday November 12 2006File under: China, travel

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Democracy Works!

No, I don't mean the mid-term elections back there in the U.S. (whose hubbub I'm so glad I've mostly missed out on). I mean the BdW poll and its results. Thanks to some great investigative work by you, dear readers, I've just had 3 great days to wind down my time in China.

I've spent my time in Yangshuo which is just outside of Guilin. It is the "independent travelers" area, while Guilin caters more to the package tourist. The touristy atmosphere has been a pleasant change from the big city hustle and bustle I've experienced so far. Menus in English, other travelers, and activities out the wazoo are all assets Yangshuo's got going for it.

First and foremost, upon arrival, I immediately climbed Green Lotus Peak to get the area's only geocache. In the evening, I enjoyed more steamed dumplings at the hectic night market. (I had to pass on the dog, frog, eel meat this time around.) On the second day, I rented a bicycle and toured the local countryside. Riding through rice fields on a path 2 feet wide where there is no one around but the water buffalo and farmers stooped to hand reap the harvest will forever stay in my memory. I couldn't have asked for a better counterpart to the cities I've mostly seen so far. After a bamboo ferry ride across the river, the bike trip finished with a trip to Moon Hill.

The Li River is one of the things that can't be missed, so I didn't. Yesterday I took a trip that puttered up and down the river where we pretty much just gazed out at the scenery. Quite pleasant (oh, ignore that dude in the front with goofy looking birds on his shoulders and just bask in the scenery).

Friday November 10 2006File under: China, travel

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