Saturday, December 17, 2016

Da Lat: a mud hike

We came all this way, we might as well still go trekking, even if it's a tad wet. Right?  

The way down was great. Sliding and slipping and making mud balls. The kids loved it.

We walked through some coffee plantations, and crossed the river and admired the natives' skill on motorbikes, balancing wives and children and sacks of freshly harvested coffee beans, while plowing uphill through deep, wet muck.

And then it was our turn to climb back up the mountain.

Five hours later and soaked through our flimsy parkas, we forced some smiles in front of a waterfall:

We had braved the knee deep mud and the soles of our shoes had threatened to tear off from all the squelching, so we picked our way carefully, trying to keep our balance. The two wobbly suspension bridges had held, our guides were still cheerfully leading the charge and our picnic lunch hadn't washed away in a mudslide. Might as well enjoy the view... Right?

Well, speaking of sliding mud, the road out of Da Lat is blocked right now after all the rain, so we are having an extended stay until it is cleared.

And what do you know? The day following our epic Mud Hike has been clear and dry and perfect for sightseeing around town.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Halong Bay is just as cool as everyone said, and the 9 year-old was a little crabby.

not so thrilled about the long bus ride


Yes, yes, this boat was straight out of an Agatha Christie mystery, or maybe reminiscent of Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad.  Made me want to retire to my cabin to write witty snark about our fellow passengers, or perhaps ponder who did it, and with what murder weapon...

we worried that the precautionary life vest might would strangle or
smother him before he would even hit the water...

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A drive through our neighborhood

Off the main roads and headed into the heart of one of the "villages" of Saipan, here is a sample of what a flat neighborhood with paved roads looks like.*

*Other villages and neighborhoods are completely different in character; they are tucked away on hillsides and in thick jungle, accessed only by unpaved "roads," but sometimes with beautiful ocean views.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

15 degrees North and way out in the Pacific

It's not all sunny skies and paddleboarding in turqoise waters every day around here.  Saipan is tropical, after all, and that means it is also wet.  Very wet.

And I don't mean the occasional light (or heavy) showers that quickly pass, either.  "Tropical" means that sometimes, it dumps rain for hours and hours, and day after day. 

When it really comes down, some of the roads get flooded and the limited amount of sidewalks available soon become irrelevant as giant puddles merge to form small lakes.
It kills me to see folks who depend on bicycles to get them to work or school wrap themselves in ponchos and try to keep moving. Do they pack a change of clothes to bring along, or something? Because I don't see that there is any possible way to protect from a thorough soaking.

The Internet speed tends to drag during the heavy rains, and the pace of life slows down along with it --even more than usual, even.

I suppose it is our version of Autumn.  It's the only time we usually get the urge to curl up with a cup of tea or some soup. But we still keep the fans running and the A/C on the "dry" setting because the humidity indoors, even under sturdy leak-proof ceilings, is harder to fight than ever. Besides, it's still really hot around here.

Tank tops and lightweight shorts and a cup of tea. That's our kind of Fall these days. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Trip to Rome (Pt. 3): Canonization Day

(If you want to start reading from the beginning, go here for Part I and here for Part II.)

Jetlag worked in my favor this trip: I was awake early and already headed out of my hostel in order to get in line by 4am.  

In the wee dark hours of Sept. 4, there was no one else on the streets of Rome.
It was just me and the astronomy van...

others did not bother to get a hotel room for the night.  I actually
saw one guy from the overnight-ing group out jogging at 3:45am.

When the barricades were finally opened, the press of the crowd was intense. There were two search points before entering the Square: one was by hand, and we only got through one at a time. The second used a metal detector and x-ray machines like at an airport. There were a lot of people, and we all had to be funneled into just a few lines so it took quite a long time (understatement). 

The fascinating part was that, although it was still early in the morning and the sun wasn't quite on us yet, people got to grumbling pretty quickly. But not everyone: what I began to notice was that the folks who were most bothered by the elbows and the poking and the shoving seemed to originate from places on the globe where being in confined places, uncomfortable and on insufficient sleep is not a common everyday occurrence. I can't say that I heard a single Filipino or Indian even squawk about it, but even the New Yorkers did! 

Inconvenience, discomfort, long and disorderly lines, standing with no possibility of resting your feet for an absurdly long amount of time--maybe it's no biggie when it is already part of the lifestyle. 
I don't have any great moral conclusions to draw from this except to say that I suspect perhaps there is something stamina-building about regular and consistent exposure to administrative inefficiency and physical inconveniences.

One day later, back again in the Square, a few rows further back
from where I was the day before
The gentleman in the photo below was 110 years old, according to his daughter who had accompanied him. Born in 1906, according to her. If that's true, I figured that he was most likely the most senior attendee by several decades, and by the way he would have been 4 years older than Mother Teresa herself.

I was early enough to grab a seat, on the center aisle right up close to several folks who had known Mother during her lifetime and who were eager to reminisce.

Like the Tuareg under all their layers out there in the Sahara,
the Swiss Guards didn't even break a sweat
Why, hello there again, Papa Francesco!
The Pope spoke, we had Mass. It was prayerful and solemn but mostly it was a celebration. Appropriately, it not as solemn as the gathering the day before.

Then this happened:

This was the exit line from the Square, where the MC Sisters were directed to meet up with their respective groups. Some of us were inspired to try and spot a familiar face or two in the crowd, and when we made it over there discovered that we weren't the first ones to have had that idea. 

Like so many large human gatherings in this moment in history when the personal camera is such a prized possession, a certain number of "celebrities" often end up being hounded by the paparazzi.

This time, the hounded and sought after were the M.C. Sisters and that just made me smile. 


A few more misc. thoughts to share from the weekend: 

-The entire weekend provided a sort of primer in the spirituality of "Mother" Teresa of Kolkata. The divine image in the face and bodies of the hungry, the sick and the suffering... How service to others, rich and poor alike, is as if directed to Jesus himself, as Mother summarized in her favorite slogan: "You Did It To Me"...The spiritual "darkness" she carried with her while spreading hope to others. 
"Give until it hurts." "Give without counting the cost." Lots of good stuff.

It would have been hard to go home after this event without a strong sense that any small or large sacrifice or deprivation for a cause that demands sacrifice and is worthy of it, is ever wasted. No doubt Mother Teresa would have naturally wondered at times if anything she was doing was making any kind of difference whatsoever; she probably had plenty of opportunities and reasons to become discouraged. The relatively small gathering out there in the Square was evidence of the much greater number of people around the world who took note of the course of her life and came away convinced that she, and her contributions, were well worth celebrating.  

I think this is one of my favorite photos of the trip. (And yes, Sly, I asked
 the mama's permission first.)

-The variety of languages in the presentations and in the liturgies was very extremely cool: Albanian and Bengali were included for prayers and readings, along with Italian, French, Portuguese, English, Spanish and of course, Latin. The Gospel reading during the Canonization Mass was read through twice: once in Italian and a second time in Greek--or rather, I should say that it was chanted by a cantor.  
The universality of this gathering cannot be overstated: folks from the Congo, Brazil and Mexico, Serbia the Czech Republic, Germany and Canada, India and Korea, and Australia, and even that tiny unknown place called Saipan.*

There was energetic enthusiasm from all corners of the Square, but I especially loved seeing the many Indian flags out there. I read a news report that said that Archbishop D'Souza would be in attendance, along with 300 others from Bengal, but I suspect that plenty of folks from other parts of India were also present. 
It was fun to imagine the kind of party that must have been happening back in Kolkata at the Mother House and other places in that proud city.


God help us to live our lives as unselfishly as she did.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us!

(*Although I traveled from Saipan to attend the festivities, I was really there for the people of Gallup,  New Mexico. Especially those served by the St. Joseph Shelter and Soup Kitchen, and the MC Sisters whose work there prevented them from attending and who generously provided me with tickets to all of the events.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Seoul (again) and a Hiking Trip

these lobsters were Yuge!

They like to play this game while we walk around town.  They give directions and warnings ("step up onto the curb in 3..2..1" and "sharp left turn" and so on):


This child was too tired and hungry to do a lizard imitation
(Ah...Everyone fed and energized.)

once we climbed high enough, there were some Fall colors
 The town near the Park did not have much English.  We had to order off the menu by pointing and hoping we would like what was served. It worked out pretty well for us and we enjoyed some delicious dishes.


I'm not sure why this was at a food court, but we all
 need inspiration, anywhere and any time of day...right?

This is a sign in a regular ol' subway station in Seoul. (Hello, NYC and Chicago: you can do better, I know you can!)

ps: the "Information" spot they are talking about was an actual
office in this case.  Not a booth but an entire office.

Another great trip to Korea.  We didn't redo the DMZ tour this time, nor did we see any of the cherry blossoms, and there were no baseball games to go to, but we didn't mind!  We always have a great visit, and anyway, we can never get enough of dumplings and kimchi.

What can I say? We are easy to please.