Sunday, January 3, 2010

bangkok DANGEROUS .. or .. it is NOW !!!

happy new year to everyone!

the last two weeks have absolutely flown by, it was a whirlwind trip - all made incredible because sam and josh were here - we did the first couple of days in macau, bangkok for three days, on to krabi for four days to celebrate Christmas, back to macau overnight and spent the final two days in HK celebrating new years eve.

between our three cameras i think we ended up with over 900 pictures - which you will be relieved to hear we do not intend to inflict all upon you ... just have to try and figure out "the best of the best". what meant the most to us was that the kids were here, the trip beyond that an added bonus ... and what a bonus it was!!!

typical air travel - sam and josh were scheduled to fly atlanta-tokyo, with a nice little 2.5 hour lay over - you would think that would be good timing ... but oh no! ... they sat on the tarmack in atlanta for over 4.5 hours and as a result missed the tokyo-HK connection, unable to get out until the same time the next day. weather here was somewhat cool, but we bundled up and took in what macau has to offer - the ruins, red market (live market that is), dim sum, and yes, a bit of time at the slots ... josh was the only one that came out on the good side of that particular "venture".

bangkok is always fun! fun! fun! sam had booked us into the marriott resort and spa, along the river and actually a little removed (thankfully) from the inner city. this place was fabulous! we enjoyed the extras provided by her club status - not just the upgraded rooms ... but the afternoon "teas" which were our lunch or supper depending on how you timed it, the early evening cocktails which provided an opportunity to unwind after a VERY busy day of shopping and sightseeing ... and, oh, how does one put this delicately ... gave sam and i that edge that is required to ... er ... beat, no, annihilate! the guys at canasta. they were D E F E N S E L E S S, seriously! one could go as far as to say that winning SEVEN games would give one a legend status, of sorts, if one were to be inclined to think that way ...

of course, no first trip to bangkok is complete without a visit to the grand palace. they do not allow any shorts or open shoes in the gates, but seemed OK with the kids imitating statues and even joining in to help so a couple of the gargoyles could have a rest. after a couple days and in need of a new shopping adventure, dave and i went to the concierge to see if perhaps we had missed any markets (sam very quickly developed her bargaining skills) and asked us to tell her just where we had been thus far. i listed them off, not THAT many ... okay, it was a few ... and she looks at us as laughingly saying "oh no, ma'am, i am afraid you have done them all!!" just thinking of the economy ... really!

our next stop was railay bay, just one hour south of krabi - it should be mentioned that the temperatures during our entire time in thailand were very stable at 32-35 and very welcome after that (now pardon me all you snow-bound albertans) terrible cold snap we experienced in macau. railay lies on the most scenic little stretch of land, only about a 5 minute walk across from "east" to "west" and could only be reached by boat. it is known for these gorgeous karsts which provide about the best rock climbing in thailand, but should also be known for the awesome sunsets (we don't get those in macau) and soft, soft sand.

our very relaxing days were spent kayaking, tasting thai delicacies (pad thai), elephant trekking, afternoons at various spas (received some most wonderful massagies), more kayaking, relaxing around the pool, more pad thai, the occasional glass of wine ... and did i mention that we also played some canasta, although it should be noted that this activity did not prove to be so relaxing/easy for a select few (males)! ah yes, it was a recurring theme throughout our holiday.

after an overnight in macau to catch up on laundry and repack, we headed to hong kong for the last two days. so much to do! so much to see! LOVE that city - although we were reminded on many occasions of the aggressiveness you encounter ... more than one queue ended up with us all feeling very frustrated as people seriously bull-dozed us over (immigration, waiting for the peak tram). the first evening we dined at our favorite dim sum spot (EXTREMELY noisy, DELICIOUS food) and then headed to "the peak" - such a cool way to view the city (and especially at night). our new years eve day took in a mid-morning "session" at stanley market, wandering through the soho/escalator district - where we decided we would start our true new years eve celebrations at this great little wine bar ... oh dear, started MUCH too early! by the time we were done with our munchies and took in the movie "sherlock holmes" (which was excellent) we were all feeling very, very tired - even though it was only 10:00 p.m. it helped the situation a little knowing that sam and josh had to catch their cab for the airport at 4:30 a.m. was very hard to say goodbye! dave and i hopped on the ferry shortly thereafter and found the ride over very quiet, got to the apartment - that too felt very quiet.

now we are heading back to work and counting down six weeks when we head on our next adventure ... YUMA!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

more BANG for your buck !!!

November 22, 2009 EDIITION

BANGKOK-This weekend saw a group of eight TIS staff journey to Bangkok to participate in the Standard Charter Bangkok Marathon, specifically the Quarter Marathon (10.55 miles). Team members (Mona Brennan, Des and Rachel Courtney, Steve Lauchlan, Dave and Yvonne Spreadbury, Cassie Xu and Lisa Ziebart) relished in the traditional pre-race preparations of midnight pad thai (best ever, all yours for the sum of 30 BHT/1 CDN) and fried banana pancakes; morning, noon and night lassies (a wonderful smoothie concoction of fresh fruit and yogurt - oops! also the best ever); shopping; and more delectable delights (that is to say ... pad thai, banana pancakes and lassies). Was this group here to run or to eat?

it was a wonderful weekend away, and the race was an added bonus. we had been experiencing (i cringe to write this ... but it IS true!) a cold snap of 7-10 degrees and the warm weather in bangkok was a welcome relief! lisa had found a great little budget hotel on khao san road (known as the backpackers mecca) and it proved to be a fantastic spot - close to the race, close to shopping, and of course, close to ALL THE FOOD!!! as we were enjoying a final lunch at the airport we realized that it (the meal at the airport) had cost as much as our entire weekend eating off the street vendors, and wasn't as good. who says two can't dine for $3.99 ?!!!!!!

in the top TEN

bunaken island, sulawesi (indonesia)

this particular little spot is actually in the top 10 for scuba diving and it did not take us long to see why - absolutely fantastic - we were kind of thinking that as far as diving goes, it just doesn't get any better! there were so many dive sites in the area and for the most part, there was no need to go much deeper than 25-30 m. an amazing assortment of sea life and in volumes that we have not seen before. snorkeling was the same, and one of the best spots was right in front of the resort (in fact this huge ray swam right past me when i was almost at shore, the water at that point couldn't have been past my knees).

we had great company in our friends, mona and jim (we run with mona) and their two children menoa (gr.1) and ushwya (JK) - was nice to be able to get together as for the most part, evenings were very quiet (no tvs, videos, in fact, the resort doesn't offer anything other than diving!) and there is nothing else on the was fun watching menoa and ushwya bond with the local children - they all for some reason deemed our terrace as the perfect place to play, which we didn't mind - that is until we caught a couple of the little local girls crawling in to our bungalow through the window whilst we were showering! we played a fair bit of beginner uno and even though there was a definite language barrier it seemed to work well.

we had a nice bungalow with a great walkout bridge (just on our bungalow) to a terrace that extended out. but we did not have air conditioning, only a fan, and there was only 12 hours of power a day (from 5:30 pm to 5:30 am) - and it was hot! hot! hot! typically high 30's. we were actually quite smart this time around and did not burn to a crisp the first day out as have done on previous trips (perhaps the "lesson" we learned in lombok from having booked a spa treatment/body scrub the day after burning so badly was still too "fresh" of a memory?).

highlights from our diving would have to include seeing this HUMUNGUS turtle, several sharks, lobsters - and a special treat - we were able to see some mandarin fish coming out at night, that was very cool.
only a few pairs come out to mate each evening and they are very small and very sensitive to light. shortly after watching the mandarin fish, we had the unfortunate experience of getting caught in a current - i was the first to go and it just picked me up - at the time i had NO idea what was happening, absolutely no clue - i just knew for some reason that all of a sudden i was swirling toward the surface - then it picked up mona, then dave and then jim. the dive master grabbed me and was pulling me down at which point the others grabbed on to each other. this was such an unnerving feeling and even more so as all we could do was to hold tightly onto the coral (which you feel so guilty doing) and "wait" it out. i can certainly understand now the power behind those currents. out of the two night dives we have done, neither have been what you would call a pleasant experience. hmmmm.

in one particular dive i had come across some most interesting parasite-type fish, they were a brilliant neon green and seemed to hover exactly perpendicular to each other. i was able to signal over to dave to take a picture and as he did, the huge stone that they were on seemed to move - it had to be at least 3-4 feet across - well! it was a turtle, unbeknownst to me - here i was admiring these tiny little fish when this GI-NORMOUS turtle was right in front of my nose! perhaps my investigative skills could use a little honing?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

WOW! It seems like we were just getting ready to head back to Canada for the summer and here it is is November already. It seemed like such a short time that we were home but I guess time flies when you are having fun!!

We started the summer with a week in Santa Barbara visiting Craig and Jos. What a great place to live! It seems everyone is out walking, running, cycling, etc. We had to be part of the culture so Craig entered us in a 10 mile run for the 4th of July. A lot of fun! They packed a picnic lunch and took us to wine country for a day to take in some wine tasting. It was a great week and a great way to start our summer!

We were really fortunate that Sam was working in Calgary on a project for several months so she was there over the summer.We got to spend several weekends with her so were feeling quite spoiled. She flew Josh up for a weekend and we all went to Banff to give him his first taste of the mountains. We sent them up for a helicopter tour in Canmore and then spent the rest of the day touring around Lake Louise and Banff.

At this point, Josh had already planned a surprise engagement party for Sam in Atlanta so we were busy conspiring with him to try and pull it off. It was a huge success. Yvonne and I managed to fly in to Atlanta and be there when Josh and Sam walked in to the house. I know she was really surprised, and fortunately for all, she had said "yes" when he popped the question. PS the Wedding will be August 14, 2010.

Although our time seemed rushed, we did manage to get in our second annual bike trip with Bonnie and Wallace. We went through Kananaskis, down into the Crow's nest and over to Kimberley. Then up through Radium and into Banff for a final night before heading back to Stettler. The weather this year was just great. HOT, HOT, HOT.

Yvonne's mom managed to join us for a couple of days camping at Sundre. I managed to get in some fishing with dad and we were able to play lots of games in the evenings. Very relaxing!

It wouldn't be a summer if we weren't able to hook up with Gordon and Velma. It was shorter than we would have liked, but it was fantastic to get together at Waterfowl and do a bit of fishing. On top of that, Gordon and I were able to give the girls a lesson or two at one-eyed-jacks. Life is good!

Jim and Lillian treated us to a great dinner at their newly renovated condo to wrap up the summer. It was a wonderful evening of catching up and swapping stories before we had to fly back to Macao for our school year to start August 24. Yvonne will take over and start a new post to fill you in on our trip to Indonesia for October break.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Flash Flood!

I know it is probably asking a bit much to think that any of you in Alberta this year will feel the least bit of empathy for us, but we did have a torrential downpour yesterday! It started thundering and lightning about 4:00 am and continued 'til about 10:00.
Yvonne looked out the balcony and there was a huge backlog of traffic as cars were stalled in front of our building. We went down to the lobby to snap a few pictures, and I ended up helping push some of the vehicles out of the way. Here is a bit of what it looked like. The weather website first recorded 155 mL (and 37 mL per hour). It was quite something!

ps: did you notice dave's"workboots"?!!

Easter Break in Malaysia

We were in Malaysia (Tioman Island) with Deanna and Glenn for the start of Easter break and had a great time. The food at the resort was actually quite incredible and so meal times ended up being a couple hours of just not eating lots, but chatting the day away! They only had the long weekend, but we stayed on after they left for another three days to do some diving. We rented motorbikes one day and toodled around (in a mid-morning downpour no less!), and spent another afternoon golfing. The course was part of the resort and the back nine was all along the ocean with some spectacular views. it reminded of us what pebble beach looks like (or what we think it "must" look like!). at one particular hole the men had an elevated tee and as they were offering their golf balls up to the "golf gods" half a dozen monkeys came out to cheer them on - and on this one rock sat three of them - looking EXACTLY like the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil and speak-no-evil trio. it was SO funny!

After they flew out we did a bit of scuba diving(if you look closely, you can see the shark), golfed another nine, and spent an afternoon at the spa. Then it was time for discovering Kuala Lumpur (we had three days there before coming back to work). We put on a lot miles walking and sightseeing between the shopping malls. (note from yvonne: it was 35+C, very humid and our "lots of miles" was actually sef-induced: didn't want to get scammed by the taxis, didn't like the particular tours offered so we made up our own "walking tour" that i have to say was great! we were gone 9 hours and didn't do much shopping that first day. it was really something and i still shake my head whenever i think of it - here we were, cotton/no sleeves/light clothing with sweat absolutely pouring down us and we would meet these muslim women - all with the head coverings - some with more westernized clothing - most with the burka and then a few more yet with not only the burka but with the head covering that only had a narrow slit for their eyes. it was amazing, and my heart just ached for them! such an obvious double-sided situation because a few steps ahead were their husbands clad in shorts, tshirts, sandals and sunglasses. so thankful am i that not only am i canadian, but as a woman am canadian!. that first day we took in the petronas towers,
the national mosque, the national museum, the national railway station, central market (a zoo it was!), chinatown and ended our journey by getting a little disorientated and adding even more mileage. The second day was spent, more or less (more) shopping. now that i have the facts correct, i'll turn it back to dave). You would be proud of Yvonne, she didn't whine no matter how many stores I wanted to go in and how many outfits I wanted to try on! I did actually welcome the chance to get in the air conditioned mall 'cause it was about 34 C while we were walking around. That evening, we treated ourselves to a spa treatment at the hotel. They had a pool of fish that nibble all the dead skin away as you soak your feet. Yvonne freaked out when I put my feet in and they disappeared from view as the fish swarmed them. It was quite the feeling, very tickly and it took me a few minutes to stop from laughing as they chewed away. Yvonne got her feet in but as soon as the fish came close, she pulled them out. The girl there just laughed at her so finally she left them in long enough to have a fish actually touch her. That was the end of that! She couldn't bring herself to stick them back in.
Then it was on the airplane and back to Macau. Another great week!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

catching up ... (january - march)

january went by in a blur. we came home after Christmas with only three weeks until the break for chinese new year (how can we bear it you ask?) - but in that three weeks the school experienced their first set of diploma exams which had not only the students nervous but staff as well, and i had to issue my third installment tuition fees which wasn't exactly just a matter of printing them off and placing in an envelope. lots of missed lunch hours and early mornings - but we were able to get everything done. i think what saved our sanity, if one were to be as bold to call it that, was our morning runs. dave's ankle slowly came around and just this morning we were thinking he is back to his normal full-speed-ahead, although he can still notice it acting up on any great incline.

for CNY we chose cebu (philippines) for a WONDERFUL week of relaxing and diving. the resort was incredible, we were upgraded to the #1 "shack" and had the most picturesque view from our balcony; in fact, most evenings we ordered room service and ate on the balcony not to mention the morning coffee/canasta sessions!
the resort had a house reef which meant that we had just a 1.5 minute boat ride to the start of the dive - and down we would go to the most incredible sealife.

we did do a day two-dive trip down past cebu city which was a 3.5 hour boat ride, it was equally as impressive, but alot more congested of course. at one particular mooring spot there must have been at least 30 boats, all with groups of divers (we had our boat all to ourselves!).

the resort was extremely tight security-wise and in order to go off the compound you were required to sign a waiver. when we first got there, one of us was very interested in attending the cock fights that were held sunday evenings in town; the other one knew she, oops i mean knew they would end up not watching too much of it, but just wanted to be that supportive partner. the resort explained they could set it up, but strongly recommended choosing something else and the supportive one certainly let out a sign of relief when it was deemed too dangerous of an undertaking.

our day tour over to bohol proved to be a very good choice. put lots of miles on and saw lots - highlights included the chocolate hills, some caves, this very interesting but very old church, and the funniest little animal - the tarsier.

our tour guide was not exactly what you would call a tour guide - he was actually our dive master and was chosen to take us as the fellow originally lined up was on another tour. well! i think bohol was his first trip off cebu - seriously! didn't know how to get through the ferry terminal, jumped ahead and chose the best seat for himself - once we were in bohol we hooked up with a local driver/SUV and he was excellent but it became very apparent who was doing all the work! too funny. as we were driving back to the resort (after the ferry ride from bohol back to cebu city), it must have been about 9:30 pm or so, and we had not eaten supper yet, the guide/driver decide to make a stop. we were sitting in the back wondering what was going on. here they were buying themselves a nice roasted chicken for supper - and it was very hard to sit there and smell that wonderful aroma, ON AN EMPTY STOMACH!!

the very next weekend (after returning from cebu) our little running group (dave, lisa, mona, cassie, jacqueline and myself) did the hong kong 10K. UNBELIEVABLE is all i can say. imagine this: 32,900 runners ... in the 10K alone !!! then take into consideration there were two other events (full and half) and picture ALL those people trying to catch the metro to get to the start of the race. again, all i can say is UNBELIEVABLE!!! it was a great experience and we were pleased with our time, knowing that with those types of crowds it is not where you try for ANY time !!!

halfway through the next week, we got an email from our friend howard (who is the VP of the high school) about the "inaugural"/first ever zhuhai half marathon ... and we laughed ... and said why not?!!! we thought it would be great to get in on the very first one, even though none of us had done too much over 7-8 miles in the last couple of months. dave, lisa and i were able to very easily convince steve to join us - okay, now he is an athlete there is no doubt - but he hadn't run, oh, for a good couple years. as we were making plans for the event that was only a few days ahead, he goes "okay, so what do you think i should do to get ready for this?" .... we laughed and all said at the same time ... "run"!!! the half was so much fun and such an easy/flat-and-fast/but very scenic course. LOVED IT! people were lined up the entire route and cheering their hearts out. they obviously had been coached what to say in english - we had many pictures taken as dave and i wore our canada shirts - but we'd hear not only JI-YO (mandarin for go) but "look good" ... "fighter" ... "come on" ... then dave and i actually got a "hurry up" near the end!!! as you are reading these, what makes it so funny is the way they pronounce them - each word is drawn out with a bit of a pause between, so for instance fighter becomes "fii.............ter". we would respond with our limited mandarin "xiexie" and some would further reply " ......... wel.....come"! i guess you just had to be there - it still makes me laugh!

alberta learning spent the previous week here evaluating the programs and the school in general (which by the way, we passed with flying colors); five student teachers are doing their practicum teaching (one of which is a young girl from didsbury of all places!!!) ... and now we are counting the days until our next break, when we go to malaysia for easter. we will be meeting deanna and glenn on tioman island (singapore has a 4 day weekend then) and spending the last 3 days in KL.

oh i must mention we had our two little friends as visitors last weekend (their parents did a quick get-away to hong kong). we thoroughly enjoyed them and the weekend - and were able to get them to teach us a few more games on the wii (we were basically just using it for the wii-fit, which is quite excellent i must say). even though the weather was not very favourable, we did not let it damper our spirits - we watched a couple movies, baked some cookies (which i really wished i would have gotten a picture of - imagine this - thick gooey, chocolatey dough absolutely OOOOOZING out of their fingers - amid tons of giggles), did the dollar store tour and then lots of wii time. we are going to miss them next year that is for sure!