Wednesday, December 22, 2010

TBR time again and resolutions

I've read about 80 books this year (and the year isn't over yet).... On the TBR list, I've read 14 out the 36 books I wanted to read this year, and I'm working on "Physics of the Impossible" which I'll finish this week. So what am I going to do for this year....

I'm going from Left to Right for my Primary List:
1. Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks
2. Post-War Laos by Vatthana Pholsena
3. To What End by War Just
4. Buddha by Karen Armstrong
5. A Brief History of the Human Race by Michael Cook
6. To Live Again by Robert Silverberg
7. The Granta Book of India
8. Shadows on the Hudson by Isaac Bashevis Singer
9. Spook Country by William Gibson
10. Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan
11. Hotel of the Saints by Ursula Hegi
I'll skip the Thai-English dictionary which is next along the line
12. Invisible Nation by Quil Lawrence

My Alternative List (continued from 2010)
1. A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard (I think this is the third year. It's really interesting. I don't know why I haven't finished it, well, other than the subject content is so heavy)
2. Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen (slow reading but good for the soul)
3. What I talk about When I talk about running by Murakami
4. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
5. The World without Us by Alan Weisman
6. 2666: A Novel by Roberto Bolano
7. A Grand Delusion by Robert Mann
8. BuddhaDa by Anne Donovan
9. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
10. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
11. I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume
12. Slan by A.E. Van Vogt

1. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
2. Await your Reply by Dan Chaon
3. Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
4. Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
5. Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
6. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow
7. Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
8. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
9. Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shanga, Ifa Bayeza
10. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
11. Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
12. The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

Let's see how it goes this year! TBR is stimulated by "The Reader Challenges" blog, which seems not to want to load right now. Addendum: Here's the link!

My other resolutions this year? Try to enjoy working part time and not take on extra work (even though what I do for my consulting is only what interests me), try to get back into my writing habit. Exercise every day and take care of my health. Don't procrastinate (ha! see how long that lasts...)

Friday, November 05, 2010

Sky Watch Friday - 5 Nov 2010


The rains have finally stopped and we're now into cool season. I enjoy the weather a lot - about 10 - 15 degrees C in the mornings. It's nippy as the houses don't have heating so it's great to get out for nice morning walks.

Another benefit is the glowing later afternoon light. I don't know why the light takes on this characteristic but it's beautiful. A week ago, I was in Pakse and took the above photo of an abandoned house, with a wisp of cloud over it. 

For the past eight months, Vientiane has been working on the waterfront park. It used to be a mostly untended strip of land by the river, maintained by vendors who built small temporary shacks for cooking and selling food and beer to enhance the experience of viewing the sunset over the Mekong River.

This year, Vientiane is celebrating the '450 year road,' of its existence so the park is part of the beautification of the city. Earlier this week, the eight-meter tall statue of King Anouvong was placed on its base. Like anything out of the ordinary, lots of people came to the park to watch the workers weld the King to his pedestal. Well, I was there too!

And under a threatening sky, a family of five people all on one motorcycle.

Hope you enjoyed my photos. This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

This is my world 2 Nov 2010

The rainy season seems to be finished and now we're into the cool clear days of winter. I'm back in my morning run/ walk routine and passed a neighbor's house. Their business is khao lahm, a confection made from sticky rice, black beans, sweetened coconut milk and shredded coconut - steamed in bamboo tubes. When the cooking is done, the vendors strip off the outer layer of the bamboo so when you buy it, you peel back the inner layer of bamboo to eat the sticky rice, which has been colored purple by the beans and is very sweet. Yum.

This is another view of the outdoor kitchen:

A few photos to contribute to That's My World Check out other pictures from other people's worlds!

Wordless Wendesday

Friday, October 15, 2010

15 October 2010


The end of the rainy season puts on quite a show - dramatic clouds over the Mekong River, looking towards Nakorn Phanom, Thailand.

This little boy was looking out towards Thailand as well. I think he was looking through the wrong end of the toy field glasses. I captured him at a temple fair. The end of the rainy season is also the end of Buddhist Lent. All along the Mekong, people from villages and cities celebrate by holding boat races.  Temple fairs and gathering of merchants selling everything accompanies the boat racing.

There still are periods of rain. I went out to some villages near the Lao - Vietnam border this week. There were floods in those areas last week - in fact, the other side of the border on the Vietnamese side had some of the worst flooding in years.

Buddhist Lent ends with the next full moon. People are watching the moon and counting off the days.

Hope you enjoyed my photos. This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sky Watch Friday - 20 August 2010


I was a bit occupied with things before traveling to Vietnam. These photos are from the week before last, when we traveled to Salavan and Champasak Provinces. After a late start to the rainy season, the rice fields are filling up, people are transplanting seedlings and the rice is starting to grow. Here are a few highlights:

The brown in the foreground is not a road but the edge of the field, under water, which has not been planted yet.

Behind the Dept of Health while we were talking outside. A few moments later, the clouds started to move in on our part of the sky.

Early in the morning in Pakse. The ground is starting to warm up and the ground clouds are starting to make their morning rounds.

Hope you enjoyed my photos. This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Monsoon skies 30 July 2010


The rains are finally coming in - though too much in some places. We drove up to Xieng Khouang last Saturday and passed about 10 minor landslides along the way. None of them blocked more than half the road, though some big trees did fall down; however, the hardy local villagers had already cut up the trees and carried most of the remains away.

Yesterday, after some meetings, I suggested we drive up to one of the highest hills around Phonsavanh. Recently, a road appeared on the hill; I thought it was neat until I realized that something would be built up there. As we enjoyed the view, we looked down on the foundations for a new hotel. The top two photos are from the top of the hill.

Yesterday, I joined my staff for a special blessing ceremony for our truck, which was in a minor accident a few days ago. No one was hurt - a motorcycle hit the side of the truck and fortunately, the rider was wearing a helmet. So we went to a local temple for a ceremony - however, the special bee's wax candle, which the person measures around the head, the length of the forearm, and the collar bone to the belly button, didn't light. So K. drove back to market and I walked around the temple. The monk performing the ceremony took a moment to contemplate the view.

Near my house - the rice is starting to take root.

Hope you enjoyed my photos. This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Friday, July 16, 2010

16 July: Some rainy season views around Vietnam


I just finished two weeks of field visits in Vietnam. On our last day, we drove up to Lao Bao, the Vietnamese side of the border crossing to Laos. Both sides of the border have big markets so people, even if they're not crossing over, go for shopping, to see what kinds of deals they can find.

The town itself is pretty ugly and there wasn't much interesting in the shops. However, the scenery outside town is beautiful.

The other side of this hill is the Sepon River, the border between Laos and Vietnam. Not too far from home.

We traveled to Hue, in Central Vietnam, with a rain storm to the west of us. We didn't get wet.

The central provinces are very poor. Many of the communities upstream were wiped out during Typhoon Ketsana last year - and now they are suffering drought. During our trip, we saw many fields which were brown and rock hard, with blades of green rice plants standing up. I hope the rains got to those fields.

We reached our destination on Saturday - Hue, the site of the ancient city which was destroyed during the Vietnam War. The bridge on the Perfume River is lit up at night with lights that change colors.

Hope you enjoyed my photos. This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Friday, July 09, 2010

9 July - Around central VN


Did I really miss SWF last week? I thought I had some photos, but in my frenzy with this evaluation, I guess I spaced it out. Well, here are some photos around Vietnam this week.

I arrived in Hanoi. Usually I stay in the old quarter but the organization I'm consulting for, has moved their office to south central Hanoi. Less crowded (though you wouldn't know by this photo) but there are many small neighborhoods filled with quiet and trees.

 We traveled to Dong Hoi, along the central coast. Like much of central Vietnam, it was bombed during the war. It's a very peaceful city now - off the main roads, it's hardly like being in Vietnam at all; no traffic and noise! However, construction projects still unearth unexploded ordnance.

Dong Hoi is at the intersection of the Nhat Le River and the ocean. Nhat Le means 'tears of the sun,' not sure of the legend that contributed to this name but it is beautiful. The ocean beach itself is very nice and we had snacks there one night. When we sat down, we decided it was worth the risk that it might rain. We didn't didn't expect that it would rain, but five minutes later, it really came down. We huddled under large umbrellas while we gulped beer and ate squid. Five minutes later, it stopped.

 We went out to some remote areas after that, to interview villagers about the impact of the program I'm evaluating. The town itself was not very impressive - but the sky!

The town lies in a river valley surrounded by limestone cliffs. I could have stayed there for several more weeks, but we had to move on....

Hope you enjoyed my photos. This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Friday, June 25, 2010

25 June 10: a week of skies


These two weeks involve a lot of traveling. I took the night train up from Bangkok on Sunday and arrived in Vientiane on Tuesday. The photo above is the bends of the elevated train, known as the Skytrain, in Bangkok. It's a very convenient and low-cost way of beating the traffic in Bangkok.

You can just see the Skytrain rounding the traffic circle (under the Canon sign) around Victory Monument.

I arrived in Nong Khai on Monday morning and enjoyed relaxing in this quiet town on the banks of the Mekong River. I talked to someone who has lived in the town for ten years and we reminisced about the town in the past. The waterfront has been restored, with a nice walking park on top of the bank. I watched some kids skateboarding and also, this couple who were having an intense conversation with frequent attempts to call someone on their cell phone.

Later on, I went to a waterfront restaurant and saw the moon in relation to these light chains. Took a few shots but I enjoyed the outcome.

The following morning, I woke to the sound of rain. The sky was coming down, drop by drop. Some friends came by and picked me up to bring me back to Laos.

I hope that next week, I'll be able to find a wireless connection to send some photos from the skies of Vietnam.

Hope you enjoyed my photos. This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Friday, June 18, 2010

18 June: Fog on a clear day


It's been a while since I've been able to take pictures and post. My Nikon stopped working, just about the time that things started to heat up in Bangkok. I decided to wait until things quieted down, and then we had our own program evaluation so I had to wait some more. Happy to say, I've been re-united with my camera. It was a model which had been recalled because of a defective part, so the service center took care of everything and I had the camera back the following day.

But these pictures are not taken with my newly restored camera. I took these about two weeks ago in Pakse, Champasak Province. I kept the air con in the hotel room on all night and the camera had dropped down to the ambient temperature so when I took it out into the moist hot air the following day - instant fog. The sky had a few morning clouds, but everything was clear by the ground. The fog was in my camera's perception.

I took these pictures near one of the bridges on the Sedon River.

I walked around the back of the Buddhist wat, into a tiny graveyard (well, the ashes are placed in those monuments). The fog still had not lifted, so the effects were weird. The picture above is of benches, where relatives can sit and enjoy the view.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Monday, April 19, 2010

TBR 2010 and back in Vientiane

I'm looking at my list to decide what books I should bring with me when I go to the field on Weds. I have 36 books on my lists and I've read 11 of them so far. Happy to be making some progress on the pile!

Primary list:
1. Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen - reading
2. A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard - reading
3. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West - Xieng Khouang
4. What I talk about when I talk about Running by Haruki Murakami - reading
5. number9dream by Daid Mitchell
6. Wandering through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc - Vientiane
7. In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh
8. Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
9. The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins - Xieng Khouang
10. The Care of Strangers by Charles E. Rosenberg - Vientiane
11. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
12. Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon - Audiobook, anywhere

Alternative list:
1. Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus
2. Hard Times by Charles Dickens - Audiobook
3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - reading
4. Herzog by Saul Bellow
5. Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham - Audiobook
6. The World without Us by Alan Weisman - Audiobook
7. 2666: A Novel by Roberto Bolano - Vientiane
8. Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku - Audiobook
9. Brasyl by Ian MacDonald
10. A Grand Delusion by Robert Mann - Vientiane
11. BuddhaDa by Anne Donovan - reading
12. Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing

Alternative alternative list:
1. The Execution Channel b Ken MacLeod
2. Shriek: an Afterword by Jeff Vandermeer
3. Slan by A.E. Van Vogt
4. Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint
5. The Redundancy of Courage by Timothy Mo
6. The Tapestries by Kien Nguyen
7. On the Natural History of Destruction by W. G. Sebald
8. Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan
9. White Noise by Don DeLillo
10. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
11. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
12. I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume

In other news, I just returned from Nepal and I'm in my little house in Vientiane, where a big storm is now blowing up. Just stepped in the door, to be greeted by my cats - and already looking at going out to the field. Better not tell my cats.

I'm happy that the Mekong River is a little higher than when I left. The drought and lack of water for irrigation was pretty upsetting. Now, after a meeting of the Mekong River Commission with the Mekong Basin countries and China, they came to some sort of agreement that China would release more water from its upstream dams. And it has started to rain, which also helps.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My World

I've been doing some work and touristing in Nepal for the past three weeks. These are a few pictures of a hike around Dhulikhel. I last visited this town on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley and hiked to Namobuddha shrine and monastery in 1989. A lot has changed - but a lot remains the same.

From Nepal Mar - April 2010

Because of the general unrest in the country, I decided to hire the services of a guide. He was great. In addition to walking on trails which didn't follow the dusty main roads, he knew a lot about development and the education system in Nepal. He is the head of the school committee for the community managed school in his village. We had a lot to talk about.

Above: Prem on the stairway leading to the Kali temple.

The beginning of the hike went straight up the stairway to the temple. Once there, we had to walk carefully as the army had set up a camp around the temple, complete with razor wire and fortifications to protect the nearby cell phone tower.

That was certainly a big change. However, the fields and the labor of the farmers preparing their fields has not changed much.

From Nepal Mar - April 2010

View of Namobuddha Monastery from afar.

From Nepal Mar - April 2010

When I was there in 1989, there was only one building at the top of the hill, where a few old monks and nuns greeted us. Now, the monastery extends around the hilltop and on to the next hill. Several hundred monks are in residence and it's possible for foreigners to stay there and meditate. Next time...

From Nepal Mar - April 2010

Above - view of prayer flags from the top of the monastery.

From Nepal Mar - April 2010

View of the Namobuddha shrine, on a shoulder of the hill below the monastery. The story itself comes from the Jataka Tales, the 500 incarnations of the Lord Buddha before his rebirth. The tale of Namobuddha is from his last rebirth before his final re-birth. The Boddhisattva was walking near this place and came upon a starving tigress and her five kittens. He was so distressed to learn of her suffering that he gave up his own body for her and allowed them to kill him and consume his flesh.

The shrine allows people to think of his sacrifice and his loving kindness to care for all sentient beings.