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There is a really unusual honor, tradition, trend in Communist and former Communist countries of laying out the mummified bodies of the leaders upon death. Russia has Lenin, China has Mao, North Korea has Kim Il Sung, and of course, Vietnam has Uncle Ho. What trip to Hanoi would be complete without witnessing this oddity, side show, waxy piece of mummified history?

I arrived early in the morning hoping to avoid long lines, and met a huge crowd already waiting. Luckily, the lines, while long, moved quickly.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the Mausoleum, but were able to explore the grounds, which included a museum, and the Presidential Palace (in yellow, above). It was a little creepy witnessing the body, which honestly looked far more like a wax dummy. Apparently, the body travels back to Moscow for a couple of months each year for “maintenance.” Viewers walk around the casket on three sides. and there are armed and bayoneted guards at each corner of the casket.

Interestingly, Ho Chi Minh never wanted to be mummified. He preferred to be cremated, and have his ashes scattered in Vietnam as a symbol of a unified country. I guess even atheist ideologies need their communist, god, saints to believe in.

Afterwards, I went to the Hanoi War Museum:

Feeling a little overwhelmed with war, history, and even propaganda, I decided I needed some cultural influences. My next stop was the Temple of Literature, a Confucius temple, and the first national university in Vietnam.

I ended the night with a performance at the Water Puppet Theatre, a night market, and some pho from a street vendor.


It was a bitterly cold morning as I waited for the bus that would take me to Incheon. Snow was lightly falling, it was dark, and all I could think about was sunshine and blessed heat. Because my two public schools had waited so long to finalize our winter break, I had decided to go to Hanoi, Vietnam.

On the bus to the airport, I kept checking and re checking my passport and Visa papers. Vietnam has a slightly more complicated set of Visa requirements, and I had pre-arranged Visa approval through myvietnamvisa.com. If one does not have the correct papers or pre-arranged approval, they will not be allowed on the plane. Upon arriving at Incheon, I was checked in easily, and made my way to the gate. Quietly checking last-minute messages before boarding, I suddenly heard my name being called over the speakers. With a sense of dread, I approached the counter, half expecting visa issues. At the counter, it was explained to me that the flight was overbooked, and I was offered a free upgrade to Business!

Yes, please!

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Champagne toast to new adventures!

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This was my first flight in Business Class. I tend to be a frugal traveler, and prefer to save my money for side trips when I’m actually in a new place. I must say, I understand why some people never fly anything but Business/First. The food is amazing, and it’s so, so much more comfortable than Economy.

I arranged for a pick up at the airport in Hanoi by my hotel. Arriving in the Old Quarter, I dumped my bags, grabbed my camera, and just wandered.

Pictures can’t truly capture Hanoi. The smell of gas and diesel. The fear of being hit by a moto.

Hanoi definitely has an energy unlike any place I have ever been!

Tired and developing a bit of a headache from all of the fumes, I decided to have dinner and call it a night. I wandered to a restaurant near my hotel that was famous for Cha Ca ( Fried fish, rice noodles, pepper, peanuts, onions and mint. Amazing!) Sitting upstairs in a quiet room, I realized the host was showing another person into the room. Quickly looking up, and then doing a double take, I nearly choked. I swear Adrien Brody was standing there as the host was checking the room for something he had lost or left. The entire encounter only lasted for a minute or so, and I was too in shock to say anything or ask for a picture!

I’m still kicking myself!


One of the places I had most wanted to visit in Korea is the city of Gyeongju. Gyeongju is referred to as a “museum without walls,” and contains several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Although I had wanted to visit badly, Gyeongju is a 3.5 hour bus ride away from Jeonju. Given the fact that there is so much to see and do there, I felt I needed several days in the area to really make the trip worthwhile. In February, I had a three day weekend, and decided it was the perfect time to finally see what Gyeongju has to offer:

On North Korea


I woke up Sunday morning to a concerned note from a friend back home. This friend returned back to the US last fall after working in South Korea for several years. Watching the latest reports out of Korea, he was worried for the safety of his friends still living on the peninsula. I sent a message back telling him not to worry, and thanking him for the sweetness of his concern.

Returning back to Jeonju after the Holi Festival in Busan, I decided I should probably call my family. My father, a Korean War Veteran, worries about the situation in Korea, and has never trusted the actions of the North. My mother is my co-conspirator in trying to keep my father from the latest news and needless worry. With the situation at hand, this has been impossible. Regardless of what may appear on the news at any given moment, my Korean friends and neighbors carry on as if everything is normal. Indeed, for a country still technically at war since 1953, this is truly the case. North Korea has a long history of heightened rhetoric, and occasional aggressive and unprovoked action. The people of South Korea carry on and make the best of things despite their neighbors to the North.

I reassured my mother, and told her that there were two things that, if they were to happen, would signal to me that the situation was growing more dangerous. The first of these would be the closing of Gaesong. Gaesong is the factory park that is jointly run by North and South Korea. This area produces quite a bit of revenue for North Korea. I have found it humorous that Kim Jong Un has closed ties with South Korea, but has continued to allow workers from the South into this area for economic gain. It has been hard to take any threats seriously when that has been the case.

The second occurence that I thought might signal a need for concern would be if the US moved more war ships into the region. This would not necessarily indicate immediate action or need for alarm, but it would signal a much more serious concern on the part of the US. Given the fact that their Intelligence is far superior to mine, I would take this action as a truer sign of potential aggression.

Within the last 24 hours, both of these things have occurred:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/02/north-korea-south-korea-workers_n_3003225.html?utm_hp_ref=north-korea

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/02/us-warship-deployed-north-korea-asia-pacific_n_3000077.html?utm_hp_ref=north-korea

Also of note, Richard Engel, famed chief foreign correspondent, is currently in Seoul. Engel is usually in the midst of any breaking global aggression.

Life in South Korea continues as usual. None of my Korean friends or co-workers have even mentioned the latest events. I wake up. I teach my children. I make plans for festivals, and for travel. I go about my normal life. I am not too overly concerned. I am paying close attention to the news now. I check the US Embassy in South Korea’s website periodically for any travel advisories or warnings. So far, there is only a strong warning not to travel to NORTH Korea.

Duly Noted!

After today’s news, I did decide to register with the Embassy. It is probably a needless precaution, but I think it wiser to prepare for any possible eventuality.

I plan to travel out again this weekend and play with my new toy, a Cannon SX50 HS. It is terribly hard to worry when spring has arrived, flowers are in bloom, and fun festivals abound.

Also of note, Richard Engel is in town. He’s handsome, brilliant, brave, and has a passport full of stamps. How can a girl be blue when the perfect man has landed in her backyard?


Indians In Korea hosted Holi Festival in Busan on March 31st. Holi in India has long been on my list of things I really want to experience. Obviously unable to book a flight to India, I jumped at the chance to attend the festival in Busan.

Each year, thousands of Hindus participate in the festival Holi. The festival has many purposes. First and foremost, it celebrates the beginning of the new season, spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colors and saying farewell to winter. It also has a religious purpose, commemorating events present in Hindu mythology. During this event, participants hold a bonfire, throw colored powder at each other, and celebrate wildly.

There were no bonfires in Busan. We met at the beach at 9:30, and waited for events to unfold. There was a last-minute change in the starting time. The festival was moved from 10:30 to 9:30. We arrived at 9:30, but apparently most of the participants missed the change. People were slowly trickling in for the rest of the morning. We were given Holi caps and colored powder, and instructed to please not play Holi until 11:00. By 11:00, many, many people were still straggling in, so we were given beer and samosas to snack on.

Although it took a little time for the main event to begin, we had a lovely time on the beach dancing to Bollywood tunes. Once it was time to “play Holi,” nearly 1000 people pelted and wiped one another with brightly colored powder. There were kites in the sky, people being tossed in the air and buried in the sand, and costumes and merriment. This was a beautiful day and place to celebrate the renewal of Spring.

2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


      "Thou shalt not plan. Thou shalt not hurry. Thou shalt not travel 
       without  backpacks, on anything other than backroads.  And thou 
       shalt not, ever, in any circumstance, call thyself a tourist."
                 (Golden Commandments of The Overlander)

                            'Video Night In Kathmandu'    Pico Iyer

I had a five-day weekend over Chuseok, and couldn’t decide where to go. I kept checking flight prices and times, and most flights were either too expensive, or the travel times were too inconvenient. I have a couple of countries on my list to visit that are reserved for short breaks. Taiwan is always an easy and viable option. I also considered Thailand. Typically, a return flight from Seoul to Bangkok is around $400.00. There are many, many places I want to see in Thailand, and although I wouldn’t be able to see much in five days, I knew I could see Bangkok and take an overnight trip to Ayutthaya. Excited with my plans, I started checking airfare.

Holy crap!

Tickets to Thailand, normally so cheap and plentiful, had skyrocketed to $800.00!

The more I travel, the more I come to realize that sometimes trips pick you. This holds especially true for ESL teachers in South Korea. Read any blog by any English teacher in Korea and you’ll discover endless jokes and lamentations about the lack of planning, scheduling and notice most schools give their teachers. This is completely true. A fortunate teacher may be given notice of the exact dates of a break a month beforehand. Many times, teachers are given just a couple of weeks. Add short notice to peak travel times in Asia, and chaos is sure to ensue.

There I was checking every travel site. I was checking my dream destinations, and destinations I had given little thought to. I knew I wanted to see Angkor Wat, but five days would just not be enough time. I had wanted to visit Mongolia and do a ger stay, but I thought there was probably no way that flights would be affordable. Also, Mongolia is on the other side of China from Korea, and after my problems with Chinese airlines coming back from Hong Kong, I wanted no more worries of delays on short trips. Quickly running out of options, I decided to throw Ulaanbataar into the flight search, and was amazed at the price and ease. For just a little over $600.00, I could take a direct flight from Seoul to Ulaanbataar!

I bought my limousine bus ticket ahead of time. I had an 12:30 flight and, fearing the worst in Chuseok traffic, arranged a 5:00 am bus ticket to Incheon. The morning of my flight, I woke up at 5:05! I had turned my alarm off in my sleep. I rushed to find a cab and make it to the bus terminal. When I showed the man behind the desk, and motioned that I overslept, he just laughed and put me on the 6:00 bus. I did not even have to pay an additional charge. I really don’t think that would have happened many places outside of Korea.

I met some wonderful people in Mongolia, both local as well as fellow travelers. There were many English teachers, like myself, who were taking advantage of the Korean holiday. I spent the next several days exploring temples and Communist squares. I spent two nights in a ger with some lovely friends I made from Korea, Ariel and Mallory. We rode horses in the mountains. We milked cows and helped lug water. We quite probably ate horse meat sausage, and most definitely used a scary squatter outhouse. We could not take showers.

This was one of the best trips I have ever taken!

I will let the pictures tell the story, but I would like to make one recommendation. Many of the hostels in Ulaanbataar arrange ger stays and tours. They push this, and it can be very convenient. However, I strongly recommend Stone Horse Expeditions and Travel at http://stonehorsemongolia.com/. Stone Horse will pick you up at your hotel or hostel, and you only pay them for transportation. The money for the ger stay goes directly to the family. This does not seem to be the case with most of the hostel tours. It made me feel better to know that my money was going to the family, and helped them maintain their land and livestock.

ger climb

Lost in the vastness!

Photo by Ariel Schoenhuth

ger

We’re in Mongolia! We’re in a ger!

With Mallory Thornberry

Photo by Ariel Schoenhuth

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