Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I can tell the time is nearing for our return trip  home. We have been a little under the weather and I am missing being with you and  sitting in front of our fireplace. I also have found  myself singing the same song under my breath that I did right before we left. It's funny that it would be that song…I hadn't thought of it in years and now I think of it everyday. It was one my mothers favorite songs and for whatever reason it has been the song I sing in my moments of quiet. It is Glen Campbell's  "Gentle on my Mind". I know I have a version of songs that can be a little different than most peoples' but I like the version I have been playing in my mind.

It's just knowing that your door is always open

And your path is free to walk

That keeps you in the back roads

By the rivers of my memory

And for hours you are ever gentle on my mind...

Tears of joy may stain my face

And the summer sun might burn me till I'm blind

I pretend to told you to my breast and find

That your waiting from the back roads

By the rivers of my memory

Ever smiling ever gentle on my mind...

I have thought of my mother a lot during this trip. My mother would have been happy for me I am sure. She would have listened to my endless stories with utter fascination. While she was not a traveler herself, I think she harbored a secret fascination for it. She was a gentle woman, very brave, and  really quite a lovely person. She would always say someday she would do the things she had saved up on her list of things to do. She would be pleased and proud I think to know that I had lived a life of doing the things that were on my list. That I had not waited too long for those somedays and that I was courageous and brave in pursuing even the hard journeys in my life. She who knew my beginnings and she who saw me through to the other side of those journeys would be happy for me today. I know she would have worried about some of the places we have been but down deep she would have been excited for me. She was always one of my biggest fans.

There are so many things I learn when we travel. There is something about our sabbaticals that  are a time of great reflection for me and often inspires growth.  Something about being in all those railway stations, bus depots, airports, and  boat docks remind me that at any given moment we are at a pivotal point for  life altering changes. Sometime we choose the change; sometimes the change chooses us. We have been gone for several weeks and soon we will begin the process home. We have had the adventures of our lives. We have gone places that are identified as wonders of the world, seen things we had only read about before, and met people that we will cherish forever. We have had so much fun together and we have learned so many things. Mostly about ourselves. That change is alright. That often times we seek the comfort of what we know and that change gives us the courage to try and learn something new. In fact, we have embraced the unexpected and unknown while on our sabbatical. We are now ready to return.

And, while we know that change is coming we also have the familiar to come home too…you. You, who are the rivers of my memories who are always gentle on my mind are what I am longing for now. We are  never the same as when we left but what you mean to us has never changed. Thank you that your door is always open and your path is free to walk.

We start the process home at the end of this week. It may take awhile but we continue to pray for exquisite favor with our connections. We will fly to Malaysia and then take the train into Singapore. From there we begin the Space A adventure homeward bound. And so, I will pretend to hold you to my breast and find, that your waiting from the back roads, by the rivers of my memory, ever smiling ever gentle on my mind...

See you in a few weeks...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Vientiane, Lao

There is a gentleness to Lao that you feel the moment your feet hit the ground. It is a tonic to your heart and soul. It is an unassuming and quiet place where even going through customs is a  delight. We were met at the airport by our dear friend Boungkham and a delegation of Doctors and Nurses with beautiful bouquets of flowers. I am not sure what changes in the dynamics from country to country but it's a world of difference from any place we have been so far. I think that is part of the gift that is travel; that no two places are the same.

Vientiane means Sandalwood City. It's beautiful tree lined streets with its' peaceful demeanor conceals a history in which it has been occupied, looted, burnt to the ground  and eventually rebuilt by the Vietnamese, Burmese, Siamese, and the French. From my perspective, it is the French influence that remains the strongest today. It is truly beautiful here.

We are taking some time to rest. We have had the most adventuresome travels! From the bamboo rafts and elephants in Thailand to the Temples of Angkor and Battambang in Cambodia and then the craziness that is Saigon and Hanoi. The beauty of the quiet Hoi An and Halong Bay. It has been a whirlwind and we have been able to experience and see so much. We have had so much fun and have enjoyed our time together immensely. We have some work we are doing here in the Mother/Child Hospital but even that eases our heart and soul and does not feel like work at all.

We have decided that we will stay in this area until we move on to Malaysia. We have traveled out to the countryside and spent some time in the tribal villages. We attended church with our friend and experienced something truly beautiful in this communist country.

We will be a part of a big dinner and reception that the government and hospital are putting on that happens to be on Tom's birthday. We will fly to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia on Saturday.  We will start our travels home shortly thereafter…Singapore, Japan, Hawaii, and Travis…maybe. We will let you know!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halong Bay

In Vietnamese, Ha Long means 'where the dragon decends into the sea'. The legend says that the Islands of Halong were created by a great dragon that lived in the neighboring mountains. As it ran towards the coastline, it's flailing tail gouged out the valleys and crevices, and as it plunged into the sea, the areas dug up by it's tail became filled with water leaving only pockets of high land visible. As we look out on the bay it is easy to see how this legend got it's credibility.

It is beautiful here. We are finding we need the quite and easy days of being on the emerald waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. We are staying on a junk which an ancient Chinese style sailing ship. They range in a variety of shapes and sizes and are really quite nice. Ours is beautiful and only carries twenty passengers and the crew. It sails amidst the karsts and grottos and we are in awe of the beauty here.

There are a variety of activities and excursions but we find that the quiet and easy rocking of our ship as she sails the waterways is really all we need. There is kayaking into the grottos and caves in this area and the water is warm for swimming. But we are content to await the sunset to watch as the emerald ocean turns a deep red. We are in awe of God's goodness to us as we enjoy the beauty here. We are enjoying the rest.

 We head to Laos at the end of the week and are ready to see what lies ahead. Here we will connect with one of our MMI partners and see first hand the work that is being done in Laos. We are excited to be with our friend Bounkham and see this country from his perspective. We will let you know...

Mountain of the Fragrant Traces

There is constant  flurry of activity that is Hanoi. It is vibrant and alive and it stimulates you to your very core. It is constant. After a few days exploring this lively area we decided to take an  outing that would get us out of the city and give us an opportunity to see some of the countryside. As I looked through my book on the area I quickly glanced at a place called the Perfume Pagoda. Being a one fragrance woman I quickly overlooked it. Then I went back and took  another look. It has nothing to do with perfume at all.  It seems there is a complex of temples and shrines built into the karst cliffs of the Huong Tich Mountains. It derived its name from the fragrant blossoms of the flowering trees that were inherent to this area. We decided to give it a try because there is a scenic river trip from My Duc to the base of the mountain that we had heard was stunning.

In no time we had left the hustle and bustle of the city and were on the back roads to My Duc. It took a couple of hours before we reached the river. The boats are rowed by women who paddled for about an hour and half as we got lost in the beauty and serenity of the area. On the banks of the river we could see the women fishing with baskets, nets, or with fishing poles. Rice and vegetables were being cultivated from the neighboring gardens. It was suddenly a very different life and we enjoyed the reprieve.

The main pagoda is deep in a cave and quite an arduous trek to get to the core of it. It was cool and beautiful and we enjoyed the fresh air. This is a holy place for the Buddhist and it is interesting to learn of their customs. They leave numerous offerings for the dead believing that while the dead are gone from their bodies they are not gone in spirit so they may enjoy some of their favorite foods, drinks and even cigarettes daily. At each shrine, offerings are heaped high for their dead ancestors. Tom asked what happens to the offerings at the end of the day and was told that the hungry and poor could have them and new offerings would be brought the next day. There are also shrines for specific requests. One of the most popular is the the shrine for fertility. You can even specifically ask for a son or daughter by rubbing the water that drips into the cave on your hair. Seven drops of water  for a boy and nine drops for a girl. We found it very interesting...

We spent the entire day here just enjoying the quite of this countryside. It was beautiful just to watch the sunset on the rice fields.  And yes…it did smell lovely. We head to Halong Bay tomorrow for some time of rest. Will let you know how that goes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Thanh Long (City of the Soaring Dragon)

We arrived in Hanoi early this morning. This is where the exotic chic of old Asia blends seamlessly with dynamic face of new Asia. Where medieval and modern are two sides of the same street. It is a blend of French style and crazy Asian pace. We have chosen to stay in the Old Quarter which has been the hub of commerce for nearly a millennium.  A mass of motorbikes swarm the small streets of this area and it is still the heartbeat of Hanoi. Merchants display their wares on the sidewalk along side the vast array of motorbikes that are parked within a  hairs-width from each other. We see women carrying their goods over their shoulders or being pushed along on bicycles.Every inch is filled with someone trying to sell something. This is the happening place.

The city center spreads out from the edges of the Hoan Kiem Lake which is just to the North of the Old Quarters. The Temple of Literature was dedicated to Confucius in 1070 and is still a most beautiful place to visit. We amble up and down the narrow streets getting immersed in all that is before us. We stop for a cup of lotus tea where the proprietor tells us that it takes hundred of flowers to produce 50g of tea. They still hand process it here. Each street has a specialty so if you are looking for tea you go the tea street. If fresh rice noodles are what you need you go to the street that sells noodles and try to make a selection. The spice markets stopped us dead in our tracks as the most savory smells came from these shops. We were mesmerized as we walked from street to street. We take a pedi-cab  through the city at night just to see things from a different perspective.

We want to spend a few days exploring this area and then head out to the countryside. We have booked a junk on Halong Bay where we will spend a few days sailing amidst the limestone karsts. We are still getting acclimated so we will see how the days unfold. We will let you know.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rolling Down the Highway

Today Tom and I traveled down a portion of the original Ho Chi Minh trail on the back of a Honda 150cc motorcycle. I just couldn't help it but I found myself singing the words to "Born to Be Wild" the whole way. We elected to have two young men sit in the drivers seat for this ride. They were very experienced drivers and well acquainted with the area so all we had to do was hold on and enjoy ourselves.

We got up early in the morning to beat the heat and anyone else who might have the same idea that we did. It was lovely to feel the cool breeze and the serenity  of the the rural countryside.  The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a complex web of different jungle paths that enabled communist troops to travel from North Vietnam to areas close to Saigon during the Vietnam war. Now, there is a  Ho Chi Minh Highway that runs along the coastline connecting North Vietnam to South Vietnam.

We also stopped at the Champas historical site, My Son. The My Sơn temple complex is regarded as one of the foremost Hindu temple complexes in Southeast Asia and is the most noteworthy heritage site  in Vietnam. It is often compared with other historical temple complexes in Southeast Asia such as Angkor Wat of Cambodia and Ayutthaya of Thailand.  In1999, My Son was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. It's name translates to "Beautiful Mountain".

We ate lunch at a home/roadside kitchen with our friends. They were delightful and kind to us and we enjoyed being with them more than I could ever say. It added an element of excitement and adventure to our trip and we are forever thankful we had this time with them.

Hoi An is stunning at night and we made it home in time to enjoy the night life. The waterfront area lights up with colorful silk lanterns and children selling paper candles on the road side. It is alive and beautiful and no picture accurately depicts the beauty and excitement here.  We walk through the night life and then headed home after a long day.

Tomorrow we may ride our bikes over to the beach.  We head to Hanoi the beginning of next week so we want to get in as much of this area as possible…we will miss this lovely place.

The Gem That Is Hoi An

It is early morning in Hoi An and I am not sure what woke me up this morning. The sounds of the fishing nets hitting the water on the Thu Bon River or the hushed voices of the women who gather early each morning to work in the rice fields and tend their gardens. All I know is that I am excited to run to the balcony window and watch the life that is Hoi An.

When we were ready to leave Saigon were able to get a flight to Da Nang for almost the same cost as the bus. We opted to go this way so we could spend a little more time in this area. Tom's brother was here in the late 1960's and our friend Khoa and his family lived in this area when he was young. We were excited to be in this part of Vietnam.

After the fun  filled days and nights of Saigon we looked forward to spending some time in this area. It is slightly to the West  of China Beach and is a beautiful seaside town. We feel as if we have stepped back in time as we explore this town that sits on the Thu Bon River. It was a  renowned international trading post as far back as the 17th century. The architecture has an Chinese, Japanese, and European flare. Sometimes it feels as if I am walking the streets of Venice. It is a gem of a place.

The food is exquisite. The best we have had in Vietnam so far. The riverside cafes are quaint and the families who run them are a delight. We pick up a couple of bicycles and ride through out the town and countryside. It is easy to acclimate and in no time at all we have our favorite spots. They have a home made draft beer which is excellent and for ten cents a glass you just can't beat it.

Hoi An is infamous for it's tailors so today Tom was fitted for a new suit, two new shirts, and a handmade pair of leather shoes for the price of a pair of slacks and shirt from home. The lovely ladies at Trang Tri took very good care of him and I know he enjoyed this experience immensely.

Tomorrow we will tour part of the Ho Chi Minh trail on a motorcycle. We will visit the historical site of My Son and the area known as marble mountain in Da Nang. We have decided to hire a couple of young men to travel with us as our guides as our GPS is struggling here in Vietnam. We are enjoying this area more than we could have imagined and find ourselves enjoying His exquisite favor in all these things.

Friday, October 19, 2012


There is vibrancy that is Saigon and it is different than any place we have been to since our travels through South East Asia. We arrive in the early evening and the traffic here rivals that of Beirut and Napoli…incredible! We are awestruck at the vivacity that the night has to offer. We are ready to get out and see the city!

Crossing the street here is an art form we have begun to perfect. Traffic comes from every direction and the key as a walker is to never change your pace. The rule of tonnage is again supreme so the bigger you are the more 'seniority' on the road you have. You have to be alert but you must never bolt or change your direction once you have started as  this can cause a multitude of problems.  Once you have this down you can almost cross any street. We are working on this as we enjoy walking the city.

We check out the night markets and life along the river front. We eat at Pho 24 which is infamous in Vietnam. For a few dollars you can have the best bowl of soup in town and cold beer. There are street vendors  who cook everything on small propane burners. You can get fish, fruit, donuts, rice, vegetables, pancakes, and chicken all from the same little lady who cooks and serves from a small cart. We are besieged  by all the choices.

One night we attend the water puppet show. It is a Vietnamese form of entertainment that dates back to the 11th century  where it originated in the villages of the Red River Delta. Today's Vietnamese water puppetry is a unique variation on the ancient  tradition.  The puppets are made out of wood and then lacquered. The shows are performed in a waist-deep pool of water. A large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers, who are hidden behind a screen to control them. Thus the puppets appear to be moving over the water. They often depict rural Vietnamese life. In the early days when the rice fields would flood the villagers would entertain each other using this form of puppet play. Eventually this became entertainment for Royalty.

We take an evening to have dinner on the Mekong River. Here a large dinner boat will cruise along the downtown area and we see a side of Saigon that we would have missed otherwise. While this is not something we usually do, it is exciting and we are happy to try it.  We also take time to get a massage and pamper ourselves while we are here. They are different than the ones we experienced in Thailand and are very nice.

We head out to meander through the Mekong River and Delta area and visit some of the places that Tom spent time in during his tour of duty in 1968-69. Somethings look and feel as time had stood still. We spend some time in the War Memorial museums.

We take in as much as we can…there is so much to see and do. We are heading to Hoi An in a few days and then up to Hanoi. We booked a cruise on a junk through Halong Bay for a few days for some rest and relaxation. Every beautiful thing we see and every delightful time we have reminds us of the beauty and delight that is you in our lives. You are loved and missed...

Goodbye Cambodia...Good Morning Vietnam

When it came time to leave Cambodia I knew it would pull on my  heartstrings. It's hard to explain why a place touches your heart as it does but it almost feels as if you are leaving a part of yourself behind and taking something incredibly beautiful with you.  Usually what you take by far exceeds what you have left. It is something that changes the very core of who you are. I am humbled in these moments and begin to get a glimpse of a perspective that is so much greater than I am.  And, while there is so much beauty to be seen in this area,  for me, it is just the people I meet and the circumstances of those meetings. I met a lovely woman on the bus who was from Jamaica who had been  living in Cambodia for the last five years. Her name was Hellmore and she taught English.  We had a lovely time chatting about the area and suddenly she asked me what I thought about Cambodia.  While I may never remember her exact question to me I will never forget the intensity of my answer. I explained to her that the real beauty of our travels were the unexpected delights. I read and study an area before we go but I love the part where I am caught off guard by something that is unexpectedly beautiful. And while the Temples of Angkor are spectacular, it usually an interaction or insight into someone else's life that does it for me. I started to cry when I told her that and she did too. We exchanged email addresses and we shall see what happens next...

Our travels from Cambodia to Vietnam went smoothly. Our bus was new and comfortable and we got situated quickly and were ready for our travels. It really is a beautiful way to go as you get to see a different side of life. It is a mix of both foreigners and locals. We took a ferry across the Mekong River and made a stop on the other side  for a bowl of soup and soon we are ready to cross the border. For those of us used to international travel from…well anywhere really, the border crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam is pretty lax. Our bus driver collected all of our passports after we walked through the exit border of Cambodia. We walk over to the Vietnamese border and waited in the 'passport control' area. Here the agent stamps all of our passports and then the bus drivers assistant calls us by name and we pick up our passport and walk on over to the other side and re-enter the bus. If there are any problems the security officer will let you know…otherwise that's it.

The scenery changes and again I can not explain what happens as we leave one country and enter another. I am remembering that my favorite place is the place that I am in at this moment so I begin to get excited as we enter Vietnam. We plan to spend sometime in Saigon and on the Mekong River and then meander North. We will let you know...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Phnom Penh

When we applied for our visas to Vietnam one of the questions they asked us was "on or around what date would we be arriving into the country?". We didn't know at the time but what they really meant was, exactly what day would we be entering the country. We knew we would be there in a week or so so we  arbitrarily choose a date for the following week. In most instances, your visa becomes effective the date of issue…but not so for Vietnam. It becomes effective the day you choose to arrive. Needless to say, we were not allowed to enter into Vietnam until October 15th. We knew this as soon as we received our passports so we changed our plans. We headed for Phnom Penh and decided to stay a few days in this area before moving on.

I think Phnom Penh is Cambodia's version of San Francisco. We stayed in the old city near the river at a charming quest house. We could get anywhere we wanted to go by walking or taking a bike. At night the area lights up and becomes quite festive. Good food and cold drinks can be found  everywhere and for just a few dollars you are set for the evening.

They too have their daily rain storm and it is fun to be caught out and about when this happens. We usually take cover at an outside cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee and watch life. I could watch endlessly as people scurried by in various forms of transport to continue with their daily routines. It was delightful.

We will take the bus to Vietnam and plan a few days in Saigon. We plan to meander Northward after spending sometime in the Mekong delta. We are excited to see what is before us…we know we will miss Cambodia. We are still formulating our plans but will let you know when we do...


Cirque du Battambang

When we heard that the circus was performing on Friday night in Battambang our curiosity was piqued. Having grown up with Ringling Bros and Barnum Bailey we could not imagine a event such as this in this small Cambodian town. We bought the tickets to satisfy our curiosity and we are so glad we did.

The circus is known as Phare, Ponlue, Selpak which translates to Fire, Life, and Art. It has the most beautiful origin. In 1988, while staying in a refugee camp on the Thai border, a group of children participated in a drawing workshop setup by a French visual arts teacher. The benefit to these children were innumerable and in 1992 the children reunited in Battanbang and began a performing school for the arts for the children of Anch Anh Village. This is an area of extreme poverty and many children  have been abandoned and left in this area. The school began with a gymnastic program and soon expanded it to encompass martial arts, music, theater, public school, and a circus acrobat school. The entire community is involved and now there are thirteen hundred students who attend school daily. There is a residential  home that provides care and shelter for the abandoned children or those who have been rescued from human trafficking. The proceeds from the circus performances along with donations fund these projects.

The circus is performed under a 'big top' tent and every seat is filled for tonights performances. There are many children in attendance and it is beautiful to hear their squeals of delight as the artists perform. They have fun here and it is a reprieve from the daily rigors of life in this small village. It was  beautiful and we felt privileged to be a part of it all.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An Old Soul

I was deep in thought as I surveyed all that the local market had to offer. This is the hub of the city and everyone is competing for your attention.The vendors work hard preparing their goods in hope that you will buy from them. You can not walk past them with out receiving an invitation of some kind. Amidst the excitement of all the busyness here I barely heard the small voice as she said, "I want no money Madame".  I wasn't quite sure I had heard correctly as this was the marketplace and your money is what they want and need. I looked around and again the small voice made the same request only this time she added, "I only want milk for my sister". Before me stood a small, nine year girl with an even smaller baby in her arms. I could not think of anything to say so I held out my hand and she led me away. We walked along the back streets and found a small market. We purchased a can of formula and she begin to tell me about her family. She was articulate in her conversations to me and held my hand the entire way as if to reassure me somehow that all was well with her.

We made our purchase and she walked me back to the spot she had approached me. She thanked me and asked for nothing more. In a few seconds she was lost in the crowd and I did not see her again. Except in my heart and prayers...


We are in the city/province of Battambang, Cambodia and have stared to feel like locals around here. We have become quite aware of a daily event and can predict within minutes when it will occur. The sky will darken, the wind will pick up, and the air will smell moist. A rainstorm is coming. They happen every  day and we have become quite accustomed to the magnitude of these daily deluges. In fact, we have come to enjoy them.  Within minutes  of these  warning  signs the  rain will begin to fall.  It is our delight to be caught somewhere we haven't been before so we can take cover someplace we may not have otherwise stopped. We meet interesting people, often times in their home/shops and will share a bowl of soup or drink with them.

We are having  a wonderful time here. While it is considered a large city by Cambodian standards it has the feel of real life Cambodia. There are only a handful of 'tourist' attractions and even then the locals have to tell you about them and where they are. We wanted to ride the Bamboo or Norrie trains which had been built in the 1960's when the area was trying to reestablish itself after the  rule of the Khmer Rouge. These train tracks run through the heartland of this area and was the method used by the rice farmers to transport their rice through the countryside. The 'train' itself is actually a bamboo platform that sits on two metal rods with metal wheels. It is powered by something that looks like a lawn mower engine and while not always the smoothest ride, certainly one of the most exciting. We loved the part when you meet someone coming from the opposite  direction. Both parties stop and the incoming car gets of the track so  the outgoing car can pass.

 We took this train deep into the countryside one day and  went to a rice factory. Here we watched as they to took the dry rice and hulled and refined it and then packaged it in 50 pound bags. The entire process was incredibly fascinating. It is a time of religious  holiday for the school aged children and they are present in these factories and often times working along side their families. They knew a lot about the rice process and we found them delightful as they explained it to us.

We went to a winery one day and sampled the local wine and rice brandy. Not quite the same as ours but an enjoyable experience none the less. The winery is very small and you can walk it in it's entirety in fifteen minutes. It began producing marketable grapes a few years ago and they are just beginning to produce a yearly batch of wine.

We stopped along a village one day to watch a family make the rice paper wrap used in spring rolls. They still use the traditional method and everyone in the family participates. Rice is very slowly boiled over a low flame in huge pots. The rice softens and the water thickens and then the liquid is spread over a cloth that snuggly sits over another boiling pot of water. The rice mixture is spread very thin and covered with a lid to steam. Within seconds it is ready to be removed, carefully, and placed on a bamboo rack for drying. When the rack is full, it sits outside to dry before they are packaged and sold at the markets in town. Tedious work that the entire family partakes in.

Often times we ride our bikes or walk through town or the countryside. We enjoy the adventures of shopping for everyday items. I needed a piece of velcro the other day and we went from market to market until we found a tailor who knew what we were trying to ask for. It was fun trying to explain what velcro was.

At the end of the day we return to our Sanctuary where we are always greeted with a cool washcloth and a glass of tea. Our host asks us about our day and if there is anything else we need. We take a dip in the pool to cool and refresh ourselves. Sometimes we eat dinner in and sometimes our driver takes us into town and we eat at the outside market where the locals are eating. We wil miss this place and the familiarity we have grown accustom to.

We have our visa for Viet Nam and will head in that direction soon. We will take the bus to Phnom Penh and then head over to Ho Chi Minh City. We will spend sometime in the Mekong Delta area and then meander for a while before heading to Laos. We plan on spending Tom's birthday in Kuala Lumpur,  Maylasia and then head back to Singapore. We will let you know...