Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ushering in the Year of the Goat

This last week, I had two very lovely visitors.  Here they are:


Miss Nikki and Emily, straight from the frosty climes of Minnesota!  Nikki and Emily landed in Vientiane on Monday morning and came straight to my school and straight into my classroom where they found me teaching English class to my students.  Nikki and Emily had just spent about 30 hours on a plane and instead of finding the sweet release of a pillow and a bed, found themselves sitting in miniature chairs next to Ford and Bank and Harry as I yelled above the normal insane noise level of my class.  I sort of gave up on teaching whatever nonsense I was trying to teach and changed my lesson into an opportunity for my students to write questions to ask Nikki and Emily.  Some of the more memorable questions were, "Are you backpackers? "(Harry), "Do you like hamsters?" (Oh), "Do you like rose apples?" (also Oh), among many other.  Overwhelmed by the insanity and noise of my class, and jet-lagged, NIkki and Emily put on extremely brave and kind faces and survived for an hour in my class until the school day was over. 

 I'm always so happy when characters such as Ford and Harry and Party become real to my blog-readers and friends.  I'm really happy to report that they do indeed live up to their notorious reputations.  I am indeed an exaggerator by trade, but in this case of my students, I'm really not exaggerating.  My students acted and did exactly what I expected them to when they met my friends: Party became clingy and adorable and told Emily about how he wanted to be a florist when he grows up so that he can 'give people flower', Ford head-butted Nikki and was predictably adhering to his usual routine of kissing other students inappropriately, Maggie acted like a normal American fourth grader with her midwestern accent and strangely mature questions about the nature of our (Nikki and my) friendship, Harry talked about mature video games, Bank uttered a battle cry, Oh asked something weird and incomprehensible about hamsters with the help of his constant lao-english dictionary... basically, everything proceeded in a very standard, predictable manner.  

The beautiful chaos that is the boys in my class earlier that day.  Please note Ford flashing his stomach and Bank letting out his inner gladiator:


And my girls (please note overall difference between the two pictures):


Anyway, their visit was off to a great start!  After enjoying several relaxing days in Vientiane in which N&E were able to sleep off their jet lag, explore the town via the granny bikes of Erica and Ilse, play lots of cards, and eat some delicious Lao food, it was off to Malaysia!  


As it turns out, none of us are big planners.  I think we felt enough accomplished in the fact that we had purchased real plane tickets to Malaysia, what else did the universe expect of us?  So anyway, we arrived in KL (or 'Kuala Lumpur' for all you lame-o's who don't know the cool way to say it), in the sweltering urban heat of a huge city after a magical ride on a fast commuter train that is apparently one of the top 5 attractions of KL.  Our first observation was the amazing amount of men everywhere.  Where were all the women?  We surmised that perhaps because of the culture, women don't walk around much.  Anyway, we found more women later when we ventured deeper into the heart of the city.  With only about 5 hours of daylight available to us, we quickly found our Air B&B place and then left to do some exploration and saw some super cool things like the Patronus towers (can't find this photo right now) which are super tall and made my neck hurt from all the craning, a crazy new-age and space-ship looking city center, and the fanciest shopping area I've ever seen.  The shopping malls had the most luxurious stores ever and made the Mall of America and basically anywhere in Minnesota seem folksy.  I guess when I go to other countries I hang out at malls now, but that's okay with me.  Because there's stuff like this in malls:

 An enormous golden goat!  There was cool goat themed decorations everywhere for the Chinese New Year, which as you can imagine, I was pretty excited about.






My fortune and prosperity bloomed greatly as I walked through these malls of the future.  It was the best.  We enjoyed a tasty l Malaysian meal at a really fancy restaurant that we were entirely under dressed for (what is with Americans always being tragically casual compared to 99% of the world?) and the food was so good!  Coconut rice, intriguing curries, and spice levels previously unknown to man or woman!  I had found another food-soul-mate country.  To top off our night in KL, we went back into a shopping mall and ate several mountains of gelato while watching wide-eyed and over-stimulated as the coolest people in the world walked past us (and i forgot to mention that now there were women too! and lots of different kinds of people!) and hundreds of gratuitous screens flashed gratuitous things above us like the current temperature in Russia, and waiters randomly broke into synchronized dance sequences, and people shopped, and just wow.  Our impressions of KL now were that it was probably cooler and fancier than any city we had ever been in.  Also, it's really hot.  We felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder accidentally finding a wormhole somewhere in North Dakota in the 1800s as she was milking a cow and then stumbled into modern Times Square during a Justin Bieber concert.  

The next day, we got up wayyyy too early and left KL for Penang . Our collective knowledge on Penang as we boarded our plane was this:  Penang is across a vast ocean (false. source: Ilse), Penang may have Penang curry? (unsubstantiated but perhaps true.  Source: All of us).  

Luckily, the inflight magazine had some very useful tidbits about Georgetown and Penang that was truly illuminating.  We arrived in Penang an hour later and took a taxi into George town.  To collect our wits, we found the seemingly only open coffee shop and played a round of cribs and drank some awesome buttery local coffee called 'white coffee.'  Our spirits higher, we left the coffee shop to find that the city was waking up and had some other tourists walking around looking confused (always a promising sign!).  We had a few maps now and bravely consulted them to find several interesting things like the street of (religious) harmony!  The street of harmony had a lot of different religious stuff like Chinese temples, mosques, and more!  








We didn't touch the granite balls in the lion's mouth, in case you were wondering.  

George town is an UNESCO world heritage site and is quite picaresque, diverse, and a lot busier than we thought!  It also happened to be a lot hotter than we expected, but we gave it our best and walked around for a few hours before we had to retreat to coffee shops and delicious indian restaurants to get out of the sun.  







It was around this time, during our Indian lunch, when I made a conscious decision to drink the 'dodgy water' that was being served at the restaurant, in a moment of egoic confidence.  Penang had more to give us than just beautiful sights--especially for me---which I would discover in a few hours!  
Having discovered that Penang was indeed an island, although not 'across the ocean' from KL, we decided to take a taxi to the beach and see the sunset.  The miracle of blind travelling is that you discover things like beaches when you don't expect them.  The remainder of our time in Penang looked a lot like this:











Obviously, the sunset pictures came chronologically after the non-sunset pictures, but I'm too lazy to switch them around.  It was around the sunset that i began to experience the sudden onset of Montezuma's revenge or George Town's revenge, as it were.  Around this time as well, a large group of Pakistan men began to swarm around us, and finally asked us if they could take pictures of us.  At first, I misheard and thought they were asking us to take a picture of them, and I said okay.  At this point, I was lying flat down on the beach, barely noticing the sunset, because of certain mysterious sensations in my stomach.  Turns out I had just given permission for them to take pictures of Nikki, Emily, and I.  That was kind of weird, but it became even weirder when they each took a turn getting into the picture with us, like putting their arms around us.  Turned out that was a good time for us to start leaving.  

So, then we left for the airport to take our super late flight back to KL, with our flight back to Vientiane early the following morning.  As it turns out, I think we thought that we were like 19 years old and superheros, because our travel made it so that we had a total of 8 hours of sleep over 3 nights.  Now, Grandma Ilse didn't have an easy time with this, and whether it was Montezuma's revenge, or Grandma Ilse's fragile nature or a combination of both, I proceeded to fall into a short period of intense illness over that night and morning of travel, including dramatic shivering, nausea, extreme exhaustion, and the inability to move my limbs in the places where I wanted them to go.  Happily, this ailment receded pretty quickly once back in Vientiane and after a restorative nap at home.  

For the remainder of E&N's time in Lao, we did fun things like attempt to go to monk-led meditation, play cards, eat by the river, go to the night market, and see Buddha Park.  The girls left yesterday back to Minnesota.  

It was great ushering in the year of the goat with Nikki and Emily.  They were such great visitors and troopers, even during the weird times when I accidentally asked a Lao man how much his adorable baby cost (instead of how old she was), and when Erica started making lewd sculptures with her sticky rice instead of eating it.  Open-minded and big-hearted they are, and I'm so happy for their happiness together.  

Next to come: Frankovitch!  And then, mumsy and pops!

Love and goats,

Ils

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