Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Trip to Thailand (Part 1)

Kristen says...

So, it was a pretty good week last week. Monday we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a nice day off of work, and Wednesday afternoon we got on a plane and flew to Bangkok, Thailand for a short vacation.

Besides Hong Kong, this was the first Asian city I've ever been to, and Thailand is particularly interesting because it was never "taken over" by Imperializing European nations in the mid to late 1800s...therefore it is without many of the European aspects of other geographically close nations. For history nerds like me, that made visiting Thailand even more exciting!

If you have never been to the airport in Bangkok it is interesting to note two things. 1) It's very similar to the Seoul airport, especially where you check in for your flight and 2) It's beautifully decorated:

While we didn't know it at the time, this mural was a definite sign of what was to come...in truth, it seems that the entire city of Thailand is beautifully decorated!

Unfortunately, Bangkok is 4 hours behind Vlad, and our flight landed in Bangkok after 10:00 at night, so we were way too tired to see much of the city until early the next morning when we headed out to see some of the city.

Thankfully, Bangkok is 4 hours behind Vlad, so getting up at 6 felt like sleeping in until 10 am! :)

We stayed with a friend during our time in Thailand, and lucky for he had two other visitors staying who had been "casing" the city for over a week, and knew where to go, when to go and how to get there. Also, they're fun people! :)

So, early on our first morning in Bangkok we all got up, got ready, and went out to see some of the amazing Bangkok sights.

There are many ways to get around the city (it's very modern!) including a metro/light rail system and boat taxis. We took both to get around our first day.
On the water
Mmm, salad ;)
Yes, that is a car motor on the back of that boat! :)
There were three things I really wanted to do and see in Bangkok: The Reclining Buddha and the Monastery of Wat Pho, The Grand Palace and shopping at the weekend market.

We decided to go to Wat Pho first, assuming that it might be busier later. The first thing we saw was the GIANT Reclining Buddha:
I think this was the second-largest Buddha we've seen in the past few months.
 Once you see the Buddha you can continue through the sprawling Wat Pho complex. First, though, you have to be properly dressed:

 Since I was wearing shorts that day I had to throw on a sarong, which didn't do much for my outfit but was much more culturally appropriate, and thus much more important:

 The monastery was beautiful, and full of murals:

And free water for tourists! Thanks, Thailand! :)
 Seriously, I'm not sure I can adequately describe how beautiful the monasteries and temples were!

After Wat Pho we walked a few blocks away to the Grand Palace. The entire (huge) complex is surrounded by a high, white wall.
 And hilarious signs like this!
 This was a very appropriate sign, because the "tourist police" standing outside one of the side entrances tried to tell us that the Grand Palace was only open to Thai citizens until 1:00, but he would be happy to take us on a boat trip to pass the time until the palace opened...riiiiight.

 Needless to say, we said, "Thanks but no thanks" to the wily stranger and continued on to the main entrance, where we were welcomed with open arms.

 I had to don my sarong again, but the big surprise was that Chris, with his shorts, had to rent pants in order to enter the Palace. Nooooo problem:
After that, we entered the beautiful palace grounds:
 Monastery chic!

The last thing we did on our first day in Bangkok was to visit the Wat Arun...us and about a million monks!
Chris and the monks
 We were walking up to get on the boat to cross the river to the Wat, and then suddenly we were surrounded by monks! Monks get priority in Thailand (they even have reserved seats on the light rail trains) so they got to jump to the front of the line and take the first ferry across the river. Even so, we ran into them all around the Wat Arun complex, which was pretty neat!
So, incidentally, was the Wat!

Instead of being decorated with sparkly bits of glass, it was rougher-looking, made out of beautiful pottery shards:

 There were no Buddhas around (that we could see) but we did get to go up about halfway to the top of the Wat via a couple of VERY STEEP staircases:
 Which gave us beautiful city views, as expected.

Actually, we had a lot more beautiful city views in Bangkok...but that's for Part 2. :)


Saturday, January 18, 2014

One Year and Counting!

Kristen says...

I can't even believe it, but today is the one year anniversary of our arrival in Vladivostok.

As in, one year ago right now we were here (and one year ago this time yesterday, we had never been here before...)

Huh. Crazy. :)

Overall it's been a really good year. Speaking for myself, I've learned A LOT over the past year, both about Russia and the State Department. There have been some really, really good times, and a few major bummers, but overall much more positive than negative, for sure. :)

Some highlights?
Well, there was the whole arrival in Vlad and getting to know the city and local culture thing, that was fun.
And then there was visiting John the Artist's amazing home and hanging out with Amy Ballard when she came to town.
Then the weather started getting warmer and we started participating in some local events like the Grillmaster event and the Dragon Boat race, which was really fun!
And then I got to start volunteer teaching!
Oh, and all the travel! Iowa, China, Germany/Austria/Slovakia and Iowa again...

...and we have another trip planned later this month, so the fun continues in year 2!

Of course, the weird thing about year 2 will be that, for the last 10 months we will know where we're going next...

But for now, it's all-Vlad all the time, and we still have a lot of really fun things to look forward to in the next 365+/- days! :)


Thanks for traveling along with us the past year...I hope you all stick around for the next year! :)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Busily Bidding

Kristen says...


Sorry it's been a quiet start to 2014 blog-wise...we just honestly haven't been doing much worth blogging about! We spend the vast majority of our 8-day New Year's break at home--we didn't drive the car even one time during that break! :)

We did have a few couple visitors, though:
OK, so they were really Pip's visitors, but Chris and I were kept pretty busy wrangling them all over the apartment! It was my first experience with a cat in the house and it was very interesting...the biggest downside was the litter box, for sure, but I really miss his purring. I wonder if I could teach Pip to purr? :)

Then, of course, just as the visitors were getting ready to go, both Chris and I came down with nasty colds that actually extended my holiday vacation by two days (shucks... well, except really this cold is the worst) and has kept us pretty quiet for the past week.

Oh yes, and we're bidding for our next post.

What does that entail, you ask?

Well, similarly to last time, last week we were given a list of cities and countries that had an Embassy, Consulate, or Consulate General that needed someone with Chris' abilities/job specialty. We have until the middle of February to rank and submit our list (as opposed to last time when we had just over two weeks) but Chris has a training during that time so we need to get as much research done as possible now, before he gets really busy in a few weeks.

What do you research to fill out a bid list, you might ask?

Well, it depends on who you are. Chris and I both came up with our top 10 criteria of what we were looking for in a post. For me it's important that there be schools I can potentially teach in and that Pip can get there safely and not have to spend (too much) time in quarantine. And similarly to last time, Chris is looking into the particulars of the job he will be doing, trainings he might need and other important issues.

As we go we also reach out to post and other resources to have any specific questions answered.

So, once we feel our questions have been answered and we know what we would like, we submit our ranked list by a certain day and a couple weeks later, we'll get our new assignment... !

Which is really kind of weird considering we have an entire year left in Vladivostok! Yep, we will know where we're going almost a full year before we even leave Vlad...it's a pretty cool thing.

[For those of you out there who have any familiarity with the Foreign Service, this isn't how bidding always goes in the State Department...actually because we're SD newbies we have two of what are called "directed" tours...we fill out the list according to where we'd like to go, but in the end we are directed where the needs of the Service dictate Chris' particular skills will be of the most use. After this we'll move on to another style of bidding, one I don't understand yet (because I haven't experienced it yet) and will not even begin to try to explain here. :) ]

So, that's been exciting and a little stressful...as with any list, there are some places I'd really like to go, and a few I'd rather not, but we'll see in a month and a half or so...until then, keep your fingers crossed for us to go someplace worth blogging about! :)

For now, however, we are still loving our Vladivostok Adventure (even if the past two weeks have pretty much taken place in our apartment)! I'm excited to start seeing some of the months I've already experienced here...I'm sure this year will be much different now that I'm working and volunteering, but I'm sure there will be some "repeat" events, too, and it will be fun to have impressions the second time around.