The Lester File

Monday, February 27, 2006

Snowball Fight!!

Wow, a lot happened today! Around 6:30pm, Jennifer, Everett, Ben, Meghan, and I went to hot pot... surprise? I'd never been to this one before, but just before we left the snow began to stick. Wuhan went from grey and wet to white and wonderful in a matter of minutes! By the time we finished with dinner, the whole city was covered in a soft layer of snow. What does one do when there is a blanket of fresh snow to slosh through? Of course we had a snowball fight! Keep in mind, it was completely freezing outside, but that did not stop us. The Chinese waiters and patrons at the restaurant thought we were completely insane as we gathered balls of ice and hurled them at each other. I think the most confusing part about the scenario for them was the fact that we were laughing hysterically at the same time. I set off a car alarm with a snowball, which was fun. Good thing I had my camera with me! Ben chronicled most of the action, but he also got into it. Before long, we'd used up all the snow on the tops of cars and on the sidewalk, so we went home. There we found even more snow to disrupt and the fight continued. Meghan wrote a love note to Ben... immediatly followed by a love note to Ben from Jennifer. Ben wrote his Chinese name and Jennifer wrote his Chinese name in Pinyin... see if you can decipher the characters? Anyway, we stayed out in the cold for a good 30 minutes total. Jennifer began to make a snowman, but I destroyed it... sorry! Our super, Lou, came out of his apartment to see just what in the WORLD we were up to and he got a face full of snow. It was awesome. Finally, it just got too cold and we went back to our homes. Meghan and I have some wet clothes hanging over the banister... maybe they'll dry? Who knows. This White Christmas is a little overdue, but it still rocks! Besides, it wouldn't be China if things arrived on time... we're just happy if they arrive at all!

Back to "normal" in Wuhan

This is the last picture taken from the Big Trip. No, your eyes do not deceive you... that is an insect hanging out of Meghan's mouth. On our last night in Bangkok, we came upon a nice vendor selling BBQ grasshopper as well as other lovely grubs. So, being the excellent students of culture and society that we are, we stopped and had a bite. She actually ate that believe it or not! Oh yeah, I had one too. Sandrine has a great picture of me with bits of goodness in my teeth. The Soc/Anth Dept and Millsaps would be so proud!

On a more
serious note, classes have returned and we are all getting back into the mode. No more beaches, tans, or boat rides. No more Thai, Malay, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Macau architecture and not necessarily in that order. Fortunately, all of us have Fridays off, so maybe we can get some travelling in for the sights in China. That means more pictures and I LOVE PICTURES!

In the meantime, we must try to find ways to entertain ourselves. Last weekend, Lindsey invited us over to her apartment where her boyfriend, Harrish, was kind enough to make us all a FEAST. It was fantastic. We all came together to eat delicious food and talk about the good 'ole days... which were really only about a week ago. We'd reunited over hot pot earlier that week, but this was a formal sort of welcome back get together. Kate and Duff were there to regale us with tales of India as well as two new students from Canada, Erin and Amy. Only Amy is in this picture, just to the right of me... from an onlookers perspective. My new camera has a nifty timer on it!! And I actually figured out how it works! From left to right we have Ben's fingers, Everett and Katrina. On the second row: Me, Kate, Jennifer, Meghan, and Brad. Then, Amy, Harrish (the cook!), Lindsey (sort of), and Duff (or Keith Duffy). Ben doesn't like to have his picture taken... but I have a plan to capture him on film!
OK... I have the timer ALMOST figured out. This happened when I set it for 2 seconds and not 10.
But, that is not important.

We all got together and had some authentic Indian food and Harrish was nice enough to make some vegetarian things for Meghan, extra spicy things for Jennifer (and everyone else), and some mild-ish things for me! Honestly, I'm getting used to spicy food. Perhaps I'll be able to handle the spicy hot pot by the end of this year!? That's the update so far. I'm teaching an American culture and society class, which is a deviation from what I've been teaching all year. Last semester I had fewer hours than everyone else, so they created a new class so I would be working the full 14 hours. It takes a lot of preparation, but I have some plans to invite a guest lecturer every once and a while!
Right now, I'm looking out my window and it is SNOWING! Thankfully, the repair guys came today and fixed my heater! YAY! Also, Jennifer rearranged my apartment to make it more feng shui. Indeed, the chi is flowing.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Super Friends

These are the Super Friends! The most awesomely fantastic band in all of Malaysia! They played the best songs from Led Zeppelin to the Black Eyed Peas!
We cannot find anything even remotely resembling them in China. So, they are just going to have to jump in a plane and come to us! Wishful thinking...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Batu Caves

While visiting my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Harry in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia we visited a Hindu shrine called the Batu Caves (see below). The caves are natural and the shrine was built inside to commemorate the birth and life of Lord Morugan, the son of Shiva, an incarnation of Vishnu. It is a very holy place of pilgramage for devotees. There are places that tourists are not allowed to enter, but the outside of the inner shrines are very ornate and colorful. There were 272 steep steps to climb! I mean... its not that much. It reminded me of the endless steps Meghan, Jen, and I climbed to reach the top of the Mayan Pyramids. The view was spectacular.
Meg, Brad, and I bought a recording that told the history and Hindu tales that
make the caves so special. As we listened we walked to the inner most part of the cave that opens up to the sky and houses 3 shrines. We wanted to get closer in, but we were stopped by a group of wild monkeys.

Needless to say, the temperament of these animals was heightened and volatile. Many times, we were fearful of being bitten until we finally ran down the steps and away... but the monkeys followed us. They believed we had food hidden somewhere and, indeed, one of us had candy in their pockets that they didn't think would be a problem. No one warned us that the monkeys could be violent or that there were monkeys at all. When we got back down to the ticket booth, we asked the woman if the monkeys were always so unfriendly. She said, "of course, they are wild! Oh, by the way, try not to get to close... the probably have rabies!" That would have been excellent information BEFORE we got within 2 feet of their nasty, large, sharp incisors!

No worries! We escaped unscathed until the next monkey incident which occured in Krabi. I already explained that, but i may add one picture... its a doozy. "you and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals..."

Anyway, Aunt Kathy drove us all to and from the caves... all 6 of us (7 including her) in her company car that comfortably seats 5. It was an adventure... definitely Lester worthy! (for the fam)

Batu Caves

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Batu Caves is a limestone hill to the north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysiacaves and cave temples. It takes its name from the Sungai Batu or Batu River, which flows past the hill. which has a series of

The 'Orang Asli' (local aboriginal tribes called Jakun) had been aware of the caves for a long time. However, they became famous only after it was discovered by the American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878.

Of the various cave temples that comprise the site, the largest and best known is the Temple or Cathedral Cave, so named because it houses several Hindu shrines beneath its 100 m vaulted ceiling.

These serve as the focus of the Hindu community's yearly Thaipusam festival. The site is well known for its numerous macaque monkeys, which visitors feed, sometimes involuntarily. There are 272 steps that a visitor has to climb in order to access the temple at the summit of the hill. Many of the shrines relate the story of Lord Murugan's victory over Soorapadam. An audio tour is available to visitors.

At the base of the hill are two more cave temples, Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings.

A little below the Temple Cave is the Dark Cave, a two-kilometer network of relatively untouched caverns. The caverns contain a diverse range of cave fauna, including some unique species, such as Liphistiidae spiders. In order to maintain the cave's ecology, access is restricted. A private company is running tours to the caves.

I mean... do I lie?? Those monkeys are NUTS! Wikipedia even knows about them!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bangkok... the Last Stop

Oh My Word, I got off a bus about 2 hours ago after an arduous 12 hour journey. You wanna hear about it? Ok.
First, we woke up around 8am to be ready for the taxi that would take us to the ferry bound for a town called Suratthani that is kind of a way station for busses, trains, and planes. We were about to catch a bus. However, the driver called and said he wouldn't be there to pick us up until 12:30... had we known that, we may have gone on a half day snorkel or something. So, I packed and took a nap because you KNOW how hard it is to sleep on a bus!
We eventually got to a ferry and took a 3 hour journey across the sea, waving goodbye to the beautiful islands as we passed them one last time. We took our usual spot at the very front of the boat outside, which WAS our own little secret, but half the passengers seemed to be out there with us that time. It was great. We rubbed on a little coconut oil spiked with SPF 50 and got ourselves a nice last minute tan. Of course, it is snowing in China right now, so the tan will look sort of ridiculous. However, tan skin is already considered pretty ugly in China, so I'm striking out anyway. I'm already preparing myself mentally for my students' reactions to my new tan... it should be interesting.
Anyway, so we disembarked and hopped in the back of a small covered pick-up truck/taxi. The driver took us to a small stop about 10 min away and told us to wait. We waited for about 30 min until they decided we weren't going to buy anything in the shop and then carted us to the REAL bus stop at around 5pm. Keep in mind that we left at 12:30pm. Although the huge double-decker bus was parked not 10 feet away from the sidewalk, we were forced to wait at the bus stop for another 2 1/2 hours because the driver was missing. The bus stop attendants were ready for us to leave long before that, especially because everybody was asking the same questions: What's happening? and Where is the bus driver?
FINALLY, the driver came, they counted us and we were gone by 8:30... 1 hour late.... you'd think we'd arrive an hour late as well, right? Wrong. Even though we stopped numerous times for what seemed like absolutely no legitimate reason, we arrived in Bangkok about 30 min AHEAD of schedule (5:30am)... i mean, the guy was driving like we were being chased by evil itself. I only noticed the speed once or twice because I kept nodding off and stuff. It took us FOREVER to find a place to stay though because nobody checks out at 6am.
Now we're in Bangkok and about to take the last steps on our month long voyage. I will post pictures as soon as possible!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Moving ON

Yes, we are trudging on... journeying through... and sallying forth to our next destination, which is Koh Samui. We left Koh Phi Phi today, much to the dismay of Jennifer Paradise who left behind a very sad man from Laos who will no doubt mourn her departure for days and days. So far we've been very lucky to find hotels that will pack all five of us into one room and knock down the price for us a bit. I'm sleeping on a mat tonight, but that's ok cuz on family vaca... I always got the cot or the sofa bed. The brothers need their space.
We're actually in Phucket right now on a beach called Patong, well not exactly ON the beach, but within walking distance. Not that it matters at all because we are only staying for the night. Unfortunately... or fortunately depending on your perspective (the 'Rentals are probably ready for me to be out of Thailand, but is China really any better Folks?)... our travels are coming to an end very soon. We fly out of Bangkok on the 11th to Macau where we will catch a 2 hour bus to Guanzhou and then a 12 hour train to Wuhan... hurray.
Tomorrow however, will be a long trip in and of itself because we must first ride in a ferry for an hour then hop into a A/C van for 4 hours to get to the apparently awesome islands of Samui. I intend to read this new cool book I bought in Hong Kong called, Gilead. It is very good so far and interesting. I'm not just saying that because bus rides and ferrys can leave little else in terms of entertainment, either!
On a more personal note... I would now like to express my feelings about the Thai massage that I had today. (p.s... there was no happy ending) Today, Meghan, Lindsey, and I went in search of a reasonably priced Thai massage. I had a shoulder and neck massage done in Phi Phi by a very good-looking transexual who complimented me on my outfit everyday, so I love her. Nevertheless, we wanted to experience a Thai massage, so we found ourselves in a small beauty shop standing in front of three very inviting mats. We all layed down, but I was asked to stand up again because I was wearing a skirt and that just wouldn't work. An awkward dance ensued as the masseuse brought a pair of pants for me to step into, but didn't allow me to first take OFF the skirt. She laughed at me a bit while she wrapped her arms around me to tie the pants off, meanwhile said skirt is now around my waist. Eventually that came off and we were ready to begin.
My masseuse began at my feet, slowly bending each one forward and sideways until she heard a small pop. Thai massage is a series of pressure placements on certain body points, followed by a slow rub. It was very relaxing at first and then I began to think that her hands must have been made of steel. Every touch was sure to leave a bruise until I finally had to say "OW! Sorry, could you please do it a bit softer?" That sort of helped, but then all of a sudden she picked up my left leg so she put herself in between my legs and contort them in horrendous ways. (Tri Delta girls stop making that face right now!) I haven't stretched like that in a while, so I don't know what kind of shape I'll be in tomorrow. Despite the initial strangeness, I eventually fell asleep during the hour long ordeal until I felt a small slap on my shoulder which was my cue to turn over. This was the best bit yet. Back rubs are the best, but my butt wasn't fully prepared for the elbow that came down pointedly upon it. I let out a little yelp, to tell the truth. Eventually she sat on my legs with her knees, grabbed my arms and pulled back so that I looked like one of those mermaids that go on the front of pirate ships for a minute. Up and down, up and down.
Basically, it was the best $10 i've spent so far!
Love and Kisses,

Friday, February 03, 2006

Koh Phi Phi continued...

As the wave crashed through her small store, she desperately grabbed for something solid to hold on to. She grabbed the shelves that were bolted to the wall and watched helplessly as other victims fought the rushing water. Unfortunately, these people were destined to become the bodies she described floating around her small shop. Broken glass and debris sliced and crushed anything in its path and the wave had such force that it brought down sea walls that were built only two months before. As she continued clutching her anchor of shelves, a large girder gave way and landed on her leg. She couldn't move. The water rose to her neck and she was certain she would become another one of the bodies floating about her, but the wave came back and pushed the heavy concrete away. Once free, she climbed the nearby stairs to the second floor to get to higher ground. Although her leg was injured and she'd sustained many other minor cuts, she spent the rest of the morning pulling survivors out of the water. By this time, the water was high enough to touch the second floor of her small shop, which is about 10-12 feet high. She said that those who did not die from the pounding wave or razer sharp glass being thrown like knives by the force of the tsunami were killed by ingesting sea water filled with sharp sand and debris that ripped through their digestive tracts.
Today, she still owns the small shop that saved her life that day (I bought a really cool wrap there), but the tsunami devastated this small island and she will be forced to close soon. She has a restaurant a few hundred yards away that requires more of her attention and she is short-handed because not many people are returning to the island to find work and she has no children to help she and her husband. Her small village on the opposite side of the island lost hundreds of people, her friends, faces she longs to see.

This was her story about Dec. 26, 2004.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Koh Phi Phi

But first, a small disclaimer: In the last blog, I mentioned the use of drugs in the jungle. Although it may have seemed confusing at first read, let me assure those who read my blogs that I am NOT doing drugs in Thailand or anywhere else for that matter. Thanks :)

Koh Phi Phi is a series of tiny islands in Western Thailand that were devastated by the tsunami last year. Although the area has rebuilt much of what was lost, the reminders of the massive wave that swept through the streets and beaches of Phi Phi still remain. Shopkeepers have drawn lines on the walls to show how high the water reached along with pictures that chronicle the carnage that once was. One woman I spoke to told me her own experience on that day:
It was a normal day. She opened her small souvenir shop about 300m away from the beach. At around 10:30am something strange began to happen. She heard screams coming from outside and began running away from the Northern shore. A moment later, large pieces of debris from the ocean floor began dropping from the sky and then a wall of water about 3 to 4 meters high rushed through the sidewalk. All of this happened in a matter of seconds.
More Later.