Sunday, December 20, 2009

After All, Home Is Where Your Rump Rests... Right?

I really didn't expect to be blogging again.

When I got home, I briefly started another blog, Three Dot Monte, but just didn't have much to say. Being thousands of miles from home doing and seeing things in a culture so different led to things worth talking about. Struggling with a tough job market and trying to readjust to life home made for a boring read.

However, almost exactly 9 months after a welcome home that still puts a lump in my throat, I'm forced to wrestle with the very real possibility that I may have something to blog about again. My folks put Jen and I up upon our return, and we both began looking for work. After a frustrating start, Jen managed to find work as an office manager for a tutoring company. The pay wasn't amazing, but it was more than enough to help us get started.

The problem was me. I began only looking for teaching and ministry jobs in the Orlando area. Over time, the area I was looking in got larger, and the jobs I was looking for got broader. 9 months later I'm looking for anything that pays enough to support us, and have applications for different types of work across the U.S.

No dice.

The question Jen and I are wrestling with is simply this: When is enough enough? The answer, after much fighting, praying, and crying, is January 24th. That's when Jen and I will decide for ourselves, assuming I haven't found a position that makes enough to support us, where we will go. Assuming that, we've got two choices we're looking at.

Option #1: Military. Jen has wanted to for a long time, and is a shoe-in to become an officer. My grades make my chances pretty slim, so I'd probably end up being a kept man. Could be worse...

Option #2: Overseas Contract. While it doesn't have the stability and pay the military offers, the commitment is much shorter and doesn't normally involve that whole "getting shot at" thing.

There are going to be problems, of course. The support we had for our first global romp was incredible, expecting that again is presumptuous to say the least. There is a dog, and 2 cars, that make traveling overseas complicated. And when we return we have to find a way to make certain we don't end up in the same predicament we are now.

I don't know what we'll do. Blogging all this now, like my blogging always has been, is mostly to help me process and think through what's in front of me. Given the choice, I'd take a decent job, house, and a baby on the way somewhere a little north of Orlando. If the Lord has other ideas, however, I've learned several times over it's a long pointless battle to go against Him. Right now, a little clarity would go a long way.

I know a few people have asked where we'll head if we decide to go with another overseas contract, so a quick list of where we're currently discussing:
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Thailand (Either Bangkok or Chang Mai)
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Sao Palo, Brazil
  • Other areas around South and Central America, with a dash of Eastern Europe for flavor.
There's a part of me that would love the chance to see more of the world, but mostly I'm just hoping not to have anything else to blog about.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Party Details

Ok!! Here's what we're doing.

We'll be gathering at the park in my folk's neighborhood at 1pm on Sunday, March 22nd. There are grills, beautiful fields of green grass, and lake access (Let my mom know ASAP if you've got a boat/jet ski/etc. you'd like to bring). So come one, come all, and feel free to bring a friend.

My mom has picked up the tab for the hall, which gives us some air conditioning and bathrooms, but NOTHING ELSE IS PROVIDED. We'll call this pot luck. If you're so inclined, you can post a comment with what you'll be bringing- drinks, coolers with ice, paper products, charcoal, chips, meat, etc.- or just show up with whatever suits you. Just don't do the thing where you bring one bag of chips and eat 4 hamburgers and drink 3 beers. That's just not cool. Don't be that guy.

Oh, wait. Ivan, you get no choice. You bring ribs. I've heard you've gotten a new recipe, and Jen and I have huddled together on many a cold lonely night with only thoughts of your ribs to provide some small measure of comfort.

Ok, that's crap. But still. Bring ribs.

Few other points:
  • I became an honorary uncle repeatedly over the last year. I'd better see my new nephews.
  • We're not doing a Facebook or Myspace event. I just don't want to deal with it. You can invite folks, pass the word, etc. but this is a low stress event. Whoever shows up, great.
  • We will need help with clean up. I'm not stressing because we've always had plenty of people willing to, but please keep it in mind here.
  • Yes, beer, wine, and spirits are fine.
  • Yes, this is a family friendly event.
Have I mentioned how incredibly stoked we are to see everyone again?

I've got another post coming soon detailing our Australian adventures. Don't have the time to do it now, but I'll give you a

SIGN TIME!!! as a sneak preview.

I love it. I love it I love it I love it I love it.

But no, I didn't act aggressively. It was too early in the day to hear the words "escort you off the property," even with the cool accent.

See ya (next) Sunday!


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We're Going Home.

Yup. You read it right.

I know a bunch of you already heard, but not everyone, and I thought I'd expand a little on what happened for anyone who is curious.

For the record, we still have an adventure or two left before we get home, and I'll try my best to get those up soon. I'm finishing this blog right, damnit.

As to why we're going home, it came down to a combination of God and numbers. I mentioned before the uphill battle we were having with currencies and timing- well, we got to Queensland, in Australia, to find it about to be hit with a typhoon (hurricane), and posting the highest unemployment in the country- higher than Orange County, too. Combine that with the thousands of displaced workers trying to escape the wildfires and flooding, and we've got a problem.

But we could have prevailed. We had work lined up at the beginning of April, and a good housing situation. However, when we crunched the numbers it just didn't add up. Australia is not the cheapest place to live ($3.15 for a 2-liter of Coke), and we would have dipped into the money we had set aside for the down payment on our house. We already don't have nearly as much as we wanted in there. It just wasn't a good call.

Now, don't let all this negativity make it sound like Jen and I are upset. We're stoked to be able to see everyone again, and we're thankful beyond measure to be able to do what we've done. We plan on traveling out again, though not nearly so long, as soon as we can. We want to get our PADI certifications, most likely on some islands we missed in Thailand. When you're traveling on the US dollar, it's not a bad deal at all.

We've seen some amazing stuff, and we're going to see a bit more before we're done. But as we wrap up, I start to think about what we missed- birthdays, holidays, several friends becoming parents, friends coming home from Iraq, the loss of a grandmother... it's not even something you can say was or wasn't worth it. When I met Jen, I had no intention of leaving Central Florida for longer than a 2 week vacation. Now, with just under a year of trotting the globe under my belt, I've made friends from every continent and have seen things I'd only dreamed of. If I had it to do again, would I? Undoubtedly. Would I do it again now? Honestly, no. I've wandered far and wide, and still come to the conclusion that Central Florida is where I want to live, raise my family, and grow old. I don't know that I'd really want to log another year wandering anytime soon. But who knows? I may feel differently in another year.

I'll post some pictures of Cairns (Australia) really soon, hopefully with some cool Australian animals and all that. We love you all, and miss you terribly.

OH! Before I forget- we come into the Orlando airport on Thursday the 19th, around 10pm. Don't meet us there. Seriously. We'll have logged almost a full 24 hours of flying, and I will not make for good company. We'll set up something where we can all gather, and I'll make sure I even post it here. The jet lag coming into Korea took over a week to get straight, I doubt it'll go much better now.

That said, I'd better see each and every one of you soon...


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fire, Muslims, and Australia

UPDATE: Sorry, YouTube and I were also fighting, but we're friends again. Videos should work.

You realize this is the 8th blog in one month? I'm spoiling you all...

First off, the spell check doesn't wanna play with me. Sorry about that one.

So we've had a pretty sudden change in plans. We had just crossed the Thai border into Malaysia when we got word from a friend we'd met saying we had a job opportunity at a resort in Australia. This was a mixed blessing. On one hand, we'd just made it to Malaysia. We had several spots to see, and weren't planning on Australia for at least another few weeks, hopefully more like a month. On the other hand, we were running out of money quick and could use the work in Oz to refill the coffers. After some debate, we decided to go for it.

So, we stayed on the island of Langkawi for a few days, then hopped a bus to Kuala Lumpur. I'm writing from a pretty cool hostel in KL, with plans to go into Singapore tomorrow, where Jen and I will hop a plane bound for the land of the Aussies. That'll be 3 countries inside of a week. Not bad, if a little tiring.

Chinatown in KL

But I thought I'd do some filler here real quick, some background for those who are curious.

Jen and I chose a rotten time to do all this. Granted, most of us didn't know we'd have a global economic crisis, but the money we earned for travling, and for buying a house, was all in Korean won, which was the worst performing currency in Asia in 2008.

Think about that. Worst performing currency for the largest continent on earth. Nepal did better. The Mongols posted better currency numbers than South Korea. That no one called.

So we're traveling on a lousy currency. That sucks. And what should be over 10k for a house is actually around 6k. But that's why it's all sitting in Korea, waiting for the world to figure out what the hell is going on.

Part 2: No one told Southeast Asia the world ran out of money. The currencies here, which are not as "globalized" as their wealthier counterparts, were not devalued like the won. So they're actually performing better against the euro, pound, dollar, etc. than they have in quite a long time- maybe ever. This won't last, the readings tell me, maybe a month or two. Guess what we were planning on doing for the next month or two... yeah, traveling on the worst performing currency in Asia.

But that's ok. Australia awaits!!! Of course, it's currency is actually doing worse than Korea, but it's got signs of rallying soon. We hope.

That's all the bad news. The good news is I'm about to visit Australia, something I've dreamed about since I was, I don't know... 8? Benoit can tell stories about a little 7th grade kid wanting to be dropped in the middle of the Outback with nothing but his trusty walking stick.

(Benoit- I don't have the walking stick with me... it's sitting in storage. How nuts is that?)

Oh, wait, one more piece of bad news. Jen and I misread the visa process. We actually can't work in Australia without applying for this special visa, which must be applied for and granted while outside the country. We discovered this after spending $1000 on plane tickets... it'll be ok for the moment, we've got it covered. It just means we'll be going to New Zealand for a week or so. They also have the "Working Holiday" visa that Australia does, and this time we'll make certain we read the fine print.

NG_ERROR_9">Ok, that's the boring stuff.

I'll got some pics of Langkawi up, but I have to share what the pictures don't.

Langkawi sits just off the northwestern coast of the Malay pennisula. It's a beautiful island, sparkling beaches, the whole 9 yards. Plus, it's a duty free island. You can buy an ice cold beer for .50 cents American. All the time. Wow, you think, this must be a party island like no other, right?


The thing is, Malaysia is a Muslim country. Jen and I walked into four different stores on our little stretch of tourist wonderland only to be told by the owners that they didn't sell alcohol. We found some, eventually, and got to enjoy a cold drink on the beach watching the sun go down. This led to a few thoughts:
1. I still don't like beer.
2. There is something odd about a tropical paradise where half the folks are wandering around in bikinis and board shorts, and the other half are covered head to toe.
3. There was, on one of the tiny islands nearby, a huge "full moon" party, which was banned by "unimpressed local Muslims" (so sayth Rough Guide: Southeast Asia). It felt a little like Saved By The Bell, with Mr. Belding being played by Muslim locals. It's a little surreal.
4. Complain about political incorrectness all you want, but don't judge me until you've seen conservative Muslims owning and operating a Bob Marley shop on the beach front, complete with huge tie-died marijuana towels and t-shirts...

The island was beautiful, though. Jen and I stayed the first night in a dorm-style room, which is where you've got anywhere from 6 to 20 people all sleeping in the same room. We were closer to 20. After an early morning of discovering exactly how loud plastic bags can be, we splurged and went for the beach front room with air con, hot water, and a noticable lack of 18 complete strangers. Cost us $33 American, give or take.

The view from our room

Anyway, we're in KL. I haven't taken many pictures because there just isn't much to show. It's an amazingly clean city, a far cry from Seoul or Bangkok, and a truly cosmopolitan place as well. Chinatown and Little India boast some amazing food, and I'm loving every gut-busting second of it.

I'm a little nervous about Singapore. For those short on history, about 10 years ago an American spray painted a car and got caned for it. The US made some official request to not have him caned, but everyone knew he had it coming. That's the law in Singapore. Chewing gum will get you fined something like $150. Jaywalking is around $100. I'm just certain I'm going to spill my Coke and end up broke and possibly beaten...

Ok ok ok, let's see some fun stuff.

How cool is that? We were at the Babylon Mat Lounge. It sits right on the beach, and they give you mats. surprisingly enough, and you can sit and listen to a really good Marley cover band. We're doing just that when they announced they'd be doing a fire show.

Now THAT guy had better to be able to get a date..

I've had this fire motif going on for a while there. First there was this (watch your volume):

And then there was this:

And... as a result... there was this.

That's karosene, by the way. It's actually tasteless, but you can't help but swallow a little bit. Everytime I burped for the next 12 hours, all I could taste was gasoline. Ugh. But it was SO AWESOME...

Hey, all these vids and pics... here's another treat. Just because ya'll been so good.

How about a SIGN TIME 2fer?

I didn't have a problem with this, until I say the New Town Black Coffee out in the alley. Moreover, I had no idea which one to go to. Then Jen reminded me I don't drink coffee.

Nah. Too easy.

Much love,

Friday, February 20, 2009

For 14k, I expected bigger.

This is it. This is what we hiked 14k- that's 8.69 miles people- to see. Can we talk about this for a second?

I'm not "fit". I don't "exercise", or "take care of my body". I have been told I have "cholesterol problems", and that I am "obese". I'm not arguing any of these points. But 14k? People train for a really long time to do this kinda thing. What the hell were we thinking?

But this isn't about whether we "should have" attempted a 14k hike through a Thai jungle in the mountains. It's not about whether we were "prepared" with things like "water", or "food". It's about the waterfall.

I mean, come on people. It's pretty. It is. But that does not justify 14k.

See this?

We followed a sidewalk about a quarter mile, and boom. Beautiful waterfall. Why did I hike 14k to get something so much lamer? (lamer? more lame? not the point...)

My next issue is the "path". I don't know if you can tell, but this is a treacherous trail, roughly a foot wide, wrapping around the side of a mountain. It's also, just to keep it interesting, strewn with roots, large rocks, and leaves that conceal where the "path" has decided that 12 inches is just making it too easy and decided to shave a little off the sides.

All of this at a 45 degree angle.

Amongst backpackers this kind of thing is among the most popular things to do. They call it "trekking". I call it "stupid". And now that I officially have a full blown trek under my belt I intend to never ever do it again.

...except for this spot in Indonesia, where you catch the sunrise from the top of a volcano. That actually catches my interest. I hate it, I really do, but come on... it's a volcano at sunrise.

No word yet on whether sunset is also an option.

Random Quote:
Al (discussing American football): Do you know who the quarterback is?
Angel, the South African model: Of course I do. The quarterback is the cute boy in the movies.

Gotta love it.

Let's talk bad ideas.

Ok, hint: It's not sunset on an idyllic island off the coast of Northern Thailand. I'll give half credit if you said my choice to rock the sleeveless shirt, the arms are a bit flabby, I know, but it's just so damn comfortable that I can't make myself care.

If you thought "Holy crap!!! Who the hell gave Al the keys to ANYTHING with two wheels and an engine? And what made Jen get on the back? Is she %&^#@ crazy!?!? And, for the love of all that is holy, WHY AREN'T THEY WEARING HELMETS?" Then I'd say, "Whoa, whoa, calm down there Mr./Ms./Mrs. Freakypants. There's nothing to be concerned about. We took the helmets off for the picture. They're clearly sitting in the little basket on the front.

Ok, wanna see a worse idea?

That's right. Not only did I learn to drive this thing in a foreign country at the same time I learned to drive on the left side of the road for the first time, a few days later I taught Jen. Ha! We're wacky.

Time to talk toilets people.

Now this, you spoiled Americans, is a standard western toilet. See if you can figure out what's a little off by the time we come back to it.

This beauty is the standard around much of Southeast Asia. Notice that while it does have the beginnings of a Western toilet, it's missing something. Not the seat- well, ok, yes, the seat, but that's because this was a bus transfer stop. Not even a bus station- this is where you waited after you rode your first bus to ride the second bus. Point is, most have seats.

The thing that's missing is the big tank that assists in the flushing. Sans that, we instead use that big black garbage can with the pretty pink bowl. The garbage can is filled with water, and you use the pink bowel to pour it into the toilet, and the water pressure causes a flush. Sort of. As the sign in the corner indicates, toilet paper doesn't go in the toilet.

But if you wander a bit into the sticks, or just happen to guess wrong, you get one of these bad boys.

Say hello to the squatter. The physics of these gets a little graphic, but you get the idea. Not fun. These also come in the "pour bucket" variety for those who want the joys of trying to do their thing in the woods, but with a much more disgusting smell and less hygiene. They were also really popular in Seoul. No idea why.

Speaking of graphic...

Don't feel bad if you didn't catch it- notice the lack of toilet paper? How about the spray hose on the wall? Yup.

I haven't the foggiest idea how in the WORLD that's suppose to work. But it's what the natives do. I know what you're thinking. No, I haven't tried. And yes, I'll ask. I just have to find someone who speaks English well enough to explain, and won't be totally embarrassed at telling me. I probably won't post the answer, though. It just can't be good.

Ok, running out of time here. But guess what I got?

SIGN TIME!!!! It's not just for Korea anymore.

These dotted the trail to our less than ideal waterfall. And sure, the trail after these were places where injury wasn't just possible, it was likely, but looking at it I kept feeling like that guy was having way more fun than me...

We'll be in Malaysia in about 2 days. More to come!

-Al & Jen

Friday, February 13, 2009

Photos and Youtube!

Ok, I hope this works.

If you click here you should be able to go to a photo album of the wanderings of your favorite duo. I've tried to include captions and things. I'll still post the blogs, with pics, but this I'll add as we go. It's a thing with the amount of space I get on blogspot, and me fiddling around with new dork stuff.

Speaking of which, we also loaded a few videos on YouTube. If you search for Wanderingandrambling (our profile name) you should be able to see the videos. I'm not certain, though, because YouTube and the internet cafe are fighting.

NOTE- There's a ton of spelling mistakes in the captions. Layne, no. Dan... NO....

Love ya! Miss ya!

-Al (& Jen)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bangkok Dangerous?

Hey everyone!

Ok, so the laptop doesn't do so well with this whole "internet" thing unless it has "access". I don't follow, personally, but there is a lovely internet cafe here in Kanchanaburi, Thailand so the blogging will not be interrupted.

Our flight here was uneventful. I didn't mention the six hours we spent in the Beijing airport. That sucked. A lot. I mean, huge Oh-My-God-Are-We-Still-Here amounts. So, you get to look at a picture of it.

Somehow, it doesn't quite capture the experience, but it'll have to do. After that ridiculously long layover we finally hopped on 5 and a half hour flight to Bangkok.

Ok, I'm just going to put this out there. Microsoft owes the Thai people a lot of money. Here's why.

Tell me those aren't wingdings. Microsoft totally ripped off Thailand. Not cool, Bill Gates. Not cool.

We started out at the Soi1 Guesthouse in Bangkok. The place was, overall, great. The first night we simply crashed, but the next day we got to met some really interesting people, and that evening we ventured out into the Bangkok nightlife. Jen and I behaved ourselves, but some of the folks we were traveling with got themselves into some situations that... well, let's say that they'd have been arrested back home.

Speaking of home, here's a tale to tell.

I'm sitting in the hostel's common room chatting with some fellow travelers. We were discussing standards of living between Thailand and the West, leading me to share something that my mother shared with me- that being born in the USA (or, for the company, the UK, Australia, South Africa, and I believe somewhere in the Scandinavia area) was winning the "birth lottery," everyone smiled and nodded politely, except for Silvia. She was a beautiful young lady from London that said, and I can't make this up, that she sometimes wishes she was born in a 3rd world country.

JUSTIN- Your comments for this blog is hereby limited to 500 words or less...

We'll ignore the obvious struggle to survive, find food, and avoid the ravages of, on occasion, 1000's of years of war and famine. We'll ignore corruption on a scale unheard of in the USA, or atrocities such as female circumcision or children being forced to work as soldiers. We'll ignore all of this for the simplicity of life, and the family structure.

Granted, I come from a family with divorced parents. But somehow, someway, I feel like my brother and I managed to overcome this hardship, and while I can't say for certain, I'm thinking he'd agree that divorce was easier than watching our family members die from diseases that are cured as a matter of course in the USA. But who knows, maybe Dan also yearns for that family structure to the point that a parent selling his daughter into prostitution because that's her best chance at a better life is not such a big deal.

(long, slow, sigh) Better now.

No, I didn't unload on her that way. I began to gently point out the lunacy of that claim when another girl joined her side, and I remembered that I've got about 5 years on most of these folks, if not more, during which point apparently the brain finishes developing. I watched Shaun Of The Dead instead. Nice.

I gotta say, I liked Bangkok a lot. It is not a town for the feint of heart, to be sure. This city takes New Orleans and Las Vegas combined for stuff that ain't kosher, but the people are so kind and helpful. Hardly anyone stared at us as we ventured around, and were happy to welcome us (and our money) wherever we went. We sat and ate at stalls along the side of the road, and the people were kind enough to ask whether we actually wanted the food spicy. Which, it turns out, I'm developing a taste for...

But back to the not as pleasant stuff, because lets be honest, it's more interesting.

-Jen and I wandered around a really popular night market on Saturday night. We knew it was located next to a popular red light district, but after Gerium we weren't all that concerned. So we're looking at all the different wares when a man approaches with a laminated menu to show us. We make it a point to ignore anyone who approaches, but we glanced at the menu. We both thought we were looking at a list of drinks, maybe cocktails. Turns out they were shows available not far away. Disturbed, and to be honest, a little confused, we hurried on.

-Did I mention how cynical Jen and I are? We've got code words for when we think trouble is afoot, and even make sure we stand perpindicular to each other when we're wearing our backpacks to avoid pickpockets. We've had no trouble at all, partly because we're careful to a fault. Unlike our friend... he decided to go hit up one of the big foriegner "party zones" with some folks from the hostile. After getting entirely too drunk, he left his friends and contiuned partying. He came to sitting on a concrete stump several hours later to a small crowd of Thais and a Thai police officer poking him with a stick. He found he was missing his wallet, MP3 player, and a few other things. Luckily for him his passport and ATM were still on his money belt under his clothes, but some of the locals felt bad and paid a taxi to run him back to a section of town he belonged in. He says he's pretty sure he was drugged- not sure I buy that, but a 22 year old foreign guy very drunk and wandering alone in that part of town is kinda asking for it, I'm afraid.

Also, here's an elephant in downtown Bangkok. Note the lack of a huge crowd of people jostling and yelling 'Holy shit! There's an elephant in the middle of the city!'

Ok, I'm bored. I'm hoping to pet a tiger for my birthday tomorrow. Yea for me!