Monday, April 25, 2011

Home sweet home: The weekend in review

In case you didn't already know.........we're home!  After thirty hours of travel and approximately three hours of sleep we arrived at PDX on Tuesday afternoon.

My dad made a delicious Mexican meal of cheese enchiladas, beans, and rice to welcome us home.  Before long we cozied up under the down comforter atop our feather bed and slept.  A lot.

Ryan requested Pine State for or our first breakfast back home.  It's rare to catch the tiny space on a day when it's not packed, but we got lucky since it was a weekday.  Ryan indulged in the "Reggie deluxe" pictured here.  I forgot my camera so I borrowed this pic.
{fried chicken, bacon, gravy, cheese, and a fried egg on a biscuit}

We spent the rest of the day walking around the neighborhood enjoying the fresh air and genuinely nice people. 

Friday morning I joined my mom at Slappy Cakes where we cooked our own deliciously sweet banana pecan pancakes.  

Later I enjoyed happy hour with a few close friends.  Of course we had margaritas.  Finally!

On Saturday we attended the wedding of one of Ryan's closest friends.  The day couldn't have been better.  The sun was shining over the small courtyard packed with the bride and groom's loved ones.  It was great to catch up with everyone and be a part of such a special day.

Ryan and I had lunch with my parents on Sunday and later parted ways to do our favorite things: fishing for him, dinner riverside at the Old Spaghetti Factory with my best friend for me.  Ryan even drove by on the boat to wave hello.  (White speck on the left).

Tonight we had dinner with more of our best friends and finally got to congratulate them in person on their upcoming wedding.

It feels good to be home.

On Travel...

"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow." 
-- Lin Yutang

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Happy Birthday to you, Dad

We're home!  Meaning that for the first time in over a year there was a Portland event that I didn't miss.  Ryan and I had the pleasure of spending the day with my dad today on his birthday.

The day consisted of a beautiful spring walk around my old neighborhood followed by a coffee break and lunch at Nostrana.  Of course it rained.  A welcome home present, I guess.
Gorgonzola Gnocchi

Over the years Dad has always made me laugh and has never failed to encourage me.  Here we are. :)
{Early '90s}

I couldn't ask for a better day, or for a better dad.

Happy Birthday dad, I love you!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Back where we began and looking toward the future

The first leg of our trip home is complete.  This is surreal. 

Hey, we thought as we deplaned at Seoul's Incheon airport from Bangkok, this looks familiar.  Although it's beyone cliché, I remember the day we arrived in Korea like it was yesterday.  But it wasn't.  It was fourteen months ago. 

There's a particular feeling you get when a date, positive or negative, looms in the future.  You look at the calendar regularly noting It, aware of Its impending arrival, but of course you're occupied with many other things as well.  Time goes by, daily life happens, and then suddenly That Day is today.  Children feel this way about Christmas, teachers about the first day of school, and future mothers about their baby's due date.  I certainly felt it during grad school, when my wedding was on the horizon, before our initial departure to Korea and I feel it again today.

During the time Ryan and I have been away, we've sometimes allowed ourselves to think about home.  The weddings of some of our dear friends and family members, holiday traditions we were absent for, our favorite activities in the Pacific Northwest, food from the best restaurants, and shopping at our favorite stores (ok so maybe I'm alone on the last one).  For most of the year we tried not to think about the goods we didn't have access to, made do with the cooking ingredients and restaurants in Busan, and kept updated with our loved ones via skype, facebook and internet phone.

If ever I said, "I miss so-and-so", or "Ooh you know what sounds so good right now?"  Ryan would stop me before I could even finish the thought, not wanting to think about the inaccessible.  But for the last few weeks when I've mentioned relatives and friends, lasagna and artichokes,  or the beauty of Portland in the summer, he has begun to agree with me.  Because it really won't be long now.

Soon we'll see our families and friends.  We'll be able to do all the things we've talked about, reminisced about, and tried to block out of our minds up until this point.  The looming date is here.

Within a week we'll trade skype for face to face convos with (many of) our family members,  and pick up where we left off with our closest friends.

It's an understatement to say that Ryan is excited to jump into Salmon fishing, get back into a decent gym, witness two of his best friends marry their long time girlfriends, and begin preparations for an upcoming extended bike ride with some fellow former Busanites.

I can't wait for a decent haircut (I know, I know), a summer Vegas trip with my favorite girls, visiting my new neice and nephew, long talks with my parents, walking around the neighborhood where I grew up, and wandering aimlessly around Target.  I could spend hours inside that store.  And I plan to.

Ryan and I are both dying to dine on Portland's best pizza, drink real beer, have access to an oven and a dryer (amazing!) and be in a place where miming and sign language aren't neccessary to get a point across.  Until then we'll lounge around the airport for the next few hours before our second flight.

As visions of the previously forbidden foods dance in our heads, maybe while we're here in Seoul we'll have some kimchi for old time's sake.  Maybe.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Turtle Island, shopping marathon, and the return home

After the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, it was a nice change spending the last ten days relaxing in the southern island of Koh Thao.  After being ravaged by massive rainstorms a mere two weeks ago, floods destroyed many of the numerous dive shops and bungalows.  Luckily by the time we arrived the weather was clear and beautiful.  Although much of the beach had actually washed away with the storm, we still managed to have an amazing time.  

Ryan spent the first few days working on his diving certifications in the secluded Chalok Bay area of the island.  I worked on my tan.  In the evenings we scootered around, ate pad thai from pretty much every restaurant we could find, and watched some amazing sunsets sipping cocktails on the beach.  We also had some delicious breakfasts beachside, sipping mango smoothies and fresh squeezed pineapple juice.  We've gotten so spoiled!  Our last few nights were spent in an adorable bungalow on the much busier Sairee Beach.  The beach and its many bars were packed, but in the wake of the storm our resort was nearly deserted.  Our only company was the outrageously noisy frogs who croaked for most of the night.

We were lucky enough to hit the island during Thai New Year.  As I mentioned, the celebration consists of everyone drenching everyone else with buckets of water, hoses, and squirt guns.  As we scootered and walked around we were doused with water and painted with a kind of baby powder paste.  What a fun (and soaking wet) day!  We had a blast.  Our time in Thailand wouldn't have been complete without a Cabaret performance (wait for the video) and a captivating fire show on the beach. 

It was difficult to leave paradise but we had good reason.  Today we spent a full day perusing the capital's massive weekend market.  It was a shopaholic's dream!  Over a thousand stalls offered pretty much anything you can think of.  Even Ryan was captivated from ten to five, with a break for Thai iced tea, fiery papaya salad, and some kind of banana leaf kebab.

Tomorrow we'll attend a Thai cooking class in the morning (so excited!) and in the evening we'll head to the airport to fly home.  It's been an amazing year in Korea and an incredible adventure in Southeast Asia these last few weeks.  We are also ready to go home after being away for nearly fourteen months.  We can't wait to share all of our stories and pictures and are even more excited to see you all very soon!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

From Bangkok to the Bay

We took a night train into Bangkok on Monday evening which turned out to be more complicated than it should have been.  

After being picked up by the company we booked our tickets through we were quickly shuttled to the train station in Laos.  We sat around for an hour before hopping on a small train bound for the Thai border.  After a quick ride we officially arrived in Thailand where we were to board our train to Bangkok.  Unfortunately we didn't get our exit stamp before getting on the train out of Laos.  This caused quite a commotion at the Thai border, where an official continued to shout, "no stamp Lao, no stamp Lao!" over and over without offering us any choice but to return to the border via a combination of tuk-tuk and minivan.  Luckily a bilingual young Thai woman was there to help us communicate, as she and her boyfriend were in our same situation. 

With the train's departure time looming, we sped back to the border with all of our bags, (the tuk-tuk was practically dragging on the road) hoping we could quickly solve the problem.  Luckily we could.  We made it back to the train station in Thailand with just twenty minutes to spare.

Once we arrived in Bangkok we boarded a city bus for Khao San and hoped for the best.  When we noticed foreigners were outnumbering  locals, we figured we were in the right place.  After dropping off our bags we took a tour of our new neighborhood.  Street vendors were selling everything from carmelized crickets to fake ID's.  Tourists sipping beer practically spilled out of the numerous patios lining the busy street.  Dancers performed among the crowds, and we noticed the banners for Songkran everywhere.  It runs from April 13-16 and is Thailand's New Year celebration.  Most people have time off and celebrate the hottest time of the year by soaking each other with water.  We already bought our dry bags and squirt guns in preparation after getting a preview of the festivities (being soaked with buckets of water) in Laos.

As we are rather templed out, we spent our first stint in Bangkok exploring the busy area of Siam Square which housed several malls rivaling the size (and expensive price range) of Busan's Shinsegae.  We also spent an intriuging afternoon winding up and down the tightly knit alleys of Chinatown.  We've been eating fresh Pad Thai as much as possible and have managed to get in a few relaxing Thai massages as well.

This morning we arrived in the southern island of Koh Tao, where Ryan plans to get some SCUBA certifications.  I'll cram in as much beach time as possible before we return to Bangkok for another couple of days.  Then it's home to rainy Oregon.  It won't be long now!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Still Loving (and Leaving) Laos

Our time in Don Det (an island within Si Phan Don) was a relaxing way to unwind after the long days of exploring Angkor in Cambodia.  We read our books, tubed and swam in the river, and ate as much of "Mama's" delicious food as possible.  I still miss our usual shared breakfast of banana crepe with honey and potato omelet with baguette.  Ryan is now addicted to sticky rice to go with his green curry.  I don't recommend Lao Lao!

Besides eating and relaxing, Ryan fished with the locals but without much success.  We joined the reception of a Laos wedding with lots of BeerLao and a terrible DJ.  On the walk home we saw the Big Dipper in the sky, upside down.  The most energy we exerted during our time in Si Phan Don was the day we rented a motorbike and drove to Don Khon for more sightseeing.  Riding to the nearby waterfalls and through the scenic countryside dotted with water buffaloes and rice farmers was about as picturesque as it gets.  The untouched beauty of both islands was pleasant and peaceful.  Finally we peeled ourselves out of the hammocks and made our way to the capital city

Vientiane is smaller than the other SE Asia capital's we've visited, which was a nice change of pace.  We walked along the river, saw a famous monument, and noted the many monks in their orange garb.

Luang Prabang was our next stop, a quaint little town brimming with spas, baguette stalls, adorable hotels, and outdoor restaurants.  Our guesthouse was in an alley off the river, complete with a gorgeous balcony that was never short on fresh bananas.  We spent a day swimming in the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls and another exploring the historical city's sights.  Each morning monks wind through the main streets collecting alms.  Getting up at dawn proved worthwhile as we watched the monks' silent procession.

Our most memorable day in Luang Prabang was at Elephant Village.  With a guide we rode together in a basket on an elephant's back, then progressed to riding on the neck of our very own elephant.  High on their backs, we walked to the river where we bathed the elephants and went for a few unexpected swims along the way.  A sunny boat ride, side-by-side massages, and a pedicure by the river wrapped up the evening.

Each night we walked through the bustling night market.  In every direction were beautiful handmade gifts and fragrant Lao coffee.  Dinner each night in town was an inexpensive and heaping plate of Laos noodles, vegetables, tofu and fruit, all stir-fried together.  We explored several riverside bars in the evenings, sipping beer and mojitos as we chatted with fellow travelers.  Ryan even got a chance to play some night beach volleyball with a friend from Busan who we met up with on his travel circuit.

Soon we were on a night train into Bangkok, which wasn't as simple as it sounds...  Stay tuned!