Holidays and Family

Christmas has pretty much exploded all over Singapore which is fun to see (will post more pics soon) but its still odd to hear - let it snow, let it snow, let it snow - when its 90 degrees outside!

Hot humid weather aside I have been wanting to add a little Christmas cheer to our condo.  We don't have a lot of space and almost all of my Christmas supplies are back in Seattle in storage but I did manage to add a little splash of Christmas to a coffee table in our living room.

I think the holidays are the hardest time for me living in Asia.  This year for Thanksgiving my family went down to Palm Springs to spend the holiday with my brother Mark.  My sister-in-law Shari wrote up an amazing blog post (turkey flies to palm springs) about the event which while reading made me feel as if was almost there with them.  Back in the 80's when my parents lived in Japan and were far away from family over the holidays they had to rely on audio cassette tapes and letters via (snail)mail for news of home.  Now-a-days Kingsley and I can call, Skype, email, Facebook anytime I we are missing family.  Thats a lot to be thankful for!

Thailand - Beaches

The white sandy and nearly deserted beaches of Khao Lak stretch on for 20km. Kingsley and I had a chance to explore just a few short sections of the beach and we were so surprised by how few people we encountered along the way.

It doesn't get more beautiful than this!

We saw this elephant walking along the beach with owner offering rides to tourists.  The elephant had a chain around her right foot and the owner used a sharp hook in her ear to control her.  Maybe its too many kitten rescues that have made me soft but seeing that elephant just didn't feel right.

Thailand - Dettloffs & Woods

During our stay we had endless amounts of delicious Thai food.  There is nothing like fresh seafood and Thai noodles on the beach in the evening after a day of fun in the sun with your dearest friends.

Carmen is 15 weeks pregnant which is incredibly exciting and lead to lots of late night conversations about the life changing aspects of becoming parents.
Every now and then it hits my that Carmen has been my best friend for 16 years!  That is pretty impressive.  Our friendship has survived - the rocky teenage years, getting our bachelor and masters degrees, 7 years as roommates, 2 trips to Afghanistan and many more adventures.

Thailand - Diving

Since Kingsley and I are now advanced divers I wanted to dive at one of the most beautiful dive spots in Thailand if not the world - Richelieu Rock.  This is an advanced site as the currents can be very strong.  The site can be reached by speed boat which takes about an hour to get there. Again we had pretty choppy seas going and returning which was both good and bad.  The great part was that we were the only dive boat at the site which according to our dive instructors was unheard of.  Also due to the weather there were only 6 of us diving that day which again is incredibly unusual as they typically take up to 20 divers on a boat.  Downside of the choppy waves was both Kingsley and I felt pretty seasick while on the boat.  Because Richelieu rock is very remote there is no land around so we spent the full day either on the boat or in the diving in the water.  As long as we were in the water we felt fine but back on the boat was tough.  Especially when lunch was served...although it looked great, Kingsley and I both sat with full plates just staring at the horizon hoping we wouldn't get sick.  Eventually we caved and took the seasick tablets they offered which makes you drowsy but at the time seemed like a small price to pay. Although we both slept most of the way back to the mainland the "seasick tablets" (which by the way I was feeling so poorly I didn't even bother to check to see what we were taking!) worked wonders and we were good as new.

I had pretty high expectations of the dive site as I had heard and read so many wonderful things about it. But Richelieu rock managed to exceed everything I could have hoped for.  It was truly one of the most stunning experiences.  The reef was just teeming with life both large and small.  There were so many beautiful colors in both the coral and the fish. I really think I could have stayed in the water forever!

Also the visibility which had been pretty bad the last few days was perfect the day we arrived.

Our second dive was at the number 2 dive site in Thailand called Boonsung wreck.  Due to the silty bottom the visibility at the site is not the greatest but its a great place to spot very rare sea life.  This site was also incredible and we got to see a few very unique things along with tons of fish.

 Honeycomb eel - this is one of the only places in the world they can be seen
Orangutang crab - the tiny red spot in the center of the picture

Thailand - Similan Island snorkel trip

Carmen, Sean and I arrived in Thailand one day before Kingsley and so the three of us planned a snorkeling day trip to the Similan islands.  We went with a tour group called Fantastic island Tours.  Interestingly most of the staff were ladyboys who moonlighted as dancers which made for an incredibly entertaining 3 hour ride to and from the islands.

Lucy better known as Rucy was our boat guide and let me tell you she had her hands full.  The day we went out to the islands was pretty windy so we got rocked around ALOT on the boat.  As we all know boat rocking is never good for those who tend to get a bit seasick.  Of the 30 people on our boat I would say about 10 were vomiting (excessively) the entire 3 hours and pretty much everyone else felt like tossing their cookies at some point during the trip, including me!  Rucy with amazing instincts was somehow there the moment someone was ill handing them a new barf bag, disposing of the old and holding ice to the back of necks.  I don't know how much Rucy is paid on these tours but whatever the amount it is not nearly enough to compensate her for the 50 + barf bags she disposed of (always with a smile) on our trip.
The Similan islands were beautiful but due to the wind and waves we were not able to go to the typical snorkel sites so the places they did take us were pretty disappointing for snorkeling.  Saw a few fish, one giant moray eel and lots of bleached out coral.

Also though the islands are stunning there were so many tourists crammed onto a few beaches which although it made for some amazing people watching (and photographing) it really took away from the overall experience. Though I would highly recommend Fantastic as a tour group I probably wouldn't recommend the Similan islands for a snorkeling day trip tour.
Lunch was excellent - thai red curry, cashew chicken and fresh pineapple and watermelon.
Carmen, Lynn and Rucy

Thailand - Khao Lak

As part of our adventure fabulous time with Carmen and Sean in Asia we planned a 5 day trip to the beautiful beaches of Thailand to swim, relax, eat lots of Thai food and just enjoy each others company.

We stayed at a beautiful resort in Khao Lak (1 hour north of Phuket) called Nang Thong Bay Resort.  Its a small boutique hotel with little bungalows on the beach.  Our room was 2500 Baht per night which works out to around $80 US which I think is an incredible bargain for the quality of the rooms and the amazing attention to detail from the staff and the endless friendly Thai greetings Sawadee Ka!

 Outdoor shower

 Pool with swim up bar
Dinning area on the beach

Khao Lak was one of the worst hit places in the 2004 Tsunami.  The final death toll in Khao Lak alone was over 4000 people (many of them tourists) including the grandson of the King of Thailand.  Most of the resorts in Khao Lak were either heavily damaged or completely demolished during the Tsunami which was a pretty heavy economic setback.  While we were in Khao Lak the only signs of the aftermath were these Tsunami evacuation route signs that were posted all over the town. 

Carmen and Sean in Singapore

Carmen and Sean arrived a few days ago for a quick visit to Singapore.
I derived great joy making Carmen sit in the "special seat" on the train reserved for the seniors, invalids and pregnant ladies!!

Sean was NOT impressed with being forced to wear a skirt into the temple.

Sean's fish spa reaction was too funny - so glad I caught it on video!

Cambodia - Song of Blessing

At the end of our trip one of the translators sang us a beautiful song of blessing.  Was the perfect conclusion to a very emotional and moving trip.

Cambodia - Angkor Wat

At the end of our trip we spent a night relaxing in Siem Reap which is about a 2 hour drive from Poipet. Kingsley and I have been to Siem Reap before and we have seen many of the amazing temples but the one thing we didn't do was see Angkor Wat during sunrise or sunset.  I have hear this is one of the most beautiful experiences so I rounded up a few teammates and went to the temple at 4am to get good seats and wait for the sunrise.  It was absolutely stunning!

 Angkor Wat is such a beautiful temple.  Its easy to see why it has been rated as one of the seven wonders of the world!
 The early morning sunrise girls!! 

Cambodia - Project Compassion team

I was very thankful for the team I worked with on the trip.  I met the team in Thailand for the first time but many of the team members knew each other from prior trips and had met together in the US several times before this trip so I was defiantly the outsider joining the group.  But everyone was so nice and welcoming right from the start which really helped.

 Dr. Susy and I worked together and were roommates during the trip. 

The girls team photo op with the scariest looking mannequin I have ever seen!

The girl in the photo on with the bandana on her head is Sheila. She really touched my heart this trip with her amazing story.  She has metastatic breast cancer which she will not recover from. She is currently in the middle of doing her second round of chemo which has left her pretty frail.  But she has big dreams in life and wanted to come on this trip to continue living each day to the fullest.  She is a nurse so she helped out in the treatment area of the clinic. We worked long hours and were so exhausted at the end of everyday and I never once heard her complain. 

This is our team out at a local Khemer restaurant for our first dinner together. There were quite a few picky eaters on the team so after the first night of local food (which I loved!) we always went to the other restaurant in town which was a pizza place!

Cambodia - Village

Had a chance to visit some of the small villages where our patients lived.  Very rustic conditions with no running water.  Some places had electricity, some did not.  $1 - $2 per day is a common wage here for doing very hard manual labor.

 They build houses on stilts for the monsoon season which lasts from May to November.

Cambodia - Patients

Had a great translator named Muny who was very patient with me and taught me some Khmer words so I could greet each of my patients and ask what the problem was.

Susday - Hello
Aukun - Thank you
Chum Reap Sue - greeting
Chiin Awaii - pain
Saat - cute
Min pan ya haa awaii- what is your problem

Saw lots of patients every day but a few really stood out to me.  A woman with 15 children who came in complaining of exhaustion.  Oldest child was 20 youngest was 2.  On top of that she gave birth to triplets 15 years ago! I was exhausted just hearing about her life.  Sadly I had to tell her we had no medicine to give her enough energy to care for 15 children but I did give her a decent supply of iron and multivitamins.

 Because Poipet is a city on the border with Thailand many parents will sneak across the (land mine riddled) border to work for several months on end leaving their children alone at home.  I saw several kids as young as 6 years old who came to the clinic by themselves to be seen.  It was pretty obvious they had never seen a doctor before and they tried so hard to be brave.  When I told them I was going to listen to their hearts they had no idea if it was going to hurt or not and they would stand there with huge eyes shaking a little bit but trying to be so stoic.  Their little hearts would always race the first minute I listened and after they realized it wasn't going to hurt the heart rate would finally slow down.
 Twins - mom says she can't even tell them apart but they are 7 years old and look like they are around 4. Treated them both for worms so hopefully they will start putting on some weight.

 The little boy in the picture above was brought in by his neighbor. He is 8 years old, his mother is dead and his father works in Thailand for months on end.  So this little boy takes care of his 4 year old and 2 year old sisters at home...all by himself. He does not go to school and was very malnourished.  The neighbor says she checks on them when she can but has her own kids to take care of.  He looked so serious and sad...  I just wanted to take him and sisters home with me so he could learn how to be a little boy again without the weight of feeding and caring for his siblings on his shoulders.

There were so many heartbreaking stories but also many good things like cute healthy babies - which always cheered me up when I started to feel overwhelmed.  Mom's would wait hours in the hot sun just to have their children and babies examined by a doctor.  After a thorough physical exam I would tell the moms that the kids/babies looked very healthy and what a good job they were doing which brought tears to many mothers eyes.  They would tell me - thank you thats all I needed to hear.   I kept thinking to myself if I had a child and they had never been seen by a doctor before I would probably wait hours in the hot sun just to make sure everything was okay.

We had an eye Optometrist on the team who gave out over 1000 pairs of glasses while we were there. This woman received glasses and was able to read clearly for the first time she was so happy she couldn't stop thanking us.