2017

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A Language Beyond Words

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Having taught ESL for most of my career, I always try to start off the year by placing myself in the position of my new non-English speaking students and the trials and frustrations they face when first arriving. Changing schools in itself can be incredibly stressful for kids let alone changing cultures, language, dress, food, smells, social norms, and school expectations all at once. One experience I was expecting to encounter along this tour was to also find myself facing some of these same frustrations.

A Language Beyond Words
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Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom

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Angkor was the political and religious center of the Khmer Empire from 802-1432. Angkor Wat, “City which is a Temple,” was built by Suryavarman II (1113-50) as a dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu (Protector of Creation). It is the largest religious structure in the world, measuring 1,626,000 sq meters. The layout is based on a mandala (sacred design of the Hindu cosmos). Unusually among Khmer temples, Angkor Wat faces west and toward the setting sun, a symbol of death, which makes scholars surmise that it was not only a temple, but initially designed as a mausoleum for the king as well.

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Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Ankor Thom (Bayon) July 9, 2017 and Pre Rup, East Mebon, Preah Khan and Neak Pean on July 10, 2017

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We all got on the bus at 4:30 am and saw the sun rise above Angkor Wat this morning. The peace and tranquility of the hundreds of tourists all focusing on this one single event was a sight to see. Since we started the day so early, we were able to visit Ta Prohm, the temple of "Tomb Raider" fame, at a leisurely pace with few tourists. The beautiful smiles of Bayon at Angkor Thom also beckoned. Bas reliefs and Sanskrit texts were surprisingly well-preserved. The roots of a banyan tree going through the temple walls showed the power of nature to overcome any man-made edifice.

Bayon Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Ankor Thom (Bayon) July 9, 2017 and Pre Rup, East Mebon, Preah Khan and Neak Pean on July 10, 2017 Preah Khan Neak Pean
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First dinner together‼️

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We enjoyed a great first evening together. More to come!

First dinner together‼️
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From Lazy Eating to Food Nirvana: A SE Asian Odyssey

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With our trip to SE Asia nearly over, it’s finally time to address some of most intense and controversial issues that haven't been discussed yet. Clearly, I'm talking about food. When planning a trip anywhere, you should always be excited about the food (otherwise you shouldn't be going where you're going) and I was very much anticipating some amazing food in both Vietnam and Cambodia. After two weeks of eating out for two meals a day, I have not been disappointed. For those wary of eating new and street foods, Vietnam and Cambodia will test your willpower.

From Lazy Eating to Food Nirvana: A SE Asian Odyssey
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Getting ready for the adventure

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Just one week to go before we head to Hanoi. Last night was our orientation meeting. As part of the meeting, we discussed how we might fully capitalize on this upcoming adventure.

Halong Bay, our first destination.  Image taken from Lonely Planet, http://www.friendlyplanet.com/vacation-packages/asia/vietnam
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Good Morning Vietnam

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Well, we all made it to Hanoi, had our first meeting tonight, and went out to dinner together. We'll be writing blogs and adding pictures as soon as we can, but we are off tomorrow to Halong Bay, and a overnight boat trip.

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Halong Bay, day 2 Natural and man made beauty

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We spent the night on our junk boat after feasting on seafood and fresh salads expertly prepared by the chef and served by boat staff. We were lulled to sleep by gentle rocking and the music of a few party boats, also moored in the bay. In the morning we visited a cave found by the French in the 1901. Halong Bay, with its hundreds of karst formations, is a natural wonder of the world, so it is not surprising that the cave was busy with tourists from all over Asia and the world. Our guide in Vietnam, Thuy, explained that the French called the cave "surprise".

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Halong Bay, Vietnam

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A UNESCO site, Halong Bay's beauty has to be experienced firsthand. These limestone formations surround you as your boat moves through the waters. We stayed overnight on the boat, with the crew serving us three lovely meals. Some of the group went kayaking, all of us went to a beach and many of us hiked in sweltering heat to the top of one of the formations. We also were given a tour of the "Surprise Cave," which is one of the largest among the many caves scattered throughout the area.

Halong Bay karst formations 2017 Halong Bay Vietnam 2017 Monks at Surprise Cave in Halong Bay 2017
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Hanoi Vietnam

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Since this my first trip to Vietnam I cannot compare it to another visit but the influence of China is evident in signage, architecture and food. The French have also left their mark. Like China traffic is crazy, requiring walkers to dodge cars, motorbikes and other pedestrians. Hanoi, specifically, is part of a watershed and sits on the Red River coming from China. This watershed originates in Yunnan Province so the geography of lower China and Hanoi are similar. Hanoi is close to HaLong Bay with many limestone mountains and caves caused by erosion.

Karst mountain in Ha Long Bay Puppet show of Thang Long Puppet Theatre Puppet show Buddhist Temple Lotus pond at Temple of Literature dedicated to Confucius
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