Friday, July 3, 2009

A Conclusion, But Also a Beginning...

For anyone who is still occasionally checking or faithfully reading this blog, your commitment is commendable (and apparently far exceeds that of the blogger). My longest overdue blog posting is also going to be my last, at least for this season of life.

When we last saw our super hero and his heroine, their three-week escapade across the country visiting long lost family and friends, and making some more-than-overdue introductions, was commencing. So three weeks later - oh yeah, plus another month, my bad - these were the highlights:

-a walk down the Vegas strip, highlighted by the Bellagio's famous dancing fountain

-a river rapid ride down the Arkansas River outside of Colorado Springs where we even managed to stay in the boat

-some good, hearty Texas cooking and warm Texan hospitality

-the best of friends, and their four new baby daughters since I left for Sweden, in Kansas City

-an excursion up the Washington Monument, among other sites, in D.C.

-Polo with a prince (Harry), the arrival of a President and his Lady (Obama & Michelle), a bike ride all through Manhattan and a boat cruise around Lady Liberty in New York

And three exciting weeks of places and people came to an end, but not before... engagement in Central Park.

So what started as a simple Swedish blog for family and friends soon became a jätte spännande look at Swedish culture and adventures, then unexpectedly turned into a blog about pursuing love in Thailand and concludes with an engagement after a successful American journey and an even more successful courtship!

Paige and I will start our life together in September.

I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams.

Perhaps one day the blogging will continue, but for now I will conclude with an article I wrote for Transitions Abroad, arguably the top online resource for those of us in the U.S. moving abroad for work and/or life. You Swedes will have one last kick out of my Swedish language attempt:

Pictures above:
1. Soon after our engagement, Paige and I are as radiant as the sun behind us.
2. This diamond was my late Grandmother's. I am bewildered with blessings.
3. The U.S. Capitol building behind us.
4. A baseball game in Kansas City, Missouri.
5. The two most common blog contributors also made the final picture. From left, Sean, Paige, brother Todd, cousin Angela and husband Craig. Todd and Ang's faithful reading and comments, along with so many others, made this blog what it was. Thanks to all of you, family and friends, from Sweden and Europe to Thailand and SE Asia and back home in the States. Hej då, Sa-wa-dee, k'ap and good-bye for now.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A National Tour Commences in the Great Northwest

After five years of living in the Northwestern United States, specifically Seattle, and with family just south in the state capital city of Olympia, we figured that the Great Northwest was a good place to start a trip across the country that will include seven cities in virtually every part of the US of A.
Paige and I both value relationships and have learned to keep in touch very well from afar, which means that, when we are finally back in town, the moments around the table with family and friends are numerous, memorable and savored.
Thanks to everyone up in Seattle and down in Olympia for making our welcome back to this great (some like me might say "the greatest") part of our country.
Check back to the Tuk-Tuk Talker for periodic updates from this cross-country trek over the next few weeks. Some more fun is in store...
1. Paige and I in front of the symbol of Seattle, the Space Needle.
2. With my cousins' kids - how they've grown (and been born) since I left the States in 2006.
3. Paige's brother's 6-month old, Zachariah.
4. With friends enjoying some classic Northwest Clam Chowder and the Olympic Mountain range at sunset. Good ol' Seattle: water, islands and snow-covered mountains all in the same spring scene.
5. Friends who are responsible for Paige and I meeting last summer. Dana, and yes, even Dave, where would we be without you?

Back Home - Southern California Fun

As evidenced by the complete dismissal of my blogging responsibilities the past month, I'm having a blast being back home in Southern California. It's been a plethora of people and places, a frenzy of food and fun, a jobless joy for Paige and I. Truly a unique time of life as we transition back into life in the United States....
....for at least a little while.
Probably a couple more Tuk-Tuk Talker postings before the final conclusion.
Pictures above:
1. Those who've followed the blog the past few years know that the perfect welcome home is a trip back to Dodger Stadium. This one was on my birthday and provided by my friend, Jason Berns, who's been seen numerous times on Linköpinglivin' and the Tuk-Tuk Talker.
2. Catalina Island sits 26 miles off the California coast and is as close to the Mediterranean as we're gonna get in the USA. The iconic building in the main city of Avalon is the Casino, seen in the background of this picture, now no longer used for gambling.
3. This is a truly classic picture as my Dad surprised our family all the way from Prague for our annual extended family trip to Catalina. Here he catches my brother Todd (who only had to fly from New York), just before letting Paige and I in on the fun, too. Stunning - a surprise across the globe. Nice work, Dad.
4. Sean and Paige are still prepared for Bangkok, not Catalina.
5. An action shot of Captain Sean...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Layover in Seoul, South Korea

Rare is the direct flight these days from Bangkok to the United States. My choices of Hong Kong, Seoul and Beijing among others created an interesting choice of where I should layover for 12 hours. Hong Kong is, I have heard, simply a generic mega-city and Beijing would have required a $150 visa for exiting the airport.
Seoul it was.
Plus, I recently read that the Incheon Airport in Seoul was just voted the best airport in the world among people who supposedly know.
1. Cold (Seoul is at the same latitude as San Francisco - much cooler than Bangkok at about 55 degrees Celsius).
2. Clean and organized. Seoul and Korea rank as one of the most advanced Asian cities lacking a lot of the seeming chaos and disorganization found in other parts of Asia.
3. Kimchi, the well-known Korean vegetable dish - also well known for its smell - tastes a lot better than it smells. I had to at least try it in order to criticize it....
4. Korea is one of the few countries in the world that recognizes the wonder of baseball. Way to go, Korea.
5. Seoul would be a great city to spend about 4 - 5 days, then it would be time to get to the more authentic countryside.
Tough to be sandwiched between countries like Japan and China for all of history. Good to see Korea, at least the south, holding its own. North Korea is just a sad, sad story. These two countries should be united. Someday....
Pictures above:
1. In front of Gyeongbokgung Palace in short sleeves and 50 degrees.
2. The changing of the guard at the Palace.
3. Insadong market street - touristy, but fun.
4. Get this! I come around the corner on Insadong and see an auxiliary screen showing the World Baseball Classic taking place from, no kidding, Dodger Stadium. A live baseball game FROM Dodger Stadium while strolling in Korea. Globalization's a funny thing.
5. Cheonggyecheon River, a man-made but aesthetically-pleasing river through the heart of Seoul. Nice touch.
Watch for the conclusion of the Tuk-Tuk Talker coming soon! Home is a nice place to be now.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thailand's Tuk-Tuks

Writing during a layover at another Asian airport to be revealed soon, and while taking one last glance at the various Tuk-Tuks found throughout Thailand, I can share with the Tuk-Tuk Talker readership that my unexpected and enjoyable four months in Thailand has, at least for now, come to an end.
I am currently in Seoul, South Korea, passing the time until my flight to Los Angeles, the city I call home, but a place in which I have not spent much time the past ten years. It will be good to be home after three years of European and Southeast Asian travel in order to revel in family and friends and all that California and the United States have to offer.
After four months of dating abroad, Paige and I will treasure time at home and look to see what the future holds, but don't think that just because we're going home that the travels will conclude. Though we have scheduled trips to Seattle, Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas, Kansas City, Washington D.C. and New York to visit family and friends, the Tuk-Tuk Talker simply isn't valid outside of Southeast Asia. So after a couple more entries, the Tuk-Tuk Talker, and three years of travel blogging, will come to an appropriate conclusion as I return home.
One day soon I will return to Sweden. One day soon I will return to Thailand. I will continue to enjoy travel and enjoy, most of all, the people around the world found along the way.
A little update on Seoul and South Korea coming next week.
See you then.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Tour of Thailand - A Visit From Friends

Towards the end of our time, at least for now, in Thailand, Paige and I hosted friends from Southern California, Jason and Laura.
Hua Hin, Chiang Mai, Bangkok. Beaches, jungles, zip line, elephants, spicy food, fruit drinks. It was a vacation in Thailand, with all the best the wonderful Thai people have to offer. Thanks for a great 10 days, friends.
Just a few more submissions to the Tuk-Tuk Talker, everyone.
See you tomorrow for a special double dose this week and a bit more information about my plans.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thailand Fun Facts

To any of you paying attention, you know this blog was delayed almost a week. My consistency is starting to fail, perhaps a foreshadowing of what is coming, but for now, thanks for your patience....
Just some fun facts, that never quite fit in any one category, from Thailand that every traveller to Thailand should know:

  • Never touch the top of someone's head - just as the feet are considered a degrading part of the body and you should be conscious of them, the head is considered a sacred part and should not be casually touched.

  • In all of Asia, pedestrians do not, I repeat, DO NOT have the right-of-way on the streets. My advice when wanting to cross a street in Thailand is to wait for Thai people to lead the way and just follow....

  • While the outside roads and some public spaces may not be spic 'n span, the insides of all Thai homes and business are as clean as can be. Always remove those shoes so you don't get the spotless floor dirty. One of the images that will always be in my head from Thailand is the focused sweeping of floors and walkways by Thai people. Inside it's cleaner than anywhere in the Western world, including even Sweden!

  • In Thailand, it's all about the rice. The verb "to eat" in the Thai language even includes the word "rice."

  • Walking around Bangkok, there might not always be the friendly sidewalks you're used to when you're home. Just beware that an easy walk can become riddled with obstacles with only one turn. My advice of course is to take a tuk-tuk. Also highly recommended is the Sky Train above-ground subway. Great air-conditioning on that thing.

  • There's not really a "winter, spring, summer or fall" in Thailand or SE Asia. It's more like "rainy, hot, hotter or hottest." We're in the hotter season right now - April and May are the hottest.

  • Just a couple more entries on the Tuk-tuk talker, then things change...stay tuned.
Pictures above:
1. The Giant Swing, which people actually swung from "Buccaneer Ride-style" in the early 1900s, is one of about three or four iconic symbols of Bangkok.
2. Exotic orchids and lilies are quintessential tropical and always catch one's eye around here.
3. The Royal Barges, an oft-used symbol of royalty and regality in this water-dominated part of the world, are an overrated tourist attraction in Bangkok.
4. Tiki wood is seen everywhere in Thailand, but not always in this dining room table set-up example.
5. In any traffic jam, you wanna be in a tuk-tuk.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Rickshaw Rider: An Excursion to India

For about the last five years, I have wanted to experience the one country that most people declare is the most culturally opposite of the United States, and therefore the pinnacle of a travel adventure. That country is India and that experience happened the past 10 days.

Paige and I joined a group from her church that was traveling not to the most highly sought out cultural locations - we missed the Taj Mahal this time - but to what I think is truly the best way to experience a country: Get outta the cities and into the small towns and villages. Our time in one small city and surrounding endless villages (India has 1 billion people) and one large city was exhilarating, and inspiring.

Ongole is a small city close to the eastern coast above Chennai (Madras in the British Empire) and you are aware of Kolkata (Calcutta in the old British Empire), which alone has 60 million people. Yes, 60 million people, and it’s not even the largest city in India…

Some thoughts:

· Just standing on an Indian street, watching the motorbikes, auto-rickshaws, ox-carts, tour busses and herds of goats with goatherders whiz or meander by is worth a thousand pictures and more words. To the outsider it is the antithesis of western order and system, but all the Indians seem to get along just fine…just remember one thing, “honk.”

· Indian food is some of the best in the world, and unsurprisingly the best is in India – what a great 10 days of eating I’ve just had. Nan bread and curry just won’t be the same anywhere else, and ice cream never tasted so good as when it soothes the spice-laden mouth after Indian food IN India.

· Indians do not nod their head up and down to acknowledge communication; they shake their head from side to side in a figure eight, which to the westerner looks exactly like a head-bobble. Doing this as a westerner is great fun.

· Whether the big cities or the rural villages, women and their elaborate, colorful saris is the most ingrained image in my head. Beautiful, simply beautiful.

· The infamous Indian caste system is not as apparent to the traveler’s eyes as I thought it would be, but one conversation with an Indian reveals that it is, like most hierarchical social systems in the world based on race, ethnicity, money and/or class, alive and well….

· To be IN India when Slumdog Millionaire triumphed at the Oscars was simply impeccable timing…and speaking of impeccable timing:

· While in Calcutta visiting Mother Teresa's tomb, we had the privilege of witnessing Martin Luther King III, during a re-tracing of his father's steps through Ghandi's India 50 years earlier, pay his respects, and give a speech to the 150 onlookers. This was unplanned and unthinkable timing, as the 20 photographers and journalists documented, of remembering two of our world's most revered symbols of peace and love. We just sat back and soaked in the moment. Here’s an article about our surprising morning:

· The Indian rickshaw is being replaced by the “auto” or “auto-rickshaw,” also known as the Tuk-Tuk in other countries, but along with the Taj Mahal and the sari dresses, will always be a symbol of India.

If you ever have a chance, go to India.

Keep in mind that your senses will be challenged, your wits will be outwitted and your instincts and intuition will be severely flummoxed, but if your travel motivations are true, it might not be better anywhere on earth. Don’t drive anywhere, cross a street at your own risk, but have the time of your life.

Back to Thailand, for just a few more weeks, next week.

Pictures above:
1. & 2.: An Indian village outside of Ongole. Bright colors and warm smiles...India!
3. Paige, in her beautiful sari, with one of our group's hosts.
4. Martin Luther King III visits Mother Teresa's resting place in Kolkata. Incredible timing for our group who just soaked in the unexpected moment.
5. The classic Indian rickshaw.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thailand's Islands and Beaches

Okay, it took a little while, but the Tuk-Tuk finally took a ride to Thailand's famous islands and beaches. The most popular places to go for foreigners, for a variety of reasons, are the islands of Phuket (pronounced "Pu -ket," no "f" sound for those of you chuckling right now), Ko Samui and Hua Hin. Last week, thanks to some friends from Sweden, Paige and I got away for an all-too short trip to Hua Hin.
My one piece of advice for travelers to Thailand's islands and beaches? Do whatever you can to find your own secluded spot, which generally means avoiding the places mentioned above. All the worst of farang are revealed, in oh so many ways, on Thailand's islands and beaches...
No more rides on the Tuk-Tuk Talker until February 28th, due to a 10-day trip to India starting tomorrow. And upon my return, for one week, we'll take a ride on the Rickshaw Talker. See you then.
Pictures above:
1. - 3. Scenes from the most beautiful parts of Thailand.
4. As Thailand becomes more and more well known throughout the world as an alternative tropical destination, scenes like this one in front of private hotels are all-too common.
5. Paige finds the cutest Tuk-tuk driver in all of Thailand....

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Real Thailand

The other side of the coin to last week’s closer look at Bangkok is the area also known as “the real Thailand” (mega-cities can become frighteningly similar worldwide).

And it’s the rest of Thailand, Tuk-Tuk Talkers, that makes this place uniquely special for the traveler and temporary local.

Mountains with indigenous people groups, tropical forests with the ultra-exotic banana leafs and native animal species, beaches with lots of foreign tourists, islands with more foreign tourists, lowlands for rice growing, vast open fields and expansive land with the occasional village of people that barely even think of themselves as Thai…it’s the diversity, and the outright opposite of the oppressive mega-city, that makes Thailand so appealing and such an irresistible travel destination. This week, our ride on the Tuk-Tuk takes a brief look at all of these various regions of “the land of the free.”

In the north, Chiang Mai is many people’s most favorite place in Thailand due to the overgrown village environment, the variety of outdoor activities including river-rafting and elephants (but so far no river-rafting on elephants), the enjoyment of indoor activities such as Thai cooking and massage classes and an overall laid-back, “we’re not a metropolitan city and we’re proud of it” atmosphere.

In the south, which is one long, Baja-like stretch leading to Malaysia, the beaches and islands dominate with the Andaman Sea on one side and the Gulf of Thailand on the other. Though developing quickly, often without regulations or eco-conscious restraint, these locations provide everything the foreign traveler dreams of from his cubicle in the West. In addition to the islands and beaches, smaller towns provide yet another peak at rural Thailand life, this time of the tropical nature. Nakhon Si Thamarat and Surat Thani are two cities that I’ve experienced first-hand that welcome travelers, but are still authentic Thai experiences.

For a true experience of “far east” culture, heading to Eastern and Northeastern Thailand will reveal wide open fields of rice, an always teetering economical existence based on what the earth yields and small villages of rural “Isan,” a culture of people that goes back as far as the Bronze Age, and includes both Lao and Cambodians in addition to Thai.

Isan has its own language, food, customs and history. Long ago, someone drew up borders that created countries and divided up the Isan people. Same thing happened in the north of Thailand with Burma, Laos, Thailand and China. As an American, I’m not confronted with this reality much, but did you know that people came first, then countries? Taking some time to experience and discover Isan culture would put you in a very elite group of travelers.

All of these places in “the rest of Thailand” are accessible by overnight buses or trains, which generally cost about $18 - $22 for a one-way trip. Short flights are also a possibility and about three times the cost of a train, but still affordable by Western standards.

Together, the regions of Thailand are only growing in their reputation as a traveler’s paradise. Development and other environmental concerns are real, but any industry that helps some overlooked people outside of Bangkok put bread on the table, or in this case, rice on the mat, is good to see.

Why no pictures of those islands and beaches? Well, my experience in Thailand has been a bit different than your’s probably would be. But that, my friends, will be changing this week. Oh yes, that will be changing as I take to the sun, sand and surf of Siam. Come back next week for a glimpse of paradise…

Pictures above:
1. In the heat of Southeast Asia, refreshing rivers in the tropical mountains like this one outside of Nakhon Si Thammarat are an oasis for the foreigner.
2. Life outside the big city has its rewards (here, hammocks in a small village outside of Ubon in the east of Thailand).
3. Elephants, who used to be an invaluable source of work and contribution all over Thailand, have been reduced to entertainment for foreigners and their wild population is dwindling - the Asian Elephant is officially an endangered species.
4. A typical Isan meal of fish, chicken, vegetables and spices that pack a flavorful punch.
5. No better place to be in Thailand for festivals than Chiang Mai - Sean and Paige would agree.