Sunday, October 14, 2007

Jared the Builder...

"Yes we can!"
- Bob the Builder

Earlier this spring, I was sitting at my desk working when I got a phone call from a random stranger in Mesa, AZ. They called the only number for the Church they could find for Guam. They were planning on coming to Guam to install some security barriers on Anderson Base in the Fall. They needed some local contact they could trust as well as some local manpower. I became both.

Rather than try to explain what they do, I'll just refer you to their sadly basic website for that.

At first most of what I did was just good ole manual labor. Digging holes, moving dirt, then filling those holes back up with "special" dirt. And then that same dirt that I dug out goes back in the same hole. I didn't realize that when school teachers gave us busy work that they were actually preparing us for the real world. I still don't see where trigonometry fit in...

Workin in a coal mine...

I used to have a desk job...

I also learned the repetitive and tedious task of trying rebar. Fun fun. We had to tie hundreds of intersections together. We created a frame to bury the type of barrier that we put in.


It took many truck loads of concrete to bury all of our hard work.

Livin' on the Edge

Livn' on the Edge

Paul, one of the guys from Mesa, loved the tool called a Concrete Vibrator that jiggles the concrete into every small crevice and corner as he giggles about the name.

Concrete Vibrator

This is called a, what?

After the dust settled and the concrete hardened, we put on the to plates that weigh about 2 ton each.

Side View

Then came the part that I was brought in for initially. This company has people that do the wiring on these things for controls and whatnot. However, they did not have that person on the island. So, I became that person. I know my way around basic electronics, so I figured it couldn't be that hard.

All but Paul shown above with the vibrator left the island for another gig leaving me to do this.

Jared the Builder

Um, Can I?!

Of course, this challenge wouldn't be complete if they had left me with schematics or blue prints. Nope, no instructions. Just luck.

Fortunately, there was a third party safety supervisor on site that had his own copy of the manual and he lent me his. That made the spaghetti wiring seem a bit less daunting.

I had some late nights and some days I had to take off from my 9-5er, but somehow the job got finished. Some relief crew came after we finished one side and started the other, so I was not stuck in the same situation for the second round, now that I knew what I was doing.

After all said and done, I broadened my horizon of experience, I earned some extra cash, and gained some muscle and sunlight. Good times. I may not seem like a knuckle dragger or grease monkey, but every once in a while I surprise myself.

Jared the Builder

Yes, I Can!

World, meet Jared the Builder!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

One Night In Bangkok...

Get Thai'd!? You're talking to a tourist
Whose every move's among the purest
I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can't be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me

- "One Night In Bangkok" by Murray Head

Bangkok Skyline

Bangkok Skyline

After my second wedding to Anna, after meeting all of my new family, after touring half of Vietnam, after weeks of being on the road and lost in translation, it was time to come home.

Anna and I had completely different itineraries for both ways. She dropped me off at that airport with her parents and I was off to Thailand for my layover. Since my brother lives in Thailand and I had 12 hours, I decided to make a visit. I actually would have liked to stay longer had I the time.

Only having one night in Bangkok, I figured a walk in the market place would be best. My brother Kris and his girlfriend took me out to a restaurant and then we hit the open market. It was only seconds before I saw my first authentic Thai He/She. And then I saw another...and then another. Hm, there are real girls here, too, right?

In addition to gender confused individuals, keep an eye out for ethically confused folk as well. Pickpocketing is so bad, they have signs up everywhere to protect the overly trusting tourists.


We looked around at the small shops for a while. All of that walking made us feel the need for a nice foot massage. Massage shops are a plenty and very affordable. And many are respectable. We found a place that just specializes in feet to ensure that everything stays where it is supposed to.

Having a full stomach and relaxed feet and empty wallet, we figured it was time to head home. The local taxi drivers all tried to get us to come to them. They all have unique open air taxis.

Tourist Taxi

Tourist Taxi

This taxi is really only for the tourists. There are regular car taxis as well. They have air conditioning. They are better sheltered from rain. They are more comfortable and they even cost less to ride. You pay for the quaint ride. No thanks.

After a nice shower and sleep in Kris's apartment, I took the real taxi back to the airport to officially end my Asian trip for 2007. Nothing makes you more tired than travel. I had to start work the morning after I arrived home. I felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation.

Next year, marriage number 3 to Anna, this time in the Philippines. I better start blogging about it now so this time I can post it at a reasonable time...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dang, Da Nang...

My last stop was in Da Nang. We drove there from Hoi An. The thrust of tourism for Da Nang is a hill top pagoda with other statues and temples. We were not prepared for the hike that ensued. In the pic below you can see how far we hiked. We started down where the cars are, and stopped for the first time when I took this pic.

A big 'ole rock.

After some over priced and probably recycled water, we kept on exploring the mountain top. We had to get a pic with this elegant buddah with a stomach that rivals even mine. It is said that for some reason if you rub the belly button of this dude, you get good luck. Unfortunately, you don't get hand sanitizer when you are finished.

And yet Anna won't even look at my belly for good luck!

Around every corner was a pagoda or statue of some kind. This one was huge!

In this pic you can't sense the magnitude of this sculpture.

Along the main path was an off-shoot to Heaven's Gate. You have to crawl through a cave and through holes to get to the actual top of the mountain.

The entrance to Heaven...yes, it's the stairway...

The whole way they kept telling me that I couldn't do it. That I was too big. That I had better stay below. They apparently had never heard of American Willpower. Not only did I get up there no problem, but I out performed them all. I was springing back down as sure footed as a mountain goat, only slowing down to give Anna a helping hand. How big do they really think I am...?

Anyway, fat stereotypes aside, we had a pleasurable visit. Like any trip somewhere, after you've seen a dozen pagodas and buddahs, you are about ready to move on to something new. We hiked down and made our way to the van that was to take us back to the train station.

As we got to the train station we were eager to be home already. Once they let us board the train we got on and waited to leave. Due to some travel agency mess up, we didn't get our own car with the beds. We were on seats that were reminiscent of airplane welfare section. I knew it'd be a long and uncomfortable 18 hour trip.

But sure enough, something went wrong again. Being completely lost in Vietnamese, the fast paced argument between Anna's dad and the random stranger shaking tickets in his face only confused me. And I was even more confused when I was told to grab my stuff and get off the train. Just as we got off, the train then left us standing there. The travel agency also booked us on the train for the wrong day!

We were stuck in Da Nang with no hotel or transportation for at least 24 hours. The travel agency offered us no help. There was a hotel next door to the train station so we went there first. They negotiated a price while I sat in the lounge. After we were all squared away, I grabbed my stuff and followed Anna to the elevator where more confusing Vietnamese arguing took place.

I came to find out that this time they argued about me. Since I was an American, they wanted to charge all of us - Anna's parents, herself and me - the full American rate, which was considerably more expensive. We told them what they could do with their "American Rate."

Anna's dad hopped on a scooter, gave the guy a few Dong, and in an hour returned with a hotel reserved and paid for in advance so they couldn't raise the price when they saw my skin pigmentation.

The next day we were on the lovely train again. The less than luxurious seats were waiting for us. After the previous day's events, we were glad just to have that.

The ride back had much of same beautiful scenery. I got to see plenty of it, as I was seated by the window and never got up once the whole 18 hours. If you saw the floor, walls, doors and especially the toilets, you would move as little as possible too.

Ironic typo

This must be the "plush" toilet they talk about.

At least they delivered food.

Yet another experience in train food gambling. I hear locals bet on what parasites they get from the food for fun.

I ate sparingly as I didn't have a spare immune system. By the end of the ride the four of us had swollen legs. Our feet looked like dough rising out of our of shoes. I don't think I was ever so glad to be back in our hotel room in Hanoi.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hoi An, Ahoy...!

We drove from Hue to Hoi An in a few hours. Along the way I saw many buildings that were still in shambles from the war.

War-torn Homes

Sure, a fixer-uper. But there's a great PTA in this neighborhood.

The whole time I kept on thinking of what kind of communist slogan they could use to justify such neglect. How about, "Try communism! Let us do nothing for you too!"

We got into Hoi An just as the sun was going down. Since we were to leave Hoi An the next morning, this meant that we once again were going to get short changed by our tour agency.

Thanks to our previous griping, we did get a night time walking tour of the village. After about three minutes I knew what the local specialty was.


Hoi An is a very old town and has kept much of it's old charm. I especially liked the street signs with TLC carved into each one.
Street Sign

I may not know where I am still, but at least I know that I'm somewhere.

After more walking, sweating and feeling like Danny Devito's gym socks, we got to take some well deserved rest sipping some juice that I cannot identify by the sign.

Since I can't read the sign, I pointed to the longest name insuring I'd get the most for my money.

After that we had no energy left and nowhere else to go if we did. We retreated to our hotel ready for a day in Da Nang.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hue? No Way...

The morning after our Vietnamese wedding we woke up early and headed to the train station. I have to admit. I was a bit excited. I wanted to see as much of Vietnam as I could. Since we had limited time that I could stay, we decided to only go as far South as Hoi An. The first stop, however, was Hue.

Hue is the home of the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam, or Annam. Think of it like China's Forbidden City for Vietnam.

Part of the charm of the trip was that we would make the trip via train. You can't beat the romanticism of train rides through a sunset. Well, now that I've actually been on one; yes, you can.

Fortunately, my in-laws decided to splurge and we got our own cubicle with cots. We hung out, listened to music and ate snacks that we brought. I was glad for those snacks when the meal came around.

Train Food

And this was the best of the train meals we had!

I now know fear.

But the worst part of the train hits you about the same time the food finishes it's trip through your large intestine. One look at the toilet they expect you to use and you'll be amazed how long you can hold it in.

Plush Toilet?

If I dropped my iPod in there, I'd just let it go...

Why must this trip resemble Fear Factor so often?

But there was one great thing about the train ride that made most of the 16 hour trek worth it - the view.

Rice Field

The rice fields full of women with home woven hats working. Like nothing has changed in 100 years.

Fishing Nets

Home made fishing nets along a nonchalant river.

Once in Hue we made way to our hotel. We ran across this quaint cafe.
The DMZ (De-Militarized Zone)

Ironically titled the "DMZ" or De-Militarized Zone.

Once we checked in and ate lunch, we caught up with our tour, apparently in progress. We first came to the palace.

The Palace


The Mandarin (Court Advisers)


Can you guess which one is actually Anna?

And the highlight of the trip was seeing the pictures of the old kings. I think the one that stood out most to me was the greatest king in their history. The pictures are so old that they have faded some, but you can still feel the nobility and honor of this great king Anh Beo.



Now there's a guy I'd take a bullet (or arrow) for.

And what would be a trip to any city in Vietnam without visiting it's local pagoda. A pagoda is a holy place for Buddhists. Not quite a temple, but close enough.

Pagoda Gate

Following the pagoda, we boarded a boat and headed back to the center of Hue. We passed some old school fishermen.

Fishing Boat

They get GREAT gas millage!


This is the famous bridge in Hue as seen from the left pontoon of our boat.

Then suddenly, we found ourselves sitting at the war-torn DMZ cafe once again. They abandon you and expect you to find your own way back to your hotel. Once we got back to our hotel we noticed that we hadn't seen a fraction of what we paid for and were told we'd see. Sure enough, our tour agency messed up and was trying to cheat us out of some stops. Anna's dad arranged for some early morning sights before we had to leave to Hoi An the next morning.

We woke up ready to run. We caught the first half of the tour route that we missed the previous day to a village that makes incense and those famous pointed hats. We watched them make some.

She can finish a stick of incense in about 20-30 seconds.

That big blog of brown stuff to the top and center is the incense. It looks far less enticing in that form.

A few more pagodas and deceased king's palaces later we parted from the tour and set sail for Hoi An.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Vietnamese Wedding...

Well, not being the traditional Vietnamese groom, my parents-in-law didn't really insist on a traditional wedding. I have to admit, I did kind of want one. However, given the circumstances, we did the closest to typical as we could. Let me be your guide to a Vietnamese Wedding.

First, there is the part that I could not do without having my parents there. Being so far away, I had no representation of my family there. It was all Anna's side of the family only. So that made it all the more awkward.

Normally, the groom and his parents will go to the house of the intended bride. The groom's dad then speaks to the bride's dad and asks for the son to marry the daughter. Usually a gift is offered. They don't give cows or anything. But I wouldn't be surprised given the current nature of the country if you heard brides boasting about how many scooters were traded for them.

Since this is done the day of the wedding, the actual agreement was done long ago - this is all for show and custom. The bride's family accepts and then the groom is taken to the families ancestral alter in the house (they all have one) to introduce him to the ancestors.

Then both sides of the family go to the groom's house (again you can see why this was not so easy to do for a Vietnamese and a Phoenician). At the groom's house the bride-to-be is taken to the ancestral shrine there and introduced as well.

After that, it's time for lunch. The families eat and talk and blah, blah, blah.

Ok, so all of that stuff is what we skipped. But the rest we did.

In the evening, the families meet up at a rented ball room or banquet hall.

The sign outside the building to let people know that this is the place.

There is an outside sitting area for the early comers to sit and mingle until it's time to make it inside the big room.

This is the "big room" just before it was ready to be filled with guests.

Anna and I stood by the entrance greeting every single person that came through that door. That may not sound that impressive since it was only her family and none of mine. However, that ended up being just over 300 people!

As score after score of people came walking by, I had the chance to put my learned Vietnamese greetings to the test. This only proved how bad my language learning skills were.

You see, in Vietnamese, there is no "you" or "me". Rather, you say a special word that describes your relation to them. For example, when I see my wife's aunt, I don't say, "Hello." No, I say a translation of, "Male nephew says hello to older female aunt." And if I'm saying hello to an uncle it's a different set of words. If it's an older or younger uncle the word changes even still. Not just the word I call them, but also the word I call myself to them. Yeah, it's all very complicated. Just to play it safe I often just said "Chau chau chu" to every older woman. Of course, it looks on paper as if I'm repeating words. Nope, I'm not. Don't forget the inflection. Believe it or not, the inflection makes all of those words very distinct in meaning. I usually would let Anna greet them first and I copied her. I think I only called myself a girl a couple of times...

The language barrier was obvious to the guests as well. The older uncles that couldn't speak much English would simply say the one English word they could think of for such an occasion, "Happy...happy..."

Once the crowd filled the room I realized just how many people were there.

And this is only half the banquet hall!

And then it was time to begin. Anna's parents hired an MC. This MC must have a great job. He shows up in a suit, says about 10 lines, and leaves. And he isn't very poor for it either.

In a radio voice that spoke what sounded like gibberish, the MC said something that Anna recognized as instructions for us to come to the front, so we did.

And then we stood on the stand as the MC said one more line of gibberish. Then Anna's parents came up. The MC handed the mic to Anna's dad, he said something. Then the MC said some more meaningless words.

At this point, I was handed a bottle of wine.

I had no idea what to do with it. Well, I knew that I was supposed to open it, but only about 30 seconds before it was handed to me. My wife sort of forgot to mention to me that I'd be opening a bottle of wine at our wedding. Normally, this is no big deal for someone. However, for a very Mormon boy such as myself, this was all new territory.

So, there I am, on stage with an MC speaking gibberish to me and 600 eyes of my closest strangers staring at me to open a bottle I had just met. Yeah, I know a thing or two about pressure.

After what felt like eternity, the cork flew off to the side and Anna and I began pouring wine onto a tower of glasses making our own fountain.

As my face suggests, I was not sure I was doing anything right.

At last I had poured two bottles and was done with that. We were not handed nearly enough wine to fill the cups, but since it took us so long to get where we did, I guess everybody was tired of waiting and wanted to get to the food. The MC said one more sentence and then was off to cash his hard earned check.

Meanwhile, Anna, my in-laws and I went around to each and every one of the 300 guests to clink my cup with them. Of course, this was after Anna and I switched to grape juice to the amusement and shock of the guests that noticed.

By the time that we had finally finished cheering with each of the guests, the first of the guests were finishing up diner and ready to leave. Anna and I sprinted to the door to then say good bye to them, one by one. Again with the "chau chau chu" and whatnot.

Once the guests had left, it was just the small group of immediate family left. So the very few of us got on the stage to take a picture or 60.

Some of my new aunts and uncles could not be there, so that's why the group looks so small.

Most of our wedding gifts were envelops with cash in them. But we did get a couple of actual gifts that we opened there.

After that, we got to eat any leftovers there were to be had. We were hot, sweaty and tired after all that. It felt so great to get into Anna's parent's house once again. Just when I though Anna and I might enjoy some honeymoon time alone in the hotel, her and her parents pulled out the pile of envelops and began counting money.

Seeing as how my wife is an accountant, I should have guessed a detailed and accurate ledger of the intake. It took over 3 hours with all of us working to get the mess organized and accounted for. Anna was taking meticulous notes but not because she wanted to know what to say in the thank you letters. No. I learned that night that everybody in Vietnam does that because when those guests have children who get married, they expect the same or more in return. To me, that cheapened the whole purpose of calling it a "gift." I think they should just call it a low interest loan, since that's what it apparently is. I fell asleep during the tedious process.

When I awoke, I saw piles of money that accumulated to about 4 million dollars...uh, that's VND, not USD. Yeah, I was excited, but then I remembered that Vietnamese money is very much like Monopoly money. It's colorful, playful, and worth the same. Anna and I owed much to her parents and we able to convince them to keep the money to help offset the costs of the wedding.

After that, Anna and I slowly stumbled our way back to our hotel and fell asleep instantly. We knew that our rest would be short. The following morning, we were off to our second honeymoon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

First Flight into Hanoi...

Relations between the U.S. and Vietnam have come a long way from the last helicopter out of Saigon to my first flight into Hanoi. So I wasn't really worried about the whole government/communism thing as I landed. I was more worried about the family/confusion thing.

I saw my wife and mother-in-law waiting for me as I was finally let through the security into the lobby of the airport. Then my father-in-law came up in his new car and we had a quick handshake as we loaded up the luggage and hit the road for Hanoi.

When we first reached the city, Anna asked me what I thought. This is what I saw:

I didn't know what to say, so I just said the first thing that popped into my head, "It looks like Mexico." And that seems true. However, when we got more into the heart of the city, it got a bit more unique. Especially due to the over crowed streets full of scooters, shops and pedestrians.

I particularly liked the way that they hang wires there:

The first stop was the Taylor to get my suit sized up. For some reason, it's hard to find a suit that fits me off the rack there.

I'm not sure if their tape measure was even big enough for me.

Before we could even get home, I got to witness my first scooter accident. There were many more like that to come. I'm surprised I never saw a death...that I know of. Looked at Anna and said, "Honey, you are never going to get on those things in this city again."

After time in Hanoi, I started to get used to the scooters. I even got to ride on the back of one a few times.

Anna and mother-in-law on the scooter behind me

And later, I even took my life into my hands and drove myself.

Being my first time to every drive one of these things, I naturally didn't use any helmets or protective gear. Later, I drove it to have diner with Anna's friends and her dad sat on the back. That was an adventure for both him and me.

Luckily, I didn't cause any face marring scars before our second wedding.

When I first arrive at Anna's parent's house, I was taken back. She told me it was small. But it was...well...small.

This is not a part of the house, this is the entire house.

Sure, it's small and cozy, but it's nice and clean. Anna grew up sharing the bed behind the stairs and tv when she was young. Moving to the loft when she got older.

One of the things that came as a pleasant surprise to me was Mia Da. Basically, sugar cane water. Trust me, it's better tasting than it sounds.

Just don't stick your hands in there.

I also enjoyed the breakfast of choice, Pho Bo (beef noodles).

Not what you'd think was breakfast, but still good.

Of course, I think I could do a whole separate blog post of the food. I know this sounds very "Chevy Chase" of me, but after three days I felt like asking, "Do you have anything besides Asian food?"