Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City

So sickness and exhaustion is setting in. Many in our group are suffering from stomach virus--I am one of them. As of this writing, I’ve slept most of the day (six hours on the bus and another four hours in the hotel) while the rest of the group has gone to visit Toul Sleng-the Khmer Rouge prison, an orphanage and street children program and supper. I did eat a couple of bread rolls and a can of Sprite for lunch.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program: We flew from Ha Noi to Hoi An earlier this week and visited several sites. It was a slower pace and the students got to shop--a favorite activity for this group. While in Hoi An, we visited an organic vegetable village that has been operating for the last 500 years. They showed us how they fertilize with river weed and have large areas of netting to cover the various beds so pesticides are not used. We got to prepare and plant a bed of sweet cabbage.


Here Taylor Kee and Laura Kelly are spreading in river weed in to the sand bed. This will be covered up with more sand and then the young plants transplanted in.


Members of our group transplanting sweet cabbage seedlings.


After traveling to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we visited the War Remnants Museum that housed captured American weaponry, tanks, ordinance and photographic exhibits of the effects of Agent Orange and napalm and other war devices used during the war with America. I was pretty amazed that it was presented as even-handedly as it was. Of course there was the communist slant, but overall very well done. Then, we visited the Water Puppet Theatre. This is a truly Vietnamese art form that began as rural entertainment in the rice paddies of local villages. A stage was set up over the water with bamboo screens to hide the puppeteers and the puppets entered the stage by rising up from under the water or let through from behind the screen. It was a delightful show. Unfortunately, I only got an image of the empty stage, all the other shots were QuickTime videos and the internet is too slow for me to upload those.


We took in a short Mekong River cruise around four islands. While on the islands we learned how rice paper was made, we had lunch and visited a bee farm, a fresh fruit farm and ended the trip by visiting a coconut candy factory.


Here we are at the bee farm listening to some of the local farmers sing traditional Mekong Delta songs.

The fresh fruit place had a couple of constrictors on site, so we got to hold one.

Fish Massage

This image might require a bit of closer looking. Meagan and I visited a fish pedicure shop across from our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. That massive ball of fish are chewing the dead skin cells off my legs, leg hairs and feet. I don’t like having my feet massaged because it tickles. This was a whole new level of sensation for me--think of it like this: your legs are going to sleep and it is at the point where it feels like thousands of needle pricks all over your legs. That is it. And the weirdest feeling is the fish fighting to eat the dead skin cells from between your toes. I do have nice, soft feet now.

Flowers and Pumpkins


Does anyone know what kind of flowers these are? Here is another view that includes more of the plant. It looks to me almost like a bull nettle--a vicious plant that I remember from my childhood. But the spines are not prickly.


It is getting towards mid-spring here in Queenstown and the flowers are bursting out all over. These are a few shots of the raised beds in front of our apartment.


The blue ones are very nice,too. It is a small but significant blessing in times of stress to look out on the beauty that God provides for us. We are now in the middle of our two days of final exams, so there isn’t much time for gazing at flowers. Even a small glimpse is welcome.

We celebrated Halloween yesterday (probably with many wondering thoughts from the Kiwis). The Mills family has three children 10, 7 and 4, so each of the apartments made up some treats and everyone went around trick or treating. The boys next to our apartment set up a haunted house, which consisted of them taking you one at a time into a dark room, giving you a piece of fudge and then yelling at you with their loudest voices until you left. Deafening, but funny.

Meagan and I had caramel apple wedges, toasted pumpkin seeds, and candy canes. The caramel apples were a huge hit. And of, course there had to be jack o’lanterns. The Mills made a traditional face, and I carved a Maori pumpkin. We can’t get orange pumpkins here, so we made due with white roasting pumpkins.


Well, there is no telling when the next installment will be. We leave on Wednesday to make our way to Christchurch, then to the cruise, then on to SE Asia. I’ll check in when I can. Happy Halloween back in the States!


Queenstown, NZ-Next to Paradise

100_7319scenic overlook of Queenstown from the trail

Well, it is expensive in Queenstown, NZ. This is the “adventure capital” of New Zealand, and everything is priced to match the reputation. But it is a beautiful place. Queenstown is situated on the southern end of the South Island of New Zealand. It is nestled at the foot of the Remarkables Mountain Range and at a major bend in Lake Wakatipu. Soaring mountains, and a lake that is as deep as the mountains are high. It is quite an amazing place. Oh, yes, the Paradise reference–just outside of town there is a section of one of the national parks called Paradise. Not because it is breathtakingly beautiful (which it is) but it is where the species of paradise ducks live. You can tell a paradise duck because the female head is stark white against a multicolored body, and the male has a black head and it appears to pretty much have a black body until he flies and several brilliant colors come out of hiding on his wings and sides.

We are doing our last half of the academic semester in residence at Queensland Resort College. The director, Hal, mentioned that Queenstown has a lot in common with Aspen, Colorado. They are both beautiful and both expensive. Surveys have shown that even people who backpack into Queenstown expect to spend over $200 per day beyond the cost of food and lodging. What do they spend it on? I’m glad you asked: skiing, snowboarding, jet boating, white water rafting, horseback riding, sky diving, bungi jumping, parasailing, off-roading, zip line, hiking, drinking, visiting Lord of the Rings/Wolverine film locations, panning for gold, more drinking, four wheel drive tours in the surrounding mountains, steamship rides, expensive chocolate, still more drinking, eating really good burgers from Fergburger’s, and last but not least some more drinking.

Seriously, I was taken aback by how much everyone drinks alcohol here. Once you hit 18, you forget what water is. (Don’t even try to ask about iced tea, I did and they laughed.)

I will be bungi jumping from a height of 134 metres on Saturday and doing a 300 metre swing out over a canyon afterwards. I’ll let you know if I survive. Note the British spelling when I refer to measurements in metric?

Here are a few image of the sights we see everyday going to class while others are spending copious amounts on adventure tourism. (My day is coming next weekend!)

view from our apartment building

looking at the harbor from the botanical gardens

it is early spring, everything is in bloom

trees along the Queenstown Hill hiking trail

another section of the trail

overlooking Lake Wakatipu

a cabbage tree near the trail head

Next week I’ll bring some drawings, finally! I’m going through withdrawals as I have not had the time to draw in over a week. Until then…

Last Days of Broadbeach


Okay, my eyes are glazing over. The humanities students are required to turn in their journal three times during the semester: first at the end of our stay in Australia, then at the end of New Zealand and finally in Singapore. The cumulative grade equals half of their total grade for the class. Humanities is about making connections and understanding our common human traits, desires, concerns, etc.

This is day two of grading 39 journals. I have to finish them this afternoon because we leave at 5:30 AM to fly to Christchurch, NZ. It is both rewarding to see individual students get it, but taxing, too, because I am an image guy. I have great respect for English teachers who must read hundreds of papers every semester.

So we leave tomorrow morning. Internet access will go down for us this evening around 10:45 PM (Aussie time). Tomorrow we arrive in New Zealand, which is an additional three hours later than Searcy time, so you add 18 hours for CST.

Couldn’t let a blog through without more pictures. The following are images from our apartment, 13th floor.
A view of part of our living room

Looking out the window to the Pacific Ocean

zoomed in on the same ocean

Through the kitchen window, across our neighbor’s balcony