Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bangkok - Buddhas and Beers

Our next stop was Bangkok. John and I were looking forward to it because we had such a great time when we went there last year. We took my parents in the river taxis up the Chao Phraya river to see the temples and palaces along the way. One of the standouts is Wat Pho, (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). The largest Buddha image in Thailand, it is 46 meters long and 15 meters high. It's covered in gold plating and its eyes and soles of its feet are all inlaid mother-of-pearl, which is gorgeous. This temple was also the birthplace of Thai massage. Thai massage is different in that they put your body through a lot of stretching motions in addition to massage, plus you wear pyjama type clothing during it. Afterwards you are not only relaxed, but you feel much more limber and have more energy. It's great!

Here's a couple pictures from our stroll down Soi Cowboy. I won't go into details on why this street is so well-known, but you can read about it here if you wish: And yes, we did check out a few of the "bars".

This is pretty sad, but maybe sharing it would prevent some future tourists from making this mistake. There was a sweet elephant that a couple Thai men were parading up and down the street. For a small price you could buy some snacks and feed them to the elephant. We did not choose to do this, but an American told us that the men periodically take the elephant around the corner, force it to throw up all its food, and then bring him back out and continue to let tourists feed him over and over again! Made me so sad....

You might remember John and I ate at a really cool rooftop restaurant on our last trip to Bangkok on the 61st floor of a hotel. Not to be outdone, my parents suggested we eat at Sirocco, which is the highest rooftop restaurant in Bangkok at 63 floors up! The food was delicious, the jazz band great, and of course, you can't beat the view!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We stopped in Kuala Lumpur for one day and night on our way to Bangkok, since it would have been a long layover. So even though we didn't get to see all that much of the city, it was pretty cool. To us, it was basically a "really nice Jakarta". It is similar in a lot of ways, but they just have their stuff together there. People use the lanes on the road, it's much cleaner and organized, and there are decent sidewalks! Plus there are rolling green hills surrounding the city. To go up in the Petronas towers, you had to get there at about 7:00 in the morning, so we said forget it. Instead we went up to the top of a communications tower nearby. It ended up being better, because you can only go about halfway up the Petronas towers to where there is a bridge connecting both of them. The tower we went up in was much higher than where the connecting bridge was, plus we had a great view of the towers. It was the tallest building(s) in the world at 1,483 feet until 2004 when the Taipei Tower took over at 1,667 feet. What's crazy is a building in Dubai which should be finished in the next year or so will be 2,313 feet tall! That is too tall in my opinion...

For dinner we ate at an Indian restaurant in a sort of Little India area of the city (although not the actual touristy Little India). We were the only white people around for blocks, and they didn't quite know what to make of us wanting to eat there. You choose what you want and they slop it all onto your banana leaf on the table. It was GREAT food! Plus we ate a ton and it came to about $12 for all four of us - not a bad deal!

Here's my mom and I covering up to visit the oldest mosque in KL.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Next stop...Lisbon!

After several weeks of stress, we found out last Friday night when one of our friends called at 2 a.m. to wake us up and tell us that assignments had been announced. I checked my crackberry and lo and behold, there was the email saying that we were going to Lisbon in March 2010 for me to work in the Political/Economic section of the embassy. I'll get to brush up on my Portuguese and Hill will start to learn it from scratch when we leave here next summer.

But it wasn't easy to get there. Our previous blog entry talked about how I was able to schedule a last minute Portuguese test, but that wasn't the end of the drama. On the day that I was told that I'd receive my test score, I didn't hear anything so I contacted our HR department. I then found out that something had gone wrong and the tapes were garbled, so they couldn't score them. And they were totally unwilling to do anything another way so that we could get a test score in time. Bureaucracy at its best.

Luckily, there was a guy at the State Department's language school who knew what he was doing. Apparently the only problem was that the tapes were recorded at the wrong speed. He was able to slow them down and my test was scored just in time for it to count.

Hillary doesn't know what she'll be doing there yet. They say they guarantee anyone who wants to work at least 16 hours per week, but hopefully she can find more regular work, either inside or outside the embassy. Regardless, we know we'll be going to a beautiful country with great food and nice people, so we couldn't be happier.