Kim is out of quarantine. Penny is with us. We are in our new apartment. I feel that I can finally say that the moving to Vietnam mid-pandemic is over. I’m so happy! The last few days I have felt an overwhelming sense of joy and contentment. We have had so many months of uncertainty and worry, with plans A through Z and then some, it is surreal to finally be on the other side of it all. And now, now we can go on with all the fabulous things that come with arriving in a new country. Setting up house, exploring all the areas, trying all the new foods, finding adventures in the every day, and enjoying the sense of newness. That is exactly what I am trying to do now, not rush through this special stage of aw and new. Like our first Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) or exploring our neighborhood or getting to know new fabulous people.
School has been going wonderfully. It’s a rush to get the year started and an adjustment to these new grade levels. I am teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade which is a shift from Middle and High School that I’ve taught for the last few years. But I’m not a newbie when it comes to this age range either. I’m slowly rearranging my room and starting to get it set up for proper student agency. I’m so use to just focusing on having the right resources but now I feel that I can actually take the time to make my room a beautiful and inspiring place. No hurry though, I feel I’ll be here for awhile. Especially with the open-access COLOR photocopiers/printers ; ) This was the first week collaborative artwork that I organized with my fellow art teacher (grades 1-2), Nick. Each student drew themselves or something that represents them.
We had two more COVID tests, one and two weeks after our release. The last one was the absolute worst. The tester made me gag 3-4 times as he stuck the swab continuously down my throat. He was so rough with the nose swab that, for the first time in 8 tests, it continued to hurt for awhile afterward. I’m SO glad to be done with all of that.
On Monday I signed the lease to our new beautiful apartment. I absolutely love it! My top three priorities were a place close to school, that allows Penny, and is within our budget. This fits all of those while being nearly across the street from school. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to walk to school for the past five years and I didn’t want to have to deal with a commute. Additionally we were looking for at least two bedrooms and we got three! One master, one guest bedroom, and one art studio room. We wanted a huge kitchen for Kim with a nice stove and oven. This kitchen is so big and lovely, it has 3 gas burners and 2 electric ones, plus the owner bought us the biggest toaster oven I have ever seen! It also needed to have LOTS of natural light which is abundant in this apartment. It has the master bedroom on the backside of the building so it is nice and quiet and faces the sunrise where the rest of the rooms have glorious huge windows overflowing with light. Plus one whole wall in the living room is just a big glass sliding door. We were also hoping for wood flooring, check, and nice lighting, check check. There is also a perfect entry area with built in storage which I realized was important to me after looking at many apartments that opened directly into the living area. The place is fully furnished with a modern look (most had hideous furniture that we would have had to keep). In addition, we have a bathtub, two balconies, stunning molding throughout the whole place, a pool, AND the owner bought us a dryer! I seriously could not ask for anything more, we are so in love with this place!
Kim is so beyond happy to be out of quarantine. I took the day off from school to get her properly settled. It was such a joyous reunion!! To finally be here, all together, I just don’t have words. We spent the day walking around the neighborhood, buying pillows, trying some different foods, and wandering for hours around various grocery stores.
Penny has been enjoying our new place and neighborhood. She is pretty hot so we take her for a walk early early in the morning and later in the evening when the sun goes down. I’m happy to be in a quiet area where she can wonder off-leash without any problems. We've spent a chunk of change at the vet already for a gunky eye and getting her regular meds (heartworm, flea, tick, etc). We decided to become "members" at the vet which means for a fee we get unlimited consults for the year - I'm certain we will get our moneys worth. We did get caught in our first monsoon the other day. Penny was very unimpressed.
Over the weekend we ventured out of our area, District 7, for the first time. Friday night we went to a kitchen store about 15 minutes away and then walked around. We found a bustling street lined with food and drink stalls, produce sellers spilling out into the road, fish and meat sellers cutting up their goods (including plump still-hopping frogs), and so much more. It was rush hour which means there were motorbikes coming from every direction like a swarm of bees. It was insane and a bit much right off the bat. I was happy to return to our quiet, clean, open area of Phu My Hung.
Saturday we went off to another area, District 2, which had a fun hipster vibe to it. We searched a few boutique house-goods stores for the perfect dishes. I’m hoping to take advantage of this opportunity we have to set up a home completely from scratch by being very conscientious of what we buy for it. I intend to curate our home carefully and make it a beautiful, inspiring, and lovely place. Which means we are on the hunt for beautiful, inspiring, and lovely things. It was fun meandering around and looking through the shops. We bought some dishes that I’m happy with but I might just have a hand at making my own as well. Later on, we stumbled on the American style diner and had our full of milkshakes and burgers. Kim was super excited to get a stack of pancakes (something she’s been craving for weeks).
One of the fabulous things about Saigon is that you can get anything delivered. And I mean ANYTHING. It has become part of the culture here and is so convenient. We just got a beautiful new bed set delivered yesterday. Kim also picked up a big selection of plants for me and a new watercolor. I’m excited to start nesting and making this our ideal home.
As I mentioned in the last update, it was a struggle to do everything without Kim. But she managed to find a way to order me flowers and get them delivered to school even before she was out of quarantine.
Saw a rainbow while walking Penny and video chatting with Kim (while she was still in quarantine)
Went plant shopping and found this cutie straight out of a Dr. Seuss book
Breakfast time has been yogurt with mangos served in our drink glasses because we have not yet gotten any bowls. Plus a new notebook and pen for my morning pages.
Bubble tea and pedicures is my new weekly ritual.
I can finally say that the saga of moving is finally complete! Kim and I have begun the new chapter of our lives in Vietnam. I can’t wait to continue sharing all our adventures with you all. I want to thank each and every one of you who have reassured me over the last few months, who have listened to each and every part of this saga, and who are rejoicing with us from afar. I love you xoxo
Most of the last two months have been filled with getting my feet under me at school. But one evening last month Kim and I went down to Ortakoy after school. This is the little neighborhood that is about 15 minutes walking from our apartment. We had to rush down because we needed to go to the bank, when we were finished we decided to take a stroll around the area. We wound up sitting near the Bosphorus snacking on some street food and sipping tea. We tried a new to us drink called salep. It is a milk and flour based hot beverage made of wild orchid powder from the roots of mountain orchids. I found this surprising since it tasted like my favorite winter flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg. It was a lovely evening and one of those moments that make me pause to breathe in awe of experiencing this place.
Our Tiny Apartment
I’ve been putting off sharing pictures of our apartment because I wanted to finish decorating it first but I feel like that process will be ongoing so I’ll share with you what we have so far. Ever since I got my first apartment when I was 17 my place has been kind of haphazardly put together. You know, the typical “college apartment” with hand-me-down furniture, pieces picked up from yard sales, posters taped to the wall, mixed-matched everything. Coming to Istanbul Kim and I had hopes of loving this place enough to call it home for longer than the length of my two year contract and I had dreams of a beautiful apartment. I was so very excited to come to Istanbul and have a new place where we could design intentionally. We could purchase furnishings that we absolutely loved, set-up a design that is both beautiful and functional, and have a place that is truly curated. Unfortunately when we arrived I realized that our blank canvas was actually a very small, dingy canvas. I sat on the sofa that first night with teary eyes seeing all my hopes going up in flames convincing myself that there was no way we could make this a place we loved. I was not happy and the apartment still stands as a low point in our move. Slowly, however, we’ve began adjusting and settling into our new place and pace of life. One by one we found furniture pieces and specific items focusing on a clean, open concept in order to keep as much room as possible. Despite my lack of a green thumb, plants bring me a lot of joy so I’ve been collecting many and am loving the way they make the space feel. It may be my new obsession because everytime we walk into the grocery store I can’t help by scope out the plant section which unlike America is composed of all potted plants rather than cut flowers. So I present to you our current work-in-progress abode, Casa Kim & Alisa:
The Prince Islands
Just before school started a few of us new teachers too a trip over to the Prince Islands. It is a small group of Islands just an hour ferry ride away from Istanbul. No cars or other motorized vehicles are allowed on the island so it is traditional to take a horse drawn carriage ride around the island. It was an adorable way to spend a day.
Fall Has Arrived
I hate the cold. You would think living in New England for the first 25 years of my life might have given me some greater adaptability to the cold but I always told people that the cold was the number one reason for me leaving New England. It’s not just the cold, it’s the darkness, and wetness, and not wanting to leave the bed because stepping on the floor feels like stepping on an iceberg. The cold is just miserable to me. When you leave for work at seven in the morning and it is dark out only to return home from work at five in the evening and it is still dark out, it is soul sucking. Hence the reason I spent the past three years living in the tropics. Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a fan of the heat either but I would much rather be sweating then shivering. I might have just stayed right there in the tropics if it weren’t for my wife who was melting away by the 100*+ days - see Kim is a true Mainer from the western mountains who wears shorts and flip flops long into the winter. So, as all the good married couples do, we compromised. Turkey is supposed to have very mild winters with an average of eleven days of snow a year in Istanbul. It (supposedly) rarely gets below 30* F. I can handle that I thought - silly silly past Alisa. It is 45*F today and it is freezing! The wind is blowing in from the water with that winter undercurrent and all I want to do is curl up in my bed, eat soup, and never some out again. A few weeks ago I grudgingly unpacked all of the sweaters that I salvaged out of my storage boxes in Maine this summer and I have been rationing them since - hoping to use them as sparingly and infrequently as possible. But the current temps have brought the sudden realization that I did not even bring a jacket. Looks like shopping will be in my future. On a positive note, the cold has inspired me to pick up my favorite winter craft - knitting.
Kim in France
While Kim was in France the US decided to stop allowing Turkish citizens to get US visas. Turkey, in response, did the same thing back to the US. Meaning that all visa services for US citizens were put on hold. (Read about it here) Luckily Kim already had a tourist visa that she would be entering Turkey with but with the suddenness of the situation and the unclarity of it, there was a lot of nervousness from both of us about her getting back into the country. It is crazy that the presidents can just make rash orders like this that effect so many people. What if she hadn’t had a visa? What if the new teacher that came to my school arrived just one day later? What about the person on my expat forum who is getting married here next month and isn’t able to get visa for any of her family to join her? I hope they work this out very soon because I want you all to come visit me!
My Stolen Camera
This is a hard one for me to write about, so much so that I almost didn’t put it in the blog but it was a significant event that happened and I think I should share with all of you. Kim and I went out exploring one Saturday and we had a marvelous day of wandering the streets of Istanbul. We went to some different areas, meander the cobblestone paths, visited the spice bazaar, and even got a fish sandwich for Kim from one of Istanbul’s famous fishing boats. The last thing we decided to do was go uptown to check out this big grocery store that Kim had heard about. It was a big store and I was sure to keep my camera on me while we were shopping because we were moving back and forth from the cart. But as we were walking up to the checkout counters Kim asked me to go grab her a water so I set my camera bag in our cart knowing that Kim would be right with it and went searching for a water. When I returned I helped Kim load up the groceries and pay. As we were walking out of the store I realized that the camera was gone and the bottom dropped out of my stomach. I frantically went back into the store and scoured the checkout area then found a security guard. The rest of the night was a blur of watching video footage in the security room, talking with the police through google translate, and crying. The next day we went to the police station and filed a report then later in the week Kim went to some of the used camera stores in town and dropped off a flyer, but it seemed completely useless in a city of twelve million people. Here is the video from the footage if you are interested in seeing it. The first video is of them stealing the camera bag out of our cart while Kim is loading things onto the register. The second video clearly shows their face as they steal another bag from a different cart. The saddest part to me is the young girl that the woman have with them who is most likely carrying stolen items in her little backpack for them. It’s interesting that every person I’ve shared about this event who has lived her is shocked, saying these things never happen here.
This camera has been with me for six years, through sixteen different countries, photographing twelve weddings and hundreds of thousands of photos. It was a camera that I saved up for slowly by shooting weddings and portraits and a lens that I traded in four other lenses to buy when I moved to Myanmar. It was a constant source of creativity for me and all of a sudden it was gone. I cried a lot that weekend, knowing how long it would take for me to save up for a replacement that was going to cost a couple thousand dollars. I reached out to my sister Andrea, the other photographer in the family, who I know would understand my pain. When, to my surprise and delight, she shared with me that she had my exact same camera body that she was looking to get rid of because she had upgraded recently. When thinking about how to get it to me I knew that shipping it was out of the question because getting things (especially expensive, valuable things) through customs here is a huge endeavor that often ends up making the senders/receivers regretting that very action. But it just so happened that Stan was leaving for France later that week and Kim was going to meet him. Some quick work on Andrea’s part, creative packing on Stan’s part, and careful transporting on Kim’s part and two weeks later I was holding a new camera body. I’m still stunned at how that all worked out and the generosity of everyone involved. Now just to save up for a new lens.
At an Art Loss
I’ve had a lot of pent up artistic energy lately and have not been really sure what to do with it. Maybe it’s due to the loss of my camera. I’m so very grateful to have a camera body again, and lucky enough to have brought one other lens with me so I am able to use it. It’s strange how it is the exact same model as my past camera but it feels so foreign in my hand, it doesn’t have the same scratches on the bottom from the tripod, or the little tiny dent on the grip, the viewfinder is slightly different and the screen looks clearer without the protector on it. After I got it I felt a sense of resentment towards it in a way that I can’t quite put into words but I think is mainly connected to still feeling pain from the violation of having this precious tool stolen from me. Anyway, the other day I had enough of it. I decided to take myself on an art date day in town. I grabbed my camera and set out for the day to do some of my favorite things. First I took a ferry ride which I simply adore. Something about sipping a tea while sitting in the breeze on the ferry deck is pure joy. I took a series of photos while I was riding that I will save for their own little post. Then I spent hours wandering around art stores. I hadn’t had the pleasure of visiting any art stores yet and I loved meandering through running my fingers over the paper and brushes. I ended up leaving with a new sketchbook and didn’t waste any time cracking it open doing some ferry sketches on the way back over to the European side. Lastly I went for my first visit to Istanbul Modern, the contemporary art museum in town. Although none of the pieces jumped out at me I enjoyed taking my time to sketch a few different paintings and perusing the gift shop (aren’t art museum gift shops the absolute best??). It was the most wonderful day and I put this page together from momentums that I gathered to remember it.
One of the funnest experiences I had over the past month was participating in a Murder Mystery Dinner. If you are not familiar with the concept, it is a mix of a dinner and a play that everyone is a part of. Before the night you are given a character and a backstory, every person comes dressed up and stays in character. Throughout the night events unfold, more information is given to you in sealed envelops to help you respond in the way your character would. There is bribing and gossiping happening all around. Eventually someone gets “murdered” and each person investigates the others to come up with a guess at who did it. I’ve always wanted to attend a Murder Mystery Dinner and this one certainly did not disappoint. Our theme was 80s Prom Gone Bad and my character was J.J. Smart, the class valedictorian. The night was a blast due to our awesome host who put it all together and the very best of folks to play with.
In addition Kim was the caterer for the evening. She pulled off the most delicious four course meal for the 20 or so people attending and every bit of it was spot on. There were stuffed mushrooms, caesar salads (with fresh anchovy dressing), pumpkin and ricotta raviolis, red wine braised short ribs with polenta, and a chocolate guinness cake with raspberry coulis to finish it off. I’m bummed that I didn’t grab any photos of the food but take my word on the mouthwatering taste of it all.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a great leader in Turkey who founded the country out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. He is deeply revered by all Turkish citizens. His statue and portrait are seen in restaurants and homes all throughout the country. At our school we have a photo of him in every single classroom. On November 10th the entire country stands still for one minute (9:05 am) to commemorate his passing. At school we had a large gathering that involved a speech, a wreath laying, and the minute of silent. Check out this short clip to see traffic stand still even on the bridges and highways.
Kim has been spending her time doing what she loves, cooking for people. She developed a service where she offers a variety of food and sells it to the teachers/staff at school. Every week she puts out a menu of salad, dinner, casserole, soup, and specialty items then delivers the orders to school. We are so grateful that she has had a tremendous response from the teachers, enough to keep her happily busy every week. The main disappointment of our apartment is most certainly our kitchen that is the size of a closet. I have no idea how she cooks dozens of meals in that space every week and nearly never complains about it but I think I have previously established that she is some sort of kitchen goddess. Here is this week’s menu to give you an idea of what she’s been cooking up:
We have been taking weekly Turkish Lessons which have been great but not sticking as well as I would like. Kim has trouble following but I’m understanding in class fairly easily but as soon as I leave I seem to leave all that I’ve learned behind as well. I think they are helpful no matter what though - even if it’s just a word or two a week. Thankfully Turkish is significantly easier than Burmese, at the very least I can read and pronounce the words. I think our teacher gets exasperated by us though, a group of teachers together is not usually an easy group to handle.
In Other News . . .
I’ve been teaching a beginners yoga course after school, and Kim has been tracking down every market in town. I’ve just completed my 10th week of weight lifting and am really enjoying seeing my body change and feeling stronger by the week. I realized that I forgot to bring any brown closed toe shoes so I tried to go shoe shopping the other day only to find out that they don’t carry any women’s shoes above the European size of 40. This is equivalent to the American size of about 9 in women's. Isn’t that crazy! I managed to track down one pair of brown boots in a 41 that mostly fit my feet but I now know what is on my summer to-buy list. There certainly have been some downs over the past two months but thankfully there have been a lot more ups and all in all we are so very happy in Istanbul, at my new job, and in our new home. We can’t wait to explore more of this country and Europe, but right now we are happy wandering the streets of Istanbul, experiencing the newness of the honeymoon stage.
Here are some tasty bites we’ve had while out and about.
Kim trying some street mussles
Ferry rides are my favorite
There is a "Fruit Garden" just down the street from us where anyone can go and pick fresh fruit for free, right now it's pomegranate season.
Our new weekend routine of going for a late Turkish breakfast every Sunday
I've been rolling with my kombucha brew this year and have expanded to Jun (made with just green tea and honey) as well as hibiscus tea kombucha. So tasty!
This is Phoebe. She is a cat that hangs out in our apartment compound because she used to belong to a teacher that lived here but she got left behind. And then another teacher adopted her and left her behind again. So sometimes we let her come cuddle in our apartment.
Until next time my friends
September has been a hot month here in Yangon. It is still supposed to be rainy season but there was not a lot of rain. Luckily there was usually a good amount of cloud cover making it a good month for exploring and being out. Lots of gatherings filled our calendars this month making it a great time for friends with an equally great time spent on our own. A bout of sickness kept us home over one long weekend, Kim has been cooking away at work, and there were birthday festivities. September was a great month with a lot of promise and happy times. Let's start with a few more pictures from around the neighborhood.
Last month I briefly mentioned Fahrenheit where Kim was hired in March of this year to run the kitchen of what would be a Mexican-Asian restaurant. Not being a Mexican or Asian chef, Kim has certainly met the challenge by creating truly unique dishes that highlight both cuisines. It has not been easy but it has certainly been worth it as Fahrenheit was recently moved to TripAdvisors #2 restaurant in Yangon.
Since our return, Kim has been working on developing a new menu to delight the taste buds of the hungry crowd that has already made it through the original menu multiple times. Some of my favorite dishes are the Potato Curry Tusquitos, Pumpkin and Tofu Enchiladas, Pad Thai Chimichanga, Chili Infused Hot Fudge Sunday (with homemade ice cream) and of course the Creamy Tequilla Margarita Pie. Lucky me, I got to be the first taster for all of this deliciousness. I thought you all might like to see some picture of this awesome place.
I took my students on my first Field Trip in Yangon this month and the experience was so much more than I could have ever imagined. I had a simple intent, take the students on the train to practice their photography skills. As we have just finished our photography basics unit, learning the ins and outs of our cameras, and the students were itching to try their skills in real life situations. Pair that with not having access to our usual computer lab classroom (because of standardized testing) and you have the perfect opportunity for a one day field trip. But what started as a simple field trip turned into a perspective changing experience. Read all about it HERE
To celebrate his birthday Mark, a co-worker of mine, held his annual Kegs and Kickball event. I was hesitant to join because I am not a big kickball fan but I thought it might be fun and it was a BLAST! About 30 people met up at the American Club field on Saturday and went through 3 kegs of beer while attempting to play kickball. There were also rules that involved having a cup of beer in your hand at all times even when you are kicking, and finishing your beer before second base and before home base. There was pizza, a speedo, some major kickball competition, LOTS of beer, and a fantastic time had by all! So glad I have such a fun community of people to be around.
It was a month full of birthdays in our friend Steven’s house. Firstly his little guy, Keean, turned 3 years old! I joined them in the morning for a trip to the park where we spent the majority of the time pushing a swing back and forth to each other. It makes my heart so happy to have this little man in my life. As someone who has always had children around it feels like having a piece of my family here in Yangon.
While we were wandering around our neighborhood the other day we stumbled upon an aquarium store. I use the word store very lightly because really this was a space on the side of the road with a chicken wire type wall and dirt floors. I had noticed recently that the shops and houses will often have giant aquariums in them, even the ones that seem to be not so well off. These aquariums always have GIANT fish in them! It’s crazy! So we meandered past a hungry looking cat into the store. It had huge aquariums stacked on top of each other from the ground up. Scattered along the aisle were liquor bottles of all sorts filled with betta fish. In the large aquariums there were all different kinds of fish. Towards the back of the store was a group of people who were working on cutting glass that would be the side to a new aquarium. It was a strange, strange place true to Myanmar.
Eating unknown snacks off the street is one of our favorite things to do. This month we found a few very interesting things to try. It started with the deep fried frogs at one of our local restaurants. Then when we were adventuring around the other day we discovered some interesting fruits. I also got Kim to try an “Everything Salad” which is a mix of all different noodles, sauces, and other things. Have a look at some of the videos.
I also tried sugar cane drink for the first time and it was delicious! The sugar cane is peeled then squished through a grinder resulting in a sweet, syrup-y drink.
I have been filled with creativity this month! I have been working on a body of work that I started in the spring and have made significant progress this month. The process involves using my travel photographs as a base and digitally altering them to create visual errors, or glitches, by corrupting the data in the photograph. I’m not quite ready to share them yet but I’ll show you this one:
During school time my fellow art teacher and I have begun using our collective prep time to work on art journaling. It has been fantastic to have a scheduled time in the week to get messy and create. It brings me back to my core interest in the arts and gives me the freedom to play and experiment. It has been a great reminder of why I am an art teacher and how much I love making art! Here are some progress pictures of one of the journal pages based off the idea of Positive/Negative Self. Also a snap shot of my morning bliss station
There were morning Trishaw rides
Scrumptious BBQ was had
My school held a college fair with about 20 colleges from around the world and one of the was Roger Williams University where my little sis just started law school. Funny that.
We found a movie store that has english movies and TV shows for only $1 a disk
Some funny things we saw this month, a "Cold & Drinking" restaurant sign, sushi sold out of the back of a truck, this hilarious sign.
A few shots for my "From Where I Stand" photo project.
I'll leave you with these two tasty dishes. The one on the left is my absolute favorite Myanmar dish: Tofu Noway. It is some sort of hot, melted tofu over noodles. The one on the right is the chicken soup that Kim made for me when I was sick in bed for our three day weekend.
There are a few different options for lunch by my school, although I often bring my lunch packed by Kim, there are some days that it is nice to get out of the building and wander down the dirt streets during lunch break. All of the street restaurants have arrays of Myanmar dishes that usually include various types of meats in seasoned oil/sauce, a few different stir fried veggies, hard boiled eggs, and other traditional foods.
The other week I was on my way to one of the street stalls that I frequent when a bright yellow sign caught my eye. "Alfredo Pizza" it said with a little character of a man throwing a pizza dough into the air. Although I hadn't heard anyone at school talk about this hole-in-the-wall street pizza place, I was intrigued and thought I would give it a try.
As I approached I noticed a list of pizza options: cheese, sausage (aka hot dogs), pineapple, just to name a few. I thought I would play it safe and go for the cheese. I paid my 2500 kyat ($2.50 usd) and was told that the pizza would be 10 minutes but they would deliver it to me. I returned to my classroom and shortly after there was a knock on the door from one of the school staff with a mini-pizza box in hand.
The pizza was surprisingly tasty for a street stall in Myanmar. Good dough, okay sauce, and great cheese. Mainly it was nice to have a lunch option that was not rice, noodles, or oil. Since getting my first pizza I have ordered it about once a week. It always comes promptly to my classroom door and one time I even got a sheet of stickers to boot!
The biggest Fire Balloon Festival in Myanmar is located in the mountain town of Taunggyi which is about a 12 hour drive north of Yangon. I took an over-night bus up for an impromptu weekend getaway with my friend Ashley to see the festival. Being the biggest, I knew it was going to be a lot of people at the festival but I have not been anywhere in Myanmar with quite that amount of people all in one place before. If I were to guess I would say that there were probably a couple thousand people all gathered for the festivities. As we walked up to the festival grounds we were greeted by our first sighting of a fire balloon - and this one had fireworks on it! It was quite the site shooting up in the sky. (If you are impatient and just want to get to the action scroll all the way down for the video)
It was probably about a half a mile walk up to the main area of the festival and all the way up was lined with booths with vendors selling all sorts of things like clothing (traditional and modern), trinkets, gadgets, more clothing, accessories (purses and wallets), to name a few. There were a lot of warm clothing for sale especially hats and scarfs, although it was only about 50* or so people were dressed like it was freezing. I guess they are not quite as used to the cold as I am.
Of course there was food, all sorts of food. Mostly traditional barbecue (below), noodle dishes, lots of greasy fried things, and don't forget the rice! Along with the food were the beer stands. You could get beer just about anywhere and walk around with it. Or you could pop into one of the clubs that the beer/alcohol booths had set up behind. These closed in spaces had private DJs and lots of flashy lights.
There were lots of game booths also. There were the traditional prizes I was used to like stuffed animals or cheep plastic toys, but then there were the booths where you could win beer or cigarettes (above) or you could go straight for the bottles of liquor (below). Just make 2 baskets and it's yours!
Temporary tattoo anyone? This man had all sorts of stamps that he lines with thick black ink that supposedly lasts for about 5 days. I almost got one but I couldn't find a design I liked.
Two other types of booths were the monkey booth and the photo booths. When I peeked into the monkey booth I saw two monkeys sitting on hanging loops with a string attached to their legs. Ashley said that it was set up for people to pay money to see the monkeys to various tricks. The photo booth was kind of like glamor shots, where they dress you up in fancy or funny clothing, do your hair and makeup, then take your photo to be printed out and sent home with you.
And then there was the ride section. This looked like most carnivals that I knew, with kiddy rides, jumping houses, and a few bigger power rides. What was not so normal was the fact that the ferris wheels (there were three of them) were all human powered. By that I mean that there was no motor, instead amazingly skillful men would climb up the wheel and, when aligned, would all power it by leaning to one side and using their weight to spin it. To stop it they would jump back on to the bench parts of the wheel and use their weight to pull it the other way. It was quite the sight to see these men nimbly making their way all around the beams of the wheel and swinging around like acrobats. Check out the video below for the full effect.
Now off to the field to see some of the Fire Balloons up close. Fire Balloons are similar to Chinese lanterns in the way that they are lit using the hot air from fire and let off in the sky to burn. Yet this is like Fire Balloons to the extreme because these balloons were GIGANTIC!!! If I were to guess I would say they were somewhere between 10 and 20 feet in diameter. Each balloon is sponsored by a different village, organization, or company and these are represented on the sides of the balloon in writing or symbols. Besides just good fun the general idea is that you send a wish or good thoughts out into the world to get the universe to fulfill.
But the balloons are not the only things that are lit, they are also adorned with hundreds of small candles. These mini lanterns are colored so when arranged they reveal an image of sorts. They are hooked onto specific spots on the balloon, this has to be done very quickly as the balloon is filling but before it gets too full. Lots of helpers are needed for this part.
Fire is slowly built up below the balloon and fills it with hot air to make it inflate. Many skilled people are needed to help with this part as to not burn the balloon itself. After it gets filled enough one main fire is lit under it and the sticks are removed, these are just placed aside within the crowd. The process of filling the whole balloon up takes only 10-20 minutes.
While this is happening there is also a whole other section of the balloon being worked on. This section is completed by taping wooden frames together then placing more of the colored mini lanterns on it to show another symbol of sorts. The rows of lights here were quite stunning.
Finally the sections are attached together and lifted off.
Sometimes instead of the mini lanterns, the balloons are decorated. These specially decorated balloons are always accompanied by a box of fireworks underneath them (instead of the wooden frame with mini lanterns). The fireworks start shooting off almost immediately and stretch right above the heads of the crowd. As you can imagine this is extremely dangerous. I later found out that the night before there was a huge accident where one of the balloons fell back into the crowd. Apparently somewhere between 1 and 3 people died and somewhere between 15 and 30 people got injured. The news is all hearsay here so it is difficult to get the specifics. Luckily all was well and good the night I was there.
Here is the video of the full process:
Alisa & Kim
Two expats living, teaching, and eating their way across this beautiful world