Archives for January 2008

A quick note

Since the last time I wrote, quite a lot has happened– not to mention the amount of money I am leaving here…

It’s almost 6 a.m. and after our breakfast, we will be leaving to see where the Viet Cong hid out during the war. Yesterday we were on the water of the Mekong Delta where we were treated to several different types of rides (by boat, by rowboat, and on pony carts) and we walked through very beautiful jungle and saw trees and plants we’d never seen before and ate a fruit called “Jackfruit” which is very delicious. We also heard an impromptu performance of a few Vietnamese songs in the jungle.

It’s an warm and wet adventure!

Since we last met

We have driven to the market at Bac Ha, frequented by the Flower Hmong. The market was colorful and all manner of goods were for sale including all sorts of things with two, four, six, and eight legs. We purchased a couple of trinkets and then made our way back to Lao Cai, had dinner, and then took our overnight train back to Hanoi.

We arrived in Hanoi at about 4:30 a.m. and after checking into a hotel for a few hours, we had breakfast and then went on a tricycle rickshaw ride through the old part of the city of Hanoi. We walked through some of the streets, had dinner, and flew to Hue where, I am happy to say, the weather is much more pleasant. It was about 73 degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived at about 8:30 this evening. Summer clothes–here I come!

Where was I?

On Thursday morning, we woke up to a beautiful day in HaLong. HaLong is a bay east of Hanoi that has in it more than 3000 karst islands. People live on the water in homes that have front decks and they get all of their supplies via boat. The bay is dotted by boats laden with fruits and vegetables. The children are picked up by boat to get to school. Besides being interesting, it is very beautiful. We cruised on the bay and enjoyed a delicious lunch (kosher, of course) on deck.

We returned to Hanoi in the evening in time to take a night train to Lao Cai. We divided into 4 person cabins, all men and all women… two on the bottom bunks and two on the tops. Surprisingly, the train was modern and attractive and clean. I actually was able to get a good night’s sleep and there was the added treat of getting to know three really nice women!

In the pre-dawn hours we arrived in Lao Cai and then made our way by bus to Sapa. At the hotel, we had two rooms each for men and women to shower and change and after breakfast, we were ready to start a day in Sapa. Imagine a place that is very beautiful, almost looking like Switzerland (only without the snow) and then imagine it is so covered with clouds that you can only see a bit beyond the hand in front of you. Well, in fact, that was Sapa yesterday! It was only today that we saw how beautiful it is. Yesterday we were in a dreamscape. The clouds kept wafting by and every once in a while we would get a glimpse of the landscape and then it went back into hiding. We were able to drive to a village nearby called TaVan where we walked and slipped and slid along paths through the village. The village is inhabited by members of three different minority groups and has a regional school. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a classroom and a little girl asked me in English where I was from. When I answered “Israel” she said, “Shalom Chamuda!” (“Hello Cutie” in Hebrew). I couldn’t believe it! These children are living in a poor village in Vietnam, all the way north, close to the Chinese border. They speak English and have developed a repertoire of responses to tourists in Spanish, Italian, French, and Hebrew, among others!

Today we climbed a mountain that is a nature reserve. It was lush, full of flowers. The first cherry blossoms, harbingers of spring here, were on the trees. We heard beautiful music as we walked. Unlike yesterday which was cold and cloudy, today it was sunny and warm.

Tonight I am sitting in a lovely spot in the hotel with not only free computer access, but free tea being served to us!

We are pleasantly surprised by a couple of things here in Vietnam — at least so far. All of our rooms have had huge bigger-than-king-sized beds! and I have not yet come across an Asian toilet (those of you who have been to China with me know how very nice that is). All in all, so far, so good. Tomorrow we will tour in the area and then leave on a night train to Hanoi.

Good morning (from) Vietnam

It’s not what I expected. It’s like no place I’ve ever been. And it is strange being in a place like Hanoi which was both forbidden and dangerous for Americans through a lot of my life.

We saw the Water Puppet Theater which is simply amazing. THe puppeteers stand behind a screen in waist deep water and from there on wands, they move the puppets to music and the puppets interact with each other– a man trying to catch fishh that are flopping around- people on boats passing each other , dancing animals! Amazing!

Today we went to the complex where Ho Chi Minh lived, worked, and now lies. It was quite an experience filing by his body, perfectly preserved. I can’t even identify my emotions about it, but it was very powerful. We saw where he lived, eschewing the palatial residence that had served the French rulers. He insisted on a spartan residence consisting of only three rooms.

We then went to the prison that the US pilots called “The Hanoi Hilton.” I can’t even imagine how anyone survived there. The conditions were brutal.

On our way today to HaLong, next to HaLong Bay, we rode through the countryside and stopped to buy some unbelievably sweet pineapple! What a treat!

I am certain there will be lots more to say about this adventure once I have a little time to process it. But it is, indeed, an adventure!

Packing up

Having just caught our breath from our trip to Tiberias Wednesday and Thursday, once again we packed up and left– this time to Jaffa, for a shabbat with the Shai Bar Ilan “family.” It was wonderful to be with a group of really delightful people and to enjoy a guided tour of Jaffa. We returned home last night and now today, we are once again packing.

This time we are going on a real adventure! So far, we have guided kosher trips in China. China, if you hadn’t yet noticed, is almost an addiction for me. A few weeks home and I am ready to travel again. I spend hour and hours of my own time finding people to go on these tours because I can’t get enough of China and never have I had a traveler say that it was any less than I had promised. More frequently I hear at a beautiful site or after a wonderful performance, “If only for this, the trip was worth it!” And our trips are filled with moments such as those. There will be four different China trips for English speakers this year– China and Hong Kong for 17 days, Classic China for 17 days, Shanghai and Beijing, 11 days and Beijing 11 days. Come one, come all!

So what does one do for a traveler who would like to have another amazing experience with the same tour guide? Well, we are going to scout out and learn a new location. We are traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia.

My husband quips that he almost visited Vietnam all expenses paid in the late 60’s.

I will be attempting to blog while we are away, but there is no guarantee that I will be able to get to a computer or to this site. I am hoping that I will be able to access my gmail, so if you want to reach me, my gmail account has the same name as I use for myself on this blog.

In the long run

Life is very unpredictable. Take mine. I never would have imagined that I would have had the experience I had today.

Several months ago, my oldest son, father of 6 children ages 2.5-14 told me that he was in training for a marathon. Now this son happens to come from a family that is not well-known for sports achievement. I used to swim and my husband did PT and running as part of his duties in the US Army, but the closest we got to enjoying sports was watching the half-time show of the Superbowl. Oh, there was that brief period when our two younger sons wouldn’t miss a football game when we lived at Fort Benning, Georgia, but that was because they were able to make a lot of money selling sodas and ice cream to the soldiers who were watching the games.

Of course we were supportive of our oldest son’s aspirations and we were interested in hearing about his training. As the date of the marathon approached, we asked if he would like us to go with him to Tiberias for the marathon. Not only did he say yes, but he was also happy that we could also take two of his children with us.

So yesterday we drove up through the Galilee, winding through the countryside as the day grew dim, and arrived at the hotel where we had reserved rooms. We were surprised that we had chosen exactly the hotel that was the headquarters for the marathon. The mood was electric with people from all over the world milling about and talking and getting their last minute headbands and wrist bands. Since the hotel, the Golden Tulip Tiberias, is an all inclusive hotel, we ate dinner there. After dinner, one of his daughers wasn’t feeling well and wanted to sleep, so my son stayed with her and we took his other daughter with us on a walk. We walked by the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and enjoyed seeing the lights of Tiberias and the Golan shimmering in the water. Later, at the hotel, we went and got soft drinks and enjoyed a program with Israeli songs and a trivia quiz.

Early this morning, all of us got up in anxious anticipation of the race. After breakfast, we walked together to the starting line. Thousands of people were there with hundreds participating in the marathon, the 10 K run, and the 5 K run among others. The atmosphere was exuberant. My son was excited and so were we! It was a bit cool and rain threatened. And then the countdown ended and off they ran! They ran south along the west coast of the Kinneret, turned east at the bottom and then north along the east coast. As they got close to the kibbutz Ein Gev, they turned south again and retraced their steps, ending back in Tiberias.

We walked back to the hotel with the two girls and took them swimming in the heated pool. They were delightful and we had a rare opportunity to spend a nice block of time with them. After we swam, it was time to shower, get dressed and go to see the people crossing the finish line.

We stood in the sun (yes, the rain did not come!) and watched as the tired but elated people came running past us. The girls were on a platform, my lookouts, and then, suddenly, there was a cry, “There’s Daddy!!!!” And there he was, coming across the finish line, successfully completing a marathon in about 3:58! We were very proud. We ARE very proud.

It was a great trip; it was a brilliant day; and it was a wonderful way to start a new year….

What’s going on in my life

It’s been a busy time. There are ome things I can’t talk about and some I can.

Last night we went to a meeting about the trip we will be embarking on next week. We will be visiting Vietnam and Cambodia, and we were excited to hear details about the trip and are anticipating learning a lot!

When we arrived home, our friend who has been in Israel for the last 10 days or so returned to our house after a week or so of touring. He had been working at the Pentagon on 9/11 and so he had some interesting stories to tell about that day and what followed as well as his encounters in an official capacity with some of the people who run the US.

Today was the last class of the course I teach in basic counseling skills. I had the opportunity to tell my students for the final time that they need to always look at behaviors in context- that every behavior has some function. I see people being pathologized all of the time when in fact, they are doing the best they can in a difficult situation. That super-bright child who is unable to sit still in school– maybe he is bored out of his mind and that’s why he’s jumping out of his seat or annoying the child next to him. I am reminded of a story told to me by Jorge Colapinto, one of my professors when I was studying for my doctorate. He had a family referred to hi where the little girl was falling out of her classroom seat. She had been warned, punished, taken to the school counselor, and seen a number of social workers and therapists and still she kept falling out of her seat. Colapinto spoke with the family and while he was with them, he observed that the girl was small for her age. He asked her where she sat in the classroom. She said she sat in the back. He asked her how she was able to see the front of the room from there. She told him that every time she tried to see, she fell out of her seat!

In other news… the afghan that I made for Kinneret is almost finished. Today I washed out the dirt that got on it while I was making it. It is a white afghan with an embroidered cheerleader bear dressed in purple. Now I have to go back and change the afghan that I made that looks like it should be for a little boy. I used one color that I really don’t like and so I need to change it and change the border that contains the same color. This one is a bear who is a house painter.

Meanwhile, we are trying to gather three English speaking groups for trips to China this spring. One leaves March 24 and spends 17 days in China and Hong Kong. The second leaves on May 12 and spends 17 days in China, and the third is 11 days (9 net) in Shanghai, Suzhou, and Beijing). All three will be fabulous tours with delicious freshly prepared kosher meals.

And that’s what’s been going on with me in the last 24 hours.

Watching words

It seems that there are people who in an attempt to be very honest and to be sure that they are not misleading people will state things in ways that cause uncertainty and discomfort. Someone I know, when asked to do someone a favor will reply “I’ll try to do it.” Now I don’t know about you, but I would much rather hear, “Yes, I’ll do it!” After all, most people understand that sometimes even with the best intentions, people are not able to do what they’ve committed themselves to doing. Someone who is going to “try” may be someone who will let you down, because he/she has not fully committed.

Let’s look at another way in which this “honesty” can create discomfort. You are taking a child to a new place or to have a new experience. The child is apprehensive. Here’s what NOT to say: “If everything works out well, you should have a nice time.” Say instead “I think you will love it!”

What we say really does change how people view things, whether it’s helping people feel more certain or enabling people to happily anticipate something new. All of us understand that sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to, but there’s always time for correction or explanations later. If we try to prevent disappointment, no matter how small the risk, we are at the same time robbing people of a feeling of security and happy anticipation.

Israel’s believe it or not: Page 1

Here’s a piece of an article from today’s Haaretz newspaper:

A Jew is not allowed to pray in any overt manner whatsoever on the Temple Mount, even if he is just moving his lips in prayer, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter recently wrote MKs Uri Ariel and Aryeh Eldad (National Union-NRP).

The reason given: it could cause public disorder because it would be seen as a change in the status quo. Are you getting this? If I were going to visit the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) I would be violating the law if I opened my lips to pray silently. And what would the western democracies say about this? My guess is that they would support it. After all, they do not want to see unrest in the “holy land.” It is fine to prevent a Jew from praying in his/her holiest place But, sometime, listen to the sermons given in the mosques that incite Arabs to go and kill Jews– those are protected by freedom of speech. Those same western democracies would condemn the Israel government if they restrained such speech.

Does this make any sense? Is there any logic about this? I would say that when our neighbors find our praying provocative, it’s time for them to move to another neighborhood. For our government to give in to them only encourages additional outrageous demands.