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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Caption Contest

We've decided to run our first ever contest on the blog.



Here are the rules: Write a caption for this picture and post it in a comment to this post.  We will not accept any captions on facebook.  Whitney and I will decide whose caption is best and send them a prize.  For bonus points, tell us where you think we took this picture.  Keep it classy. . .  or don't.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gone Fishin'

As many of you know, I promised that I would take up commercial fishing when we found out that we were moving to Bangkok.  So far, I've failed in that regard.  However, I did take my first step this past Thursday when I went with our friend Andy to catch giant Mekong catfish.

We spent Thursday morning at Bungsamran or Happy Lake, which is about 10km from downtown Bangkok.  Now, I'm used to fishing in Key West with live shrimp for small snapper and grouper so I was a little confused when we got to the lake.  We took a guide with us because guides are cheap and they could make sure we're doing our best to catch some monster fish.  I'm glad we did.  I don't think I would have figured out how to turn a bucket of ground up chicken powder into a ball of bait.  Anyway, since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll just let the pictures do the talking.












 
I do have to admit.  I did not think that reeling in a 50 pound fish would be so hard.  Those things are strong.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Vientiane

It's been a while since we've posted.  There hasn't been too too much going on here, especially since we spent some time in the US on R&R.  Not long after we got back, we took a trip to Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos.  Whitney went there to do a growth diagnostic study - basically, she spent a week studying the economy by meeting with government and private sector officials so she could diagnose restraints to growth in Laos and recommend programs to improve the economy.  I tagged along on the off chance that she went into labor early I could still be around for the birth.  And I wouldn't turn down a cheap vacation.  Vientiane is kind of a quiet city (only about 750,000 people live there).  I wandered around town for the week and explored their different sights, ate cheap French food, and drank a good deal of Beer Lao.

Since there isn't too much to tell about my wandering meanderings, here's a little photo tour of the city.  I'm a little templed out, so there weren't too many landmarks that I photographed.



Pautxai is a memorial that was built from (according to Wiki and Lonely Planet) 1957-1968 and resembles Paris's Arc de Triomphe.  I think the sign at the foot of the memorial offers the best description: "At the northeastern end of LangXang Ave. arises a huge structure resembling the Arc de Triomphe.  It is the Patuxay or Victory Gate of Vientiane, built in 1962 (B.E. 2505), but never complete due to the country's turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete. Nowadays this place is used as a leisure ground for the people of Vientiane and the seventh floor on top of the building serves as an excellent viewpoint over the city."  I think I also read somewhere that the US Government provided concrete to the Laotian people for a runway at the airport, but they chose to build this monument instead.  I'm still not quite sure what victory the gate marks, but it did provide a nice panoramic view of the city:




Walking back towards downtown from Patuxai is the Talat Sao morning market.  I think I can best describe this as a smaller version of Bangkok's Chatuchak market with a modern indoor section added on.  You can buy the same stuff there - handicrafts, jewelry, fruits, food, clothing, appliances, etc.  


I think the most interesting part of the market was the row of goldsmiths on the outer ring.  They sit there all day making and fixing different gold by hand.  


There was an old stupa about a block from our hotel and next to the US Embassy.  It's called That Dam (black stupa) and there are a few myths about this structure.  Some say it was covered in gold before the Siamese looted it during the pillaging in 1828.  Others say a 7-headed naga (a serpent deity in Hindu and Buddhist culture) lives inside, who protected the locals from that same invasion.  Interesting note: the guards at the US Embassy do not like you walking down the road between the two compounds with a camera.  


Moving on, next to the Mekong River is a promenade area, a large park, and then a road called Quai Fa Ngum.  Quai Fa Ngum is lined with trees that provide a lot of shade and some nice scenery.  





There was also a ridiculously large statue over by this part of the city.  I was never able to figure out who this is or what he did.  


Finally, on the eastern part of the city is the COPE center and museum.  COPE works with the National Rehabilitation Center as the only provider of prosthetic, orthotic, and rehabilitation services in Laos.  This is important to the local people because Laos is littered with unexploded ordinances, many left from the US during the Vietnam War.  Despite efforts to educate, many children still try to salvage the scrap metal from these old bombs because they can make a substantial amount of money from just one bomb.  As a result, many Laotians have lost their limbs and their lives.  COPE is trying to help the survivors with prosthetics and other support.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thoughts and Prayers



Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the FS abroad who needlessly suffered.  Not only those who lost their lives, but those who felt threatened or in danger.  Our lifestyles are difficult and we understand how difficult it must be to be far from loved ones and worried for your safety. We hope those who have felt threatened got the help they needed.

Andrew and I would like to thank our friends and loved ones who expressed concerns for us in recent days.  We are totally safe and do not feel remotely threatened.  We are aware of some upcoming protests due to recent issue, however, we do not feel these will hamper our lives. 

The Foreign Service is a noble job and at the very least US citizens and more importantly our friends and families were made aware more strongly of what we do in the past two weeks.  We hope the situation remains stable and as we monitor the protests we hope our friends in certain embassies remain diligent and safe.  Though we are serving at a rather comfortable post, we have both traveled on TDY and visited in some not as nice places where anything could have gone wrong.  We are lucky to have remained safe and secure in our travels overseas. I truly hope at the very least the events that have unfolded have expressed to those who doubt the importance of serving for the FS, whether as a development practioner or diplomant or those who have felt this wasn't a dangerous position, have a little better understanding of the threats my colleagues, friends and even family face.

The support from our friends has been amazing.  We recieved concerned emails, gchats and calls.  It meant a lot to us.  Please be reassured we are safe, our embassy is safe, and we have faith in the people of Thailand to continue to ensure our safety.

Happy New Year for our Jewish readers, and hopefully we will see the tide turn a little.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

5+/ 5- to life in the BKK

Foreign Service Blog Round Up

Well as been floating around on FS Blogrolls (and I am late on this), the theme for this month's blogroll is "5 positives & 5 negatives" of your post. And since Andrew and I are in the middle of bidding season, I figured I would help out fellow FS officers by participating. Using an explanation from  another blog (thanks Lees on the go) bidding, for those not in the FS, means we take this official list of countries and begin to categorize, organize, strategize & hypothesize about which country will be the best fit for ourselves & our family.  I will get more into our plans, aspirations, hopes and dream posts in another blog posting.  But on to Bangkok:
5 Pros!

1) Food, Food, Food:  The Restaurants and food in Bangkok is spectacular.  Granted Andrew has been more adventurous in the Asian cuisine than I have, but the food here rocks for USAID standards.  Each person who visits us at post rants, raves and gains 10 pounds.  As a hater on all things asian food (I know, im awful), I have been able to constantly find food and haven't starved.  Groceries stores are well stocked and the only thing we couldn't find was a lamb shank on Passover.

2) Travel:  Since Bangkok is practically the hub of Asia, we have easily been able to hop around and visit places we never thought possible.  We played with monkeys in Nepal, visited a Night Safari in Singapore, relaxed on the beaches of Vietnam and partied FS style in Cambodia.  All of this on our somewhat limited budget.  We have seen more of Asia than I ever imagined.  (Side note: Singapore = pricey)

3) Healthcare:  This may be because I am going through pregnancy and it may be because our friend just went to the hospital for her foot, but the health care in BKK is amazing.  I am constantly being asked WHY I am staying in BKK for the birth of our son, well its because its FIRST CLASS.  You know the photos of Beyonce's birthing room, yeah, imagine that but a tad smaller.  And for the same price.  Naturally the nurses don't speak english and my doctor can't understand why I am gaining weight during pregnancy, but all and all the health care is amazing here!

4) Always something to do:  Andrew and I were nervous at first that we would be bored on the weekends etc. in Bangkok, but there is ALWAYS something to do.  There are gallery openings, movies and fesitivals.  One of my favorite things was the symphony in the park.  It was great to picnic with friends and enjoy the music. That and the movie theatres are SPECTACULAR.  And if you know the Dubinskys, this has made adapting to life abroad much easier.  Yes, I saw Hunger Games opening week :) 

5) The work:  I have really enjoyed USAID/RDMA.  The work here is always changing and I have the chance to break into whatever I have wanted.  This has included project management, evaluation design, economic analysis (large scale economic analysis) and A LOT of work travel.  In fact, I am off to Lao PDR next week.  I have been really happy with my work here.

5 Cons!

1) Not the best place for pets:  Don't get me wrong, I am sooo glad we have Elko and Menlo with us.  And we have been able to board them when we needed too and when the MORONS ate Tylenol I was able to rush them to the hospital, where they got STELLAR care.  However, the day to day is a little rough on them.  This could also be because we are in apartments and not in a house.  But they don't get enough outdoor time (completely my fault) and Menlo is still terrified of everything.  He never lived off a street with cars constantly wizzing by and guards yelling out his name.  It is also not easy to get them in a cab.  I always have to offer baht and they look at me with disdain the whole time.  I will say though, in an emergency I got a cab and got them to the hospital.  Moronic dogs.

2) TRAFFIC TRAFFIC TRAFFIC TRAFFIC:  I have lived in Houston, DC and Boston.  It is easy to say that those three cities are all easily in the top 10 in the US for the WORST traffic, however, Bangkok TAKES THE CAKE.  My main complaint is no one knows how to handle traffic flows and the lights are run manually by men in booths.  Andrew once sat at a light that didn't change for and HOUR!  Seriously.  (They were holding it because a royal might have been driving by).  Another time, I literally had to YELL out the window for the guy in the booth to change the light after 25 minutes.  So when people ask how far I live from work the answer is...15 minutes to an 1.5 hours.  And for the record we are less than 2 miles away!  There is also no method to the madness.  Yes, its worse during "rush hour" which lasts until 9pm.  However, you never know when the expressway will stop or your street will be closed for 8 months for construction.  I am glad we brought the car, but ugggh!

3) Not a typical embassy community:  To me this is a negative, but to a lot of people this would be a positive.  Because BKK is SUCH a large embassy and we are in the middle of a metropolitan city there isn't much of a "embassy community feel."  Granted our building has been great about setting this up and we are a tight group of Esmeraldians, however, there isn't the same level of Embassy community that you see at posts.  For instance, my friends threw me a shower yesterday and most of the state department folks had never met USAID folks who didn't live in our building.  The CLO puts together events and people go (we like trivia nights), but its just not the same.  ** this is more based on hearsay too because BKK is our first post.

4) HEAT:  Ok, its hot!  Seriously its always hot!  I haven't needed a pull over or a shirt with a sleeve in over a year.  I am a Texan and the heat still gets to me.  To be honest, the worst part is my aversion to being outdoors as a result of it.  The pool is nice.  But if I am not soaked...im indoors.  This has only gotten worse with the pregnancy.  Granted MOST places have some amount of AC.  And our apartment is an igloo (as andrew will agree), but in the end...HOT!

5) It is all downhill from here!  I work at USAID, life will never be this good again :(

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Weekend in Germany, Jaaa!

After Whit left Kazan, the best way to return to Thailand was to transit through Frankfurt with an overnight due to the length of the flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok.  Never one to miss a travel opportunity, I used some points and met her in Germany for a long weekend.  It was kind of a long flight for a weekend, but I think we planned the trip well.  I left at about midnight on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, arrived in Frankfurt about 6am, met Whit about half hour later, and then returned to Bangkok on a Sunday afternoon flight, arriving Monday morning.

On the first day, we had some time to kill before we could check into the hotel, so we went for breakfast and ran into some sort of street fair.  Pastries, pretzels, sausage, and homemade apfelvein.  Yes, please.  We then toured the historic parts of Frankfurt and walked down to the river.  While wandering around, we stumbled across the Eiserner Steg (Iron Bridge).  This bridge, built in 1868, spans the Main River and is notable because it is covered in thousands of padlocks.  Each lock has a couple's names and their anniversary date.




Most importantly, I had my first beer in Germany in the historic square at probably 10:30am.  Apparently, Frankfurt claims that their "official" beer is brewed by Binding.   


There it is, my first German beer.
On day two, we booked a tour to get out of the city.  This guided tour took us down the Audubon, across the Rhine River, and into Strasbourg, France.  Strasbourg is a small little border town with strong German and French influences.  We took a boat cruise around the city, and explored the main square and church.  It was a scenic city, and I had to try a crepe.  It didn't disappoint.  






On the way back to Frankfurt, we stopped in a town called Baden Baden in the middle of the Black Forest, which is so named because the Romans said the trees were so dense that you couldn't see light through them. We visited a huge lake and stocked up on schnapps and black currant liquor. This area of Germany is also really famous for their cuckoo clocks. 



Moving on.  Day 3 started with a trip to the zoo because that's what we do in ever city we visit.  The zoo was kind of small, but had a few fun exhibits, including the apes and the 3 very close-up tigers.  

I always knew she was at least part monkey.

After the zoo, we had another half day tour.  This time, we went north to a small town called Mainz for a Rhine River cruise, dinner, and German wine tasting.  The river was dotted with ancient castles dating back to the 12th century.  We also learned that Germans don't export their best wine.  This was right before we learned that Germany's best wine isn't very good but is very expensive.  I swear that one of the glasses we tried was actually Manischevitz.  
Vineyards




That basically ended our trip.  In between, we ate plenty of sausage and pretzels, sampled a variety of German beers, drank some more apfelvein, and walked around the city.  We also had a chance to figure out the extensive subway system and visited a few museums.  It was nice to walk around in 60 degree weather for a change and to get back to the Western world for a weekend.  However, unlike Kathmandu, I'm glad we got out of the major city on this trip.  I

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Kazan


Since this blog is meant to be a chronicle on the travels of the Dubinskys, I thought I would share with you
my recent trip to Kazan.  I know what you are thinking..."Kazan?  Whitney, where is Kazan? Are you sure you are spelling that right?"  Well, yes I am, and Kazan is in Russia.  And don't be alarmed, this was a common reaction by everyone when I mentioned where I was going.


Kazan is the "third capital" of Russia and is the 8th most populous city in Russia.  Kazan is known as the
sports center of Russia, and the city will host the 2013 Summer Universiade, 2015 World Aquatics Championships, and 2018 FIFA World Cup. (Fun Facts :) ) I have included the map above to give you an idea of where Kazan is located.  I personally was in Kazan because it played host to the second Senior Officials Meeting for the APEC Secretariat, Russian Host Year.  In other words, the Russians chose Kazan as one of the cities to highlight this year. The other meetings have been St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the heads of state will meet in Vladivostok. USAID has a  project with the Secretariat and I was there to monitor the ongoing efforts.  Additionally, I was able to sit in on some interesting meetings on Food Security and  Economics.  Overall, they were really interesting.  But you don't want to hear about APEC meetings...



One of the highlights of the trip was viewing one of the largest mosque in Russia, Qolsharif.  Though it was only built in 2005, it was dedicated to the milennium birthday of the city. Kazan has a thriving muslim culture. The multi-ethnic city is is honored by UNESCO and famous for Muslims and Christians living side-by-side in peace. The mosque has a gorgeous interior and a great architecture, highlighting Tulips throughout the structure.  The tulip is the national flower of the Republic of Tatarstan.


Speaking of Tatarstan, I also had the oppurtunity to take a tour of a "reproduction of a Tatar village."  It was a tad odd that in the middle of Kazan they have built this fake village for city tours and is very Disneyworldyesque (its a word).  However, it was an interesting taste of Tatar culture and food, which was Russian kolaches filled with meat and were great.  And honey covered pastries.  Interestingly, they also serve cherry juice with their traditional meals.



I was able to try some interesting Russian food and walk around the main shopping area.  However, I was in a lot of meetings and didn't get to tour too much. My overall opinion is that Kazan is a nice, quaint, charming city.  However, there wasn't a weeks worth of entertainment.  If you want a heavily entertaining
Russian experience, I would try Moscow first.  But Kazan is great for just strolling and exploring and the people are helpful and nice.


After the APEC meetings, Andrew and I met up in Germany, but since it was his first time there, I will let him write about it.