Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Green curry is so good!

Hello from Chiang Mai! It's raining right now and I thought I'd say hi and let people know where I'm at. I ended up working more than planned in Bulgaria and only had a couple days off in Plovdiv at the end. And even those days off involved some to a lot of work on the computer. Such is life.... but last Thursday's paycheque (for the first two weeks of work in Bulgaria - about 140 hours!) has paid for the Thailand vacation and probably the next, so I can't really complain I guess. Especially when the hour Thai massage only costs $4-7! But I do complain none the less because whining is so much fun! In whole, Bulgaria was work, but really pretty great with a beautiful field site in mountainous farm land, really getting to live and meet people, having a fun car to putt about on mountain roads, and way more real than just being a tourist ever could have been. I like this idea of working in different places, though it gets old too. I'll put some photos up at some point when I'm not being drawn to swimming pools, wats, massages, etc. etc.

So I flew out it out of Bulgaria last Thursday and spent a couple days hanging out with Ben, Sam & Conner in Bangkok (I even babysat for an afternoon... yikes!!). Then Michelle arrived and we spent one more day in Bangkok. Definitely fun all hanging out together, having drinks, wandering about Bangkok, having a suit & shirts made, getting foot massages together, etc. etc. Now Ben & Sam are down in Phuket getting wedding stuff prepared while Michelle and I are up in Chiang Mai. We took the night train up and among other things are booked for a 2-day trek tomorrow and a full day organic farm cooking class on Saturday.

The cooking class (I think) we're going to take is described pretty well here in someone else's blog that I found by trying to get some info on the different places (we've found a few places wandering and talking to people, but since I'm stuck travelling with my laptop after Bulgaria and the hotel has free wireless, why not...)

Also came across this Thai cooking lessons website that might be interesting (my connection is too slow to watch streaming video, but maybe yours isn't?).

In case any wedding folk are curious, we're flying to Phuket direct from Chiang Mai Sunday May 4 arriving Thai Airways at 1445. Should be perfect timing to get checked in, cleaned up and make the reception get together thingy at 6PM. I think our plan is to stay in Phuket at least till the 7th, maybe the 8th before moving on to Ko Phi Phi (maybe, elsewhere too?) and finally Krabi. Michelle and I fly to Bangkok from Krabi Sunday May 10 9PM.

I'm very conflicted, but I've tentatively confirmed with the London Olympics project that I'll work starting May 13 for 3 weeks. Part of me wants to stay in Thailand by myself and do a week-long massage course or something just totally relaxing. I could just sit in a hut by myself and read? Or maybe go join Ben in Vietnam for a week before he flies back to Australia for a holiday? Or maybe fly to Ethiopia to visit Laurel. I don't know, but going back to work so soon just seems silly. Like, who needs to work, like really? (that statement should be said with full valley girl dizziness) Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

rock & dirt in Bulgaria...

Hello from Sliven. About 3 hours east of Sofia (the capital). I must admit my geography of eastern Europe is a bit skewed, so if you're like me... it's a couple hours north of Greece and not much further to Istanbul (both of which I'm contemplating next week assuming the work finishes up). Bulgaria used to have some coast line on the Adriatic, but Macedonia split off and took the coast with them - I remember reading about how Greece objects to them calling themselves Macedonia because Greece has states (provinces ?) called Macedonia and they don't like the confusion and maybe also worried their states will join with the new country of similar name? Like the Kurds in Turkey/Iraq? Ignorance is bliss...

The last week has been a bit intense. Finishing up in London and getting rushed onto this job very last minute was... rushed. And this job (doing geotechnical borings in farmland for what someday will be a US Army base) has been very poorly planned in many aspects. And given the job is in Bulgaria, it's kind of like being thrown to the wolves. But still in a fun way.

Getting a rental car and leaving the airport here is a challenge. You leave the airport and there are two choices for directions, but no signs. Ummm... thanks for that. And even if there were signs, they'd probably be in Cyrillic. And then I get onto a fairly major road, but still no signs that provide any indication as to which direction I'm heading or anything. And of course since everything was rushed I had no maps and the map Hertz gave me only had the downtown core and didn't show the airport. And unlike every Hertz rental in the US where they try to push GPS units on you, Bulgaria doesn't have them. Lovely. Anyway, I somehow made it onto the highway I wanted, and despite not really getting the road signs, I did the 3 hour drive to Sliven without too much incident (arriving at 10PM, 4 hours later than planned thanks to snow in London).

Sliven, it turns out, is a very nice city of ~100,000. My hotel is I think the nicest hotel in town and right in the central district on a park and pedestrian street. Lots of shops, cafes, outdoor restaurants, etc. And a very cheap place to get my US cell phone unlocked and a new battery for my old cell, which has a Bulgarian SIM in it (it's free to call me, but costs to for me to make calls, so ask for my number if you want to call). Here's my first Sliven photo taken from my hotel window...

The work has been slow, but also what I was expecting. In 4 days, we've accomplished 4 meters of hole. Everything from the driller (my subcontractor) showing up with a drill rig & crew that they has been in turn subcontracted (subcontractor to the subcontractor). And then they don't have the right equipment, and then this breaks and then that and.... well, let's just say we're working the weekend and it's 11AM and I'm doing a blog in my hotel because we're waiting for a part... The work was supposed to be 5 holes up to 25 meter each to do geotech properties and sample collection, but rock is very shallow and most holes look like they'll just be a few meters. Anyway... here are a few photos of the crazy looking Russian drill rig, the hired band of Gypsies (that show up in their horse drawn cart) digging a mud pit and some random rock / soil photos:

I had an interpretor for the first 5 days, but now I'm on my own. Was kind of nice having someone to hang out with while we did nothing. Milkana knew some neat little towns with little restaurants up in the mountain villages and we had a few 3 hour lunches and such. I really wish I had taken my camera for some of these places as they were incredibly quaint. Life is rough... but now I'm sort of working.

Work will go for at least another week. I'm hoping to be done by next weekend and I don't fly out till the following Wednesday or Thursday. Which will give some time to go to the Black Sea? Turkey? Greece? Bucharest? Serbia? Maybe a road trip to all of them? Will all depend on when the work finishes and how burnt out I feel. And on the 23rd or 24th I fly to Bangkok to catch up with Michelle on the 26th and head down to Ben's wedding in Phuket. Then back to London on May 12 I think, but that's still weeks away. Anyway, that's what I'm up to... Hope all are well everywhere!