Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Expat Life: MsCaroline Is Tired

MsCaroline may be tired, but the dog is full of vim and vigor.

When MsCaroline last posted, the AsiaVu family had just added a new puppy to the family and the wild rumpus that is puppy-raising was just getting underway.

The puppy, who was not quite 9 weeks old and extremely small (under a kilo/about 1.8lbs) was doing a lot of this:

and this:

That is to say, she was mostly sleeping and being adorable, with intermittent pauses for brief, cuddly playtimes, after which she would go back to sleep again.

That part of her life, sad to say, is mostly over, and she has entered her puppy adolescence with a vengeance.

 The jury is still out as to whether she is a French Bulldog or a Boston Terrier- many people who are more knowledgeable than we are have emphatically declared that they are positive she is one or the other, or a combination, which puts us right back where we started.  Whatever she is, her ears - which we were most excited about - have, as promised, come into their own Yoda-like glory:

While she cannot quite destroy things the way our retriever puppies did, she can (and does) process food and water at a tremendous pace, which means that, when she's not in her pen (where she spends her time when MsC is gone for more than 4 hours and can't be shut in her crate), she must be watched like a hawk at.all.times (guess whose job this is 90% of the time?). At 12 weeks, she revealed herself to be an escape artist, which led to us double the height of her pen.  This looked patently ridiculous, especially in view of her relatively small size.  However, having had to spend an afternoon scrubbing away the evidence of her lengthy morning romp through the apartment after scaling the single-height walls of her pen, MsCaroline was taking no chances, and felt no guilt about consigning Ms Houdini to the  Puppy version of SuperMax confinement:

If looks could kill, MsC would be dead.

In this middle of all this canine Sturm und Drang, Son#2 headed off to Mongolia on a school service trip, where he worked in an orphanage for a week.

 While MsC was extremely proud of him for donating his time so generously, she must admit that she was also a bit sorry to see him go, mostly because she likes having him around, but - if we're going to tell the truth here - also because #2 provides excellent dog supervision service, which she missed terribly. MrL pulled his weight when he was around, but MsCaroline will just say that it was a loooong week.   

Oh, and there were the two teenage houseguests from an international school in Shanghai here on an orchestra program for 5 days.  MsCaroline has never had houseguests and a puppy (in an apartment, no less) at the same time before, and found it a bit challenging.  The guests (lovely teenage girls) were extremely gracious about having to climb over gates and pens and occasionally navigating puddles of puppy effluvia to get to their breakfasts in the morning, and were remarkably understanding when the Hound inserted herself into their bedroom and made off with a t-shirt (rescued before anything terrible could happen to it, but still.)

All I am saying is that it has been, at best, a bit challenging.

For those of you who, like MsCaroline, have raised more than a few puppies and thought you knew what you were doing are wondering how raising a puppy in Seoul is different than raising one in suburban North America, MsCaroline is happy to share what she has learned if it helps even one person avoid a similar fate:

  • If you are in an apartment without a garden, it will be necessary to 'paper train' your puppy, especially if she is a very small animal with a bladder the size of a thimble, because there is no way you can put on her sweater, get your shoes and coat on, and run down 4 flights of stairs every time she gets that gleam in her eye (which is about every 20 minutes.)
  • 'paper training' while more convenient in theory, means that you are trying to teach your dog to do her business indoors - but only in a certain spot.  For the dog, this is, at best, confusing, because all the 'spots' seem the same to her, and the fact that paper is on some of them is completely immaterial in her opinion.  Prepare to be frustrated (you, not the puppy.  The puppy will feel just fine.)
  • Getting a puppy used to a crate or pen back home means shutting the door and going downstairs or out of earshot while she squawks and screetches her disapproval.  In an apartment, it means putting in your earbuds and turning your iPod up as high as it will go, while hoping the neighbors do not start complaining. (Note:  You will still be able to hear her shrieking anyway.)
  • 'playtime' in an apartment means chasing a ball through the living room, not the backyard.  It also means constant vigilance for the aforementioned gleam in her eye, since she can't just stop what she's doing and take a break in the grass.
  • taking your puppy for a walk does not mean (as it would in your grassy suburb in the USA) strolling down the sidewalk past grass, yards, gardens, and parks, and woods.  It means cars zooming by (and trying to keep the puppy from being terrified by them by distracting her with conversation and treats), cigarette butts galore (the puppy will try to eat them) lots of people walking past ( the puppy will try to follow them home) an occasional tree surrounded by a plastic grid (the puppy will sniff this excitedly and then pee on the sidewalk), and lots and lots of asphalt. 
  • Walking your very small puppy on city streets in Seoul means you will worry a lot about your dog possibly falling through grates (the openings of which are far bigger than her feet) and breaking her little legs.  The dog will be blissfully unaware of the potential dangers and do her best to approach each and every grate at top speed.

There are probably many other Life Lessons that MsCaroline could share with you, but she has to go put on her coat, hat, gloves, scarf, and Uggs so she can walk her dog.

Oh, and she has to put clothes on the dog, too. Because the temperature has decided to drop down to the low 30s.  In mid-November.  Which adds another layer of fun to the whole operation.

The dog will contribute to the general pleasure of this activity by wriggling violently and trying to eat her sweater, harness, and leash whilst you try to put them on her.

One of you will be swearing by the time it is all over.

I am still wrapping my head around the concept of a dog that needs to wear clothes (something I swore I would never have - until I observed the dog shivering uncontrollably..sigh)  and have days where I deeply regret not getting a cat, but we are - slowly - coming to understand one another.

As I type this, though, she's gnawing on the bottom of my dining room sideboard.

Time to go.

How's this for an attitude?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Expat Life: Puppy Love

For those of you who might have been concerned that my unusually-long silence was a direct result of revelations about my father's occupation in my most recent post, let me set your mind at rest.  I have not been spirited away to an unknown location by suspicious-looking characters in dark suits due to compromising national security or revealing state secrets - yet (although, one presumes that, if this were going to happen, it would have happened by now.)

Anyway, the point is, all is well at chez Asia Vu.

It is just that, 10 days ago, we added this to our household:

And, as those of you who have ever raised a puppy will understand, I've been a bit busy.

Long-time readers already know that we are a very doggy family, and that we already have one canine family member - the third in a series - the Yellow Dog, who has been living a life of coddled luxury far nicer than he ever enjoyed with us with my cousin in Canada while we are overseas.  The reason for this is that the Yellow Dog is quite large, and we knew it would be nearly impossible for us to find an apartment with enough space (not to mention a garden) for him to live comfortably with us in Seoul, where grass is at a premium and many (most?) apartments do not allow larger pets.

When we moved here almost 2.5 years ago, we planned to be moving back to the US in June 2013, which - obviously - did not happen.  After 2 miserably dogless years, we moved in June to a new apartment that - hallelujah! - allowed small pets, and began searching for an addition to the family.  Requirements were:  something small that would fit within the guidelines and be happy living in an apartment with minimal access to an outdoors.

We decided that, although we are most decidedly dog people, we desperately needed a furry companion, and that the most sensible thing to do would be to get a cat, which would provide the animal companionship we so desperately missed but would be more suited to our present urban lifestyle.

MrL and I went to the animal shelter and interviewed several likely feline prospects, but neither of us felt the love, so to speak.

We decided to go back on the weekend with #2 in tow and look again.

Which is, of course, why we came home with a dog.

Having only ever had large dogs (38 kg/85 lbs and larger) we are still learning how to deal with a dog roughly the size of a guinea pig ( and unlikely to get much bigger than a hedgehog,) which has presented certain challenges.

We are also remembering what it is like to raise a puppy, which also presents certain challenges, mostly for me, the primary caregiver person who is with her the majority of the time.  Broken sleep,rushing back from outings to let the dog out, lots of chewing and (in this case) trying to keep her from getting stuck under the furniture have been the order of the day for at least 10 days now.

Just like with an infant, I look forward to her naps.

On the plus side, my floors have never been so clean, due to frequent post-accident cleanup (she seems to be getting the idea, but very slowly.)

The man we got her from indicated she was a French bulldog, but we are fairly certain she is a mix of several things (mostly tiny things, since Seoulites, with their space limitations, love small dogs,) including Boston Terrier.

Whatever she is, she sports a wrinkly muzzle, flat nose, slightly protruding eyes, and ears that will stand erect on her head sometime in the next month or so.

In a nod to the supposed French connection, we stuck with the theme we started with the Yellow Dog, who is named after one of our favorite beers, when we named her:


We're working on broken sleep, spending a lot of time puppy-proofing and moving deadly things out of the way, and generally focusing on the task of helping her to grow up into a good canine citizen. There are chew toys, treats, 'puppy pads,' a carrier, a crate, a miniscule harness and leash, and various other accoutrements of the urban canine scattered all over our house, and things are more than a bit chaotic.

There's a dog in the house again, and all's right with the world.

Merlot with Merlot

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cambodia: Things My Mother Never Told Me

MsCaroline's father, ca 1971, probably in Bangkok
(Note:  This post, while technically not a part of MsCaroline's Cambodia trip reviews, does actually relate to Cambodia.  Our regularly-scheduled temple travelogue will resume shortly.)

When MsCaroline started this blog back in April 2011, one of her intentions (among many) was to explore the experience of being an expatriate adult many years after having grown up as an expatriate child. Most of the time, it doesn't seem to have much bearing on her daily life, but every once in a while MsC is reminded of her unorthodox upbringing by something as simple as a routine conversation with her mother. The one she is referring to took place not long after her return from Cambodia, when she called to chat about her trip.

Most of the time, when MsC has traveled, she has compared notes with her mother, who traveled quite a bit during the time she lived in Asia and has fond memories of her travels.  However, this call was significantly different and served to remind MsC that, expat or no, there are some aspects of her childhood that are so odd that they simply cannot be categorized.

(Note:  For background purposes, it is necessary for readers to know that MsC's late father was one of many intelligence specialists and linguists sent to Asia by the US government during the Cold War in the 60s and 70s.  He was a specialist in Sino-Soviet relations and a Chinese linguist, in addition to being a really tremendous human being who left this world far too soon. It should also be noted that his work involved a certain amount of covert and/or unorthodox activity;  MsCaroline was not even aware of what he really did for a living until she was nearly in her teens. MsCaroline's mother, of course, had to be enormously flexible, given that her husband disappeared on occasion or went by another name (they were very happily married for 34 years.) It is to be hoped that all of this now-unclassified information is too old to be of use to any Bad Guys, but if MsCaroline -or her blog - suddenly disappear, you will all know why.)

 MsC imagines a 'normal' post-Cambodia conversation between an expatriate daughter and her mother to follow one of the following two general trajectories:

Option 1:
Daughter:  Yes, Angkor Wat was fabulous! What an experience!
Mother:  Yes, we enjoyed it.  Of course, it's probably changed since we were there.  We did that at the same time as our trip to Laos.  Did you go to the Floating Village too?

Option 2:
Daughter:  Yes, Angkor Wat was fabulous! What an experience!
Mother:  Wow, it sounds fantastic. It's really been amazing, all the traveling you've been able to do since moving overseas.

Naturally, this is not at all how the conversation between MsC and her mother went down during their weekly Skype session:

Option 3:
MsC:  Yes, Angkor Wat was fabulous! What an experience!
MsCaroline's Mum:  Well,, it all sounds like it was a wonderful trip.  We really enjoyed all the FaceBook photos.
MsC:  Did you and Dad ever go to Cambodia?
MCM:  (pondering)  No, I never went there -of course...(as an afterthought)...  Daddy did, you know.
MsC: (with interest) He did? Did he go to Angkor Wat?
MCM:  (musing) No.  Well, I mean, not that I know of.  He went with someone from work, I think...
MsC:  (rolling her eyes) Oh. A work trip.
MCM: (warming to the topic) Now wait.  Yes, that was the trip where he came home with that huge hole in the seat of his pants!
MsC:  What? Why?
MCM:  Well, he and the guy from work had to slide down the side of a mountain.
MsC:  What? Why?
MCM:  (trying to remember) Well, they were trying to get away pretty fast...and, of course, he'd spent the night in jail, and-
MsC:  WHAT? Dad spent the night in a Cambodian jail?
MCM:  (dismissively) Oh, they got him out, of course..(vaguely)...they got him some other papers or something...
MsC:  (Flabbergasted ) Wait.  So Dad spent the night in a Cambodian jail and they got him out with forged 'papers' and then he tore the seat out of his pants sliding down a mountain trying to get away from the police or militia or someone?
MCM:  (laughing and shaking her head) He showed up at home with his jacket tied around his waist, and he was laughing so hard, he couldn't even talk.  (reminiscently) Oh, we laughed for years about that...
MsC: (slightly impatiently) Yes, the hole in the pants must have been funny.  But what about the jail? And what if they'd shot him or something? Did you even know where he was?
MCM:  (dismissively) Oh, I don't remember all the details, and besides, he probably couldn't tell me most of them anyway.  And he had that other identity, you know.  So he didn't have to stay in the jail that long.  But that hole in his pants...

And MsC still doesn't know whether or not her father ever went to Angkor Wat.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chuseok 2013 in Cambodia: On to Bayon

Approaching one of the gates - first glimpse of the giant heads

 Note:  This is the fourth in a series of posts about the Asia Vu family trip to Cambodia.  For previous posts, you can click here,here, or here.  

After lunch, there was only one major temple left on the day's roster, and, to be honest, everyone was pretty happy about it.  Make no mistake:  MsCaroline was well aware of her good fortune in being able to experience such an awesome display of bygone architecture, but 5 hours of schlepping through crumbling temples with 95% of humanity in the mud and rain had left her bitter and defeated slightly tired.

So everyone was pretty happy when they pulled up on the road in front of the imposing gates of Angkor Thom.  (As mentioned earlier, Angkor Thom was established as a 'new' capitol city under King Jayavarman VII, and contains several temples of its own.)

Bayon is one of the most well-recognized temples because of the giant heads that one finds all over it, and they are extremely impressive.  The gateway leading into the Angkor Thom complex is, in fact,  your introduction to what will be a series of giant heads.

Pretty striking resemblance to Jayavarman VII, don't you think? 

According to the guide, the visages all over Bayon - which were theoretically supposed to be representations of Buddha - bear a striking resemblance to King Jayavarman VII (the ruler who commissioned the temples..see where this is going?) which reminded MsCaroline that kings the world over - be they European or Asian - have quite a bit in common when it comes to getting themselves immortalized through art.

Jayavarman VII via

The guide also remarked upon the fact that, while Bayon was originally built as a Buddhist temple, it came under the later rule of both Hindu and other types of Buddhist rulers, who  - instead of tearing the temple down - simply changed the deities' names.  Thus it was that all the statues that had been referred to as 'Buddha' would then, subsequently, be understood to be representing Vishnu and then, later, Buddha again.  The guide pointed out that, in many temples, statues would be destroyed or defaced by later worshipers.  However, it appears that Bayon - due to its sheer massiveness, one supposes - was left more or less alone and the general idea was that everyone had better know to which deity they were praying.

Either Buddha or Vishnu, depending on who you ask

Since Bayon (along with the two previously-visited temples) is one of the most popular sights in Angkor, the Asia Vus were, by now, not surprised in the least to find a sea of umbrellas bobbing ahead of them as they walked into the temple complex.

The sheer number of tourists - and their umbrellas - made it a bit challenging to get some of the more iconic shots that it is obligatory for every tourist to take when at Bayon, and there were several times when the Asia Vus had to queue for a bit to get their opportunity.  This was, of course, complicated by the numerous passers-through who had already gotten their pictures and were moving on to the next spot by going through your spot, and so on, as well as the throngs of Chinese tourists who did not really understand the whole queuing concept and had an unnerving tendency to jump in whenever they found a space.

However, MsCaroline and co. are nothing if not intrepid, and they persevered, following their guide doggedly through the ruins and ignoring the crowds and the rain:

The guide, explaining something about the temple that was interesting at the time but which MsC has long forgotten.

One of many Buddhas found throughout the temple, freshly garbed and with flowers and incense placed before him by the faithful.

Eventually, after a certain amount of persistence, the Asia Vus were able to take what they believed to be very clever shots suggested by their guide and which actually turned out to be suggested by all the guides and taken by most of the tourists:
MrL rubs noses with Vishnu (or Buddha)
Obligatory family photo in front of the heads

Eventually, though, the crowds returned to their buses, and the Asia Vus were able to snap a few shots in relative peace before the next busload arrived:
In many places, ongoing structural work was visible.

When one is wandering around Bayon, one doesn't think much about what the ruins look like on the outside, but passing the moat on the way out, the hulking ruins looked gloomy and sad, despite the benign countenances of the many faces.  The effect was certainly heightened by the grey weather and the drizzle:

For some reason,although it was far from being either the oldest temple or the one in worst condition, Bayon struck MsCaroline as being the saddest and most forlorn - looking - giant smiling heads notwithstanding.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chuseok 2013 in Cambodia: The Temples of Angkor

If MsCaroline were the scrapbooking type, she would be doing so many creative things with this.  But she's not.

So, dear readers, at long last we come to the reason for MsCaroline's journey to Cambodia:  Angkor Wat.  Or, more correctly, the temples of Angkor.  If you have slogged patiently through all of MsCaroline's nattering about shopping, eating, sleeping, crocodiles, and MrL's delusions of grandeur harmless maharaja game all because you just want to see the photos, then the time is at hand and your patience shall be rewarded - at last.

Angkor Wat.  Finally.

But first, a few notes about Angkor Wat (Ha! Killing you, isn't it?)

Note:  If you have already been to Angkor Wat, you probably already know this and should just jump to the end, since it's likely you have all the same photos that MsCaroline does.  But if you have not been to Angkor Wat and would like to learn more, or if you have been there and are a masochist would simply like to refresh your memory, read on.

Angkor vs. Angkor Wat:  While most of us can agree that Angkor Wat is pretty amazing, few of us (count MsC among them until last week) know much else about it, which seems sort of odd when so many people (like MsCaroline) have it on their bucket list.  What MsCaroline knew - that you probably do, too - is that Angkor Wat (the structure pictured above) is a really cool old enormous temple finished sometime in the 12th century in Cambodia, and (maybe) that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Given that there are UNESCO World Heritage Sites all over the world, many of them older than Angkor Wat, and that MsC's knowledge about most of them is minimal, MsCaroline is not sure why she was initially so keen to visit Angkor Wat as opposed to, say, the Monastery of Geghard (which, is, as we all know,a UNESCO site in Armenia) - because her level of knowledge about both of them was roughly the same:  nonexistent.  In any case, once she got to Angkor, she realized that - no matter how fabulous that Armenian monastery might be, it would probably be impossible to come up with something more awe-inspiring than Angkor Wat - even in the rain.
Walking across the moat bridge that leads to Angkor Wat.  The bridge is presently being restored.

The point is, what MsC knew about Angkor Wat was, at best, minimal.  However, now that she has been dragged through more temples than she can remember educated, she is ready and willing to pass on her newly-gained information to you, loyal readers.  She will do you the favor, though, of providing you with the Cliff's Notes highly-condensed version in a few succinct bullet points (MsC loves bullet points.)

Angkor Wat:  A Very Brief Primer:

  • A wat is a temple. Angkor means 'capitol city' - it was the former capitol of the Khmer (Cambodian) empire.  Therefore, Angkor Wat is the 'City (or Capitol City) Temple' or (if one wants to be more dramatic, the 'Temple of the Capitol City'.)  It served as the state temple for King Suryavarman the Second, who caused it to be built in around 1124, and also had many other temples built as well.
  • There are many, many temples in and around Angkor, although the best known, largest, and best-preserved one is Angkor Wat.   'Angkor' itself is now a National Park, no longer a city, although people do still live on park grounds, and one sees houses and shops along the roads as one travels from temple to temple within Angkor.  As mentioned earlier, the closest modern city is Siem Reap, about a  5-10 minute drive away. Some of the other well-known temples in Angkor were built by Suryavarman's successor, Jayavarman the 7th, a devout Buddhist, including the famous temple of Bayon.
  • Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu temple;  over the years, it gradually became a Buddhist temple and monastery as the general population converted to Buddhism.  Unlike many of the temples in the Angkor complex, it has been used more or less continuously since its construction, and is still considered to be a sacred place of worship.  Regular use, as well as the fact that Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat (which protected it somewhat from the encroaching jungle) is part of what kept this temple in relatively good shape compared to others of similar age. Angkor Wat has a monastery on its grounds, which was very busy the day we were there, as it was the first day of the 15-day Pchum Ben holiday period (more on this later.)
Angkor Wat:  The biggest and the best.  Less charming (one imagines) in the rain, but verdantly green and (according to our guide) not really very crowded.  The temple itself is an enormous, sprawling complex surrounded by a moat and outer walls, sort of like a medieval city. Within the walls are countless towers, turrets, hallways, niches, nooks, and crannies.  Many parts of the temple are under active restoration.  

One of two libraries flanking the main temple complex

Looking across the grounds toward the front of the temple

The highest and most holy part of the temple was closed due to rain.  The stairs - already treacherous - were judged too dangerous to be climbed.

That's how steep they were.  That steep.

Our guide told us that, as it was a Hindu temple, a yogi was carved at the base of every column in the temple.

Apsara dancers were performing in the courtyard and available for photo ops with tourists, like this one.
Traditional Apsara dancer, one of millions of finely-wrought carvings

Throughout the temples, religious and historical records were carved in Khmer and Sanskrit on the columns.  Our guide read some of them to us.  Notice the top of the head of the yogi directly below.
The Naga, a mythological snake/deity found in both Hinduism and Buddhism, symbolizes many different things that would take MsC too long to discuss, mostly good.  Nagas of all sizes are found throughout the temple complexes, and the Asia Vus got quite good at Naga-spotting.  This one (of a pair) at the entrance to the walkway, is a reproduction, made by (you guessed it) Artisans d'Angkor

Please do not sit on the Naga or any parts thereof
Our intrepid photographer, trying desperately to keep his camera dry.

One of many Buddhas found throughout the temple.  Most that have heads are reproductions, as many of the original heads had been removed from statues by early explorers or enterprising locals who sold them as souvenirs.  There are numerous headless statues throughout the temples.

Brief dry period - just long enough for the ubiquitous family photo.  
Ta Prohm:  Having seen Angkor Wat, the next stop was Ta Prohm, known to most of the world as the 'Tomb Raider Temple' made famous by the Angelina Jolie movie.  Unlike Angkor, Ta Prohm is overgrown with trees, vines, and foliage.  Huge blocks of stone have been pushed and tumbled over the years; giant tree roots run for meters along walls.  One sees sky and trees through gaping holes where walls have crumbled, and everything is covered with a patina of moss and lichen.  It is extremely Indiana Jones-ish and undoubtedly the 2nd most famous temple in Angkor.  It is actually located in part of the Angkor park known as Angkor Thom, which was an alternate capitol built by King Jaravarman IV when he came to power.

The Asia Vu's guide took them in, instead of the more commonly used front entrance, via the back way, down a jungle path:

This may have been telling people not to enter.  Fortunately, no one read Khmer, so it was not an issue.

Down the mud path into the jungle to Ta Prohm

This little girl selling postcards accosted MrL as he got out of his car and followed him all the way through the jungle and into this back entrance of the temple trying to get him to buy postcards.  She was waiting for him when he returned to the car.
 Since they had come in through the back of the temple complex with their guide, the Asia Vus had a few peaceful moments exploring in blissful solitude until the next swarm of tourists appeared.


Some of the tree roots were so huge that they had become part of the building and couldn't be removed without causing more damage.  
 While it is true that the temple was not particularly crowded in the rain, it was also true that one needed more space than usual in order to maneuver around everyone else's umbrellas.
One of numerous Chinese tour groups we encountered during our visit.  

#2 working his way through the rubble

Another break in the rain, another family photo.

After slogging through the mud back to the car, MsCaroline and co. agreed that a midday break was in order.  Their guide took them to a nearby restaurant which served excellent amok, as well as several more exotic dishes.
No, we did not try any of this.

Once refreshed, they were ready to face enjoy the last temple of the day:  Bayon.