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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dublin, Ireland

Mom, Dad, and I left Thanksgiving Day for Dublin. It was their first time in Ireland. We landed early in the morning, and got to the hotel by 8:00 am. The hotel was the Central Hotel, near the Temple Bar area of Dublin.

As I suspected, we were not able to check in so early. We checked our bags as we were told to come back at noon to see if a room was ready. In the meantime, we walked down Exchequer Street to Grafton Street, home of Dublin's finest shopping. The Christmas lights were on, and even though it was 8:00 am, the sun was not up yet.



We saw the statue of Molly Malone, then headed down Grafton to St. Stephen's Green Shopping Center, where mom did some "Black Friday" shopping.



On the Green:



Afterwards, we walked back up Grafton to Trinity College, where I finally saw the Book of Kells--something I had been wanting to do for a long time. The Book of Kells dates back to 800 A.D. Celtic monks made elaborate illustrations of the Four Gospels. The Trinity College Library displays two Gospels at a time-- one to show the art, and the other to show the text. The art page displayed was an illustration of St. John, while the text displayed was the geneaology of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. Unfortunately, I couldn't take pictures inside, but I did get this picture outside:



Other scenes from Trinity College:





After a full cold morning, we finally checked into our hotel. The good news was we were able to get in at noon. The bad news was the hotel turns off the heat in the rooms for part of the day! As mama said, they didn't believe in heat or lights. (There were only a few table lamps in the room.)

After attempting to eat lunch at The Stag's Head, we moved down the street to The Bankers as the Stag's Head was out of Fish & Chips. The Bankers turned out to be a great choice, however.

The family at The Bankers (16 Trinity Street):



And our lunch:



After lunch, we walked to the Dublin Castle, then St. James Gate and the Guinness Storehouse, where I learned how to make the perfect pour.



That night, we walked around the city checking out the pubs and looking for a place to eat. In the end, we settled on a bottle of wine and take out pizza from Apache Pizza -- not bad.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bangkok


On Sunday, I spent the day enjoying Bangkok. After a great breakfast at the Intercontinental, we headed to the Grand Palace. Some scenes from the Grand Palace:










After the Grand Palace, we went to Wat Pho, where we saw the famous Reclining Buddha.



To get to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, we took the SkyTrain from our hotel to Saphan Taksin Station, and rode the river taxi up the Chao Phraya river. There were some great views from the river taxi as well:





Saturday, November 21, 2009

Floating Market in Ratchaburi, Thailand

On Saturday, November 21, we visited the Floating Market in Ratchaburi, Thailand. We traveled for an hour and fifteen minutes from Bangkok, along the way passing the memorial to the original "Siamese Twins," Chang and Eng Bunker, and also crossed over the River Kwai.

We arrived at a place where we took boats on the canals to the floating market. The boat ride there was a highlight of the trip!





We saw some great sights along the way:





When we got to the floating market, the sights were equally as interesting:


I bought some fruit at the floating market, but also bought one of my all time favorite desserts: mango and sticky rice.



Friday, November 20, 2009

Thailand Habitat Build

Above: The Build Site (early on in the week)

Above: Foosh and I building (Photo by Ching-Fong Hsieh)

Today was the final day of our Delta Habitat Build, and it was by far the most emotional of the week. We started the day a bit earlier than usual, both to ensure everything was set for our morning photo opportunity with President and Mrs. Carter, and to make sure we finished everything we needed to complete before starting our journey home.

As we wrapped up our work, we readied the new home for its dedication, placing streamers and balloons on the windows and doors. Finally, we gathered in front of the house, by the newly planted flowers and shrubs, circling up beside the homeowners with whom we have worked side by side all week.

Above: The Dedication Ceremony (Photo by Casey Wang)
Many emotions ran through me as we began the dedication. In just a few short but hot days, the homeowner and his wife have become special to me. Even though I can say only a few words and phrases in Thai, we’ve managed to communicate with one another and somehow form a bond. Today, they were no longer just “the homeowners.” They are real people—Kumbao and Khampa-- who have let us into their lives, just for a little while.



As they thank us through a translator for the work we’ve done in providing this new home, they also tell us how much they appreciate the dinner we invited them to share the evening before at Deck 1 on the river. Kumbao thanks us for the nice meal, a meal that costs more than he makes in a day, and reminds us that he may never experience such a dinner again.

(Photo by Ching-Fong Hsieh)

(Photo by Ching-Fong Hsieh)


Kumbao begins to choke up as he tells expresses his gratitude for his new home, and his eyes are not the only ones with tears.

While we present them with the keys to the house and some gifts for their home with money we’ve collected amongst ourselves, I realize they have managed to give so much more than what I’ve given them. I am more appreciative of all the privileges I have, and the many meals I have taken for granted. I now have new Delta friends from all over the company, friends who have shared this incredible experience of building a house from the ground up, placing bricks, pouring mortar and hanging roof tiles. And I know I have a place to stay in Chiang Mai, with an open invitation from Kumbao and Khampa.

It has been an incredible week that can hardly be described in words. To Delta and all of the Delta volunteers, to Habitat for Humanity, and especially to Kumbao and Khampa, all I can say is, “Khob khun krub!—Thank you!”

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chiang Mai, Thailand


On November 15, I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project for Habitat for Humanity. As I arrived, I was greeted with a lei of jasmine and young Thais playing drums. I had flown with 65 other Delta volunteers, arriving in the morning from Bangkok. (Arriving in Bangkok from Atlanta took 24 hours the day before -- a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo, and then a flight from Tokyo to Bangkok.)

After checking into the hotel, The Lotus, we had a not so quick lunch and headed to the elephant reserve I had visited last August. This time, I didn't ride the elephants, but I had a good time playing with them and feeding them bananas and sugar cane. They got me quite dirty.



Here's the cutest elephant, a baby of just three years of age:



We left the elephant reserve to go to the opening ceremonies of the Carter build, which included traditional dances, music, an open market with lots of great food, and of courses, a speech by Jimmy Carter. It was held at the Royal Flora Ratchaphurek, a beautiful garden and festival ground built to honor the King, King Bhumibol, the world's longest serving monarch. Over 3,000 people were in attendance to kick off the build week, where volunteers would build 82 houses in Chiang Mai for Habitat for Humanity.

The sky had opened up as we arrived, but began to clear up quickly.



The food in the open market:


Above, rice pancakes. They are sweet and delicious! The last time I had them for breakfast at the hotel in the mornings, but this time they were only at this festival and in other outdoor markets.
The guy above was frying vegetables and even flowers, then serving them in a savory and spicy sauce. I went back several times!




After the market, we went to our seats for the dinner and the opening ceremony, which included Jimmy Carter's speech. He sat a few tables away from us, and stopped briefly to say hello when he passed by.



Carter with me in the background as he walked through:


Carter on stage giving his speech:

Friday, November 06, 2009

Pigeon Forge, TN

Since I will be spending my birthday in Thailand, the guys decided to celebrate my birthday this weekend in Pigeon Forge. I got to our cabin on Thursday night. It is a beautiful three story cabin with two hot tubs and gorgeous views. Here's the view I had when I awoke on Friday morning.


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