All posts by iamthebunda

Flashback: Haleakala Sunrise & Bike Tour

Now that Facebook has just about killed off Throwback Thursday (aka #tbt) by encouraging us to repost memories any day of the week, we’ve decided to simply go with the flow. 

A year ago yesterday, the #SeattleBundas went to the top of the Haleakala volcano in Mau’i, Hawaii. As cool as that experience was in and of itself, it was the coming back down part that made this a memory of a lifetime. 

Check out this vid and let us know what you think!

Quick Update

Guess who’s back? Back again…

It’s been just a hair under 6 months since any of the #SeattleBundas have posted here. Life keeps happening and the “somedays” keep coming, but I find it very difficult to sit down and write with any sort of consistent passion. That said, I have resolved to get us all back on the horse again. In some crazy way, capturing our experiences–the good, the bad, the ugly–is one of the ways that I can show my gratitude for the life we’ve been living these past 2+ years.

As of the last post, we were touring the streets of Old Delhi and had NO CLUE what the next few weeks traveling around Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan would bring. I think I’ll sit down with my daughter soon so we can start piecing together all of our pics and vids. So much amazing footage!

Riding camels in the Tar Desert. Somewhere outside of Jaisalmer.

We also had a few surreal days in Dubai on the way back to States. The contrast between the UAE and India are downright startling. Sadly, there are no blogs or vlogs to show for that time either.

Poolside cabana at our posh hotel on The Palm in Dubai. It’s a hard knock life.

If you’re really interested you can scroll down way down in my instagram feed off of the home page and you’ll get a taste of what we experienced.

So what’s up next?

Yesterday, we just performed a soft-launch of the Someday Let’s Visit page on Facebook. I’ll call it what it is: an experiment. Starting with this blog, we’ll be posting content from somedayletsvisit.com, as well as our other social media accounts. We’re in the very early stages and pretty much making it up as go along. Therefore, I hope you’ll indulge me when I say that I consider it a huge win that we created a logo today. Baby steps!

S(omeday) L(et’s) V(isit) + the World = Simple Logo

More to come in the very near future–including pics/vids/blogs from our current vacation here in Florida and the Bahamas–so please be sure to FOLLOW here and LIKE on FB if you’re at all interested in keeping up-to-date. We’ll also be inviting others to share their “somedays” as well, so please reach out if you’re at all interested.

Thanks!

On the Road Again…

Guten Tag from Bad Blankenburg, Germany!

If you are friend and/or have been following this blog for a bit, you know by now that we #SeattleBundas are off on yet another adventure. This one in particular has been a long time coming, so please allow me to get you up to speed.

U.S. Re-Entry: Last October, we returned to Seattle with the intention of being home through the Spring. We wanted to be home through the holidays, as well as be around a couple newborns in the family–including our nephew, Anders, and our hanai niece, Katy Rae. Therefore, we agreed not to make any new plans until then.



It’s No Fun Being an (Illegal) Alien – Being back home was bittersweet for me. Despite the many comforts of home (fast/consistent internet access, any kind of food available to me at a moment’s notice, a HUGE  and comfortable house by much of the world’s standards) and the company of our dear friends and family (weekly Seahawks/GoT/whatever parties, lunch/coffee appointments, our church), I still felt like an alien that was trying unsuccessfully to “wear” the life that I’d previously lived less than a year earlier. The thought of returning to work in Corporate America and filling up the rest of our lives with the busy-ness that plagues so many made me physically ill at times. Nonetheless, since we knew that we were staying put for at least 6 months, it made sense to suck it up and try to get my head back in the game.

Living an “Uncommon” Life – The experiences we had during our family sabbatical were so rich, so transformational, that they forced us to rethink how we might be called to live our lives moving forward. Could the SAFE framework that we used for the sabbatical (read more here) actually become our new normal, as opposed to something that applied only for a specific season in our life? Could we keep traveling and immersing ourselves in cross-cultural experiences? Could we keep finding opportunities to serve others both locally and abroad? Could we satisfy our thirst for adventure and fun? Could we keep learning? Could we figure out a way for me to work 9 months of the year so that we could devote the other 3 months to SAFE experiences abroad? While I’m still not 100% certain how well or how long this will work, we’ve already taken a number of steps to try and make this concept, this dream, a reality. So far, so thankful.

So here we are now: 10 months after our last BIG adventure, doing our part to help serve one small pocket of the 65.3 million people around the world whom are considered refugees. These people have been forced to flee home countries like Eritrea, Syria, and Afghanistan due to persecution related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. They have landed in a small German town called Bad Blankenburg–following dreams of a better life, but facing the reality of language barriers, limited job prospects, and cultural persecution from locals who fear those who are so “different.”

“S” is for Service – We’re working with an International non-profit called, Youth With a Mission (YWAM). This is the same group with which Laura and I worked when we first met over 20 years ago. We’ve only been here a few days, but we’re working quickly to figure how to best use our skills and experience to make an impact. Laura has already stepped up to teach English 3x/week. Meanwhile, I am working on documenting the various programs happening here with the aim of helping the teams to streamline, prioritize their efforts, load-balance, then mobilize their limited people and financial resources. Finally, Trey and Kamaile are helping with a local second-hand clothes boutique, as well as children’s outreach programs.

I have feeling we’re just scratching the surface of the “what” and the “why” for our family in this latest adventure. We’ll do our best to keep you all posted. In the meantime, thanks for your prayers and, if nothing else, for supporting us in this ongoing journey.

Thank You, Friends from Abroad in 2015

Starting off 2016 by giving a shout out to the friends (old and new) whom we met abroad in 2015. You shared meals; you shared your homes; and, some of you allowed us to become a significant part of your lives for a season. ALL of you gave selflessly to help enrich our #SeattleBundas Family Sabbatical.

どうもありがとう, Terimah kasih, ขอบคุณครับ, ຂອບໃຈ, cảm ơn bạn, អរគុណ, Danke schön, Merci beaucoup, Grazie, Hvala, Teşekkür ederim, ευχαριστώ, and

THANK YOU.

Week in Review: Planes, Trains, and Autotopia

7 days into our 2-month Europe trip & what a blur it has been! Hence, the cover pic (see what I did there?).

If what we’ve experienced, thus far, is any indication of what’s to come, then finding adequate time to provide regular, ongoing updates will be a quite a challenge. Therefore, I’ve decided to try and provide a weekly write-up during this time to give everyone slices of the #SeattleBundas life on the road that complement the myriad Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts currently provide. As always, feedback is welcome. 

Monday – Travel Day (Seattle to Frankfurt). We spent the morning doing last-minute packing adjustments, which is tougher than you might think when committed to One-Bag travel. We also finished cleaning the house, changing the linens, etc., just in case family/friends need a place to crash while we’re abroad.  •  At airport check-in, I expecting a bit of a fight as our assigned seats–for which we paid extra to reserve–were mysteriously changed the night before. To my relief, the Lead Agent happened to be looking over the shoulder of the Agent helping us and fixed things before I even had the opportunity to inquire.  •  The 10.5-hour flight  from Seattle to Frankfurt was long, but not too terrible. Condor Air served us a ton of food, so that was a plus. My seat mate was a large (as in big and muscular) Polish man. Initially, I was irritated that he seemed to take over 25% of my space. 3 hours in, however, and I felt bad that he was having so much more trouble getting comfortable in his seat. 

 

30 seconds before boarding our SEA to FRA trip
 

Tuesday – We arrived on Tuesday afternoon and breezed through Immigration. The officer remarked how much he’d have to work to pay for such a long holiday. I told him that I’m certain I’ll be paying for it (in some way) for a while as well.  •  We took a short walk from the airport terminal to airport train station, then waited in line to activate our Eurail Global Passes. Our transaction was fairly routine, save for a small clerical error that needed sorting. Meanwhile, the scene next to us was quite entertaining. A Vietnamese gentleman was trying to get home via a different train and airport after missing an earlier connection. Meanwhile, his agent hummed the Star Wars Imperial March as he found him an alternate route. What? LOL  •  We took a short train ride from the airport to the main train station in Frankfurt. The station was gorgeous and had me excited for all the other stations that we’d be visiting during this trip. When you live in a city like Seattle, with its woefully inadequate mass transit system, you really appreciate things like this.  •  After a 10-minute walk, we checked into our hotel. The place was unspectacular, but we ended up getting a 2nd room at no cost when the realized that they forgot to account for our 4th guest request. Score! •  That evening, we walked around the surrounding neighborhood and down the the Main River to begin the process of fighting off jetlag. We even found a little playground where the kids could run around a bit.  •  We finished our very long day with schnitzel, schweinhaxe (pork knuckle), and Binding (local Pilsner) at a nearby restaurant called Baseler Eck.

 

Frankfurt (Main) Hbf
 
 
Schweinhaxe and Binding for Dinner
 

Wednesday – This was our only full day in Frankfurt, so we were determined to make it a meaningful one. Through the course of our pre-trip research, we kept hearing about how boring Frankfurt was compared with other German cities. In fact, more than a fair share of contributors from travel sites like TripAdvisor and Trippy recommended other cities when talking about Frankfurt. We decided that taking the proverbial road less traveled might be our best bet and hung out with Therese (our guide from the Frankfurt Free Alternative Walking Tour) and 15 other travelers. Therese largely led us away from Frankfurt’s few tourist traps and we learned, among other things, about the city’s efforts to legalize (read: regulate and tax) prostitution and drug use. Needless to say, this required some pre- and post-tour conversations with the kids.  •  At the end of the tour, a handful of us decided to eat lunch together before going off on our separate ways. Our lives are richer for having spent some time with: Therese, the Socio-Cultural Geology student and Part-Time Guide; Sebastian the Hotelier from Switzerland, by way of Eastern Germany; Justin, the Vietnamese-Canadian on a 6-month European hitchhiking tour; and the British trio on holiday from University. Safe travels, guys!

 

At the start of our walking tour. We soon found ourselves in what could be described as Frankfurt’s Red Light District.
 

Our tour group in front of Paul’s Church

 

Römerplatz
 

Thursday – We took the morning train to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (RodT), a medieval Bavarian town that was largely untouched for over half a millennia. On a whim, we decided to take advantage of our rail passes by stopping for a few hours in Wurzburg. We had no clue what to expect, but they Interwebs said that the town should not be missed. Wow! We spent some time visiting the Residenz, a massive and opulent palace built by Bavarian Prince-Bishops. I’d never heard that phrase before, but learned that these guys possessed a combination of secular and spiritual position–effectively giving them absolute power. Ego much?  •  We made our way to RodT a few hours later and were greeted by our first heavy rain of the trip. Nonetheless, the town walls and buildings were stunning. Kamaile leaned over sheepishly saying, “Dad, don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s almost like Disneyland.”  LOL  •  After checking into our hotel near center of the Old Town, we visited a Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum. That place was far too creepy for me, but the rest of the fam seemed to get a kick out of it.  •  Not creepy, however, was going upside down with our dinner–beginning with trying out the local pastry called Schneeballs and ending with dinner at a place called Zur Höll (“To Hell”). Let’s just say that eating the best sausages I’ve ever tried in a building with foundations dating back to the 900s was awesome.  •  After dinner we went on a stroll around the city with The Night Watchman. We heard about this guy from a Rick Steves episode. Corny as they come, but informative and fun! 

 

The Residenz in Wurzburg
 
 
My “road warriors” arriving in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
 

 

Schneeballs!
 

 

The Night Watchman from Rothenburg ob der Tauber
 

Friday – Our train journey to Paris left at 09:00, so we dragged the kids out of bed for a 06:00 walk. We roamed the foggy, nearly-deserted streets and walked atop and 1000 year-old walls. Many Americans do not quite have the same sense of history that most of the world enjoys, so this was a fantastic experience for the whole family.  •  4 different trains over 10.5 hours took us from RodT to Steinach, to Stuttgart, to Strasbourg, then to Marne le Vallee. Just beautiful! That said, I quickly put aside any romantic notions of biking the French countryside; thankful that we were on a comfortable, super fast TGV instead.  •  Side Note: In Strasbourg, we noticed a group of French military with assault rifles and very serious expressions. We later learned that another TGV was the scene of an attempted terrorist massacre. Thank God for the people–especially the 3 American friends–for laying their lives on the line to prevent a full-blown tragedy. 

 

Walking the walls in RodT
 
 
Our Stuttgart to Strasbourg TGV
 

Saturday & Sunday – Consecutive full days at Disneyland Paris and then Walt Disney Studios. I’ll leave it the kids to post a separate blog about our time there. In the meantime, I’ll go ahead and declare now that, for me, Disneyland Paris > Magic Kingdom > Disneyland > Disneyland Tokyo. 

Until next time…Auf Wedersehen & Au Revoir!

Paul

On this day…

On this day in 1996… We were 2 kids getting married in Tacoma with a handful of dreams, very few plans, and even fewer dollars in the bank.

On this day in 1997… We were desperately trying to find an affordable place to live to Kirkland, where Laura would soon be starting college at Northwest.

On this day in 2001… We had just learned that Laura was pregnant with our first child, but had decided to wait a little longer before telling anyone else.

On this day in 2006… We were both feeling super excited and super stressed, while unpacking after moving into our new dream home.

On this day, TODAY… We take off for Europe on the next leg of our #SeattleBundas Family Sabbatical.

There’s no way anyone could’ve predicted the amazing journey that we’ve been on for these last 19 years. I’m so excited about what the next 19 years will bring.

Happy Anniversary, Babe!

Note: This is a copy of today’s Status Update for family/friends on Facebook.

Damn, I’m Grouchy

It’s Wednesday afternoon here in Bandung. Sitting here at our favorite western-style-coffee-donut chain not named Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, neither an Iced Hazelnut Latte nor a Choco Forest J.Cronut (see Wikipedia under “chocolatey, croissanty concoction created by the Devil”) can break my funk. I’m irritable. I’m snapping at Laura and the kids for the dumbest reasons. Frankly, I need to get a grip. 

 

J.Co at Ciwalk
 
What’s the deal?!

It wasn’t the 3-mile walk we just took through back-alleys, a graveyard, and countless stares from the locals. We’re quite used to sticking out like sore thumbs and we’ve really come to love and appreciate the beauty in that which we once considered messy. 

It wasn’t the nasty snarl of moto and mobil (car) traffic. While crossing the street was particularly hairy this afternoon–no doubt due to the many people scrambling in preparation for Lebaran (or Idul Fitri, a major Indonesian holiday)–it was way more fun than stressful. Kamaile even mentioned how much she prefers traffic here over what we experience in Seattle.

It wasn’t the overly persistent street vendor trying to sell me something despite the fact that I had no clue what that something was. I could’ve sworn he said it l was for weed, but that would make zero sense around here. According to this guy that I met while hiking recently, not only is weed illegal, but it’s really hard to get. But I digress…

Heck, it wasn’t even the heat. If you’ve been following this blog for the past few months, you know how much I like to complain about heat, humidity, and my sweat. The high today was 82F with 81% humidity. Funnily enough, I didn’t even mind. 

As I write, I’m suddenly realizing that I’m grouchy because this SE Asia leg of our Family Sabbatical is about to come to a close. 4 sleeps and we head back to the states.

I’m excited to go home and see family and friends. I’m excited to eat decent Mexican food. I’m excited to sleep in my own bed and shower in my bathroom. I’m excited to have people over for BBQs and s’mores by the fire. I’m excited for some of the creature comforts that my comfortable First-World life affords (e.g. Hi-speed WiFi, my huge 4K HDTV, playing Destiny with Trey, etc.). 

On the flip side, I’m sad to leave Waldemar and Rosemarie Kowalski, Pauline, Josie, Friska, Pak Asep, Ibus Assih and Apong, the Street Kids at Stasiun Hall (more in a future blog), and the many other new friends we’ve made during our time here in Bandung… I’m also frustrated that we didn’t make more progress connecting with potential local partners for the Kowalskis.

 

Pak Asep, Pauline, and the #SeattleBundas
 
Finally, I’m a little scared about what happens next. We remain on track to keep this train moving from a financial perspective, so that’s not the issue. We’re still planning on heading to Europe, but in the absence of firm plans or even plane tickets, we’re facing at least a solid month of uncertainty. In the meantime, I will undoubtedly wrestle even more with that voice of doubt that I’ve somehow managed to keep tucked away in far reaches of my mind these past few months: “Are you insane? Shouldn’t you be saving money? You’re throwing away your career! What about your family’s future?”

So, yeah… this is more of a vent than a blog, which at least would have the potential to be valuable to you. Regardless, I’m trusting that if you’ve read this far you can handle it. I’m also trusting that we’ve made and will continue to make the right decisions. For as long as Laura and I have been together, things just have a way of working out. God is good. All the time. 

Keeping it real. 

Indochina Tour: Guided Access

Go and visit. Stay and connect. This is one of the tag lines (or themes) which we’ve used as a family to help guide our journey from the moment we first decided to embark upon our Family Sabbatical. However, going into our recent Indochina Peninsula Tour, we knew that the jam-packed schedue (4 countries, 15 cities in 25 days) would make connecting with locals challenging.

One of the unexpected joys of the tour turned out to be the local guides whom served as our Hosts in their respective cities/regions. They were our Teachers, providing cultural and historical context to the many sights, sounds, and experiences. They were our Guardians, giving expert local advice on how to avoid shady people, places, or situations. Some even let down their guards enough to become Friends whom we look forward to someday hosting in Seattle.

Gai was our guide in Bangkok and Ayutthaya, Thailand. She was energetic, she smiled with her eyes (you could even tell through her sunglasses), and her manner reminded me of some of my Aunts in the Bunda Clan. Gai was a proud Thai–she even mentioned that she wished the country were still called “Siam” like it once was. She lived in the U.S. (Virginia) a few years ago, but decided to come back after 3 years because she missed her country and “her people.” Gai was a devout Buddhist. Her knowledge in that arena came in handy as we visited more temples during our time with her than at any other time on the tour. Gai quickly gravitated towards Kamaile took extra care to ensure that she understood what she was seeing.

Gai and Kamaile outside the Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Kay was our guide in Chiang Mai, Thailand. At first, I assumed that she was an introvert, but I realize now that any guide would seem that way to us right after Gai. Kay actually had the same laid-back demeanor that many of the people in Chiang Mai seem to possess. Like many guides, she herself is an avid traveler. Kay took particular interest in Trey–commenting a number of times on his height, as well as the fact that “many Chiang Mai girls will be interested in him when he comes back in a few years.” Too funny. Kay was paricularly good at helping us get unique experiences (Tigers!) despite the fact that we were in a number of tourist-infested places. 

Bidding farewell to Kay at the Chiang Mai Airport

Sengphone was our guide in Luang Prabang, Laos. He lives with his wife and kids in Luang Prabang, but is originally from a mountain village near the Chinese border. When we first met Sengphone, I remember thinking that he had the calm, gentle disposition of a monk. Shortly thereafter, we learned that he, like many poor boys from the countryside, joined a monastery when he was 13. Sengphone went on to explain that his primary motivation for joining was Education (there were no schools in his village), followed by bringing prestige to his family, and finally for religious purposes (his own). One thing I really appreciated about him was the way he actively partipated and/or taught when we visited local craftspeople in their villages. Sengphone came across as someone who could actually make the mulberry paper or silk cloth himself, not just talk about it. Finally, being a father himself, Sengphone was also very good about reading the kids’ moods and energy levels–suggesting modifications to our time in Luang Prabang to better suit our needs. 

Note: Sengphone was part of a previous post “Laos: I Gotta Get, I Got-Got Ta Get It.

Saying goodbye to Sengphone at the airport in Laos

Jay was our guide in Hanoi, Vietnam. We arrived pretty late in the evening prior to our Hanoi Bike Tour, but he still took it upon himself to greet us and try to gauge our excitement about the next day. His given name is Giang, but he introduced himself as “Jay, like Jay Z.” Needless to say, I had a good feeling about him. Our bike tour itself was tough. We nearly quit after Kamaile crashed within the first 20 meters of our ride out of the Old Quarter. The fact that we were already exhausted, fighting crazy heat and humidity, and in a very hectic, new place was not a good combination. After about an hour of riding, I was about to call it a day. Jay suggested that we just sit and chat under a tree to cool off a bit. In the next 40 minutes, we engaged in an amazing conversation about Jay’s hopes and dreams for the future, his struggle to keep up with his peers (the Rat Race is alive and well in Hanoi, too), and the role of faith (or lack thereof) in his life, which he initiated 100%. He then invited us to ride to a neighborhood well off the beaten path to see how he and “most people in the city live.” I believe the only reason he felt comfortable enough to to bring us there was the very unscripted conversation that we’d had just before. What a privilege! 

Muggin’ with Jay after our crazy bike tour

Thuy was our guide in the mountain city of Sapa, Vietnam. She was easily the most reserved, even close-vested, of all our guides on the tour. Thuy fascinated me for a number of reasons: 1) She was from the Red Dzao tribe and dressed in traditional clothing every day, whether or not she was working; 2) She talked openly about her views on the courtship (previously non-existent, now Facebook vetting is acceptable) and marriage practices for the Dzao, as well as the many Hmong tribes in the area (still arranged, but at least kidnapping your potential bride from another village/tribe is no longer common); and, 3) She shared less about herself than any of the other guides on the tour despite our best attempts. During our last 30 minutes together, she finally spoke a little about her husband and son. 
 

Thuy saw us off at the train station before our overnight journey back to Hanoi

Toan was our guide for our day trip to Ky Son Village (outside of Hanoi, Vietnam). He was a humble man whose parents met in another village while his father was part of the Viet Cong. As the story goes, once the Vietnam War (or “American War” as they call it there) was over in 1975, his parents chose to move to this farming village to start their new life. Toan grew up as a farmer as well, but when a businessman from the city bought up property in his village to create a museum/resort for visitors, he jumped at the opportunity to earn money in a different, less physically strenuous manner. His English was good, as is, but even more impressive to me when we found out that he learned primarily by talking to visitors (as opposed to the formal training that each of the other guides received). Toan was proud of his village and that pride was only surpassed by that which he felt for his 15 and 10 year-old daughters, Ngoc an Linh. He even brought us over to his house for a few minutes so we could meet them and share tea together. 
 

Toan, Linh (10), and Ngoc (15) in their beautiiful home

Ty was our guide in Hoi An, Da Nang, and Hue, Vietnam. He was a nice guy that was very proud of Central Vietnam–especially his hometown of Hue. More so than any of the other guides on the tour, Ty took a long time to grasp that we were not the type of people to passively just go wherever the itinerary said (or, worse, wherever he wanted). Ty also had a couple quirks which were sometimes irritating, and at other times funny.  He did not seem to prefer talking and walking at the same time. Coupled with his habit for repeating a concept 2-3 times at minimum, this meant we spent long stretches of time standing in the hot sun listening to him lecture through a thick Vietnamese accent. The poor kids really struggled to pay attention. I think he finally got the picture on the 2nd day, when I would put my arms around the kids and just start walking off in a direction as soon as he started repeating himself. To Ty’s credit, things started to go much more smoothly after I took him aside a couple times to specifically explain that we had limited attention spans and only enough energy to see the specific things which interested us.     

One would think that capturing a good pic of Ty would be easy with all the standing around we did

Lot was our guide in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. The amount of fun we had with Lot may have even surpassed our experience with Jay. She was quirky, funny, and a bit of a jokester. At the end of our first day, she said flat out that we’d be seeing another guide on the second day. When I tried to give her a tip, she quickly ducked away with an awkward goodbye. Lot then returned the next morning but introduced herself as Lot’s sister and tried to keep it up for a few minutes. What?! LOL Lot also treated Kamaile and Trey as if they were her niece and nephew–with that familial mix of fun, protectiveness, and even some correction when warranted. I know that she made the kids’ experience that much better.   

Goofing around with Lot and Ut, our day guide in Ben Tre (Mekong Delta). BTW, I’m not supposed to say anything, but I’m pretty sure Lot is waiting for Ut to ask her on a date.

Proney was our guide in Siem Reap. Heat have been the most compelling of all of our guides. Like Sengphone, Proney spent time during his teenage and early adult years as a Buddhist monk. Like Toan, war was a part of Proney’s history–just much more recently. When the Khmer Rouge was in power, nearly 1/4 of Cambodia’s population was killed. Most of those people were the well-educated (doctors, lawyers, businessman, and civic leaders); and, in the eyes of Pol Pot, capable of organizing resistance against the Khmer Rouge. As time went on, young boys (especially those from poorer families) were often forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge. For a short time, until he escaped, Proney was one of those soldiers. Risking great peril, he eventually snuck away and joined the relative safety of a monastery where he learned about Buddhism, as well as the English and Japanese languages. Proney mentioned that many of his immediate family members were not so “fortunate.” His father was shot by soldiers one day while farming–apparently mistaken from a distance as a resistance fighter. Proney also lost 2 siblings to some of the many land mines which still plague parts of the country. Unbelievably, he lost 2 more siblings to starvation. With very little outward emotion, Proney told me that his story was not special; that “everybody lost family.” Proney now treats his profession as a calling to help bring prosperity (via tourism) and stability (via educating others) to Cambodia. Stunning. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. 

Proney (far right) had us dropped off at the Blue Pumpkin in the middle of Siem Reap and then quietly bid us adieu

Thank you to ALL of our guides for your part in making our Indochina Tour a life-changing experience. Thank for giving us glimpses into your lives and teaching us about your cultures. We are forever grateful!

Laos: I Gotta Get, I Got-Got Ta Get It.

The tune to “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” had been on repeat in my brain for nearly 24 hours. The words, however, were slightly altered and far less catchy:

“I left my iPhone in Kuang Si Waterfall. I left my iPhone in Kuang Si Waterfall. I left my iPhone in Kuang Si Waterfall. I gotta get, I got-got ta get it.” – A Tribe Called Quest

Saturday was shaping up to be one of our very best since we left Seattle back on May 11th.

Our Itinerary:

  • Have breakfast in a peaceful, serene setting at our ridiculously cool hotel (My Dream Boutique Resort).
  • Take a blissfully lazy, 4-hour ride on the Mekong River via Long Boat (or as our guide, Sengphone, calls it, “Tourist Boat”). 
  • Buy whiskey from a riverside village distillery, where they were known to include Scorpions and Cobras in the bottle. Come on, Tequila makers, is a little worm all you’ve got?
  • Visit literally thousands of Buddha statues at Pak Ou Caves.
  • See 28 bears from the region that have been rescued from poachers trying to illegally bring them into China.
  • Swim and dive in the cool, refreshing waters of Kuang Si Falls.

The weather here in SE Asia has been incredibly hot & humid. I’d actually prefer to use words like “oppressive,” “swampy,” and “unbearable” here, but I’ll do my best to tone down the drama. While we’ve finally come to accept the fact that we will be drenched in sweat at least a couple times a day, the prospect of cooling off at Kuang Si Falls made us all lose our minds a bit.

In fact, WE ALL GOT A LITTLE GIDDY as we approached the beautiful, light-blue water. The pools and surrounding areas were filled with countless groups of both locals and tourists vying for places to establish a home base. While a pragmatic approach for us would’ve been to work together to find a spot, change, swim, etc., we each kicked immediately into auto-pilot, scattered upon arrival, and raced to get in the water. This moment of exuberance would later come back to bite us in the butt. Hard.

Diving off of the tree (or half-falling, or half-jumping, or belly-flopping) and into the pool was a blast. After a couple “safe,” feet-first jumps, Trey tried a front summersault and almost nailed it. Meanwhile, Kamaile, as the only girl her age even trying to jump, quickly amassed a cheering section of local women and fellow travelers. We swam around the pools and giggled at all the little (we hope) fish that constantly nibbled at our feet. When we eventually decided to sit at the base of the smaller waterfall for a few minutes, I remember thinking how magical the past hour had been. 

About 10 minutes later, it was time to dry off and head further up the falls to see the main waterfall. As we gathered up our belongings for the quick walk, Trey turned to me with an ashen look in his face saying, “Dad, I’m pretty sure I left my phone in the changing room.” I know how difficult it is for the kid with the eternally golden tan to look that way, mind you, so I knew we were in trouble. 

The next 15 minutes were a blur. We raced over to the changing room and gave it a once, twice, thrice-over. Gone. In between each pass, anyone within 50 meters heard (or at least saw) me alternating between interrogating Trey to retrace his every move; and, unfairly, unkindly, and dare I say inappropriately berating him for “just not thinking, again.” It. Was. An. Ugly. Scene. Definitely not a proud moment as a Father. Definitely not my proud moment as a man committed to showing people–family, friends, strangers–the Jesus kind of love. 

“I gotta get, I got-got ta get it.”

Unfortunately, we couldn’t just call the phone or ping it via Find My iPhone as we normally would. Laos is one country with whom T-Mobile does not currently have an awesome international roaming agreement. Since we were only going to be in Luang Prabang for a few days, we decided not to buy local SIM cards and instead kept our phones in Airplane Mode–basically giving us off-line, WiFi-only devices while there. 

The phone was officially M.I.A. Trey was certain about where he’d left it, so the only logical conclusion was that someone either still had the phone in their possession or had already turned it in. Our hope was that whomever picked up the phone would be gracious enough to return it.

“I gotta get, I got-got ta get it.”

I sprint-walked back to the park entrance and tried to explain to the guards what had happened. Needless to say, I was disappointed (and more than a little ticked off) when they chuckled as they told me all about how tourists lose phones every day and that we might get it back. This exchange was almost entirely in Laotian, but I could understand their meaning quite well.

“I gotta get, I got-got ta get it.”

At this point, we felt a sense of helplessness, each for totally different reasons: Trey beat himself up over the whole thing happening in the first place; Laura fought to keep Trey and me from biting each other’s heads off; and, Kamaile struggled to merely endure the tension–something she does not often handle well. 

Meanwhile, it slowly dawned on me that I had taken the password lock off of Trey’s phone a few days earlier. Crap! This would mean that anyone with bad intention could potentially start messing with the thousands of pics, vids, contacts, files, etc., via the apps on the phone. Worse, yet, if that person were to enable data roaming, etc., he/she would have the ability to quickly rack up thousands of dollars in charges. We needed to get to an Internet connection quickly so that I could lock the phone down before too much damage was done. I frantically directed Sengphone to get us get us back to the hotel ASAP.

“I gotta get, I got-got ta get it.”

The 45-minute ride back to the hotel was excruciating. Knowing that we were in a race against both time and the nefarious phone-finder (as I’d built him/her up to be in my head by then), just sitting there in the transit van proved to be the perfect way to inspire a kind of pointless rumination that sent my blood pressure soaring. The awkward silence in which we rode was broken occasionally by Sengphone asking well-intentioned but tech-clueless questions, Laura giving Trey a few reassuring words, Trey praying, and me sighing deeply every 30 seconds or so. 

As soon as we arrived at the hotel, I jumped onto WiFi and completed all of the steps recommended by Apple. Then the waiting game began.

My best guess was that one of following scenarios was most likely to occur:

  1. Some Good Samaritan either turns the phone in or texts me directly (I had previously placed an “If found, please contact” lock screen message on the phone); or,
  2. Apple’s Lost Mode feature kicks in as soon as someone tries to use the phone to access either a cellular or WiFi network.

Either way, getting the phone back was an iffy proposition, at best. 

“I gotta get, I got-got ta get it.”

On Sunday morning, our Luang Prabang itinerary continued with the 5:30am Alms Giving Ceremony, and visits to nearby villages whose people specialized in making crafts such as Silk, Paper, and Ceramics. All of these were wonderful experiences, but it was hard to escape thinking about the missing phone and/or data every other moment. I know, lame. 

On Sunday afternoon, we were supposed to do more of what I call “Tourist See, Tourist Buy” visits, but I called an audible and asked that we be brought back to the hotel so we could check out early and spend some time in back in the City Center before heading out to the airport.

As soon as we got back to our room, I received a notification from Apple that Lost Mode had been activated on Trey’s phone just 4 minutes earlier, meaning that someone had just attempted to connect to a network. It worked! Even crazier, Lost Mode gave me an approximate location of that attempt via a satellite map on my phone. It was less than a block away from the hotel!

 

Our hotel was the purple dot at the far left.

I could not believe what was happening. We were fortunate that the phone might be only a couple blocks away, but why did the phone immediately go back offline again? Why hadn’t the person on the other end followed the Lost Mode prompts to contact me via phone, text, or email, yet? Was he/she planning on keeping it, after all? What do we do now?

As a family, we made a pact about a week ago that we would keep each other accountable as Jesus Followers by actually asking God for guidance whenever we were in a sticky situation before setting off to solve the problem. Suddenly, we were facing our first opportunity to put our beliefs into action. We said a simple, earnest prayer, then asked our family and friends via Facebook to do the same.

Thanks for your support!

We decided to enlist the help of the hotel manager, Joy, to act as our guide. We didn’t know the neighborhood, would need a translator as we chatted with folks in the area, and were counting on him to help us sniff out any dicey situations we might encounter. While the kids stayed back at the hotel, Laura and I headed off to the last known location reported by Apple. 

We arrived at a building that looked like it could be the one shown on the satellite map, but there were huge gates at the front. I figured that anyone wanting to keep the phone as their own would attempt to purchase a new SIM card, so we checked with the little store next door instead. No dice. No recent customers requesting SIM cards or new activations. 

We went back to the gate of the first building. The woman who answered tried to identify the building on the satellite map, but couldn’t manage it. She called out to a man who happened to be walking down the street towards us. He wasn’t any more successful at pin-pointing the building, but rather than shrugging and say “good luck,” he invited me into his bosses office to see if we could get a better map on his bosses computer. This was HUGE.

Within seconds, that man, his boss, and 2 other co-workers were all huddled with me around the computer. After a barrage of words I could not understand, they all agreed that the location in question had to be the guesthouse another 100m down the road. Joy, Laura, and I headed over to the guesthouse. The crazy part is that we had no clue what we’d do when we actually arrived. 

This particular guesthouse was like a collection of 6 studio apartments that were being rented out to local for medium- to long-term stays. Joy parked the van in the driveway and asked if there was anything specific I wanted him to say. I immediately replied, “You’re the expert. What do you recommend?” I think Joy actually puffed out his chest a bit in that moment, as if to say, “You’re right, I GOT THIS.” 

We stepped up to the first apartment. This buff Laotian dude in a tight t-shirt that read “Oh My Buddha,” jeans, and a cowboy hat introduced himself as Le. Joy told him that we were asking around to see if anyone had found a black iPhone 5 in the last 24 hours; and, that we were offering a reward for the right one. Le said that he hadn’t seen any, but that I should definitely ask the people next door. Le also said that he knew the owner of the guesthouse and he offered to leave my contact info with him. In Le’s words, “I just have to help.”

The second apartment turned up nothing, but Laura mentioned later that she’d noticed a woman replacing the SIM card in her phone just moments before Joy started talking to her. Fishy, IMO. 

As I wrapped up with both Le and the woman at the second apartment, Joy had already moved on to the third apartment. He was leaning on a motorcycle just outside the door with a little smile on his face. I remember thinking as we approached that Joy looked like a cat that had finally caught the mouse he’d been chasing all afternoon. He said that the woman standing in the doorway in front of me had a friend who’d recently found an iPhone. That friend was on her way and would be back in a couple minutes. 

Sure enough, that friend arrived in her scooter about 2 minutes later. The woman held her purse nervously in front of her, but did not show the phone until I told her (through Joy) that the phone was now of no value to anyone but me because of the software that I’d enabled which she’d activated as soon as she tried accessing the network. Joy went on to explain that the software was the reason we were able to find her so quickly (of course, we know that the software got a ton of help from real people). The woman sheepishly showed the phone and said through Joy that there was no case. I think she was trying to say that the phone might not be the one we were after, so I asked if I could see it for a second. I powered it up and immediately the Lost Mode prompts which I’d put in the day before appeared on the phone, as designed. This confirmed, undeniably, that the phone was Trey’s, so the woman quickly acquiesced. 

Despite my suspicions that the woman did not originally intend to return the phone, I told Joy that I still wanted to give her the reward. $20 USD and 1 LifeProof case lighter, we were on our merry way.

The story I’m telling myself is that the woman bought the phone on the black market and whatever little money she paid for it was now lost. I’m choosing to believe that she was an innocent player in a bigger game who thought she got a great deal on a legit used phone that she could use to take pics of her cute little baby girl. I’m choosing to believe that she’ll use the $20 to someday put towards another cool phone that isn’t stolen and will not be retrieved by some foreigner immediately after purchase. 

Ultimately, I am blown away that we actually got the phone back, avoided being fleeced by someone with darker motives, and that all 1200+ of Trey’s pics/vids were left intact (the woman attempted to delete the files, but left them in iPhoto’s ‘Recently Deleted’ folder). I am thankful for those that prayed and sent well wishes from thousands of miles away as we headed out to find the phone. I am thankful for Joy the Hotel Manager, the various multiple neighbors, Le the Cowboy Rocker, Apple the Company, and Lost Mode the Magical Software. I am thankful that I’ll have more opportunities to not be such a jerk to my kids in future stressful situations.

I am just thankful. I get it. 

The woman who returned the phone took about a dozen pics with her baby girl before getting online and triggering Lost Mode. Immediately, she could no longer access those pics, or anything else, for that matter. Trey decided to keep the phone for fun. 🙂

Bandung, Indonesia: Initial Impressions

After these first 4 days in Bandung, it is still difficult for me to adequately describe our experiences, thus far. 

Therefore, I’m going to start by taking the easy route, showing off my Google skills, and sharing some quick facts about Bandung:

  1. Located in the western part of the island of Java, about 3 hours from Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. 
  2. Founded in 1488
  3. Approximately 2.6M people within a 65 sq. mile area. In contrast, Seattle has about 650K people in a 143 sq. mile area. Bandung is the 3rd largest Indonesian city (by population). 
  4. The Average Monthly Salary is 2,940,000 Rp. This is roughly $224 or what many of us spend on Cable, Internet, and Cell bills. Click here if you’re curious to see more cost of living info. 
  5. The majority of the people in Bandung are Sundanese

For those that are more visual, we recently found this guy named Kyle Le on YouTube. He primarily blogs about Vietnam (and food!), but he recently spent a couple days in Bandung. Check out this vid: Indonesia Shopping and Street Food in Bandung City

What you see in Kyle’s video is pretty accurate in terms of the general chaos (by American standards) that exists in the city streets. Signs of varying size, shape, quality, and state of disrepair advertise everything from the familiar (Ace Hardware, KFC, and Pizza Hut), to the unfamiliar (innumerable food carts occupy every available inch of ground; even blocking larger, more established shops), to the unusual (DMV? No problem! Just buy your custom-made license plate on the side of the street).

No license plate? No problem!

This visual cacophony is eclipsed only by the aural cacophony created by the way-too-many cars, motorcycles, minibuses, and people on the road at any given time. The ever-present hum of engines, brakes, and horns are akin to TEN Times Squares. To simply say, however, that the roads are really loud would do this daily motor-ballet a serious injustice.

Our host, Wally, says that traffic laws around here (heck, even traffic lanes for that matter) are little more than “guidelines.” Ultimately, the social contract between motorists and pedestrians alike is that it is acceptable to do whatever ever it takes to get from Point A to Point B as long as you agree to constantly watch out for the safety of your fellow travelers. Everyone must be present, aware, and very much in the moment to ensure that major road catastrophes are avoided. There’s something really beautiful about that dynamic to me. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that zoned-out, zombie thing during rush hour around here like I’ve done more than a few times while slogging through I-405 commutes. 

Speaking of those motorcycles/scooters, I’m not only struck by how many there are on the road at any given time, but also by how many people can ride together on a single machine. One rider is the norm, two riders are common, three or more riders are far from unusual. We often see entire families on a single motorcycle weaving in and out of traffic. I tried to convince Laura that we could save a ton of money by taking a similar approach back home; she was having none of it (shocking!).

Family of 3 on one moto/scooter. The daughter is not only precariously perched, but very asleep.

The food here has been incredible, so far. We haven’t been too adventurous, yet, but it’s not like we’ve actively shied away from anything either. We’re all fans of what the locals deem staples here–Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Mie Goreng (fried noodles), Bubur Ayam (rice porridge with chicken), and Nasi Udok (rice with coconut milk)–and we’re just getting started. 

We even had a special treat today, as we were invited to have Lunch in the family home of Ibu Josie for a special meal, called Tumpeng. We were gathering to celebrate Josie and her mother’s safe return after 3 weeks of traveling in France and The Netherlands. Above and beyond the great food, however, was the hospitality shown by Josie, her family, and her friends. We laughed often and the general ease of our hosts reminded me of parties with my own family back home (sans ukuleles and endless singing, of course). Definitely my kind of people!

Ibu Josie (3rd from right); Josie’s Mother (Center); Partof the feast (Foreground). The rest of the party is off-camera.

I realize that this blog post has been long and somewhat meandering. So, I’ll wrap things up by quickly commenting on the people. The majority of the locals whom we’ve met have been extraordinarily warm and friendly. From the people in random nooks and crannies of the narrow neighborhood alley ways, to the chain store employees, to the parking lot attendants and unofficial traffic “facilitators,” to the guys at the coffee shop who knew less English than I know Indonesian, to Ibu Josie and her family, everyone has been genuinely excited about the fact that we’re here from half a world away to learn about them, their culture, and their city. 

While I still am far from certain how the coming weeks in Indonesia will unfold, I am definitely excited by the possibilities. Here’s hoping that as we learn more, we’ll be able to find a way to help and serve as well.