Bluelou Goes Deep!

Yes, it’s the best of edition of the BLT. They’re my favorite. The best part of my year came primarily in the March issue so most of this is a direct copy.

Late last year, the boss said he needed to send me to Laos to hang out for a while. I'd still be working on the Jakarta job (as well as the Laos job) but doing it remotely. It was the first of many trips between Laos and Jakarta so if you’re confused, I experienced it first and I was just as lost.

I was bummed because I'd given up my bucket list scuba dive trip to Australia for a business trip in 2014 that didn’t happen and I couldn't get an answer from the boss whether or not I could take this trip. Winters up north mean summers down under. I was running out of down under summer time because I plan my leaves around work activities. When I got the go ahead, I started booking. Lucky for me, there were folks in the office who’d already made the trip and told me what I needed to do in advance. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. While I booked the trip to Australia first and headed to Laos next, my first stop on the tour was New Years in Bangkok. Here goes...

Christmas 2014 was very low key for me. We were given a day and a half vacation for the holiday. Another associate and I scooted out the office and headed to Christmas Eve Mass. Unlike last year, the Priest had no inkling to hear "We Are the World" but he did sing a few lines a few weeks prior.

I had a couple of the crew over for Mexican...sounds funky for Christmas but it's a semi tradition for me. I did it in 2007 for Christmas day in Beijing. I've done it for Thanksgiving too. I had no complaints then or now.

As an associate and I dined on cheeseburgers for turkey day while in Helsinki, I’ve adopted having a turkey leg, carrots, and a potato from the crock pot with canned gravy, bread, it Thanksgiving bachelor style.

I spent my time off just lounging around catching up on the NFL. For Christmas dinner, I ate my last Omaha steak I’d hand carried from home. I had the more traditional turkey leg for the Sunday after Christmas.

I did get to see my Huskers go down in the Holiday bowl. Rather than watching the game live, I recorded about an hour of the game before I started watching it. This way, I could fast forward through commercials and half time. A friend let me know that we were losing progress as the other team was pulling away. I'd avoided Facebook and the various internet web sites only to be ruined by Skype...rats! It was a good ending for the Pelini era even though we've never defeated USC.

The family gathered at my sister's house Christmas afternoon which meant I had to wake up early on the 26th to call everyone. It took several attempts but I finally got the call through...long story.

Santa's giving up part of his vacation for the Orthodox CatholicsI wrote in a Facebook post that Santa was at the mall on December 27th. I thought he was plumb tuckered by then and resting on some tropical beach. No, he was still selling photos of the kiddies sitting on his lap. He must be Orthodox Catholic who celebrates Christmas in January. Never mind that Indonesia is predominately Muslim.

No, I wasn't on board the plane that crashed flying out of Surabaya. FYI, Surabaya's about an hour away by airplane from Jakarta near Bali. I had friends and family members wondering/worrying.

I flew from Jakarta to Vientiane Laos the following day. Ma was all stirred up because of flooding in nearby Thailand. I had to call to confirm my safe landing. Airline travel is far safer than walking across the street. I'm still among the living.

It was odd being back in Laos. Most of the familiar faces have moved on to other projects. I felt as if I was in some sort of a time warp. I can’t explain it.

I had a spacious one bedroom apartment but I had no intention of stocking it up. The duration of my stay was indefinite...aren't they all? It was supposed to be a couple of months.

Packing for my trip to Laos was indefinite duration with four to be flexible. A couple of days after I landed and barely unpacked, I flew to Bangkok to bring in the New Year. I was truly nervous about this trip as I'd only flown through Bangkok. I'd shuttled between airports but never did I navigate the city. One of the guys gave me pointers about the city and how to navigate around by train but it seemed to go in one ear and out the other. My only thought was getting irretrievably lost and not being found. That's how petrified I was. I'd considered eating my losses and not going. Luckily, those feelings subsided.

I took the train to the hotel from the problem here. My first excursion was finding the Catholic Church. I had zero luck navigating by paper map. I walked and walked without incident. Eventually, it got too dark to read the maps so I cried uncle and took a tuk tuk back to the vicinity of my hotel. I wanted a great steak. My only option for New Year's Eve was Outback who killed my steak with spices...bad choice. It qualified as a steak without the great.

Like most New Year's Eves of past, I heard fireworks outside but I brought in the New Year watching the back of my eyelids...some party animal.

On New Year's Day, I chucked the paper map for my GPS maps on my! I'd search the web, search the map web site, and sync with my cell phone.

I taxied to the Catholic Church which is close to the American Embassy...better late than never but they didn't post Mass times for New Year's Day Masses, a Catholic holy day. Generally, the Masses on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day follow the Sunday Mass schedule but this was not the case.

The Bangkok taxi drivers are definitely a work. Their fare structure is absurdly cheap. By cheap, their rates are structured for the average Thai rather than the expat who's probably from somewhere more expensive including taxi rates. If they don't feel they're going to make any money, they'll refuse to use their fare meter (if they have one) and haggle for a higher than the meter fare. They'd sniff out a tourist and here comes the soft sell for a nice fat fare. They'd buddy up to you knowing you weren't from there and try and take you to the fare cleaners. I may be a tourist and even look like a tourist but I'm not a sucker.

"How much?"

"How much are you willing to pay?"

"See you later!"

My first tourist destination was the Grand Palace. I'd read that visitors should wear slacks, no exposure for the legs with shorts or dresses, but it didn't register in my mind. I could have rented something to cover up my legs but I saw nothing open in the form of rental shops or ticket offices for that matter. Given that I'm over twice the size of the Thai people, I had my doubts whether they'd have something that fit me. I returned to the hotel for shorts and returned by taxis. After an hour crawling through a three mile traffic jam, I paid my fare and walked. I clearly understood the apprehension of the taxi drivers but the fares still seemed relatively extreme. If you convert their fare to dollars and compare their negotiation prices to what you'd pay in the US and it's still dirt cheap. It's the principle. You hate being exploited.

The ticket offices to the Grand Palace were closed on New Year's Day so I saved the $17 admission. That was the only thing that was closed as this place was full of tourists...too many...bad choice. I looked as long as I could before getting tired of the crowd and getting battered by the humidity. I'd seen my share of this architecture in Beijing and Laos. In Beijing, we coined the term 'templed out'...having seen so many temples that they all look alike. They're indistinguishable. I'm clueless about the symbolism so any queries will be met with a simple "Duh"! Enjoy the photos.

Getting out of this tourist trap was another story. Here comes the people jam...the pushing and shoving of those who were also trying to exit. I risked life and limb heading to the door. No, I didn't intend on getting this close to the Thais. The Thais ran up to my shoulder which put their umbrellas at my eye level. I was on constant alert to getting my eyes poked with an umbrella used for shade by the shorter Asians. Taxis available for hire in the mid-day were not to be found so I walked back to my hotel vicinity navigating by my GPS...over three miles. They steered clear of the tourist traps...definite money losers for them.

Bluelou hangin' with the cast of Siam Niramit.I was one tired, hungry cowboy so I stopped for my first of three pilgrimages to the Hard Rock Café. The HRC is getting to be more of a franchise of restaurants where expatriates go to get some down home cooking rather than a destination to see rock and roll memorabilia and this one was no exception...the décor and atmosphere was average at best...but the food was excellent.

If you really want to get technical, 7-11 was my most popular Bangkok destination. They occupied nearly every block on the main thoroughfares. If you own stock or a franchise in Thailand's 7-11 stores, you're probably doing quite well.

I checked out some of the nearby shopping malls before heading back to the room to nap before the driver came to take me to the evening show, Siam Niramit. It was a musical history of Thailand. It started with a buffet dinner. They sold photos with the cast. You could ride an elephant or buy much of their show related merchandise. Patrons checked in their cameras but not smartphones. They didn't have enough stones to do that. The sleep monster followed me to Thailand and bit me during the show. I kept ducking in and out of sleep. The sets were extravagant and the show was good but the sleep monster got a few short sessions. I was amazed at the last set where a small pond was elevated from the orchestra pit below. It had small little floating boats with electric candles floating around in water.

You make the call..The next morning, I headed off to Pantip Plaza, a computer mall like the ones we went to in China. I shopped for a few items. I was disappointed that I couldn't find a remote control that worked with my Nokia to take selfies. I'm trying to figure out a way to make it work for my GoPro. I hit the big mall for amazing smorgasbord. I thought they were history. I wanted to go see the boat taxies but a massage won out. They advertised a 200 Bhat massage (seven bucks) that was double in reality. It was a good thing anyway.

Expedia said it was Cabaret. A bit more examination yielded that it was a ladyboy cabaret...another dinner theater. I didn't read the ladyboy part until I bought the ticket. They had a dinner show followed by the main show. I was apprehensive about going. I bought the ticket by mistake but decided to go anyway. I kept looking at the women in the Adam's apple here. This was mostly dance. Here comes the big event. The cabaret part was satirical lip sync...I'd expected singing by the performers but there was none. I looked up the definition of Cabaret. Singing is not in the definition. In the dark and from a distance, it was hard to tell with many of the ladyboys. After the show, there was no hiding it.

There was nothing in the show that was cheesy or gaudy. Having ladyboys as dressed as ladies, in my opinion, is a gimmick that detracted from the performance as I was always wondering...she or he?

Yes, I know you may not agree with me or judge me but these are feelings that aren't easily changed. Acceptance doesn't come easy. It only happens through familiarity and the passage of time.

Gotta love the sense of humor..On my last full day, I took the train to Chatuchack, the weekend market. It's one of the largest in the world. I need a pair of hiking shoes but this place wasn't my gig. I looked for about forty five minutes, bought a wooden spatula and a Coke, and headed off to the water taxi place for a look see.

Bangkok has all forms of public transit including taxis, tuk tuks, busses, trains, etc.. Though I didn't go for a ride, Bangkok truly exploits their waterways for transportation. I'm told it's the best, most efficient, and cost effective way to travel around the city.

Off to the Hard Rock for lunch followed by a bit more shopping and a Thai massage.

This particular massage reminded me of the one I'd had several years ago in Tunisia. The masseuse rolled me around the stone floor like we were having a wrestling match where my 'opponent' had one goal to torture me. Relaxing it wasn't. The Thai masseuse didn't roll me around the floor. She prodded me with her thumb and elbow where I felt just the same as when the Tunisian masseuse had completed his work. This wasn't relaxing either. Thai massage sounds exotic but it was painful for this cowboy.

I love the WWE and I like to watch boxing occasionally. UFC is a former interest as well. I'd seen Thai boxing in movies but never live until now. The fighting was something to view. I predicted about fifty percent of the winners. Like UFC, one second and the whole outcome of the fight could change.

There was a whole section of rambunctious gamblers who made the show. When the fighters would pick up the tempo and exchange a few punches, the whole section would get really rowdy. Yes, they had a fiscal interest in the fight.

I had a guide for this show. The other shows advertised a guide for these shows but none were provided. I had to know if these kids were being exploited. After all, there were two sessions of fighting that went on daily and the show must go on! I didn't get the impression that they were. Most of these fighters were trying to gain fortune to fight their way out of poverty like youths aspire to be professional basketball, football, baseball, or some other professional athlete back home.

I saw several expatriates in the crowd. Most were young males. I speculate that they were there studying the boxing style to further their careers in mixed martial arts.

I expected a hot sweat box for this venue as the ticket said I'd get a towel and a bottle of water. I got two colas but no towel. I didn't need a towel. It was a new venue that was new and clean with proper climate control.

We'd have to buy another ticket if I wanted to see the late show. I wasn't so engrossed in the show that I had to go back. I went back to the hotel to drop off my stuff and headed to the HRC for dessert.

The firm offering this tour screwed up the timing. There was an early show and a late show. I was too late for the early show and too early for the late show. I speculate that they didn't want to refund my ticket if I got lost in a Saturday night traffic jam. Traffic was smooth sailing.

Two months after the show, I got an email from the tour company that took me to the Thai boxing event way back on the fourth day of January. They have a two person minimum for their tours. I bought and paid for my ticket through Expedia. They wanted payment for the second person...two and a half months after the event. I replied via email that their issue was with Expedia as I paid my fare to them. Expedia agreed that I was paid in full. I told Expedia that their driver and tour guide showed up too late for the early show and too early for the late show. We went to the early show missing four of the nine fights. I didn't mind nor did I complain but these folks were a day late and a dollar short then and now. Finally, they stopped emailing me.

For the inquiring minds, I skipped the Bangkok stuff that'd send most Catholics to confession. I'm not good at keeping those kinds of secrets. There's no sense in confessing things I didn't do and my client is a very jealous one. Besides, I'm frequently asked by those on the street who think I'm searching for that kind of action. I just keep walking. It's easy for these situations to turn messy very quickly.

With the three shows I saw, Bangkok was an incredible experience. Normally, I'd go play tourist and retire after dinner. Being 'templed out' added to the challenge. The shows filled an evening spot I'd normally use to relax and, inevitably, sleep. It gave me more of a culturally rounded experience. In time, I could feel at home in Bangkok as I do in London. Before I return to Bangkok, I need to check out the diving in Phuket and a few other spots in Asia.

Apologies but the new memory card reader in my camera I bought in Bangkok tended to corrupt any disk I inserted in it. I lost many photos of the Thai boxing but nothing else. I used the camera and my cell phone as a standby. I was covered. Some of the photos are included with this text and I've posted photos my trip here or by clicking on the Thailand flag at the top of the page. The same bogus card reader swallowed all of the camera photos I took in the rain forest but I was able to recover them. The card reader is somewhere in a Cairns landfill.

This was my third stay in Laos. It took a bit to get readjusted to the landmarks. In the short year since I was there, there'd been many changes. The folks at the office claim that the traffic has gotten worse. With prosperity, there are more cars, trucks, scooters, and tuk tuks on the road. More businesses...different businesses...more private enterprise. It was definitely an exciting time to be in Laos to watch it grow to where it seems like the economy is going to explode. It reminded me of my first trip to China which was just before they were invited to join the World Trade Organization. Their economy exploded.

One of the hazards of the scooter is weaving in and out of traffic. One person missing from the office was the cleaning lady. She's about my age and doesn't speak English. Still, the guys talked to her in English and she'd reply back in Lao...i.e. neither spoke the other's language but each seemed to understand what the other said. She has a gruff, crabby disposition but breaks out of her cold shell and laughs at the punch lines even though she doesn't fully understand. It's a funny relationship. Go figure! Anyway, I asked about her. She got into a scooter accident that took part of her foot where she can't work.

I wasn't in Laos a week after my trip to Bangkok before I was making arrangements to return to the airport for my trip to Australia. I wanted to do this trip last year but work had other plans for me. I kept expecting a similar outcome but none came. Still, it seemed so surreal even when I was firmly on the ground in Cairns.

My electronic visa got me into past immigration without incident. I was in. I'd heard rumors that it was very difficult for tourists to get into Australia. The rumors were wrong. It was no more difficult than any other country I've visited. Off to Cairns.

My first lesson in Aussie English was the pronunciation of the word "Cairns". We Americans would pronounce it like "yarns" but the Aussies say it "Canz". In Sydney, my train stop was Circular Quay. I'd pronounce the latter word like "way" but the Aussies say "Key". They understood my English but I often requested repetitions of phrases that didn't sound like I say. Some of the Aussies asked where I was from and I noted a couple of young lasses who suddenly went goo goo eyed after they heard me speak. I confess that I have a thing for women with the British/Aussie accent.

The Cairns Shangri La at the MarinaMy first day was just wandering around Cairns. I arrived just before lunch. I took the shuttle bus to my hotel, The Cairns Shangri La at the Marina. Lucky for me, check in was at 1300 but they let me have an early check in. Nothing like hanging out with nineteen hours of travel grime to keep you company so I hit the shower.

I went to scout out the city of Cairns. I was told that seventy percent of the residents are connected to seventy percent of their economy, tourism. The Great Barrier Reef is a big tourism generator for eastern Australia. According to my tour guide, Cairns has a population of 200,000 but it seemed really small and laid back. It's spread out with lots of tourist cabins, hotels, and B&Bs. Yes, in my pre trip homework, I found a Catholic Church with a Sunday evening Mass on line that was a fifteen minute walk from my hotel.

My dive savior...what's her name...I bought a GoPro specifically for the dive portion of this trip. For underwater photography, you need a red filter for the camera. I bought the camera on line. The lens was advertised to fit my camera. Wrong! I never fit the lens to the camera for fear of damaging the lens until the night before the bad. Insert instant panic mode! Luckily, the camera shop across the road (next door to the dive shop) was open . The first lens was like the one I bought on go. You could tell it was meant for my camera with the waterproof housing but it just didn't fit. The second one fit like a glove. I didn't take the filter off until I was done diving (including this photo). She saved my trip as I bought the camera just for this trip...a bucket list thing. I told her I'd name my first born child after her...if I could only remember her name or the kid is going to be known as "What's his/her Name." I looked at the sales ticket. Her name is what's her name.

Down Under Dives, Cairns AustraliaI emailed my dive instructor who told me the names of the firms he'd recommend to dive with. These were companies he'd worked for. He was 100% spot on. I'd never seen a double decker dive boat that was as large or new. There were other dive boats just as impressive. They went overboard with the pre dive safety instructions and that suited me fine. I'm sure they've dealt with a few lawyers or heard of their competitors who've experienced litigation. As a habit, I don't eat before I dive to combat upset stomach or gas that would double my pre dive anxiety. I had no pre dive jitters like I usually do.

I pre purchased my dives but carried my dive card with me to insure I was going to dive. A 69 year old man was not allowed to dive because he didn't bring his medical documentation after being told by the person who sold him his ticket that he didn't need his paperwork. He was probably boiling under his calm exterior.

There was one man who was going to do his first dive. When the boat took off, his breakfast did too. He was seasick and spent the rest of his boat trip filling up every barf bag he could find. Some of his family looked just as sick.

Wally The Fish Dog With Kelvin The InstructorA Canadian man on the tour came down with bronchitis and couldn't dive either. He went along for the ride.

When scuba diving, most dive shops offer two or more dives. I usually opt for one dive as two dives puts too much stress on this cowboy. Nitrogen build up in the blood stream is harsh on my system. For this trip, I went for the double dive...physical impact be damned...not for the bucket list trip. I still had the stress but I went on anyway. Here's the link to the dive photos.

In two dives, we saw a turtle, three sharks, and Wally who was definitely a Facebook post. Wally is a huge grouper fish who acted more like a dog rather than a fish. He'd swim up expecting you pet him. The dive photos have photos and videos of Wally, the fish dog. We even dove a short 10 meter cave (32 feet). Our dives were limited to 18 meters and above (58 feet) and 42 and 40 minutes in length.

I even posted a picture of me in my dive gear as my new Facebook picture (top left).

To those who think we should have kept our distance from Wally, I couldn't agree with you more. In homage to the insurance/lawyer contingent, we were warned not to pet the wildlife in our pre dive instruction. That's what we were taught in our dive instruction as well as when I was in grade school. I kept my distance from Wally, not out of fear but respect for keeping a distance between man and nature but apparently, they've trained him to be around humans. It was the same dive master who gave the lecture about staying away from wildlife that seemingly summoned Wally. I've seen several YouTube similar videos showing human interactions with wild animals. I did pet Wally after I was convinced he was hopelessly attached to humans.

I'm content to say that if I never dove again, I'd be content as I got to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef. If there are other dives, I'd go but I had to get the GBR out of my system. Now I can proudly boast that I've been there and done that! Is the GBR any different than any other place I've been diving? To my uneducated eye, I'd say no but that does nothing to take away my GBR dive euphoria. I dove in diver's mecca! One comment from someone who reviewed the pictures was that he'd never seen so much water turbulence before. His dive experiences exceed mine but I can't disagree with his assessment.

My second full day was a trip to the rain forest. It sounds ironic that it was a beautiful sunny day to go to the rain forest.

The rain forest trip begins here.I got to speak with the owner of the dive charter and the tour company that hosted the rain forest tour. My complaints were minimal; I was unclear what both tours offered. It should have been made clear that the dive leader was an option. An optional dive leader isn't an option with me. Dive leaders know where to go to find the sharks, turtles, and other dive highlights.

There was no rest for the weary. Early that morning, I headed off to the rain forests of Australia. Located in Port Douglas, the Wildlife Habitat is where they kept all kinds of birds, koalas, kangaroos, crocodiles, snakes, and many other creatures too numerous to list...just for us tourists. The animals in the habitat were unafraid of humans. With a bit of food, you could feed the animals out of your hand. I kept my distance from the crocs and snakes. I'm pretty sure they wanted to feed on me.

The next stop on the rain forest tour...after we drove back to the Wildlife Habitat to pick up the German woman that was mysteriously left behind...Mossman Gorge. She said she was buying something from the gift shop and came out to find we'd left. Mossman Gorge was our first true rain forest.

We took the ferry to Daintree Island for more rain forest. We stopped in for lunch and more photo opportunities at Cape Tribulation Beach. Some of our group got off to spend the night and others got on and we headed off to see the crocodiles...not far from the spot where Steve Irwin, the Crocodile man, was killed by a manta ray. We spotted a baby crocodile and a tree snake. The host of the crocodile tour did his best to scare his passengers. I was content to remain in the boat and I didn't see anyone who was tempted to swim the river.

Our tour never wandered far from the beaten path. That was good by me. I enjoyed the tour and to get away from the city to see a part of the world I'd never seen before.

To celebrate a successful trip to Cairns, I headed to a local restaurant that served chilled seafood. I can't think of a better way to torture seafood than to fry it. My server agreed.

My last day in Cairns was more of a time killer before flying to Sydney. I'd seen the reef and the rain forest. I have no inclination to bungee jump or sky dive.

Unlike Bangkok, I thoroughly researched the public transit system for my travels in Cairns and Sydney. Sydney has a wonderful train and boat system for public use. The GPS on my cell phone had my intended destinations already programmed. I took the train to my hotel, the Marriott Sydney Harbor. Right smack dab in the middle of Sydney tourist central, it was a fifteen minute walk to the Sydney Opera house.

My bitch with my hotel was that I paid extra for the deluxe room only to have a great view of the Sydney Harbor squeezed into the view of the two buildings across the street. The deluxe price for a high dollar hotel didn't include internet. The staff was very accommodating but everything seemed to be ala carte for an already pricy hotel.

I took a boat tour of the harbor which pointed out the features of Sydney. After the tour, I went to the Opera House to buy tour and show tickets.

The first show was more of a concert, Opera's Greatest Hits. I clicked off a few photos of the stage but I was unaware I couldn't take photos during the performance. It's a concert...not an opera...but the Aussies were just as protective of their opera and told me to put away the smart phone. I used the light to illuminate my program and the same usher threatened to toss me if I didn't turn off the light...Bluelou...tossed from the Opera. That's an accolade I haven't yet experienced but this wasn't going to happen. I didn't even breathe wrong nor did I leave my seat during intermission. I didn't want to walk incorrectly and upset this wench. I had a few choice words in mind but discretion got the best of me.

The next day I hit the Opera House tour. They showed how the facility was built...great for this construction cowboy. I was more fascinated with the construction of the facility than the performances.

My second show was called Club Swizzle. It's hard to describe the performance. There was an adult themed comedic element tied to song, dance, and circus type acts. The venue describes it as "Part Bar, Part Show, All Chaos". During the tour, we weren't allowed to photo the set. Before the show, they told the audience not to use flash photography. I saw lots of smart phone cameras going off but mine never left my pocket...permanently stained I guess. Club Swizzle was at least, entertaining. I'd call it a musical comedy rather than an opera but I'll skip the opera from now on.

The opera is too stiff for me. I don't speak Italian and I don't know the content. The opera isn't enough inspiration to learn. I'll stick to plays and concerts in English. No, the duress of the usher wench has no influence on my feelings to skip the opera.

The Sydney Hard Rock Café didn't compare to the one in Bangkok. I dined there twice. The chicken was overcooked and dry. The burger I tried was bland. I'd bought better patties at Walmart. FYI, Aussie meat is the Asian alternative to higher priced American meat. It's usually just as good but not in this case.

My last day in Sydney was like the last day in Cairns, waiting for the time to pass before I headed to the airport. I did a bit of shopping and did lunch at the HRC. I skipped the commemorative souvenirs. I must have taken a thousand photos...that's my souvenir. FYI, I do collect foreign currencies, both coins and paper. I have friends that buy it from me when I get home. I also skipped the cheesy double decker bus tour...seen what I wanted to see on my own two feet or from the harbor boat tour.

Other prominent things I skipped...the Harbor Aquarium (I dove the reef so anything else would have been a downer), Madame Tussauds wax museum...did that in London, the Maritime Museum though it looked pretty cool from the outside, there's nothing inside a museum to interest me except the air conditioning from a hot day. There was a lot of impressive architecture that decorated the Sydney skyline.

What about the famous Sydney beaches? My beach days are over due to too many trips to my doctors.

Australia was one tic off my bucket list. Would I do it again? Perhaps, if I were closer I would. From Laos, it was eighteen hours of airplanes and airports. I'd book lots of short visits in lots of cities so I'd have lots and lots of variety. I'd come back but there's other places in the world I want to see. I liked the quiet of Cairns over Sydney but I'd live in either one if given the chance. Short answer...I'm glad I visited Australia. I'd like to see more at some point in time. Your Australia photo tour begins here or by clicking at the Australian flag at the top of the page.

Home...hmm...where do I start?

The flights in and out of Laos aren't convenient for flying to the US. I usually have a long layover in Bangkok. In this case, I had an overnight layover. I had a room booked in the airline terminal for six hours of a ten hour layover. What a great reason to go into Bangkok for a quick dinner at the HRC? Wrong idea.

Dinner at the HRC was menu needed and bring me the check with my food. It went off without a hitch. Last time I did something like this, the folks at the airport let me into the hotel without a boarding pass but not this time. Delta didn't open until 0400 so I slept in the terminal for four hours before I could get my boarding pass and head to my room for a whole two hours...just enough to shower and lay down.

Flights home went without a hitch.

I like to call it the four "F's"; food, family, friends, and physicians. That's what this trip was....heavy on the physicians part. I didn't make any trips as the physicians made that impossible. My dermatologist has signs posted prohibiting photography. I took a double take when I first saw that notice. No thanks are necessary for me not posting my four nifty colon picks here or on Facebook.

I took Ma to visit the family. Otherwise, it was immediate family, food, and friends. I didn't have too many toys waiting for me.

I hadn't unpacked when the company contacted me on Skype. I got rerouted to Jakarta instead of Vientiane. Delta was trying to reroute me to due to mechanical problems but they couldn’t accommodate everyone on the flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo. With the destination switch, I resolved one seat of their problem. I even got a refund on that leg of the flight. Whoopi!

Flying back to Jakarta was pretty slick. I had three flights from Omaha. I usually have four. All along, I was worried about getting into the country. I bought a visa on arrival. The folks at immigration wanted to know my visa cancellation number. Huh? Ever try to call anyone at 0000 Sunday morning? Well, the boss answered his phone but we couldn't get a hold on the people we needed. I spent the first hour and a half of my fifty second birthday in "airport jail". They treated me well and even gave me water after I told them I was parched. After my hour and a half, they told me I could go. They refunded my fee for my Visa on Arrival and told me they'd let me in the country on my cancelled visa which they viewed as being valid...whatever. The folks at the office had the number but couldn't get in touch with the folks at the airport. I keep a digital copy with my passport from now on. It's a great I spent the early morning hours of my fifty second birthday in airport jail...

I spent five days in Jakarta before returning to Laos. I got to cook in my apartment so I skipped dining out.

Getting the refund on the visa was a big mistake. As I was leaving the country, the folks at immigration deemed I was in the country illegally. They wanted to make an example of me...six days in country version of the Arlo Guthrie hit Alice's Restaurant. Fine...$135. The office told me to get a new passport.

My chariot to Bangkok.I made the appointment for the new passport as instructed but life had other plans for me. As I was walking to church on Sunday, I felt a sudden pain in my leg. It quickly dissipated but the pain in my right abdomen appeared after the leg pain disappeared and did not go away. Not waiting for Mass to be over, I went back to my apartment for the rest of the day. The next day, I went to the French clinic in Vientiane. They ran an EKG noting my functions were normal. They were unable to diagnose the problem but I had an extremely high white blood count. I got a shot of antibiotic with the instructions that if I wasn't in a place of higher medicine that day, come back the following day for more antibiotic on my way to the airport.

We called the medical evacuation folks. Many conversations and emails exchanged that day. Because my condition was undiagnosed, they flew me to Bangkok. Early in the evening, a full medical contingent of doctors and nurses tapped on my door and soon we were off to the airport where there were even more folks waiting. Though I could walk, they whisked me away in a wheelchair barely passing through immigration and security. I could get used to this without much effort. I was driven to the tarmac where the jet ambulance was waiting. We quickly boarded and were off to Bangkok. I rested on the gurney. It made business class look like coach. In Bangkok, someone else went through immigration for me...oh the joys of travel! Off by ambulance to the hospital.

Makes business class seem like coach...Upon arrival, I was admitted to the hospital. Not a lot of time passed before I was off for a CT scan, x ray, and heart stress test. The nurse said I need to be prepped for surgery. Surgery? They were going to do an appendectomy. Yikes! Here's the official terminology complete with video: Laparoscopic Appendectomy Surgery for Appendicitis. My surgery took three hours instead of 15 minutes and my hospital time was a week...ruptured appendix...a whole new ball game that would have killed me if I had delayed my treatment by letting the contents of the appendix spread. Given that I was returning to Laos with almost no medical care, my doctor and I agreed to extend my visit to ten days to err on the side of caution.

My mother had a ruptured appendix that spread years ago. Her recovery lasted several weeks. My niece recently had this surgery so I had current technology.

Her older sister, my niece graduated from college a couple of years back. She recently passed her medical exams to allow her to legally practice medicine. My oldest sister is a pharmaceutical doctor. Both had correctly diagnosed my condition from my oral description. It scares me that a doctor couldn't (or wouldn't) diagnose my common condition even with the proviso "I think it's _____ but I can't be 100% sure without further testing.

Our site safety manager in Laos told me he recommends going to the Australian rather than the French Clinic in Vientiane. I'd be willing to try something different than the doctor who couldn't diagnose a ruptured appendix.

My general practicing doctor suggested that the stress test they ran on me in the Bangkok hospital may have caused the appendix to rupture.

Much like international construction, the biggest hurdle at the Bangkok hospital was communication. I've dealt with the subject for twenty one years but never in medical terms. Even if it's the highest level nurses, they were using the terms 'poo poo' and 'pee pee'. I couldn't bring myself to their crude terminology. Like construction, I couldn't be sure what I said was understood so I watched and patiently corrected if needed. The smartest nurses where the bottom level nurses...the ones that cleaned me and took care of me as I used the toilet. They had a street sense...a family sense that was more practical than academic. I've maintained that nurses and doctors are God's angels. These were no exception. In spite of their shortcomings, they took great care of me and I'm very grateful.

My sister, the Pharm D advised me every day via email and Skype. From our conversations, we both concluded that I had the best available medical care and technology.

Everyone is baffled that my ruptured appendix didn't cause any pain. I had a cold before the appendix burst. Coughing and bending were the only things that caused pain. Unlike most appendix ruptures, the infected appendix didn't spread anything except infection which was the biggest part of my recovery.

Skype and email kept me in touch with family and friends. Some folks from the Laos office visited me twice. They even brought me ice cream.

I'd been on a liquid diet for a week...not an easy way to lose 17 pounds. The closest thing resembling solid food was egg whites. With the egg whites, I tried not to be too ravenous. Solid food came a week after the surgery.

I spent ten days in the hospital before returning to Laos where I hung out in my apartment resting before I returned to work.

It took a while to recover from the appendectomy. I waited a couple of weeks before I started walking. In Vientiane, it was too far to walk to work from my apartment. I didn't set up my kitchen so I'd have the driver drop me off at a restaurant for dinner and I’d walk home. That's usually about a mile and a half minimum.

In retrospect, I'm amazed about how well I adapted to a hospital in a strange land under emergency circumstances. I didn't skip a beat. I think I was too busy ensuring that I didn't get lost in translation from English to Thai...something like my work...except it was me. Unlike construction, the opportunity for 'do-overs' in medicine is limited.

A friend of mine asked me if I was a medical tourist in Thailand. No, I was flown out of the country in an air ambulance but I'm hearing more and more about this concept from some of my associates who have had a lot of work done at the same hospital where I stayed. The all-inclusive cost of the medical evacuation, surgery, doctors, nurses, prescriptions, and ten days in the hospital was about twenty five thousand dollars US. The air taxi alone was about four grand which was all paid by a separate policy my company has with an emergency evacuation organization. The rest was covered by insurance except for two grand deductible. Last time I had surgery in the US, on an outpatient basis, the cost of the operation was well over sixty grand. I lost track of all the other expenses but I remember the sixty grand as my company was switching insurance companies. I coordinated the change with all my doctors but somehow, they didn't coordinate the change with their billing offices and I got to reroute the invoices to the medical providers.

A couple of days later, it was Easter. I skipped the Chreaster crowd by going to the early Bahasa Mass following along on my smartphone in English.

Bluelou, The Uneasy Rider...Besides the new train system that's changing the view on the way to the office, one of the nearby shopping malls was torn down and a multi-story office building had the top floors destroyed in fire. The mall is rumored to be rebuilt and it looks as if they're slowly moving to restore the office building.

In an effort to curb teenage alcohol consumption, the majority of convenience stores have had their alcohol sales permits revoked. Some convenience stores do sell beer but I haven't found a dividing line. Our compound convenience stores have beer but the guys in the compound next door complain that theirs don't. Grocery stores have moved their stock behind the counter and require a clerk to distribute it.

Check out the photo on the right. No, I didn't buy a Harley. This was a local fund raiser and part of the admission was a commemorative photo. I actually got to drive a Harley many years ago. I rode around a field feeling as if I was riding a tractor. The fund raiser was put on by the local HOG chapter (Harley Owners Group) as a fund raiser for children with cleft palate. The general consensus among my associates was that they need to go to the shrimp boil fund raiser and take a few notes to help improve their own gala.

Another Protest Brewing?May 1 is May Basket Day back home. Everywhere else in the world its Labor Day, a holiday. When working abroad with our company, we typically labor on Labor Day whether it's the US or the rest of the world and this was no exception. In Jakarta, it's a day of protest. The police were on high alert to keep down any violence. As I was walking to work, I walked through a protest. The bordering pedestrian overpass was closed except for the police who used it to keep a bird's eye view of the happenings. Though peaceful, the police were on the scene to be seen. It was a common site for protests that I've written about previously. The media was on site as well.

Jakarta recently hosted an Asia Africa political summit. For five days, there were massive street closures to accommodate the political representatives. Police and military lined the streets in very noticeable show of strength.

Memories of ChinaFor those that paid to watch the Mayweather Pacquio fight, it was on local cable here on Sunday morning. It seemed they showed the same commercial between rounds. We have a lot of Filipino workers who routed for Manny. He's a Filipino hero. The fight was on Sunday morning here. Most didn't know it was on local TV so they went to the bars. I watched it from the comfort of my apartment.

In 2012, I left Guangzhou not thinking I'd ever be back. Shift forward to late May 2015 when the boss said go back to Laos. The company bought the cheapest ticket available which also happened to be one of the longer routes through Guangzhou. I'd always stopped there but never flown through. One of the guys who'd flown through Guangzhou shared three words for me, 'bring carry on'. Many folks who'd flown through there didn't get their bags when they hit Laos until much later. I was nervous. When I entered the airport, a young airline rep held a sign with my name on it. She took me to a bench and told me to wait. She took my passport and luggage receipt and told me she'd be back in an hour. Hmm... Another rep told me my luggage was slightly overweight and could she remove some items to be placed in my carry on...I knew this already. It was no problem. The big question was whether or not my bag would be at my destination when I landed. In spite of all the attention, I had a hunch they'd screw up my luggage but my bag was one of the first bags loaded on the baggage carousel.

Not much had changed inside the Guangzhou airport from what I remember from 2012. I even saw some memorable sights as the plane landed and departed.

Not unique but maybe one of the originators...I've never been to Laos in the summer. I returned to the same apartment I stayed in before. My AC strains to keep up with the summer heat. The power company strains to keep the electricity up and running on the weekends during day. The added electrical load is due to the increased ACs. The makeshift electrical infrastructure doesn't help. For the first week I was here, we had a substantial rainfall each day. After that, nothing. When it’s summer up north, it’s winter way down south which means it's the rainy season. I'm told that this is the time when the Mekong River is supposed to flood. What Jakarta gets in a year, Laos is supposed to get in a couple of months and this wasn't close. When I returned in late July, the rain came and stayed.

Here's your Rorschach test. Check out the photo to the left. Is it an airplane or space shuttle? I've been travelling to Vientiane since 2013 and I've been walking in this area for about the same timeframe but I never noticed this until recently. It's not far from my apartment. The concept isn't new but from the apparent age of the airplane, it may have been one of the first.

Over two years ago, I traveled from Vientiane to Udonthani Thailand with a couple of our crew and a driver. The Lao visa on arrival is only good for thirty days so I needed to leave the country to get a foreign passport stamp. The guys came along for the adventure and to do some grocery shopping. We stopped at McNasty's for breakfast and the shopping mall to browse and have lunch. I bought a few things to eat...chips, cereal, etc... Nong Khai is right across the Thai border and Udonthani is about an hour from the border by car. Recently, I went to Nong Khai with only a driver and myself. We stopped in Nong Khai briefly last time. In Nong Khai on this trip, I bought a case of Diet Coke and some bags of chips. Big spender huh? Most of what they sold where I went matched what's sold at Kmart or Wal Mart and I don't need anything else in my luggage. Thailand is the major supplier to Laos (and Thailand's other neighbors as well) for all kinds of goods. Total time of trip including travel was three hours.

Pray Nate, pray!I went home again in July, I spent the first and last nights in Bangkok as the connections to Vientiane aren't too good with Delta's flight schedule. All my flights were boring...the way they should be.

When my plane was taking off for Omaha, the pilot said it was 75 degrees there. That's very cold for July and considerably cooler than Jakarta and Vientiane. I spent a day at home before heading out to KC for a trip to see Mr. Ed and another friend. We picked the wrong night to see the KC Royals as it rained and rained and when it got tired of raining, it rained some more. One query to the security manager told us the game would be started at 2115 when it was still raining but the teams started stretching and the tarp keeping the infield dry was rolled away. You could see that it was clear in the distance but still raining in the stadium. The first pitch scared away the rain but not the sleep monster who was delayed but not detained. I dozed off about every inning. After the third inning, we called it a night to go home and watch the rest of the game on TV.

The next morning, we headed to the batting cages to watch Mr. Ed's budding athlete sons practice their hitting. We tried our hand at the go karts where I had a noticeable weight disadvantage. I asked Nate to pray but he didn't really grasp the bad driver concept.

Off to the Kansas side of KC. Let the cholesterol feast begin. First stop was KC Joe's...formerly Oklahoma Joe's. I hit Stroud's for pan fried chicken the next day.

As I've written before, I've been collecting photos of some of Dad's construction projects in the region. On the way back from KC, I took a few. Ma and I travelled to Denison Iowa for another set. My niece took several for me as well. I'll keep adding as I go.

When we arrived at home from Denison, Ma noticed her purse was missing. There was a number on the machine and we called. They found her purse and started calling any number that resembled a phone number. As coincidence would have it, we were headed east to visit Ma's siblings in Des Moines. This created a slight detour in our trip but the purse was intact with all the contents including plastic and cash. You have a fifty-fifty chance that'll happen.

Let the doctors begin. My dentist retired. My appointment was last minute but my niece works in a dental office so she got me in. It's been a while since I had any kind of dental work beyond x-rays and cleaning. I think they used better technology as they found lots to keep them busy. I was working on a time deadline but they worked me in even after I forgot the time of the appointment. The rest of the exams came up negative and I got my warranty extended another six months.

I did hook up with friends and family. I owed my sister a pizza dinner for being my medical consultant during my appendectomy.

She has such a sweet smile it's hard to get mad at her for selling cancer...As I've written before, the scooter taxis, called ojeks in Indonesia, are everywhere. I'm starting to see lots of ojek drivers dressed in corporate green jackets and crash helmets. You can download an app where you enter your origin and destination. The ojek driver picks you up and drops you off just like Uber. The company sends the trip data to the driver via smart phone. Rates are calculated from the distance obtained from Google maps instead of the fare negotiated by the driver and client. No, I still haven't tried the ojek. FYI, taxis have the same app. I have one but I've never used it. Strange question though...they ask for my birth date. Other than verification, I know of no other reason to furnish that information.

I didn't stock up on groceries during my trip home as I had a strong hunch that I'd be flying shortly after I arrived in Laos. I was right. When I landed in Laos, they told me not to unpack as I'd be returning to Jakarta. I cleaned out my Vientiane apartment knowing that had I not done so, I'd return directly to Jakarta hoping someone would bring my stuff later. I got my ticket the next day for a departure on the following day. They were forgiven for such short notice by booking my ticket in first class.

In Jakarta, it was unseasonably dry and the temps were cool to moderate. It didn't take long to get back into the swing of things.

A mobile sewing machine...Facebook Post: To my sewing friends and biking buddies who don't have the time for both...your excuses are gone.

The picture to the left took several months to get. It piqued my curiosity but I didn’t think about picture until I nearly reached the office which was too late. I kept retracing my steps in hopes that I’d find it for the BLT photo opportunity. I've been looking for this guy for a long, long time. I kicked myself for not taking a picture. I saw this guy a few other times but didn’t think about taking a photo until he passed. I'd forgotten about it. I was walking home from work and the rest is photographic history. Sometimes, you get lucky.

For the biking enthusiast and the curious, I've added a series of posts showing this photo along with pictures of several bikes that are "exotic" or "unusual" including some belonging to your author/editor. Most of the photos are taken abroad. Many of them, you probably won’t see riding on your local neighborhood bike trail.

Can you ever say an economy Mercedes?About a year and a half ago, I posted a photo with ten Lamborghinis parked at a local shopping mall. Same mall, with seven McLarens and one Mercedes. How many times can you refer to a Mercedes-Benz as the cheapest car on the lot?

It was almost comedic. In my August update, I wrote that changes were in the works for Bluelou. I wasn’t kidding but wasn’t ready to divulge these changes until my November update.

I knew I was at the end of my assignment in Jakarta but had no definitive date. My permanent visa was cancelled early in the year. I would fly me in, I’d stay for a month, and then I would get a one month extension and head back to Laos. Laos was finishing up so that wasn’t too likely. I needed to do a visa turnaround...leave the country, get a passport stamp from another country, and come back. I put in an early request to overnight in Bangkok or someplace else rather than just fly somewhere, have lunch and return. I got a yes for that request but that decision was rescinded due to cost. I was to go to Singapore but word came down from the home office that I needed to leave permanently as soon as my visa extension neared expiration. Ok... One of my many bosses said I was going to our project in Kosovo, the former Serbia. My plans got accelerated. I knew the project manager there. We worked together on my first Beijing assignment. In a roundabout way, I dropped his name and the person who told me I was going to Kosovo inquired. The next thing I know, they were interviewing him for his now current assignment as my boss. It’s funny how things turn out. I know many of the staff there from previous projects.

For the record, Kosovo is a new country. You can’t get Kosovo maps for the Nokia Here app but you can get Serbia maps which contain Kosovo. The US was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo as a country. Many countries do not so you have to pay attention when folks talk Serbia...they’re talking Kosovo. Even in the Vientiane airport, they said I was going to Serbia. Folks from the countries that don’t recognize Kosovo need a visa. I didn’t need one to get into Kosovo.

When the company informs you that you’re going to a new assignment, the first thing you do is Google the location. I go to the CIA’s web site and look for my new assignment. Here’s the link for the weather averages and for the current weather. I then look for restaurants, churches, and other web sites looking for clues as to what I’ve just committed myself for the next few years. I’m seven hours ahead of home.

Dealing with winters is something I haven’t done since I was in Helsinki or when I go home. Not having snow/cold is something I’ve learned to enjoy while living in Laos and Indonesia. I’ll need my winter gear but all I had was a coat, cap, and gloves I use when the family picks me up at the airport when I go home in winter. After the Vientiane office was taken down, I worked out of my apartment. I had two forms of internet that worked sporadically. Neither could be depended upon individually or collectively. It made work challenging at best. I stopped wearing shoes going directly to sandals. Heading to Kosovo meant wearing pants and shoes. Oh my!

My sister rounded up an emailed list of winter gear that she shipped to my office for forwarding to me here in Kosovo.

The original plan was for me to fly out 20-Sep to go back to the home office to train my successor. The initial plans would have jeopardized my 330. My successor withdrew his acceptance of the company’s offer. With no successor, who do I go back and train? On the day before I was to go back to Birmingham, I got rerouted to Laos. Beats the hassle I’d have with the IRS by breaking my 330. Revisions to previously announced plans were changed daily. Dinner plans with friends in Birmingham were suddenly cancelled. It was insane. The adventure never ends...

Moving out of my Jakarta apartment was a high stress affair. The company made moving my stuff easy…just no fluids or medicines. Simply itemize your belongs and they came and got them where they sat until I released them. Regardless of the company’s assistance in moving out...moving is stressful.

Leaving Jakarta was bittersweet. I felt as if I was getting kicked out of paradise. I went back and forth emotionally as I had just as many reasons to stay as to go. I’m looked forward to new, different challenges and seeing a new part of the world.

Laos...never say never... The word didn’t pass my lips regarding Laos but I thought it highly unlikely. Our project was almost done. Even the office was terminal. The thought police must have heard my thoughts. Truth be told, I strongly considered freeing up phone memory by deleting all my Laos phone contacts but my little voice was telling me to hold on. My little voice often gets me in trouble but, once again, it was right. Funny how things change but it’s good to be back. In no time at all, I was back in the old routines. I stayed in the Best Western Hotel for a couple of weeks before I moved back to my old digs.

Vientiane celebrates the Vientiane celebrates the end of the Buddhist equivalent of Lent with fireworks and a big boat race. The parties around the city started many days in advance of race day. I could feel the excitement building even though I know nothing of the local language.

The Mekong River was very low this year. I checked the web and the actual dates were different than what I was told would be the dates of the races. I called my local Cornhusker compadre and he gave me the 411. I took an extended lunch walking downtown for lunch and to check out the scene. Police had barricaded the access so that only scooters and pedestrians could pass. Sidewalks were taped off to prevent parking. That didn’t prevent the masses from gathering. The day was incredibly hot. The best idea was to find a shady spot with a view that served your favorite cold beverage. I did that but realized I couldn’t stay too long so I went walking. I saw nothing but people and folks trying to sell stuff. After a couple of hours in the sun, I started overheating and my sunscreen was playing hell on my eyes so I headed back home having seen no boat races. I was informed that the racing would be sporadic so it was a crap shoot whether I’d see any racing at all. If you zoom in on the picture at the right, you’ll see the burnt candles on the toy boat. This was a frequent sight at many locations around the city.

I got my Kosovo travel ticket a week ahead of time...highly unusual with far too much notice. I started doing the last circuit of my favorite Vientiane restaurants. I’d only unpacked the necessities in my Vientiane apartment so repacking wasn’t difficult.

Flying to Kosovo meant a red-eye flight out of Bangkok. Unloading my Thai Baht, Lao Kip, and Indonesian Rupiah was the biggest challenge to the trip. Those currencies would no longer be useful. I’ll still be working on the Jakarta job and I will probably need to go to Jakarta at least once but I wanted a clean currency break. Dealing with money changers has evil implications that go back to Biblical times. I hold them up there with tax collectors.

My connection in Bangkok to my next flight was tight. I got through security and into the terminal and my flight information said final call. There were a lot of folks waiting on the jet bridge along with me.

I had a five hour layover in Vienna but when I got to Kosovo, my bags weren’t there. I guess they spent the night in Bangkok having fun without me. I got them the next day.

Happy Thanksgiving!It's flattering to see how well Americans are treated here. This was an Independence Day Concert Celebration held in conjunction to American Thanksgiving as the Kosovars have plenty of thanks to give. Americans from our office were invited to a concert in thanks in helping Kosovo achieve its' freedom and the first country to acknowledge Kosovo as a country. The concert was a suit and tie affair. No, I wasn't invited as I got here after the invitation was issued and my suits are back home.

In the same location and many around the city, about a week later, billboards welcoming Secretary of State Kerry on his visits to Kosovo were erected. Like him or not and politics aside, the respect for Americans is pretty cool...

It’s the first time I ever remember entering a country without a single word spoken between immigration and me.

My boss said he’s been pulled by the local police for traffic infractions over four times. Each time he hands his American driver’s license to the officer, the officer hands it back without a ticket thanking the USA for their freedom and advising my boss to have a nice day.

Mother Therese Cathedral in KosovoThe Kosovars named their streets after famous people even though it’s predominately Muslim. There’s Mother Therese Boulevard. She has a popular square in her name. It’s a popular place to be seen with young, old, beggars, and protestors as well. We often get notices of some protest underway. There’s Bill Clinton Boulevard. He even has a statue. Bush has a street in his name. I can’t be 100% sure but I’ll bet it’s George Jr. as he was first world leader to formally recognize Kosovo as an independent nation and to establish diplomatic ties with them.

Downtown, there’s a Cathedral named after Mother Therese. Though open for Mass, the Cathedral is under construction. Masses are in Albanian. I go to another church that’s nearby for Sunday Mass in English.

There are so many restaurants, I can walk down any alley or street and find a restaurant. Without much effort, you can find place to eat a decent meal for five dollars...the rule rather than the exception. I found Diet Coke in only one store. I pass on Coke Zero. They really aren’t big on cereals here so when I see it, I stock up.

As a tease, I posted the airport coordinates in Skype when I got my flight itinerary to Kosovo. No one commented or questioned about this update. I posted a link to my picture of the view from my balcony in Pristina on Facebook.

My Church in PristinaMy apartment rivals some of the plushest apartments I’ve ever had with a fiber optic internet that rivals speeds I’ve only seen in the US and satellite. My Slingbox picture looks like my Satellite HD. Generally, I walk to and from work tagging along with others for lunch. When my possessions arrived from Jakarta, I stopped eating out so often. I scouted out the grocery stores for the ingredients of my normal cuisine fare.

The company gave me a VW that seldom sees the road under my possession. After two weeks of walking without driving the car, I figured I’d take it out for a spin. Imagine my surprise when I went looking for it and it was gone. At best, it was towed. At worst...stolen. My mind was racing with possibilities. There was no use hiding can only hide the fact that a car has gone missing for only so long. Time to fess up...I went to the boss with a mea culpa but he interrupted me in mid-culpa. The company took the car without telling me. Ok heart, you can start beating now. I’m off the hook. Sure enough, they had it.

With such close proximity to Turkey, there are lots of products from Turkey on the grocery shelves and Turkish restaurants. It brings back memories of my first international work assignment in Ankara.

I’ve seen pork in a few of the grocery stores but not in many restaurants. We can get pork at the commissary. Alcohol is widely available in the stores, restaurants, and bars. The call to prayer bellows out five times daily as is the Muslim norm but I have yet to see anyone stop to pray. Once again, the term "Muslim lite" applies.

Currency in Kosovo is the Euro. The EU is helping to stabilize the Kosovo economy which, depending upon who you believe, has a thirty to fifty percent unemployment rate. The rural areas are hit hardest by unemployment. The huge migration from war torn Syria seems to skip Kosovo due to the high unemployment.

I’ve heard nothing of the Syrian refugees in Kosovo. The employment situation is too depressed.

Betting on sports is big business in Pristina. The strip malls are littered with them.

There is lots of speculative building going on.

As a reminder of the war, many buildings have generators as backup power. Since the war ended, power outages still exist but are becoming less and less frequent.

Noticeably missing are the chain outlets…no hotels, gas stations, fast food. One theory is that the local businesses can easily undercut the prices of the franchises. I’ve seen a Pizza Hut sign but haven’t seen the restaurant itself. The commissary at the PX has BK and Taco Bell but that’s reserved for military at the base.

I bought a membership at the gym. I’ve had too much of the good life. All the weight I lost from my appendectomy came back with a vengeance. The gym is open 24-7. Extremely modern, you’re given a wristband with a computer chip you use for admission, lockers, and turning on a rather short two minute shower. Admission requires fingerprinting as well.

So far, the weather has been unseasonably mild. We’ve seen a couple of snowfalls with no accumulation except at the mountain tops visible from Pristina. The cold I've experienced is a damp cold...the bone chilling cold.

My beloved Huskers…if anyone can tell me the reason why we fired a 9-3 coach to get to a 0.500 want to be coach and get stuck paying the 9-3 coach’s salary for the next several years? The logic is beyond me. I’ve been stewing over that one since we hired this coach. I watched all the games I could. How we could go to a bowl game with a losing record is also beyond my rationale. My only consolation is that we get a few more weeks of practice where we might improve for next season. Someone needs to look at the person doing the hiring and firing.

For Thanksgiving, the company paid for dinner at an upscale restaurant. We ordered an entrée with turkey served on the side. We had potluck Thanksgiving on Saturday night. I furnished one of the turkeys bought locally. Someone else deep fried it.

Just before Thanksgiving, I received my shipment of goods from Jakarta which included several crock pots. I had a contingency plan in case the company turkey fell through…turkey in the crock. I’d scouted out crock pots in local electronics stores and I found turkey legs on the grocery shelves. Well, I still had my crock pot turkey leg with a surprise. The turkey leg I’d cooked was a smoked turkey leg. I’d unknowingly doubled down on the smoke flavoring with a generic liquid smoke flavoring. It was the best turkey leg I'd ever made in the crock. The leg bone was useless as the meat slid off the bone but it was oh so good.

For Christmas, I’d had visions of London but the boss let me know that I was low in the food chain and he wanted to go to Dubai for Christmas. He wanted me here to hold down the fort. I may meet him there as the company needs me to fly there to train my replacement at a time yet to be determined. I’ll bring my big bags to bring back kitchen stock.

The company had Christmas dinner at the same restaurant where we celebrated Thanksgiving. We’ll be doing another potluck dinner as well. I bought another turkey for someone else to cook.

The significance of these trips is that I'VE NEVER DONE THIS THING IN MY LIFE!!! Jakarta, Vientiane, Bangkok, Vientiane, Cairns, Sydney, Vientiane, Bangkok, Vientiane, Omaha, Jakarta, Vientiane, Jakarta, Vientiane, Omaha, KC, Vientiane, Jakarta, Vientiane, Pristina…whew!...rinse, lather, repeat... The closest thing I can recall is flying home from Beijing for my father's funeral, returning to Beijing ten days later, and repeating the process a few weeks later for my doctor least the travel part. That's when I learned to appreciate business class upgrades...a thing of the past with Delta. I’ve been travelling incessantly since last Christmas so not going anywhere doesn’t upset me.

I’m still dreaming of London sometime next year. I have my semi-annual running of the doctors. I have another nephew with wedding plans for October 2016. That’s on the docket for next year. They’re penciled in as I can’t commit to anything with my life as it’s subject to change in the next five minutes.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Kwanza! Happy Chanukah!

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