Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Visiting Mike One Last Time

Because I knew that I wouldn't be seeing Mike until his return to Canada in April 2011, I decided two weekends ago to see if I could manage to get together with him one last time before he leaves for Laos on December 4. Initially, I had planned to have one of my roommates drive me out to Port Hope, but last Wednesday these plans changed. I received an email from Mike saying that Sammy, the owner of Port Hope's Bualai Taste of Thai restaurant, where Mike and Steve hosted their first fundraiser for Adopt a Village in Laos, offered to pick me up at the GO station in Oshawa and drive me back to Toronto the following Monday. So I arranged with Mike to meet them at the station about 2.15 pm on Friday afternoon.

Within ten minutes of the train pulling into Oshawa, Sammy, Mike, and Kai Sing, Mike and Steve's miniature Schnauzer, arrived. On the way back to Port Hope, Sammy took the scenic route along Lakeshore Drive, which gently winds its way close to Lake Ontario. When we came to a stretch of road flanked by forest, three deer, in rapid succession, suddenly leapt across the road and then quickly disappeared into the forest on the other side. On reaching Newcastle, I asked Sammy to pull over for a few minutes where I braved the elements to take some pictures.

About an hour later we arrived at the Bualai restaurant, where Mike promptly took Kai Sing up to Sammy's apartment above the restaurant and left him in the company of her three little dogs. Then I helped Sammy resolve a couple of minor computer issues, after which Mike and I sat down to dine on some sumptuous Thai cuisine.

In the evening Mike took me to the Capitol Theatre, where the Adopt a Village in Laos fundraiser had taken place in October, to experience the Christmas Festival of Light and Trees, a collection of eighty finely adorned trees decorated by local businesses and individuals. The sight of all these trees was overwhelmingly beautiful and simply magical. There was a warmth and intimacy about it all which a big city can't reproduce.

Later that night Sammy drove us back to Steve and Mike's house.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning - sometime between 3 am and 4 am - I stirred and happened to glance out the window, where my eyes beheld thin layers of snow caressing the bare branches. When I  finally got out of bed a couple of hours later, big fat snowflakes saturated and drifted through the air, and the countryside was carpeted in a sea of white. Later that morning, Mike and I ventured out into this winter wonderland to take Kai Sing out for a leisurely walk.

At around 11 am that morning, Jennifer Hawthorn, one of the three accompanying Mike to Laos, arrived to take us and Kai Sing into Port Hope, where she and Mike would have their hair cut. When we got to Port Hope, Jennifer went to have her hair done first, leaving Mike, me and Kai Sing to wander around town for an hour. During our travels we popped into Hinchcliffe & Lee to say hello to Barbara, the proprietor, and sauntered down near the waterfront, where a cold wind blew off the lake.

About an hour later we returned to the hair salon in time for Mike's appointment. While I waited, the staff treated me to hot apple cider and freshly baked cookies. Afterwards, we met up with Jennifer and decided to watch a bit of Port Hope's own Santa Claus parade. There, we ran into Cleve and his wife, members of the Port Hope Rotary Club and who had attended that special dinner at Steve and Mike's house on October 30. In the parade we saw Jennifer Mercer, who is also accompanying Mike to Laos, and her Jazz It Up! contingent. Eventually, we succumbed to the cold and retreated to the warmth of Sammy's restaurant across the street and had lunch.

While we grazed, Jennifer and Mike reviewed some important details about the Laos trip. A bit later, on the way back to Steve and Mike's house, we briefly stopped at the Railside restaurant, where we joined Jennifer Mercer, who had texted the other Jennifer while we were at the Bualai restaurant, and her daughter. The conversation naturally drifted to the impending trip to Laos.

When Mike and I finally got back to the house, he put on some classical guitar music and went for a nap. I curled up on one of the couches with my book, Three Cups of Tea, and finished reading chapter eight. After Mike awoke, he concentrated on making dinner. Later, we watched a movie. Then, I retired for the night, while Mike stayed up until the early hours with his laptop.

Sunday was a lazy day. Both of us didn't rise until 9 am. We had breakfast, then went out for two-hour jaunt with Kai Sing. When we got back, we were famished and had lunch. Mike went for a nap and I simply lounged, then read chapter nine of Three Cups of Tea. At 6.30 pm, we had dinner. A couple of hours later, while sipping steaming cups of mint tea watched a movie before retiring for the night.

Monday morning. We got up at about 7.30 am, had breakfast, and then took Kai Sing out for a short walk. At 9 am Sammy arrived. I collected my things and loaded Kai Sing's belongings into Sammy's vehicle. Along the way we stopped at the home of Teresa Hawthorn, mother of Jennifer Hawthorn, to drop off Kai Sing. This is the place where he would be lovingly tended to for the next several months while Steve and Mike are away. Then we said our good-byes to Kai Sing and departed.

Driving back to Toronto, Sammy took the same scenic route we had come on our way to Port Hope. Once we hit the 401, we were back in Toronto in no time at all. Sammy dropped me off at the McCowan LRT stop, where we said our good-byes and I gave Mike a big warm hug.

When I got on the LRT, a profound sadness swept over me, not only because I wouldn't be seeing Mike for the next few months, but also missing that small town with which, each time I go there, I leave a little piece of myself behind.

My Journey to Laos: Travel Fund Update

While I was at my local cafe, Java Jive, this morning, my friend Gary, a regular patron of this establishment, shared some fantastic news with me. He, his sister and his mother have contributed a total of $300 toward the cost of my flight to Laos next year. Upon hearing this news, I was completely beside myself. I gave him a big hug and thanked him so much.

Laos Update: November 29, 2010

Yesterday Mike received an update from Steve about what's been happening since he arrived in Laos. Below is a portion of that email.

Yesterday was a really long day but fruitful. I met with the regional Governor, the General Manager for Hygiene and Water and the General Manager of Education, all located in Non Khiaw. They are all coming to celebrate the opening of the first of schools. He, [the] Governor, was joking with us when he said that we stole 2 schools (meaning that we skipped all the red tape and the processes required for approval) and that he wished we would steal more. I am guessing that they get bogged down all the time with process and they are pretty happy with the results when I skipped them. After that we visited the village with the mud hole for a water source. They can't use the one that I had a picture of, but there were three more locations we trekked to. The only reliable one was about an hour trek each way - there is a really small one that is only 20 minutes and the water is relatively clear but it is so small, certainly not enough to feed a whole village. And the hygiene is simply non existent. There was one guy who was really thirsty and simply went down to this mirky water to take a drink - I wouldn't let him and gave him my water. They [bathe] in a nearby river where there is also excrement (human and other) plus this where they say there are often dead animals and also where they dump the remains of people who have died. Once back to the village there I found that there were no latrines of any kind - they just go behind the bushes. It was a sad story indeed. I am looking forward to going back to announce our intentions to provide a new water source and to provide water filters. At least they will be able to take showers, etc. I will also try to convince them that they need latrines, even if they aren't up to our standards.
It was a long day yesterday, but I managed to [summarize] all of their requests below.
The Governor has told us that the government's mandate is to provide at least temporary roads to all villages in the district before they can focus on water sources followed by schools. There are still 48 villages without a temporary road. From the education ministry there are 11 schools on their list requiring immediate assistance. From the Hygiene/Water Department there are 6 villages without a reliable water source. Total - 65 projects. I have to review the AAVIL mandate but I don't think village access is one of them unless it prevents us from building a school. (AAVIL - Adopt a Village in Laos). The big problem is the bridges.
Anyway I have asked for much more information and will take it back to Rick Norlock [Member of Parliament for Port Hope] to see if the Canadian Government may be able to give us any assistance.
For Cleve and Ron [Rotary Club members] - don't even think that I am considering trying to do all of the projects. It is tough enough to manage four or five projects at the same time, let alone 65.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Special Personal Issue

This week I published a special issue of Adopt a Village in Laos newsletter. It is a very personal issue in that it specifically focuses on seeking sponsors to help me finance my trip to Laos in December 2011. In the coming year, I will likely explore other avenues to help me raise money for this great endeavour.

Greg Mortenson Interview

This interview with Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, one of the sources of inspiration for Adopt a Village in Laos, and its sequel, Stones into Schools.

Additional video material about Greg Mortenson can be found on YouTube and on iTunes U on iTunes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

This past Monday I celebrated another milestone on my journey to Laos when I popped into my local Indigo and picked up a copy of Greg Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea. On Tuesday, I made a personal commitment to reading at least one chapter of this book a day. Today, I am embarking on chapter seven.

On several occasions this week, some friends and acquaintances have seen me reading or noticed the reference to this book in the special issue of Adopt a Village in Laos newsletter, which I published this week. They have remarked that they have either read the book, of which they speak glowingly, or know the title.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Skype Talk

This evening while I was videoconferencing via Skype with Mike, who is still in Canada until the beginning of December, Steve suddenly popped online. Sharing my excitement with Mike, I told him that we would resume our conversation a bit later.

When I connected with Steve, we couldn't believe how amazingly clear the connection was, considering the distance of about 15,000 kilometres (about 9,300 miles) between us. With the exception of a couple of transmission hiccups here and there, our videoconference was essentially perfect. The conversation, which only lasted for a few minutes, was light and easy. I discovered that he was visiting Singapore for a couple of days with one of his work colleagues from Laos. The time difference between Singapore and Toronto is 12 hours, and at the time we were chatting it was just after 8 AM Monday morning their time.

Hopefully, we will be able to maintain some semblance of communication while they are in Laos, but this will be entirely dependent on where they are and if there is any kind of Internet access available. In major centres like Luang Prabang, this is not an issue. However, as one moves out of the major centres and into the jungle where the villages are, this becomes increasingly challenging.

New Twitter Follower

This afternoon at 2.22 PM my world expanded again when I received an email that Southeast Asia News is now following my tweets on myjourneytolaos Twitter feed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reflecting on the Journey So Far

The most astonishing thing about this journey so far is that I have already traveled such a great distance in such a short span of time. It was only in July that I met Mike, who first told me about Adopt a Village in Laos. Weeks later, I met Steve, the other driving force behind this grassroots organisation. To both of them, I am extremely grateful for having entered their orbit. My creativity has been stimulated. My sense of adventure has been rekindled. An incredible and inexorable sense of excitement has been ignited deep within me, which I am sharing with other people every chance I get to tell them about the work with which I am involved. Above all, it is the forging of connections with new people both near (and soon to be far) that is most enriching and rewarding for me.

At the beginning of October, I recorded one of their fundraising presentations, and then a week later I presented it to the world by uploading it to YouTube. In mid-October, this blog came into being, not only to expand awareness but to share the passion I feel for the work they are doing. With momentum unabated, November opened and saw the creation of a newsletter dedicated to Adopt a Village in Laos. The most recent milestone occurred this week when I started reading Greg Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea, which is the book that inspired (and continues to inspire) Steve in his work.

As Joseph Campbell so eloquently stated when one has found one's true passion in life, he said:

Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn't know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for
anyone else.

I think this is the bliss which I was intended to follow.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making Connections

Yesterday while I was checking the stats on my blog, I noticed that I had a visitor from Laos. I wondered if it might be Steve, so I emailed him. Later that same day, I received a reply in which he said that indeed it was him. He had been showing my blog to a colleague at one of his meetings.

Being the curious guy that I am, I replied to this email and asked Steve how did this person react to seeing my blog. A short time later he replied (and I quote):

Quite frankly, the guy was a bit overwhelmed - actually he was a lot overwhelmed.  He had no idea just how much work so many people are putting into making Laos a better place for its people.

Inside, I smiled. Even though I wasn't able to be there physically, I was still making an impression on and connecting with others.

Tuning in to Laos

While I was on the iTunes store last night, I decided to take a look to see if there was anything Laos-related. Well, lo and behold, there was. I discovered a small collection of apps for the iPhone. One which really caught my attention and which I subsequently downloaded is WR Laos Radio. Through this app you can listen to Laos-based radio stations. This provides an excellent way to educate oneself about, immerse oneself in, and become intimately acquainted with Laos culture.

This audio sample from Hmong Lao Radio, one of four default radio stations bundled with this app, is a morning intro announcing the start of this station's broadcasting day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three Cups of Tea: An Inspiration for Adopt a Village in Laos

Before Steve left for Laos earlier this week, he told me about one of the greatest inspirations for  Adopt a Village in Laos. It is this book, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. He suggested that I read it to gain a better perspective of the humanitarian work which he and Mike are doing. I will certainly do that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back to Laos: The Work Continues

In the wee hours of Monday, November 15, Steve Rutledge, one of the founders of Adopt a Village in Laos, departed from Pearson International Airport in Toronto on a 26-hour flight to Laos, where he will be based until April 2011. Ports of call on this long journey include Hong Kong, Bangkok, Hanoi, and finally, Luang Prabang.

On December 5, Mike Yap, the other founder, and three other Port Hope locals will join Steve in Laos. For these three people, who have never been to Laos before, it will certainly be an eye-opening, life-altering experience for them all. Jennifer Hawthorn will be teaching basic English to the villagers. Jennifer Mercer will be doing a dance exchange program with the hill tribe villagers. Lastly, Ted Amsden, a writer for Northumberland Today, the local newspaper in Port Hope, and professional photographer, will be documenting their journey through the lens.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Adopt a Village in Laos newsletter

On the morning of November 6, I created this beautiful little newsletter, which is drawn from the introductory text on Steve Rutledge's blog, Adopt a Village in Laos. It is a great icebreaker for people who are unfamiliar with what Adopt a Village in Laos is and what Adopt a Village in Laos does.

Since its creation, I have been distributing it via email or making actual copies and giving it to people.

A downloadable version of the newsletter can be found on the right sidebar on this blog.