How a language can be a transformative tool in our lives is being best showcased by a small school on a narrow street of Luang Prabang. Almost seven weeks into my travels in south east Asia, I realized that English is such a hot commodity in this part of the world, especially among young people. A widespread idea that learning English is a way to succeed in life has been playing an important role in shaping thinking of many school and college goers in these countries. This is exactly what I heard from young adults in Big Brother Mouse when I spent a few hours talking to them. One could see that the hopes and dreams were shining through their eyes.

Big Brother Mouse is an independent free school in a small building that opens two hours every morning and two hours every evening giving high school and university students an opportunity to interact with tourists. The informal settings let students chat freely with visitors from every corner of the world. Smiles on their faces and enthusiasm in their voice show sheer willingness to improve their English language skills. Not only they want to hone their writing and speaking skills, these aspiring kids want to learn more from tourists about their countries and cultures. A simple conversation, sometimes, takes a form of deep discussion about careers, goals and ideas. Questions are mostly asked to gain knowledge; however, curved balls can be expected that put visitors into deep thoughts, and, sometimes, into awkward situations.

A high-school student from the country side of Laos wanted to know why people in India have snakes wrapped around their necks. Why snakes don’t bite these people? There were so many innocent assumptions in this question that I almost stopped for a minute thinking where this question is coming from. He told me that he watched some Indian TV programs. It seemed for a moment to be less like a language class and more like a cultural awareness workshop. A few students were curious to know how it was to live in India and America; and which I liked more. “Life is good in both countries” was my short and uncomplicated answer. A first-year university student asked, “If I ever want to consider living in Laos?” The question itself was not puzzling but the intent behind it moved me. He wanted to have more people in his country who can teach English to children in his village and others.

Many students come here often to seek help prepare for potential career opportunities. They want to confirm if they were constructing sentences correctly and using words appropriately. When I asked, “Why are you so dedicated to learn and improve your English?” The responses fascinated me. The range was wide from “I want to be an English teacher” to “I want to be a tour-guide” to “I want to be rich.” One 16 year told me secretly that he wants to have an English-speaking girlfriend in the future; innocent and honest answer. Some told that they also want to learn Japanese and Mandarin because a lot of Japanese and Chinese tourist come here every month. These answers were not mere words, they reflected dreams many of the Laotian youths have.

The idea of running such a school deserves a mention. However small my contribution was to this school, it gave an opportunity to add another story in my life.

DSC03106I was scheduled to take a bus from Battambang to Siem Reap on Sunday. Human Gallery was one of the items on my list that was closed on weekends. There was something in me that whispered that I should not skip the place. So, I decided to stay in Battambang for one more day. I wanted to meet the person who runs this gallery in a small shop. A professional photographer, Joseba Etxebarria left his secure career and comfortable life in Spain many years ago to pursue his dream, a dream that turned into an extraordinary story, and now into a cause to help humanity. Read More

Three days in Thailand, and I still did not have a theme for my story about this colorful country. As I was contemplating in a bus from Chiang Rai to Chaing Mai, I saw a golden statue of Buddha on a hill. I found my story in that moment; it had to be about Buddha.

From the mountains of Pai in the north to the beaches of Pattaya in the south, one thing was consistent: Buddha. Form, color, size kept changing, but the same peace was prevalent everywhere I went. It was a 15 day odyssey in the Buddha universe. DSC03428

Pace of an economic hub, energy of a party town, feel of an island; you are promised to get all of this in this densely populated landmass. Although Hong Kong does not top many travelers’ destination list, it is certainly a favorite transit point for many globetrotters. No traveler should miss its warm hospitality, thriving culture and scenic geography- all can be experienced in a very short span of time. But the first thing first.  What is Hong Kong? Is it a country that moves like a city or it is a city that functions like a country.

Let’s try to find out. Hong Kong is one of those countries that have managed to treasure its traditions yet thrive on modernity. I was amazed to see how its Chinese heritage and colonial footprints have intertwined to give it a dynamic yet rooted identity. Trams are running on the streets where dumplings are sold on the side. Ancient temples and modern electronic shops are not very far away from one another. Italian pizza and traditional noodle soup are sold in the same small restaurant. Hong Kong has developed itself into a modern mega city, but it is a still a country with too many cultural links.

Hong Kong’s gravity defying Peak Tram, a 125 year old cable-hauled funicular railway, was a cool way to get to Victoria Peak. It felt like as if the earth has titled at 45 degree angle while the tram is moving perfectly horizontal. Honk Kong’s glass forest of skyscrapers lit in various colors and intensities was standing tall proudly. I was introduced by my friend to the Hong Kong’s famous dumplings at the Sky Terrace 428.

When in Hong Kong’s public transport, one of the world’s smoothest transport systems, I felt like I was in a highly efficient city. When I walked beyond the city limits, I was exploring a country rich in culture and natural beauty. I totally underestimated the steep streets here. Walking was a bit of a stretch, but locals do it in style. I joined the locals to take a tour of Temple Street Night Market, one of the liveliest markets in Hong Kong. The market is a sensory feast for every passer by. Once can see a fusion of old and new in this market as well. Antique objects, handicrafts and contemporary gadgets are available on the same streets.

Morning hikes, especially in the outskirts, were peaceful and interesting way to see a slow-down version of Hong Kong. Peace around the Big Buddha or Tian Tan Buddha was ever present whether it was noon or night.

This is what I realized in three days I spent In Hong Kong. It does not matter if it a country or just a city, it has its glory, its character and its charm. Forget if you are in a metropolis or on an island, just dance on its beats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Around 92 million people and 45+ million motorbikes! One can imagine how motorbikes play an important role in all aspects of everyday life in Vietnam, particularly in major cities. One of the top five markets for motorbikes in the world, Vietnam, its people and its economy moves on motorbikes. Vietnam experience would not complete unless you  rode a motorbike here.  Read More

A cruise leaves the port of Miami Friday evening for the Bahamas. There wasn’t any agenda for the weekend other than party and excursion. If one needs to lose oneself in a perfect getaway in the sea under the open sky, it was the vessel to aboard. A sailing night club in night time and a moving resort in day time, the Norwegian Sky cruise was out on a voyage for some sun and fun.

When I boarded Norwegian Sky, some of the scenes from the Titanic movie flashed by in my mind. Nothing of that sort happened though; neither the ship sunk, nor I found love on the ship. It was my first time on a cruise, so it was okay to over fantasize. What actually happened was something I did not expect either. When there are free drinks at every corner, unlimited food everywhere and over excited souls on the floor; who would want to remain sober.  The first evening began with the kickoff drinks and music that turned into a weekend long party, ended only when the ship returned to the port on Monday.

I woke up with a view of a white-sand beach with palm trees. It was not a dream. The vessel was docked at Great Stirrup Cay. The blue waters and cold morning breeze was calling, but the body wanted to sleep more in the cozy cabin. The cruisers were to spend entire day on the island. Many preferred to lie down on the soft sand, while I hit the treadmill on the top floor of the ship. I did not want to miss a gym with such a gorgeous view. The view of the island from the window was like looking at a computer wallpaper. Bahama Mama was always on the menu, on the ship as well as off the ship.

By the sunset, the decks on most of the floors were crowded. It was a perfect time to take pictures in the dimming golden light. Music turned on and drinks started pouring as we headed to the next destination- Nassau. After a fancy dinner in the grand dining hall, things got back to craziness on the party deck. People were same, their attires just changed, and so did their social behavior.

As the ship come to rest at the Nassau terminal early next morning, a eventful day was about to begin in the town- a town not just known for its beaches; but also for its culture, history and energy. It has its own rhythm. Whether you are on a family vacation or party cruise trip, it does not let you down. Local vendors around the beaches didn’t care how much you drank last night on the ship; they poured rum punch by liters in coconut shells. Bars on the city streets are pretty creative to get your attention. Señor Frog’s was our final stop before we got on the cruise again for the final night. It was no different from other evenings…music, drinks and dance again.

In less than 72 hours on the ship, strangers became good friends. Many stories were shared as well as created. Norwegian Sky cruised through the moonlit sea back to its home in Miami, giving thousands of cruisers unforgettable memories.

 

 

A paradise for nature lovers, adventurers, photographers, surfers, divers, wild-life explorers, historians and archaeologists; Costa Rica has something for everyone. One of the few countries in the world with no army, it has been a safe getaway for family vacationers as well as backpackers the world. There are two sides of Costa Rica: one makes your heart slow down while the other will make your heart race to its limits. I was more into the latter one.