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Archive for May, 2012

I have written on this blog numerous times that I wish I didn’t own property and how I don’t plan to buy any for a long, long time.  My previous experience with it was too unpleasant (namely, that my place is worth 1/3 of what I paid, dropping 65% in four years).

But whenever I go to someone’s house and they have a nice one, I think to myself “I wouldn’t mind living in a place like this!”

But then I say to myself “No! Think through what means!” it means paying a lot more for a lifestyle I don’t really need. And with that extra housing costs, it means trade offs elsewhere. It means I can’t trade in the stock markets, and it means less spare money door traveling, and it means I feel much stingier for my charitable donations.

But the temptation is strong.

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Two years ago, I had to write an article for a conference in Vancouver and I had writer’s block.  That was on May 2, 2010.

Last year, I blogged about how I had writer’s block two years ago, and had it again.  That was on May 21, 2011.

This year, I once again procrastinated about writing this article.  I was going to work on it last weekend (May 19, 2012), but didn’t.  I pushed it off.  Yesterday (May 26), I did get a rough cut of it done.  Why is it that no matter how much time I give myself, I always write and finish my article about 10 days before the deadline?

I was proud of myself yesterday for cranking about 5000 words in 3 hours.  After I finished it (still have to edit it, I can’t write and edit in the same day because I can’t see my own writing errors), I said “Gee, that was fast.”  But was it really?

The topic I am writing about I have previously written about:

  1. Last year, on a post on my work blog (and subsequently published in an online magazine), I wrote a 3500 word article that I used as a baseline document.

  2. Two or three months ago, I wrote up a specification at work for how to implement this idea.

  3. Two weeks ago, I wrote up an Internet draft proposing my idea as an Internet standard.

  4. Friday at work, we had a meeting to discuss my idea and I wrote up notes on the subject.

When I looked at all that, I said “Gee, maybe I didn’t work nearly as fast as I thought I did.  Turns out I just did a bunch of work previously that I was able to leverage into this one.”

Not too shabby.

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The wife and I picked up a hand held GPS today – the Garmin Oregon 450:

Garmin Oregon 450 - GPS receiver

We didn’t buy one in order to navigate while driving (although that would be useful) but instead to assist while doing hikes around the state, and other states too, I guess.  We can view the map of where we are going as well as track the elevation and how long it takes us to do it.  We can then export the data for statistical tracking purposes. 

What an awesome reason to buy one!

The problem with the Garmin GPS is the software on it is hard to learn.  If Steve Jobs were the CEO of Garmin, he never would have permitted them to create a product like that.

What I’d like to buy is a GPS that works like an iPad – a touch device that you pinch the screen to zoom in and “depinch” to zoom out.  Easy.

But the Garmin Oregon is not like that.  The touch screen is pseudo-responsive. You have to (ugh) click the + and – signs to zoom in and out (what is this, 2004?) And plotting tracks around it?  Forget about it!

I remember back in the day when Google Maps let you do a push pin and navigate up and down streets and it would calculate the route according to where you clicked.  It would fill in lines from one push point to the next.  Those were the good old days.  But no more, neither Google nor Bing nor Mapquest let you do that anymore (at least not easily because I can’t figure out how).

Garmin lets you do it, but’s a pain!  You go to a trail and make a push pin.  But then to set the next point on the trail, it’s a hassle.  You set the initial point on the track you are creating, and then it goes back to the track screen.  Here’s the process:

  1. Create a new Way Point.
  2. Set initial point.
  3. Click “Map.”
  4. Zoom in.
  5. Zoom in again.
  6. Zoom in again.
  7. Zoom in again (4 times if you’re counting).
  8. Set the Start point.
  9. Click the corner X to go back to the Track you are creating.
  10. Click “Set Next Point.”
  11. Repeat steps 3-8, dragging the map (painfully awkward) to see more of the landscape.  While doesn’t turning the Garmin sideways change the display to landscape from portrait?
  12. Repeat steps 3-11 for each of the points you are creating along the map.  If the track winds up and down a lot of curves, you will end up clicking 70 or 80 times to make a 7 or 8-point trail.

Why can’t I view the map and create a bunch of push-points and create a path as I go?  Why do I have to navigate through multiple screens and each time I return to the map, it has forgotten the zoom I just set it at?

That is crazy!!!

There’s nothing that frustrates me more than technology that is not easy to use.  Just ask the wife, she’ll confirm it.

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Last month, while the wife and I were in Bali, the first day we were there we got to the town of Ubud. Ubud (pronounced Oo-bude, not you-bud) is about an hour and 15 minutes from the airport located near Kuta in the capital (?) city (of Bali?) Denpasar:

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The amount of traffic in Bali was heavy, it took about 2 and a half hours to get from the airport to Ubud.  Surprisingly, the taxi ride was only about $25 US.  Not bad.

Ubud is a small town crawling with tourists.  There are two or three main streets where all the action is.  The shopkeepers are not pushy on the main roads, but they are in the markets.  And not only that, if you walk down the streets in Ubud, there are people asking you if you want a taxi every two minutes.  That is not an exaggeration, you get asked for a taxi so often it becomes annoying.  I felt like making up a sign that says “No, I don’t want a taxi!”

Ubud is shaped in a bit of a loop in the main town part of it, and at the bottom of one of the loops is a Monkey Forest (the street is called Monkey Forest Road).  For only $2, you can walk through the park where the monkeys roam free.

We didn’t go to the Monkey Forest the first day.  Instead, we were walking down and looking at all the shops after we had gotten into town, moving in the direction of the Monkey Forest.  We had been up since early in the morning and didn’t have much to eat.  The wife, as she frequently does, said “I’m huuuuuuuuuuuungryyyyyyyy!”  But since she still had a bad stomach, we bought soda crackers from a convenience store.

We were walking down the street in the direction of the Monkey Forest but we didn’t plan to enter it.  Meanwhile, the wife was eating soda crackers, more or less oblivious to our surroundings.  I wasn’t paying that much attention either.

Suddenly, we noticed that we were surrounded by monkeys.  The Monkey Forest is open, there’s no gate or anything and they can wander in and out.  Well, a few monkeys had wandered out and spotted that the wife had crackers.  One of them eyed the crackers in her hand.

They surrounded her and started closing in.  “Uhhhh,” stammered the wife.  “Monkeys!” she cried out.

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“I’ve got problems of my own here,” I replied.  Other monkeys were closing in on me, too, eyeing my water bottle.

Suddenly, one of the monkeys climbed up on the wife and grabbed the soda cracker right out of her hand!  Just stole it!  “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” shouted the wife.  The monkey moved so fast that she didn’t have time to react.

Sensing our dismay, a lady came out of her shop and shooed the monkeys away from us, but also scolded us for bringing food into (technically near) the Monkey Forest.  It was the wife’s idea, not mine.

We walked back to our hotel about 10 minutes away, but I was choking back laughter.  Later that night when I showered, I started thinking about the incident and began laughing, unable to stop.  Even now, as I type this, I’m laughing a little bit.  It was (a little) traumatic for the wife, but comparatively funny for me!  A monkey jumped on her and stole her cracker, ha, ha, ha!

You had to be there.

And that’s the story of the time the wife was attacked by a monkey.

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On our recent trip to Bali, the wife informed me a little while before we left that she had booked a sunrise hike up Mt. Batur in Bali.  What’s a sunrise hike?  You hike shortly after the sun rises?

Nope.  It’s a hike where you are at the top for the sunrise.

To do this, we had to leave our hotel at 1:30 in the morning.  Along the way, we picked up a couple of other girls from Singapore and then made the drive from our hotel in Ubud to Mt. Batur, stopping at a restaurant (coffee plantation) along the way for breakfast.  Seeing as how it was 2:30 in the morning, and my bowels had declared war on my intestines the day before, I declined to consume anything other than tea.  They brought out banana crepes to eat but I declined.  I didn’t want anything bad happening on the way up the mountain, if you know what I’m saying.

The hike up Batur started at around 3 am.  It was completely dark other than the stars and the moon.  How do you hike in the dark?  You bring a flashlight and follow the trail, that’s how.  Even though we couldn’t see much, hiking in the dark wasn’t that difficult.  We had plenty of vision in front of us such that there was little chance of anything bad happening (e.g., losing footing).

The advantage of climbing at night is that it’s cooler.  And thank goodness it was because while climbing to the top, I started sweating.  I had to go up in shorts and a t-shirt even though it was kind of cool going up.  It was tough work, too.  The first part of the trail is a shallow incline, while the second half is a much steeper ascent (the total elevation gain is somewhere between 2200 and 3000 feet).  Believe you me, when you’re hiking this type of terrain, you perspire, particularly when you’re in a country so close to the equator.  It’s work!

We went up with two guides; one guy went up with us, and the other guide went up with the two girls from Singapore.  They trailed far behind us and arrived at the top much later than we did.  Our guide brought along some soft drinks and put on the hard sell for us to buy them once we got to the top even though we didn’t want them; that guy really ticked me off with his high pressure sales tactics. I was so irritated I was tempted to write a negative review about him on TripAdvisor.

Anyhow, the trail was a bit of a slog, although the wife has made me do tougher.  In addition, the guide learned a thing about the wife – whenever you’re tired and need a break, the wife doesn’t stop.  She just passes you and says “Just go slow.”  Translation: I’m going at the same pace I was; try to keep up.  When she said that when he suggested we take a break during one of the steep parts, and just walked right by him without stopping (“Just go slow”), the guide looked at me in disbelief and I just shrugged my shoulders.  This happens all the time.

Eventually, 3 hours after we started, we made it there for 6:15 am and the guide (the other one with the Singapore girls, not the pushy one) took our picture:

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Yeah, I know there’s a glare on my jacket but that was the best picture I have.  There’s a lot of condensation in the air and the rest of the pictures turn out blurry.  You can see I’m wearing my jacket plus a long sleeve shirt.  I put them on because we were at the top for a while and it got cold.

Here’s a shot of one of the other mountains:

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One thing that was kind of neat was while we were at the top, a bunch of other guys made it to the top, too.  They began holding a religious (Hindu?) ceremony while there.  One thing about these Balinese Hindus – they sure are devout.

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Mt. Batur is not just a mountain, it’s actually a volcano.  And, it’s an active volcano.  Now I know when most people think of active volcanoes, they think of large pits with lava brewing in them ready to explode at any moment.  Batur didn’t have any lava but it did have plenty of steam rising from its innards:

If you look at the left hand side of this image below, you can see a white cloud about half way up the image.  That’s not cloud, that’s actual steam coming out of the volcano (look hard; it’s not rock in amongst the green foliage).  You can climb down from the hiking trail to get a closer look but you can’t get any closer than from where I took this picture.  Well, I guess you can get closer but then it’s very difficult to get out, if you catch my drift.

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Batur also has monkeys living at the top of it.  I always thought that monkeys would be shy creatures, but not these ones.  They’ve learned that humans will give them food and they are not afraid to go get it.  We didn’t have any monkey incidents on this trip, but we did on a previous walk though Ubud.

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Finally, it was time to leave and come down.  It seemed like it took longer coming down than it did going up.  Maybe it’s because my stomach started acting up again and I couldn’t wait to get to the parking lot.  It’s also a totally different hike coming down.  Going up, you see nothing but on the way back, you say “Did we pass that on the way up?”  I was also surprised by how open it was.  I thought we went up in dense jungle the whole way, but nearly the entire way down it’s exposed with very little tree cover.

We made it down and we drove away, but stopped to take a picture from the road. From far away, you can see that a big chunk of the volcano has blown away and there are two peaks in the mountain.  We went up the higher one and that’s where we watched the sunrise.

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And that’s the story of the time we climbed the mountain to watch the sunrise.

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The poop coffee

Continuing on from my coffee story in Bali, there was one other type of coffee that we tried when we were there – Kopi Luwak coffee.

When we were going through the coffee plantation, we passed the cages of animals that looked a bit like cats.  We were told it was a kopi luwak:

They are slightly larger than a housecat, but definitely not as big as a dog.  They were caged because people use them to make coffee.

I don’t know what they feed the kopi luwak, but they feed it something.  It goes through its digestive tract, and then it poops it out.  The people then take the poop, clean it, and then make coffee out of it the same way they would for any other coffee bean.

They literally make coffee out of sh*t.  I am not making this up, you can look it up on Wikipedia.

Coffee from the kopi luwak is super expensive because it’s hard to harvest and is low production.  It is also 10x more expensive than normal Bali coffee (I did the math).  Still, I decided to try some.

The verdict? Meh.  They told me it was a delicacy in Bali, perhaps their best coffee (that’s what grocery stores selling it said).  But it wasn’t that good.  It was kind of strong, a little bitter, nothing to write home about.  While at first, before I tried it, I thought it would be neat to bring it home and get people to try it. But the taste didn’t justify it, especially for the cost.

The next time somebody says something tastes like sh*t, I’ll be able to try it and say “No, it doesn’t.”

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I don’t like coffee.

I haven’t liked it since I was… oh, I don’t know, as long as I can remember? I don’t like the taste of it, it’s too bitter.  There was a time in 2005 when I started drinking it at the office, but I discovered that the only way I could drink it was by putting a lot of sugar in it.  I decided that was too unhealthy so I ceased its consumption.  Even today, when I go to Starbucks I get one of the sugary drinks so as to drown out the taste of the coffee.

Fast forward to Bali.

We went on a tour of some kind and the wife informs me that we are doing coffee tasting.  “M’kay,” I said.  “This can’t hurt.”

Well, it did hurt.  It hurt my pocketbook, that is.  We sat down at the table of a coffee plantation and they brought out coffee for us to try in these small little cups:

They had a lot of different flavors but the coffee was fantastic!  I drank and tasted everything, it was so good I couldn’t believe it!  Is this the drink I’ve been missing out on all these years?  Why hasn’t anyone told me!?

I insisted to the wife that we buy some and take it home.  We ended up buying Vanilla, Coconut, Mochacinno, Ginseng, Lemongrass tea and Ginger tea.  Of course, these coffees had quite a bit of sugar in them, but that’s the only way I can drink them.

The problem is that the packs of coffee were kind of expensive, something like $10 per pack and they weren’t that big.  But each pack could give you something like 15 or 20 cups of coffee.  That’s not so bad, it’s like 50 to 66 cents per cup.  That’s way better than Starbucks.

However, when we got home, I discovered that the number of cups they told us we could get out of each bag of coffee was exaggerated; it takes something like 4 tablespoons of coffee powder to make one cup of coffee as good as it was down there.  Perhaps it is 15 cups of coffee, but the cups are as small as they were in Bali.

We can get maybe 3 or 4 real cups of coffee per container.  That increases the price to about $2.50 per cup, not much cheaper than Starbucks.  And considering that these things have quite a bit of sugar in them, they are not healthy.  That didn’t go according to plan.  For the price we paid, I’m not sure I would buy them again.

But man, at the time did they ever taste good!

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Moneyball

A couple of months ago, the wife and I rented the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

If you haven’t seen it before, this post contains spoilers.  But I’ll say right now that it’s one of my favorite movies that I have seen in the past couple of years because of the math in the film (not actually shown in the film).

In the movie, Brad Pitt is Billy Bean, ex-baseball player and general manager of the Oakland Athletics.  Oakland has one of the lowest payrolls in the league but in spite of this, they still make it to the playoffs in 2001 where they are eliminated in the first round.

During the off-season, they lose many of their star players to teams that can afford to pay them a lot more.  Yet this is where things turn around.  For you see, conventional wisdom says that teams who can afford to pay more money will always finish near the top of the league.  Better players = more expensive players = better results.  This is true in baseball but it’s not as simple as it seems.

In the movie, conventional wisdom for finding new players is that discovering good players is an art, not a science.  Scouts say that you need to evaluate his batting average, home runs, fielding skills, personality, and a host of other characteristics.  If you don’t understand baseball, let me tell you that baseball statisticians tracks tons of statistics.  You can’t imagine how many they track. 

But in the movie, Billy Bean finds another guy (Jonah Hill) working with the Cleveland Indians and hires him to work for him in Oakland. Hill has discovered that almost all statistics in baseball are useless for predicting how good a baseball player someone will be.  Instead, he narrows it down to one or two stats and says that the players with the highest of those stats are the ones you want.  Great players have those stats, but Bean signs the players who have those good stats but have been overlooked by other teams (bad attitude, bad knees, poor batting average, etc.).

By doing this strategy, Billy Bean builds a team with the lowest payroll in the league but still makes the playoffs.  They also set a record in 2002 by winning 20 straight games.  The moral of the story is that you can build a winner by seeing what others do not, and you can do it on the cheap.  In terms of dollars-spent-per-game-won, the Athletics were much more successful than the New York Yankees (the A’s would not win the World Series, however).

I like this movie because of that moral.  I like finding things (at work) that are undervalued but powerful.  And I love digging through numbers and statistics, it’s what I am good at.  Nay, I am great at it.  That’s why I like this movie so much.

Now if only I could find great movies that were similarly undervalued… a lot like Moneyball.

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A couple of months ago, I wrote a couple of posts about the tools I use to stretch my hips.  So how am I doing?

My left hip, where I have had three surgeries, feels better.  I don’t think that the problem is in the hip joint, I think it is in the surrounding muscles.  You know how you sometimes say “Oh, I have a knot in my back?”  It turns out that knots are real things known as trigger points.  They are tight clumps of muscle tissue that bunch together and they form garbage waste in your body (literally; there’s little blood supply and they release chemicals that build up, inflame, and make it worse).  These trigger points cause pain.

In order to help your trigger points – which are a serious condition for me and most likely for you – you have to massage them.  When you apply pressure, they cause a lot of pain.  But it’s a good pain.  You know it’s a good pain when you shout “Ow! Ow! Ow! Oh, keep going!”

I have read a lot about trigger points in my hips and legs.  When I first learned about them, I thought I had them in one or two muscles.  But as I experimented, I discovered that every single muscle in my hips and legs have trigger points – lots of them.

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The more I keep moving around, the more painful spots I keep finding.  Just this past week, I went deep into my adductor brevis (in the groin) and found hypersensitive muscles there in my left hip and my right hip (I work on both). Worse yet, I have trigger points in muscles that are underneath other muscles.

The result of all of this is not that I am pain free all the time, but after I work on my muscles I am nearly pain free for 10 minutes before returning to normal (abnormal).  That feels pretty good!  I’ll take almost pain free!  And I do have less pain in certain movements now.

Unfortunately, my left hip is very stubborn.  I still feel pain deep in the joint and I am running out of muscles to massage.  I have much less pain than I used to, and some muscles are not releasing the way the others are in my right hip.  And my right hip still hurts in certain locations that refuse to let go.

Ultimately, if I ever get better, I will have earned my freedom from pain.

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On our last day in Bali, the wife and I did a Balinese cooking class.  This was a ton of fun!  By this time both of us had gotten over our stomach issues (more or less) and could eat food without incurring the wrath of the stomach/bowel gods.

I don’t cook a lot at home.  I’m perfectly capable of making meals (lasagna, vegetable stir fry, carbonara) and I have done so, but I don’t cook anything exotic.

So when the wife informed me that we were doing a cooking class, I was intrigued. Me?  Cook? Really?  But it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences!

The cooking class people picked us up from our hotel at 9 am and drove us out to the market to pick up some ingredients.  Unlike the wife and I, who are white, the lady who was with us didn’t have to haggle with all of the vendors selling food.  She paid what they asked for.  No fuss, no muss.  When the wife and I bought something, it always took at least 5 minutes to negotiate the price.

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After that, we were taken to the private home of a family that does bicycle tours.  The bikers were gone, but the cookers had arrived.

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This is the entrance to their home.  In Bali, frequently two or three families will live in a single residence, but each residence contains multiple buildings.  You can see how fancy this place is.

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After a coffee break (that we took before we did anything), the cooking began.  The cooking class wasn’t overly difficult.  The lady and the other cook did a lot of the heavy lifting, but the wife and I did get to cut up a lot of the vegetables and add spices to all of the various dishes.

When I cut vegetables, I do it slowly.  I don’t want to cut my fingers (and I have done that in the past).  The lady when she did it was super fast!  Slice, slice, slice, slice, slice!  Egad!  How do you do that so quick?  I’d be down two fingers by now!

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We even got to clown around.

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Here’s something that makes you go “Oh, I guess that makes sense.”  Did you know that peanut sauce comes from actual peanuts?  I always kind of figured it was some sauce that people make in a factory, but nope.  They had a stone bowl and a grinder and I got to crunch up the peanuts into a really fine paste.  It literally was “peanut sauce.”

We ended up doing some of the cooking; we took some chicken and put it onto some sticks and dipped it in some sort of sauce and heated it over a grill.  This was a pretty easy job.  Just wave the fan and wait until the other lady says that they’re done.

I was proud of accomplishing that.  I feel like I really nailed that task.

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There were a number of ingredients that we can’t normally get at home.  At present, I can only remember two of them:

  1. Shallot – which is kind of like some sort of red onion.
  2. Palm sugar – which is like sugar but doesn’t come from sugarcane.  It, too, is sweet.

Okay, I’ll skip ahead to the good part, and that is the finished product:

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Sweet Enola Gay, this food was fantastic!  It’s some of the best I have had anywhere, ever!  There was roasted chicken and duck, chicken skewers, some sald-like thingie, some cornbread thingie that was totally awesome, and more!  It was so good I was sad that my stomach wasn’t twice as large because it really was some of the best food I have had.

They gave us a recipe book to bring home.  My goal this year is to recreate at least one of my favorite dishes from here because it was sooooo good.  If I ever do, you need to figure out when I plan to do it and try some because you will not be disappointed.

And that was our Balinese cooking class.  It’s one of my favorite moments from the trip!

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The island of Bali

For the second week of our two-week vacation this past April, the wife and I traveled from Cambodia to Bali, an island in Indonesia.  Let me tell you, I’ve been to a number of countries and Bali is unlike any of them.  It is unique apart from anything I have experienced before.

How do I describe it?

First of all, it is very jungly.  It’s lush and green everywhere but tropical.  While Cambodia was very hot it was not lush and green.  While Singapore was very warm, it was all one big city.  Bali is green, like the island on LOST.

You may be saying to yourself “Meh, so what?  I’ve been to Hawaii.  That’s green and tropical, too.  Just like Bali!”

But it’s not because another distinguishing characteristic is the heavy Hindu influence.  I’ve never been to a place that was primarily Hindu.  The country of Indonesia is almost completely Muslim, but Bali is almost completely Hindu.  And there are Hindu statues everywhere

The roads are not very wide but in many of the streets in the middle of an intersection, there are large stone statues about 15-20 feet high of Hindu gods.  And not just in some intersections in the larger towns, but in lots and lots of intersections in many places, even the smaller towns.

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But the Hindu carvings are not just in the streets.  The streets in Bali, once you get away from the airport, are pretty narrow.  Two cars can barely fit across the roads there and most people drive scooters.  But all along the roads, the people’s properties are all enclosed in walls between 2- 6 feet high, and many of them have Hindu carvings.  Any many of them sell small Hindu statues.

In the picture above, the house on the left is enclosed by a wall.  But the gate would have a Hindu carving on it.  And this was true of nearly every house we passed (not all of them are that nice).  The wealth of the family correlates to how decorated the home is.

While driving around Bali (in our tour guide’s jeep) we got a chance to see how people live and work in Bali.  When people harvest rice, they dry it out on the street.

In the picture above, this lady was raking the rice, drying it out.  She was working in an area designed for rice farming in that it was off the road and in a large “well” – that is, a square, concrete slab.  But other people had tarps out on the road and dried their rice on that.  People walk on it, and cars drive over it.

Make sure that when you cook rice at home, you wash it.  Now you know where it has been.

The rice fields in Bali are everywhere, too.  As we drove around the island, the impression I got was how different from America it was in terms of the neighborhoods.  Whereas we have lots of residential neighborhoods with plenty of side streets, in Bali, there is the main road where people live and bordering it are rice fields, not more houses. 

I took the following picture by stitching together 6 other pictures to form a panorama shot.  I call it “The Staircase.” 

Rice Field Panorama 

The valley here is very steep so the people flatten it out and create a staircase landscape so they can grow rice on it and harvest it.  Without it, the land is much less useable.

It’s really hard to describe what else is that certain x-factor about Bali, but it is so different.  I recommend people go there to check it out because unless you experience it, it’s difficult to describe.

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I debated/procrastinated writing this blog post because the events in it are recent and people who read this blog might know the people involved, whereas my other two posts it’s not possible.

But, at the start of the year I decided to be more honest and let’s face it – personal stories are more entertaining.


Kids, the last story I told you didn’t have a happy ending.  But let me tell you the next part of the story!

When I moved to Seattle in 2007, I decided to learn Argentine Tango.  A couple of months later, I discovered a new dance studio and began learning more dances:

  1. West Coast Swing
  2. East Coast Swing (referred to as Swing everywhere other than the west coast)
  3. Waltz
  4. Night Club Two Step
  5. Fox Trot
  6. Hustle
  7. Samba (one of my favorites)
  8. Rumba
  9. Cha cha
  10. Salsa

I never became outstanding at any of these dances, but I definitely became competent, and even proficient, at most of them.  I was having fun.

It’s been said that a guy only goes dancing for two reasons:

  1. The girl he’s in a relationship with wants to go dancing.
  2. He’s single and wants to meet girls there.

I fell into the latter category.  And true enough, I did meet plenty of girls.  And most of them were very nice.  The problem is that while I was meeting lots, I wasn’t dating many (I would later figure out what the problem was and how to overcome it).  I was a decent dancer, but still shy.  But I figured that if I kept my eyes open and was prepared for it, eventually my opportunity would present itself.  I only need be patient.  Looking back on it now, this turned out to be a poor strategy that I would not recommend other guys follow.

At the studio I was going to, every Friday night they taught a new dance during a group class.  You learned a lot of steps to a new dance and that’s how I learned most of my dances (besides general classes).  One night in the fall of 2008, I noticed that they hired a new dance teacher who was very pleasant, and also very attractive.  I was immediately interested.

The problem was that I wasn’t very confident.  Once again, I employed my strategy of not-making-a-move-unless-I-was-assured-of-success (a strategy I do recommend).  This was in order to save my ego in case of a rejection.  I learned that she had done some travelling a few years earlier but had not visited as many countries or continents as I had (which is very important to me).  I think we chatted occasionally between dances and on Friday nights I got a couple of dances in.  Gotta stay visible, right?

Unlike my previous two experiences where I took forever to make a move, after a few weeks (speeding up my timelines) I did make a move and ask her out.  She politely declined, indicating that teachers are not allowed to date students.  At the time I accepted it since I had no reason to doubt it, but looking back on it now, it was most likely nonsense.

But I had a plan!  I was not going to give up so easily!

I had been dancing for a year or so and every so often at the dance studio they have a showcase.  Students work with teachers and put on a performance.  That’s where I came up with the plan: I could do a dance performance with this teacher!  That way, I’d have plenty of 1-on-1 rehearsal time.  My goals were modest in that at least I’d have plenty of 1-on-1 time.  Gotta stay visible!  That was all I was aiming for… wait, that’s not true.  I was hoping something might come out of this 1-on-1 time.  I couldn’t give up quite so easily.

I had to disguise this a little bit.  I did want to do a dance performance and let the manager know.  But before I did, I wanted to take a couple of private dance lessons with the various instructors (3 of the women instructors) and then interview them to get a feel for what they bring to the table.  This actually makes sense and is something I’d do in real life.  If I’m going to be performing, and being the performer perfectionist I am (when it comes to magic), I had to be sure what I was getting into and with whom.

I only interviewed one other instructor (a friend of mine) and this one I was interested in, so two in total.  However, truth be told, I had already picked the winner before things even got started.  I went through the motions in order to sell the misdirection.  I congratulated myself for being so sneaky.

With that out of the way, we proceeded to work on a Samba performance.  Samba is the only dance where I can outdo the other guys at the dance studio who are more experienced than me.  It’s a fast dance and not too many people can do it, except for me.  We practiced twice per week at the studio, but I also practiced at home.  In fact, I practiced for one hour every single day for six weeks.  That is no exaggeration, I would time myself and do all the drills and go through the routine in my living room, moving furniture out of the way.  I did this because I wanted to do a good first performance, but also because I wanted to impress the teacher/girl.

I don’t recall everything that transpired during those practice sessions.  But I do know this – nothing ever came of it.  If I scan through my memory banks, I can’t really recall the body language.  But as I would eventually learn, unless the body language is obvious, it means that there is no interest.  I have my theories as to why it didn’t work, but I’ll save those for a future chapter.

By this time it was 2009 and I had my first hip surgery four months earlier.  I was pretty proud of myself for recovering so quickly.  The performance came and went and it was fine.  I didn’t make any move afterwards due to the so-called teacher/student barrier.  But she stopped teaching there a couple of weeks later so once again I made a move: Do you want to go out?

And once again, she said no.

And when that happened, my interest rapidly declined.  I took a shot and it didn’t work.  But I tried again, and it didn’t work again.  I was cutting my losses and moving on.  I had no where to move to but I knew that I was moving on. I did console myself that I did achieve my modest goal of getting plenty of 1-on-1 time.  That was a small victory, but the truth is that I was only trying to rationalize the fact that my true plan hadn’t worked.

Luckily, another opportunity would eventually present itself.  They always do.  The next time I would have more tools in my arsenal. Heh, heh, heh.

And that’s the third chapter in the story of How I Met Your Mother.

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While in Cambodia last month, we visited a bunch of ancient Buddhist temples.  Some of them are in better shape than others.  The temple at Boeng Mealea is in rougher shape.  It was originally built as a Hindu temple but has some Buddhist carving.  Archaeologists think it was built around the same time as Angkor Wat, perhaps a bit later.

We biked to Boeng Mealea which is about 40 km east of the main temples of Angkor Wat.  Once again, it was super hot that day and I was sweating in the sun on that bike.

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This is the entrance leading up to the temple. You can see it in disrepair, everything fallen down.  Restoration efforts here have not progressed very far.

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This is one of the bigger temples around Cambodia; it’s only two stories (as opposed to Angkor Wat which is several) but in terms of physical area, it is pretty big.

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This is the temple on the inside of the wall.  You can see that is has fallen down here, too.

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I can’t remember what the guide said, but I think that this is a Hindu carving.  Buddha carvings are easy to recognize – they are all pictures of Buddha.  My rule of thumb is easy: if it’s not Buddha, it’s Hindu.  It works (mostly) in Angkor Wat.

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Here’s another wall within the temple and big tree growing over top of it.

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Finally, the last sign I took a picture of was this one.  One reason why restoration efforts are slow is because the area has not been completely cleared of land mines, planted by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s.  Work is on-going, and hopefully one day it will be completely cleared.

That government was totally nuts.

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I started tracking my weight in November 2011 and wrote down everything I ate.  I stopped writing down my daily food intake this month because it was all pretty much the same.  So what does my weight look like now?

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The blue line is absolute measurements, the red line are mathematical estimates because I was out of town and couldn’t measure it, and the green line is a 30-day average.

You can see from the chart above that starting in early April, my weight started to go down drastically.  I can about 5 pounds lighter now than I was even in March.

What I have been doing differently?

The answer is this: Nothing.  I don’t exercise anymore now than I did back then.  I eat more or less the same foods.  I don’t take any health supplements.

The only thing that is different is the weather.  My theory is that I fattened up for winter (which is plausible since December was a lot colder than November) and then once the weather warmed up in April, the weight started coming off.

That’s the only variable that has changed this past year unless I am somehow ignorant of other dietary or activity changes.

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Paintball!

This past week for work, 17 of my co-workers in addition to myself went to play paintball.  I had never played before so I didn’t know what to expect, but most of my other co-workers had never played before, either.

I can’t really say that I have a lot of great stories.  However, I can say that I had a lot of fun.

We were split up into two teams and given instructions on how to play.  In terms of equipment, you are given a paintball gun that holds about 100 pellets and a mask that covers your entire face and wraps about 2/3 of the way around your head.  If you want, you can get an army jacket to wear (I rented one for $5, totally worth it).  That’s me on the right below.

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In the first couple of games we played, there is a time limit.  The object of the game is to shoot everyone on the other team.  If you get hit in the body or the head (including the mask), you are “dead” and must leave the game.  As soon as you are out, you hold up your arms and say “I’m out!  I’m out!”  Hopefully, nobody else shoots you.

The first field was about 50 feet wide and 100 feet long.  There was a net on one side and bushes on the other, and a field in between with wooden obstacles.  Here I am, camped out waiting for my next opening to attack.  I wanted to roll on the ground behind the cover of a tree, but there was dog poop on the ground and I didn’t want to roll through it.

Let me tell you, being in a war zone is no where near as fun as movies and TV make it out to be.  We could hear gun shots firing all the time and you’re scared to put your head out, lest you get a pellet in your face and get taken out of the game.  In fact, during the first game (which I survived without getting hit but didn’t hit anyone else, either), I peaked my head out around a corner.  I saw a paintball pellet flying towards me and ducked and the pellet flew overtop of me, whizzing through my hair.  I literally felt it go over my head.

During the game above, you can see a tear in my left pants above the knee.  Near the beginning, I decided to run from my base (which you see behind me) to duck behind the boards you see in front of me in order to get cover.  The distance is about 50 feet.  My plan was to run as fast as I could while staying low, and then baseball-slide into behind the boards.  I had cover (people shooting beside me) so I figured I could possibly make it without getting shot myself.

That part of the plan worked, but the baseball slide did not.  I thought that the ground was loose gravel and dirt and that I would easily slide.  I did not.  Instead, there was very little give and I ended up pretty much planting on my right front foot and scraping my left knee along the ground, causing the tear in a now ruined pair of pants.  Even more, I scraped up my knee.

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It didn’t hurt that much at the time, but the past couple of days it’s been really pinching my skin and is very annoying.

A little later on during another game, there is one variant called Capture the Flag.  The object of the game is just like how it sounds – you have to run to a flag in the middle of the playing field, pick up a flag and bring it back to your base without being shot. 

During one game, there were bullets flying everywhere and nothing was going anywhere.  I decided to take it upon myself to pick up a board and scoot down towards the flag and retrieve it.  But I left my gun behind, meaning that I’d have to rely on my teammates to provide me cover.

I picked up the board and started moving down, all the time while taking gunfire from the other team.  It was tiring!  Moving like that while squatting down is hard work!  It’s also nerve wracking because I can hear the bullets shooting around me, and I know that the closer and closer I get to the flag, the less cover I have (people can move up and shoot me from the side instead of futilely trying to shoot through the board.

At one point, I got shot in the leg and it splattered onto my stomach.  Had the shot been on my torso directly, I would have had to leave the game.  But luckily, I didn’t have to.  But once I got close to the flag, I had to stop because (a) I was tired, and (b) I didn’t know where the other shooters were and I wasn’t sure if I exposed myself if I would be taking fire.

I did grab the flag and started moving back, but about 30 seconds after I did we won the game because the other team was out of ammunition.  We won by default.  I like to think that I drew all their fire and won it by myself.

The question you may be asking is this: does it hurt to get shot by a paintball?  The answer is yes.  Yes, it goes.  It’s a very sharp pinch and it stings for a while.  I didn’t get it anywhere near as bad as some of my co-workers (one guy had nine welts on his back), but I did take two painful shots:

  • During one game, I got shot in the chest from about 15 feet away.  That hurt.  When I took the shot, I yelped out “Ow!” and threw up my hands saying “I’m hit!  I’m hit!”  I didn’t think it would hurt that much.

  • As I mentioned above, I took a shot in the leg and it left a welt.  That one also hurt.

  • I got shot in the face a couple of times, too.  Good thing I was wearing a mask.

All in all, I enjoyed the game a lot although by the time we were done, I was tired.  Playing with so many people adds a dimension to the game and makes it really stressful, but the adrenalin rush is completely worth it.

I’d do it again.

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Two days ago, the state of North Carolina voted to adopt a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.  Across my Facebook page, most people are responding with outrage.  In numerous news articles, people are similarly complaining about it.

There are a few states in the US that have recognized same-sex marriage, including the one that I live in (Washington).  My advice for proponents of same-sex marriage is to be patient; opposition to it won’t last forever.  My advice to opponents of same-sex marriage is similar: eventually, you will lose this battle whether you like it or not.

As evidence, I present the following graph:

Since about 2004, opposition to same-sex marriage has been declining by 2-3 percentage points per year, while support for it has been increasing by 2-3 percentage points per year.

In 1996, opposition/support for same-sex marriage was 68-27.  Now, it is 50-47 (roughly a tie since it is within the statistical margin of error).  Yet if the current trends hold, in a decade support will be 70% while opposition will be 27%.  Even if it doesn’t get that far, it will be nearly impossible for governments to oppose it when 2/3 of the electorate is for it.

Some US states will hold out longer than others, but they can only hold out for so long.

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More ancient temples

I don’t know what it is, but over the past several years I have gotten into archaeology a lot more.  Specifically, visiting ancient civilizations.  It started when I visited Mexico in 1998 and visited Chichen Itza, but I didn’t go to any place cool again until 10 years later when I visited the Great Wall of China and then the Terracotta Warriors just outside of Xi’an.  Since then, I have been to Macchu Picchu in Peru, Tikal in Guatemala, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

These temples here are also in Cambodia but they are much older than Angkor Wat.  Whereas Angkor Wat was built over a 37-year period in the early 1100’s, these temples were built sometime in the 800’s.  I don’t remember nearly as much of the history of this place (it was ridiculously hot that day and we had just biked 25 km), but I do know it was built by a king to show how great he was.

First things first, that’s our guide in the photo below from the top of the temple.  I was totally sweating this day and I had blisters on my feet (sweaty body parts rubbing against fabric of my sandals).  Yet the guide chose to wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt while we went bike riding in 36 degree C weather.  I don’t know how the Cambodians do it.  When it gets that hot, I feel super sluggish.  Even though I like warm weather, I get way more stuff accomplished when it’s cooler.

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Anyhow, these temples are also in Cambodia but they are not Angkor Wat.  I’m not sure what they are (the wife booked the tour and I was paying less attention that I ought to have been) but they are 300 years earlier.  The architecture here is quite different than Angkor Wat, and this particular complex is much smaller.  They are also in more disrepair than Angkor Wat.

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Below is the same grounds as above along with a close up shot of one of the columns.

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If you’re wondering what’s inside one of those columns, believe me when I say it’s really not very interesting.  On the inside of most of them is just a pit where I assume sacrifices were made.  Cambodia is 95% Buddhist and the most common sacrifice that they make is burning incense.

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Most of the places are pits, but occasionally there are some with stone structures that are in disrepair but you get a sense of their function, once upon a time.

Oh, yeah, here’s a true story: I was wandering around one of these temples and there was an old woman who was inside one of the stone columns with some incense.  I looked inside and then departed after approximately 15 seconds.  She said “Hey!” 

I was like “Huh?”

She then said “Hey!” and motioned for me to come closer to her.  “Uh-oh,” I muttered.  I went towards her and she reached out to me to extend my hand.  Like a dope, I complied.  She then tied a little bit of string around my wrist and gave me some incense.  She then said something and motioned but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.  I said “Um, thanks.”

I went outside the column and walked around a bit, then started to head back down the stairs.  She called out to me again and called me closer and then pointed down at the basket in front of her with a $2 American bill in it.  I’ve never seen a $2 US bill before, I wasn’t sure if it was real or not.  But I figured out what she wanted – money.  I only had a single $1 bill and gave it to her, and then put the incense stick into a pot of other sticks where she lit it. 

I’m not sure, but I somehow think that she tricked me into giving her a $1 donation.  I was supposed to give $2, but all I had was $1 and I wasn’t about to donate any of my twenties.

Anyhow, continuing the story, this particular complex has animal carvings around it.  Below is a picture of a lion, and then a picture of the wife next to a bull.

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The bull ones are neat.  Even though there’s only a single one here, there were five statues all facing in towards the entrance of the complex, not facing away from it (as if they were guarding the entrance).  I probably should have asked what the significance of that was.

In the below pictures, you can see the wife standing in what looks like a tomb.  In the next picture, she’s pointing at a stone table with Sanskrit etched into it.  I think it says something like “In about 1300 years, a totally awesome person with the initials T.Z. will take its photo.”

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Finally, the below shot is a picture from the top of one of the other temples.  None of the temples are very high but it would take a population a long time to build them and then carve out all of the intricate details in the statues surrounding them.

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And that’s another temple complex in Cambodia, 300 years older than Angkor Wat.

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While we were in Cambodia, we visited the floating villages, located not too far from the city of Siem Reap.  We took a boat ride down the muddy river which took about 30 minutes:

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Along the way, I was reminded that we were definitely in the 3rd world.  As I said, and as you can see, the water was very muddy and the amount of garbage leading up to the road was a lot.

But the clincher was the amount of small children swimming (naked) in the river.  For whatever reason, that is a distinguishing characteristic for me of the developing world – small kids swimming in the river without clothes without any adult supervision.  In the developed world, that type of stuff just doesn’t happen.

Anyhow, we got to the floating villages and it looks just like it sounds – houses that are floating and arranged in a village.  But it’s not houseboats.  The buildings are larger and they don’t have motors (at least I couldn’t see where they were).  The guide told us that the places could move but I didn’t see how they were motorized.

 

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What separates these buildings from other floating villages I have seen (such as in Peru on Lake Titicaca) is that they are wooden platforms and they are fairly large.  IMG_1330

 

For example, this one is a store and a family lives there.

 

 

 

 

 

Below are pictures of a church and a large store.  You may be tempted to think that these buildings are not far from land, but you’d be wrong.  There’s no land for as far as the eye can see.  There’s just water everywhere.

 

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They do have some of the services of a real town.  Below is a post office.  How functioning is it?

I don’t know.

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Even more fascinating to me is that some of the buildings had satellite dishes.  You can see one on the top of the porch in the building below.

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How do they get electricity?  They use car batteries.  That caught me off-guard.  They need car batteries to power their satellite dishes.  I wonder how many of them have X-Boxes?

How deep is the water? It varies depending on the time of year (rainy vs dry). The river we rode in on wasn’t anymore than two meters, although we were also in dry season. Out on the lake it was a bit deeper but I forgot to ask how deep it was.

In the general store pictured above, one thing that was especially cool was a crocodile pit.

In Cambodia, crocodile farming used to be a lucrative business and crocodile meat and skin commanded a hefty premium in the open market.  But the government got involved and started regulating it and profitability dropped.  People still do it, but there is less money in it now and it is not as profitable.

Below are a couple of pictures, the pit is about six feet deep.  There is a railing around the croc area, and then the pit where the actual crocs are.  I wasn’t sure how many there were, but I estimated at least 7 or 8.  The dimensions of the pit weren’t very large either, maybe 30 feet long by 10 feet across.

 

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Mean looking suckers, wouldn’t you say?

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And that’s the story of our trip to the floating villages of Cambodia.

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The past couple of weeks I was in Cambodia and Bali (Indonesia).  It’s been my life long dream (for the past 18 months – every time I achieve one life long dream, I acquire a new one; previous ones include swimming in the Great Barrier Reef, visiting the Great Wall of China and the ruins of Macchu Picchu) to visit the temples of Angkor Wat, built by the Khmer empire in the 12th century AD.

Below are some pictures for your random enjoyment along with some commentary.

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This is one of the first temples we visited; in one of the Tomb Raider movies (forget which one), they filmed some scenes here.

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This is outside another set of ruins within the temple complex not far from the picture above.  It was very hot that day, at least +36 degrees C.  I ended up getting blisters on my feet.

 

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If you look at these carvings, starting from the bottom and moving upwards, you see a monkey, a snake, and a stegosaurus (huh?).

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Another temple structure.  Along the way we passed two very large temple structures (not pictured in this post) and during the past few years, two tourists have fallen off of them and died.  Surprisingly, neither of them were American.

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Those little dots on the side of the columns are bullet holes left by the Khmer Rouge as they were retreating during the late 1970’s (Cambodia was invaded by Vietnam in 1978 and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, and the ensuing military conflict lasted until 1979).  The Khmer Rouge didn’t formally disband until two decades later, and even today none of the leaders have ever been charged with war crimes.  It took a decade for the country of Cambodia and the UN to agree on a format on how to charge the leaders of the regime (many of whom are already dead).

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Technically, the previous temples above were not Angkor Wat itself.  Angkor Wat is the central temple that was used for religious purposes.  This picture is Angkor Wat proper.

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And of course, here is me doing my signature pose in front of an ancient set of ruins.  This is kind of my thing, I have similar pictures of me doing this at Macchu Picchu (ancient Inca ruins), Tikal (ancient Mayan ruins), on a mountain in New Zealand, and now here.

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