Mary Clark, Traveler

Quirky Albuquerque Museums

Albuquerque is a desert city influenced by science and Pueblo Indian culture. So it’s no surprise to find these unique characteristics represented by three offbeat museums. I convinced my sister-in-law and my reluctant mother that visiting them would be a fun way to spend a cold winter day.
The Rattlesnake Museum is a compact display of real snakes, facts and myths of our slithering friends, and a surprising collection of snake art. It has the “largest collection of different species of live rattlesnakes in the world.” Located in the back of what appears to be one more gift store in Old Town, you must walk apprehensively through a set of swinging doors with a big sign “DO NOT TAP ON THE GLASS”. Inside is a large collection of beautiful snakes. The names such as Red Diamond Back, Timber, and Mottled Rock, prepare you for their desert shaded scales but not for locating them in their glass fronted homes. I thought more than one was missing until more patient observation noted them.
Bob Myers, owner of the museum, playfully encourages you to love these reptiles (or at least change your attitude). A quiz at the beginning punctures some common myths. Rattlesnakes are shy and just want you to keep walking. They are actually deaf but can feel vibrations and detect odors by their tongues. And if you do arouse a rattlesnake, their venom is “comparatively” weak, meaning you have little chance of dying (a fact ignored by Hollywood). At the end of the tour you’re treated to a display of snakes in art such as a Remington statue of a horse and snake, an Audubon picture of a rattlesnake in a mockingbird’s nest, a rattlesnake decorated slot machine, and comics by Gary Larson with his snake impersonations of human behavior. We earned the “Certificate of Bravery” handed out at the end but the woman behind us who screamed at seeing a caged tarantula should have been denied one.

The Museum of Turquoise is only 15 years old, surprising considering the long held association of Native Americans in New Mexico with turquoise jewelry. The museum’s collection is from the J.C. and Lillian Zachary Jr. family whose daughter and son-in-law founded the museum. We learned the word turquoise derives from the French word for Turkish where the French first thought the stone originated. It didn’t but the name stuck. It is the first gemstone ever mined by mankind. Five thousand year old turquoise jewelry was found in Egyptian tombs.
Turquoise stones come in three colors – white, green, and blue. American Southwest mines used to produce significant stones, but now less than thirty mines are still operating. If you are a true collector, you know which mine produces the most beautiful stones. But here’s the shocking truth – 80 % of turquoise stones used in jewelry today are from (sigh) China! There are natural stones and stabilized stones. White turquoise is too soft to work with and is stabilized by injecting liquid plastic into the stone, which brightens the surface and hardens the substance. Most stones are waxed, oiled and lacquered. Only 10% of the stones used in turquoise jewelry are natural stones.

We were warned to be sure that jewelry purchased had real turquoise stones and not just stones of the turquoise color. But I liked the fact that turquoise is being mined out and can only go up in value – a very decent reason to buy more “real” turquoise jewelry.
And, finally, we arrived at the National Atomic Museum, “the nation’s only museum for nuclear science”, as it announced at the front door. I’m not a scientist but I can appreciate the advances of science and nuclear science is one of the young kids on the block. Even though X-rays were discovered in 1895, the first nuclear device was not exploded until July 1945, just down the interstate from Albuquerque. Nuclear power plants were an early peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Europeans have been all over that source, especially France. The French gets 78% of their electricity from nuclear power and in fact, France exports electricity. In comparison, our nuclear plants provide 20.8% of our electrical needs (coal is the number one provider). We also learned (I really should say I learned since my mother decided to sit out this museum!) that nuclear waste can now be reused, which may encourage more plants to be built in the U.S.

The museum also had a well stocked store and an enticing children’s corner with hands on experiments and great Einstein quotes.
Albuquerque has other large, excellent museums but these three small, focused museums will give an introduction to the uniqueness of New Mexico.
So, until the next column, remember Albert Einstein’s words, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
The American International Rattlesanke Museum, 202 San Felipe N.W., Suite A, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 505.242.6569.
Museum of Turquoise, 2107 Central Ave NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 505.247.8650.
National Museum of Atomic Nuclear Science & History, 1905 Mountain Rd NW, 505.245.2137,
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 505.843.7270.
Frontier Restaurant, 2400 Central Ave SE. Inexpensive restaurant near the University of New Mexico with the best cinnamon rolls and New Mexican food. Great combination!
Chow’s Chinese Bistro, 1950 Juan Tabo, NE.

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Semuc Champey – Nature’s Water Park

The name was so exotic – Semuc Champey, the loveliest spot in Guatemala. It was nature at its finest, a natural water park. The question was how anyone ever found it. Along a winding road from Guatemala City to Coban my son and I went 3 1/2 hours, continuing on for over an hour to the turnoff where the sign promised only 22 more kilometers (13.2 miles). Soon to be there, right? No, this road turned ugly. It was uneven and rocky and the pick-up truck listed back and forth as it maneuvered up and down the mountains, often requiring first gear. One and a half hours later, we arrived at the end of the road. (I didn’t add in the time when we had to turn around because our driver forgot to get gas nor the extra time it took to deliver a rope to his cousin.)

The good news is it’s worth it – vale la pena. At Semuc Champey, the thundering Cahabon river disappears under ground. Above it are gently layered pools of clear, jade colored water for swimming and wading, all located in a lush area of mountains with green, green, ferns, flowers, and pine trees. It was raining hard when we first arrived. As it shifted to a light rain, we went out – the only ones swimming. Everyone else was huddled under shelter. It was easy to make our way from pool to pool. The sun soon emerged, lighting up the pools and bringing in the crowds. There was a balance of Guatemalans and foreigners visiting the site, clearly distinguishable by shade and dress. Below the pools, the river emerges with a roar, causing some grand falls which we observed from below.

The second part of the day was a cave tour across the river at Kan’ Ba. As usual, we had to sign in and I noted that five of the last seven registrants were Israelis. It is a custom for young Israelis to take a year off for travel after serving their “sherut tzvai’l” or mandatory time in the military. They are adventurous travelers and we saw many of them.
Truthfully, I had been anxious about the cave tour since the morning. We knew what to expect from previous participants. An indigenous guide would give you a candle as you enter the water at the base of the cave. You would wade at first, but then swimming was required! After registering, I was reassured to meet our guide, Israel, a small, wiry, man with a huge, beautiful smile, reminiscent of Xi, the bushman in the movie, “The Gods Must be Crazy”. There were only two of us on the tour. In the dark of the cave, we would have three candles and a weak battery powered flashlight around Israel’s head. As we started, I was having serious questions about the wisdom of this adventure but I was still a mother and I couldn’t let my son go in there alone, even if he was twenty-four years old.

The water was cool, not cold. I was already breathing hard as we began to swim against a strong current flowing towards the cave opening while trying to keep the candle dry. There were stalactites to grab here and there. Israel stopped occasionally, pointing out various patterns with his headlight. It was hard to appreciate the different formations when all I could concentrate on was water rushing by, exiting in unknown places. The rains had been very heavy, preventing us from crawling out of the cave for a view of the waterfalls above us. Instead, we spent more time inside, climbing up to some dry caverns. When we finally turned around, it was wonderful to be flowing with the current. At one point, we had to direct our heads between two stalactites almost caressing the water with two feet of clearance between water and cave. Daylight never looked so good.
But Israel was not through with us. The tour also provided innertubes for a river float. Because of the rainy season, the river was on the run, making it more of a river dash. We hooked up our tubes, my feet under my son’s arms, and Israel’s small feet under my arms, putting in just below the falls. Floating along with waterfalls and mountains around us, children waving from the banks, and an occasional rapid was way beyond what Disney could ever provide. I was sorry when this part ended.

As with all adventures, it felt good to be done. If the cave tour had been in the U.S., I’m sure life jackets and better lighting would have been required. But many countries of the world let you access and assume the risk of your chosen undertaking without worry of a lawsuit. As an attorney, that’s bothersome. As a participant, it is exhilarating. So, until the next column, remember ‘always pack your swimsuit and some extra courage.’

Semuc Champey – Two hour drive from Coban, Guatemala. Their web site,, has lovely pictures.
Aventuras Turisticas has reasonable tours –
Kan’ Ba Caves – located immediately downriver from Semuc Champey.
Hotel La Posada in Coban – a private residence that became a hotel in 1939. 1a calle 4-12, zona 2, 502-7952-1495;
Casa D’Acuna – wonderful restaurant and home of the best waiter in Guatemala – extensive menu. (It’s also a budget hotel.) 4a Calle 3-11 Zona 2, 502-7951-0482

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Oklahoma City – Anyone Speak Vietnamese?

How is it possible that a life-long resident of Texas (which borders Oklahoma a good distance) and a current resident of Paris, Texas (which is only 20 miles from Oklahoma) had never been to Oklahoma City? It was too far north or too far west and really wasn’t on the way to anywhere for us until our daughter and son-in-law moved there. It was time.

First – the drive. How different than the drive to Dallas. Head straight north up the Indian turnpike, through the Ouachita mountains, take a left on Interstate 40, cruise through more rolling hills with open fields and ponds, and take in a few (large) Indian Casinos on the way. Other than slowing to pay tolls, you could make that drive in just over three hours without releasing your cruise control or spotting a Starbucks.

The expressways of OK City are elevated with high curving arches as the interstates meet and part in the wide open sky. Below the exchange, downtown is divided into three parts. The arts district is an architectural history lesson with a modern art museum and an Art Deco musical hall. Included in this area is the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the chilling and yet soothing testament to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred Munch Federal Building. Midtown has the renovated Skirvin Hilton and other major hotels, several bank buildings, the Cox Civic Center and the Ford Center where their hockey and basketball teams play.

The third district, Bricktown, was originally a compact, commercial center with red brick warehouses and store fronts. It declined after the Great Depression and was not revitalized until the 1990s. Someone had vision. Bricktown is now a lively cross between the San Antonio river walk and downtown Ft. Worth complete with historical buildings and a new section that has captured many national restaurants and stores. There’s even a Bricktown baseball park for the AAA Oklahoma Red Hawks. The river walk is particularly charming in the evening with restaurants spilling out onto sidewalks and boats motoring by.

Oklahoma City became even more interesting as we ventured out of downtown. It’s no surprise the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum resides here. They were having a special western day when we arrived, complete with cowboy greeters on horseback and gifts of red and white bandanas. A statue of John Wayne was to be dedicated that day. After an unsuccessful try at roping a saddle, we moved on to our biggest surprise, Little Saigon.
The large Asia District in Oklahoma City branches out from 23rd street. Asians are three percent of the OK City population, most of them Vietnamese who originally came after the fall of Saigon in 1975. When my daughter told me there was a Vietnamese grocery store near her, I expected a 7-11 type store. The large Super Cao Nguyen was named for the Central Highland area of Vietnam. It has been owned by the Luong family for over 25 years. Many of the fruit and vegetables of southeast Asia were available such as durian and jicama. It also had pig and duck as well as some of Asia’s more common gift items. They have recently begun to attract the Whole Foods crowd by carrying European specialties such as Greek olives.

There was a special program in the store’s parking lot that morning. One of the boats that had been used to escape Vietnam in the 70’s was making a tour of the United States along with black and white photos of the refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines. To make a journey of thousands of miles in that small ark was inconceivable. We heard the South Vietnamese national anthem sung by those present, many with tears in their eyes. It was obvious the crowd still missed their homeland.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped at the Pho Hoa restaurant where we sampled Bun Thit Nuong, a dish I had liked in Vietnam. The clientele here was primarily Asian American, but I also noted a table of Native Americans and one of African Americans. There we were – a slice of America in a Vietnamese restaurant in Oklahoma City. I saw that melting pot again in December when I worked with my daughter in a Red Cross shelter after their ice storm. The shelter was heavily used by those whose power was lost. During 24 hours, I translated for Spanish speaking customers, wheeled an elderly African American woman to the curb to catch a cab, held a Vietnamese woman’s daughter, and served lunch to a cowboy.

You’ll find what you expect in Oklahoma City – a friendly, open community with heavy influence from the cowboy and native American cultures. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll find what you didn’t anticipate – a robust example of the melting pot that is America. And that’s what makes it even more interesting. So, until the next column, remember “cowboy boots fit everyone”.

Oklahoma City National Memorial – 620 N. Harvey Avenue, 405-235-3313;
National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum – 1700 NE 63rd, 405-478-2250;
Super Cao Nguyen Grocery Store – 2668 N. Military Ave., 405-525-7650;
Pho Hoa Restaurant – 901 NW 23rd, 405-521-8087
Saturn Grill – “Eat Great Food on a Cool Planet” – wonderful sandwiches, salads and slogan – 6432 Avondale Dr., 405-843-7114;
Cheever’s Café – Great for a special evening out. (We saw a wedding proposal here) 2409 N. Hudson Avenue, 405-525-7007;

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Consolation Lake Cantata

It all started with the bear warning. August in Lake Louise, Canada is berry season and the bears love them. There had been black bear sightings in the nearby Lake Moraine area where we planned to hike and all were advised to walk in a group of at least six people. There were only four of us– our friends, Paul and Betty, my husband, Ed, and me. Early one chilly morning we waited at the lake’s edge until more hikers joined us. Two of them were middle-aged, portly twin brothers from London, England. They looked as if they’d missed the bus tour rather than waiting to embark on a strenuous hike. They had one small backpack, no food, no decent hiking shoes or jackets, and only one of them carried a plastic bottle of water. This was in sharp contrast with the other couple who had joined us, who were serious, well equipped hikers complete with telescoping walking sticks. We were all silently sure the brothers would hold us back.

The first part of the trail was quite steep. A spry, fit physician from Vermont led the group at a fast clip and most of us were soon breathing heavily. But the brothers seemed to be on a stroll. They easily kept up and even chatted on the way. We stopped for water but the twins weren’t even perspiring. How could this be? After some inquiries into their lives in England, the brothers revealed that they were both opera singers, one teaches voice and performs and the second just performs. Riddle solved. Clearly, their lungs were in great shape and 6300 feet in altitude didn’t phase them at all.
The brothers were traveling on a recently received inheritance. They weren’t on a tour and didn’t know how to drive. One had failed the driving test five times. Their previous traveling passion had been to explore old industrial companies and they had been all over eastern Europe checking out steel mills. Upon arrival at a new destination, a car and driver would be hired to take them to these unusual places. In Canada, they were using public transportation, hotel cars, and the generosity of people they met.

After two hours of hiking through nature’s vertical gardens in the Canadian Rockies, we parted from the rest of our group and watched them continue an even steeper climb over a mountain pass. The brothers kept up their jaunty walk and soon disappeared.

Later that day, we again ran into the “opera” brothers at Consolation Lake. As we were sunning on a large rock, we asked the siblings to sing. They had a professional repertoire and could sing anything from the Beach Boys to Verdi, from the Beatles to Mendelssohn. They had performed Elvis Presley at a bar the previous night. Actually, they didn’t just sing. One brother would sing as the other puffed out his cheeks and slapped his thighs and made all necessary instrumental sounds. They insisted that we sing with them.

Since there were three members of the Holy Cross Episcopal choir in our group of four, we were able to sing many of our Lessons and Carols pieces, most of them British. Anything by John Rutter came easily to them. None of these stumped the brothers. But while Betty, Paul and I would forcefully sing the first verse of a piece, they also knew the second and the third and even the fourth verses. I’m sure we were quite a sight to other hikers as one of the twins dramatically directed his small chorus in our Alpine cantata. We even caroled on the path back and heard stories about giving tours at Windsor castle and performing in England. Nothing could slow down our brothers.

Of course, we gave the twins a ride back to their hotel. They hadn’t been a bit worried about being stranded. And, actually, they didn’t seem much worried about bears, either. Thinking about them and their wonderful approach to travel makes me smile. And so, until the next column, remember “Don’t judge a hiker by their shoes.”

Suggestions for Lake Louise, Banff, Canada:
Hiking in the Lake Louise area is glorious and should include the glacier walk on the far side of Lake Louise and any of the walks in the Lake Moraine area
Deer Lodge, 109 Lake Louise Dr, Lake Louise, Banff – 800-661-1595 – Wonderful location but some rooms are very small.
Post Hotel Dining Room, P.O. Box 69, Lake Louise – 800-661-1586 – A member of the luxury group, Relais & Chateaux properties, it has the best food in the area if you want to splurge.
Walliser Stube Wine Bar – located in the Chateau Lake Louise – 403-522-1918 – Wonderful Swiss food

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Christmas Shopping Trip

The tradition began in 1979, our first year in Paris. It was December and we were just learning our way around northeast Texas. My good friend, Toni, suggested that we take a day and Christmas shop in Dallas. Twenty-eight years later, we continue to make that yearly pilgrimage to the land of boutiques, malls and late hours.

Some Parisians travel to Dallas so often they don’t consider it a trip. But it is. When you stop and think about, it is 100 miles. In the northeast United States, you could be across the borders of three states. As with all traveling, you have to think about what you’ll need for the day (or week-end). Who’s driving? Do you take the north or the south route? Should you throw in your tennis shoes in case your feet wear out? How about an umbrella for possible rain? You have to map out your stops and plan your meals. The salesclerks and waiters are strangers. It’s truly a travel experience.

The first years of our Advent journey were intense, especially after having children. The shopping list seemed to get longer and the stores bigger. We started going on a week-day to avoid some of the crowds. Our pattern is to start south, sometimes in the Knox-Henderson area, but always including Northpark Mall. Shopping with a woman is different than shopping with a man. If you ask a man his opinion on a possible purchase, you get a hurried “sure, that’s fine” or a shrug. Only a woman friend will tell you if that chartreuse colored sweater is really that cool or that weird. A woman will help with the analysis needed to determine quality and value This is true whether you’re shopping in Dallas or Hong Kong. Women don’t tap their feet while you detour into one more store. And women also see things that are not on the list, which is actually the very best part– finding something you had never considered and loving it. I still sing in the shower with this corny plastic sing-a-long book Toni found once and we have never seen again.

After the run through Northpark, we always head to a book store, Borders being the favorite. It’s easy to lose yourself and time in this store. After a coffee break, we hit (interesting shopping term) the Container Store for wrapping goods. Originally, the Galleria was the next stop. The houseware department at Macy’s always has great bargains and Nordstrom’s lovely piano music distracts you from the headache you get breathing mall air. In all those years, we’ve only had one scare– in an almost empty Galleria parking lot at night. As we emerged, loaded down with shopping bags on a vacant second floor of the parking garage, a car sped towards us, stopped and some menacing guys started out of the car. We ran awkwardly, throwing things into our van, and then another car rounded the corner and they sped away. After that experience, we learned to take advantage of store security guards who will accompany you to your car if you are out late.

And, finally, the last stop– Toys ‘R Us. We once arrived at this toy mecca at 10 p.m., a very good time to be there. It was almost empty and we could seriously play with any toy we were considering. I think that was the year that we got stopped for speeding at midnight in Melissa. The highway patrolman asked where we were headed and why we were out so late. After our reply, he flashed his light into the back of the car because he couldn’t believe we were just coming home from a shopping trip. The sea of shopping bags must have impressed him as he let us go with a warning.

The trip has changed over the years. Toys ‘R Us is out for the moment. There are more stores at Northpark and we don’t always make it to the Galleria. Our lunches and coffee breaks are longer as we talk more and shop less. We look more for stocking stuffers than big items. And we are usually home by 7 or 8. Being glad to get home is the final reason a drive to Dallas is truly a trip.

We continued the tradition this year. Expanded choices in Paris have increased our purchases here. And the ability to order and mail items over the internet to our spread-out families has shortened the Dallas shopping list. But we will always go, even if it’s just to have the time to visit on the way there and back. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it. So until the next column, remember “a friend you can shop with is a friend indeed”.

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Cooking Class in Hong Kong

We walked off the elevator on the 10th floor of the Hong Kong electric company building, which seemed a very odd place for cooking lessons. I was traveling with a friend whose daughter had moved to Hong Kong in 2005 and was teaching at a Waldorf School. She was so at home in the weaving, condensed streets of Hong Kong and had led us to some wonderful restaurants. She also knew my love of cooking and had suggested this course. The guide book promised we would learn four dishes in two hours.
A smiling receptionist welcomed us in English and asked if we were there for the cooking lessons. When we acknowledged that we were, she asked if we would need a certificate upon completion. Not being sure what that meant, I simply said no. But then I inquired about who typically took these courses – tourists? She hesitated and said, yes, we get a few tourists. What about Hong Kong residents? Yes, we get a few Hong Kong residents. I knew I didn’t yet have a full picture of this course and asked again who primarily signed up for this course. She answered, “Filipino maids.” I was aware there was a large population of house staff that came from the Philippines. The women gather every Sunday at the downtown squares in Hong Kong, set up tables, chairs, lounging blankets and eat and visit all day. It would be interesting to join them in their culinary training.

The room for the cooking demonstration reminded me of the TXU home economics room in Paris, but was larger and had layered chairs for viewing the chef. The audience consisted of Tina and me, one Australian woman who had just moved to Hong Kong, and about eight Filipino maids. They were young, beautiful, and intensely interested in learning to cook Chinese food correctly for their employer’s family. Each had her own cell phone and when a dish was finished, they would come forward and take a picture of the elegantly presented dish. I found myself up there taking pictures, too.

Gratefully, the instructions were in English. But it was British English with some local color thrown in. Corn starch was cornflour and the instructor made sure we knew that the fish in one dish did not require a “swimming fish”. Fresh fish is one that hasn’t been frozen. Swimming fish is one that is still alive and is swimming around the big buckets in the fish market. I’ve not seen any swimming fish in Paris other than some scared fresh lobsters at Wal-Mart’s several years back.
Either these dishes were outstanding or we were ravenous, but we all devoured the dishes when they were ready. My favorite was the “sweet and sour fish”, a dish similar to the American version but much lighter. After eating, they inquired again if we were going to be working toward the six week certificate. We regretfully had to decline.

Our food experiences over the next few days were varied and good. We had the traditional Dim Sum served from carts passing by our table and vegetarian fare served at the Big Budha park on Landau island. We also tried Mongolian, Turkish and Vietnamese food. We declined to eat the snake in the live market but did drink the tea that promised to cleanse the digestive system, neutralize the effect of alcohol and prevent dehydration!

Yet the dish that surprised me was chocolate cake. On February 14th, 2006, I had made a molten chocolate cake for the first time from a recent recipe in the Dallas Morning News. It was the first I had heard of it. This is a chocolate cake that is deliberately undercooked and has a chocolate pudding- like center. The next week in New York City, I had the molten chocolate cake at a restaurant around the corner from my sister-in-law’s apartment. And incredibly enough, a week later in Hong Kong, we went to an all chocolate restaurant where they served… molten chocolate cake. That recipe must have gone around the world in a matter of days!

I think of the Filipino maids every time I use my Hong Kong recipes. I’m sure their presentation is lovelier than mine and I just wish we could have stayed longer to get the six week certificate that was offered. Maybe next time. So, until the next column, remember “you don’t have to know the name of everything you eat”.
Cooking course through Home Management Centre, Electri Centre, 28 City Garden Road, North Point, Phone 2510 2828

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Immigration From the Other Side

Guatemala is a lovely country, especially in the mountains during the rainy season. Yes, it rains most days but usually for only a part of the late afternoon. The view for the rest of the day is of lush, deep green fields filled with vegetables, coffee and fruit supervised by puffing volcanos. Because plots are small, there is a checkerboard effect that is missing in the large farms in the United States. Farming sustains two-thirds of the population, but only at a very basic life style. When the family outgrows the production of the family plot, something has to give. The first move is to the cities of Guatemala. When work is not found there, the next move is to the United States.

During a two-week stay to study Spanish in Quetzaltenango (known as Xela), I had the opportunity to speak candidly with my teachers and host family about the immigration problem from their perspective. Everyone has a relative in the U.S., but the stories are seldom happy. A typical scenario came from my first teacher. Rosalba was young, in her 20’s, unmarried and living with her sister. Slender and wide-eyed, my instructor smiled readily and was an organized, fun teacher. Her family had initially consisted of her parents, two brothers and three sisters. They lived in a community outside of Xela. About 15 years ago, her father immigrated to America in search of a job. Initially, money was sent back to her mother and her father visited once or twice a year. The last time he came, he wanted a divorce as he had met someone else. This was devastating to her mother. The payments stopped after that visit. One at a time Rosalba’s brothers also crossed the borders and never returned. Her mother worked to support the girls, but later developed severe diabetes and died. Rosalba was tearful speaking of that time. What was a family of seven was now a family of three girls. Her brothers cannot visit because of the difficulty in crossing the borders to return to their lives in America. Immigration has taken away Rosalba’s family with no financial benefit to those left behind.

Rosalba’s stories and those of others were a surprise. It was expected that many families had members working in the U.S.. What wasn’t expected was the gradual cutting of the bonds that hold families together despite separation. As in Rosalba’s situation, money often comes at first but there’s no guarantee that it will continue over the years. Many children are growing up in female-headed households. The homes that took in English students at The Minerva Language School were all led by women, most with young children. My host family consisted of a grandmother raising a granddaughter, a teenage son, and another daughter who had a baby boy. The teenage boy was the “man” of the house.

My second teacher advised me that immigration and the long war had torn apart the close Latino families. Guatemala suffered through an internal war for 34 years, which slowed economic development. Whole villages of indigenous people were destroyed during this time. Carmen told of a terrifying experience when her bus was held up by guerrillas, the driver shot and the passengers left on the side of the road after being robbed. However, in 1996 , a negotiated settlement between the government and the guerillas was signed and Guatemala has been able to concentrate on living peacefully.

The tourist industry is booming. Many indigenous farmers, weavers and artists have formed co-ops to directly market their products. Korea is investing heavily in textile factories. Agricultural exports have grown from the traditional sugar, bananas and coffee to include broccoli and flowers. The United States is its major trading partner. Yet more than half of the population lives in poverty including 17% who live on less than $1.00 per day. The exodus for better paying jobs in the United States continues.

In Guatemala, the war has been resolved but immigration still divides families. Countries on both sides want what is best for their people. Jobs are the key to the solution and local jobs keep Guatemalan families together. But until there are enough jobs paying livable wages, there will be immigration pressures. Both sides need a resolution that will keep the immigrant’s family unit intact. Their economy and ours depend on it. So, until the next column, remember “there’s always two sides to every story.”

Minerva Language School – 24 Avenida 4-39, Zona 3 – Quetzaltenango, Guatemala – 502-7767-4427 – – $135 per week for course and homestay

Escuela de Espanol San Jose el Viejo – 5a Av. Sur, #34 – Antigua, Guatemala 502-7832-3028- – $220 per week for course and homestay

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Revisiting Cambodia and Vietnam

They were my seatmates on the flight from Taipei to Phnom Penh, Cambodia – an American couple from the enormous Cambodian community in Los Angeles. In preparing for my trip, I had read much of these young Asians whose families had escaped from Cambodia and Vietnam in the late 1970s. This next generation was starting to revisit their native country to connect with their roots. The wife actually remembered, as a child of four, her family’s escape to Thailand in 1979. They walked hundreds of miles, stopping for food at night and sleeping under trees. Her most vivid memories were of the times they had to run because of gunfire and her uncle would pick her up and carry her. None of her relatives that stayed in Cambodia survived.

On our bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh was an American Cambodian from Washington, D.C., who had immigrated from a Thai refugee camp after escaping the Pol Pot regime. It was the first time she had been back and the first time to meet her grandparents. It was strange seeing this very American girl and her very Cambodian parents and siblings. She was quite helpful in translating all of the action by the bus driver, especially when we pulled to the side of the road and sat while he yelled on the phone with somebody. (We had apparently left a passenger stranded 10 minutes back and the company wanted him to return. The entire bus booed that idea so we kept going.)
These stories brought back memories of the five or six Cambodian families who were sponsored by churches in my hometown in 1980. At the time, I truly had no idea what they had been through but was made painfully aware of their trauma when we visited School Number S-21 in Phnom Penh. It was used as a prison and torture facility during the Khmer Rouge. Of the 10,000 people who passed through the prison, only seven survived. One fourth of the population of Cambodia died under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Gruesome stories were the norm. It was only four years of such oppression, ending in 1979, but Cambodia is only beginning to heal. It is becoming stable enough to benefit from the large tourist industry. Siem Reap, home to the incredible ruins at Angkor Watt, is the first city to provide the hotels, restaurants and transportation necessary to attract visitors.
In Vietnam, one million South Vietnamese escaped by boat after the fall of Saigon in 1975, and many immigrated to United States. For that we should be grateful. As a group these families have been enormously successful in their adopted countries. Thirty years later it is their children, educated in the Western world, who are interested in returning to Vietnam to learn of their past and to create business opportunities. On a two-day tour of the Mekong Delta, I praised the English of one of the tour members only to discover he was an American, living in Portland, Oregon, and with his family owns five Vietnamese restaurants. My comment was embarrassing for me, but he got a good laugh out of it. He helped us identify many of the unfamiliar fruits and vegetables we saw for sale, especially on the world’s largest floating wholesale market. This armada of produce laden boats served farmers dropping off their products, and restaurants and stores buying in bulk. We could only gape at this unusual distribution method. We were not happy to learn from our Portland Vietnamese friend of a recent outbreak of Asian bird flu that had killed many ducks in the very town where we found ourselves. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Vietnam suffered through some years of trying to make a communist economy work. Fortunately, their leaders decided in 1986 to test out a freer market and the economy is now booming. Yet the cost of living has remained low. Our hotels in Vietnam ranged from $5 to $12 a night and most of our meals were under $3. With a population of 150 million and 95% literacy, Vietnam is poised to become a dominant player in that part of the world.
Late in the trip, I met a Vietnamese American airplane mechanic with Boeing in Wichita, Kansas, who escaped Vietnam by boat when he was two-years-old. His two-month-old sister had to be left. He was painfully aware that there was a discussion of whether to bring him with the family when they departed. A different decision would have given him a totally different life. But he is now very committed to helping his family that remained in Vietnam and making sure his children are comfortable with their heritage. This is the consistent attitude we found as these children of those who fled Cambodia and Vietnam are making their first round trips, not to stay, but to help.

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The Art World of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is best known as the city of the Tango in the land of the Gauchos. Throw in a fist full of art though and you’ve got a big Ft. Worth down under. B.A. has cowtown’s wonderful juxtaposition of creativity layered on a cattle society. On a beautiful spring afternoon in November, I set out to discover this interesting art world.

The first stop was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the national museum with several floors of art works from around the world. I was encouraged to go directly to the second floor by an American student studying Hispanic art. She described it as the history of art in the western world revealed through Argentinian artists and subjects.

The floor began with landscapes and portraits typical of the 17th and 18th centuries. Horses and the “campo” or country were popular subjects. I particularly liked the Gaucho series by Bernaldo de Quiros who painted in the early part of the 1900s. But what’s an Argentinian gaucho in lace pants doing in an impressionist painting? This new subject in a recognized art era was startling but allowed renewed appreciation of impressionism. Peasants and workers are revered by Latin artists as represented by a poignant painting of an old woman feeding pigs in La Comida de los Cerdos by Fernando Fader. A colorful scene of breathing factories and straining dock workers by Quinquela Martin shows great sympathy for those who suffered through the industrial age. Italian last names of many of the artists reflect the huge Italian immigration to this country. The art progresses into the modern age with an unusual depiction of the Annuciation. An inflated, elongated Mary is visited by a puffy, highly feathered angel! I’m sure there was more wonderful art on other floors but the second floor is the jewel.

The museum hopping continued with the Malba Museum, built in 2001 to house the modern art collection of its director, Eduard Constantini. It is dedicated to expanding that collection but also promoting contemporary Hispanic artists (although there was a featured movie of Andy Warhol on my visit). Its permanent collection contains works by Freida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Roberto Matta, and others. Regular exhibits and movies encourage the younger artists. Add in a sleek café and it’s a required stop for any visit.

There’s more at The National Museum of Decorative Arts. But what’s a museum to do with such a dull sounding name? The first suggestion is to be housed in an elegant former home built around 1915 in the French Neoclassical architectural style. The second idea is to fill the home with period European furniture, tapestries, paintings and sculptures to give the viewer a sense of the life of the rich when Argentina was also wealthy. And, finally, leave the Great Hall almost empty to allow one to imagine a room full of music and dancing. This place was a lovely surprise.

Now, I’ve checked off the major museums and am wondering if that’s all there is to the art world of Buenos Aires. Oh, no, the best is yet to come – from the streets – on Sundays.

La Boca (the mouth of the river) is the home of many artists and the passionate Boca Junior soccer team (I suppose all soccer teams in Argentina are passionate). Its aging stadium gives shade to this small community located in an old warehouse district. On a Sunday afternoon, the streets fill with booths of artists, tables and chairs to relax and eat, and best of all, spontaneous tango dancing.

An often overlooked street fair is the Feria de Matadores, also held on Sundays. It originally was the country fair for farmers to sell their produce, honey, and jellies. There are also a lot of equestrian products, including silver spurs and belts. In late afternoon a horse event provides drama as riders grab a ring while standing on a galloping horse. Again, though, it was the street scene that charmed. Gauchos dance the traditional handkerchief dance by selecting women in the crowd to join them. Sidewalk cafes offer the famous parrillado (grilled meat) perfectly complemented with Argentina red wine. And families and friends walk arm in arm in the streets. Our lunch group included two retired Argentina lawyers of Italian descent and their ballerina daughter and my cousin and her husband. We talked about books, politics and opera. What a great way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

I haven’t even mentioned the crafts fair often held outside the Recoleta cemetery, the artistry of the stylish Argentinian women, or the antique area of San Telmo displaying the talents of silversmiths of the past. An entirely different subject is the European ambiance created by B.A.’s architecture. What a feast for the eyes. For a fresh look at art history and at the soul of Argentina, don’t miss the art of Buenos Aires. So, until the next column, remember “All you really have to pack is your passport and money. The rest you can buy.”

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The Traveling Gene

My brothers and I were never given an option. Every summer, my mother would throw her five children in the back of a Plymouth station wagon and head out to a predetermined destination in the United States. Distance didn’t matter. Seattle, Los Angeles, Colorado, South Dakota, Washington, D.C., were all in her sights. My father claimed the crops on the farm required his attention but he would still occasionally fly up and join us. By the time I left home, my brothers and I had checked off 35 states. After my mother was widowed at 46, she began to explore the world. In 1969, she planned a ten-week tour to Europe for the family, complete with the purchase of a Volkswagen van delivered to England for us. Long before faxes, cheap telephone calls or the internet, Mom used Europe on $5 a Day and the mail to reserve hotel rooms for every stop on the itinerary. We skied in Switzerland, rode into a salt mine in Austria, swam off the coast of Sorrento, Italy, and visited East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. That summer we added ten new countries to our list of places visited and I was hooked.

The tradition continued with my family. Our children did not get the traditional trips to Disney World or the beach. They bargained for panchos and backpacks in the Indian markets of Ecuador and zipped through the cloud forests of Costa Rica. Each took advantage of the Rotary exchange programs, one to Spain and the other to Japan. Family conversations today still include debates on where the next trip should be.

This will be a column on traveling but its emphasis will be on every day life, not on a day to day description of a trip with hotels and restaurants. It may cover cooking lessons in Hong Kong, or one day’s experience in the art world of Buenos Aires or even a report of immigration issues from the viewpoint of a Spanish teacher in Guatemala. Since I don’t travel on tours, I often read extensively prior to a trip. Guide books are helpful, but memoirs and literature give a greater perspective. And with the internet, you can even read local papers for the hot issues in that country. Hopefully, I can occasionally liven the column with tidbits, such as a dog poisoner is on the list of Hong Kong’s ten most wanted or that there is no word for diet in the Vietnamese language.

Through the years of traveling with my mother, we learned the world was to be enjoyed, not feared. Different is not a synonym for bad. The worst travel experiences become the best stories to tell. And travel will cure any ambivalence about the pleasures of your own home. But regardless of the length and enjoyment of our ventures, we need to return to our family and friends where a trip can be most enjoyed in the retelling. So, until the next column, remember “always pack your swim suit.”

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