Duck Duck Goose or The Animal Kingdom: A Paddling

One of my favorite places to be is on water, scanning for bird life

November 11th, or 11/11, is an odd German holiday known as St. Martin’s Day (Martinstag).  St. Martin of Tours (316 – 297 CE) is a saint associated with modesty and altruism (aren’t they all?). Legend has it that St. Martin slashed his cloak in half to save a homeless person from freezing. His holiday used to be followed by a fast that lasted a long, hungry period of weeks, stretching out to Christmas. [1]

But St. Martin’s Day is celebrated here in southern Germany by eating a special dish of duck or goose (Martinsgans), accompanied by red cabbage cooked with apple, and homemade dumplings known as knödel.

When it gets dark, nighttime glows with candles from lantern processions (Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge). The streets fill with adults, accompanying children who carry hand-made lanterns. In our village the procession is led by an actor dressed up as the saint. In some areas the  parade follows behind an actor dressed up as a Roman soldier on horseback. [2]

The tradition to eat a goose (today usually replaced by a duck) on St. Martin’s Day is believed to go back the medieval tax system. November 11th was one of the days when medieval vassals had to pay taxes, and peasants often paid with a goose. [3] Another popular story is that a gaggle of honking geese betrayed Martin’s hiding place: he hid in a goose pen from the people of Tours when they wanted to make him a bishop. [4]

Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings statues in Boston’s Public Park. I love the little kid playing among the ducklings

All the local restaurants and beer gardens have duck and goose dishes on their menus. Reserve your table now! they cajole.

***

In all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never ordered or willingly ate duck. Bizarrely shiny, glistening, reddish shellacked duck carcasses hang on meat hooks in the front windows of Chinese restaurants throughout the city. And hang. And hang. And hang. Just the idea of the oldness and congealed fat covered with flies of this ‘special dish’ turned my stomach. Strongly flavored meat that’s been aging for probably as long as the restaurant’s been in business? Yuck! I’ll take a pass…

But I recall with glee the Peking duck Uwe and I ate in Beijing. The restaurant specialized in only Peking duck, along with all the pomp and circumstance such a dish demands.

Our Chinese friend Weiyu orders for us, but every single table  wants the same meal. Waiters are formally dressed, complete with chefs’ toques, mouth masks and protective gloves. By the end of the evening they carve hundreds of plates of duck.

These guys are fast! Snick snick snick and your duck is parsed into a meal

May November 11th bring you flights of fancy and a visit from the Bluebird of Happiness. By now the ducks and geese, indeed, all migrating birds have already left for warmer climates. Despite the record-breaking warm days here in Germany, winter is coming (yes, we hear you John Snow).

Have a great St. Martin’s Day.

NOTES: [1,4] German Holidays Time and Date.com [2] Martin was  a Roman soldier before becoming a saint… See also wiki/St. Martin’s Day. [3] Medieval peasants had it rough. Taxes were collected as well upon marriage and death, St. George’s Day, and spring and fall. Source: Peasantry Their Problem and Protest in Assam (1858-1894) by Kamal Chandra Pathak. A group of ducks on water is called a paddling. The collective noun for geese on the ground is a gaggle; when in flight, they are called a skein, a team, or a wedge; when flying close together, they are called a plump. Quora ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. For more about ducks and geese go to my earlier posts The Animal Kingdom: 1 and 15. Say this 3 times, fast: Future posts will feature our feathered friends!

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The Waterfalls of Laos: South 2

We’re enchanted with bodies of water. Yes, the Amazon River is definitely on our wish list…. We love them all, from the impossibly old cultures and antiquities found along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt to the remote beauty and haunting calls of loons on the back trails of lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks, to the ever changing scenery along the Mekong.

The Mekong River defines Laos in many ways. Laos is a landlocked country, but visitors forget this fact because the river runs the length of the land. When it reaches the southernmost border to Cambodia, the Mekong River divides up into a landscape of fast-running parallel streams.

It’s a quiet region, frequented mostly by nature lovers and stoners (see the first half of this post for some details on that aspect of travel).

Locals still go fishing in what looked like awkward and probably highly dangerous but effective fashion.

The Mekong River is wide and sleepy in places up north. Here, though, the river definitely rolls and tumbles. This method of fishing is surely the smartest way to work with the force of the waters and guarantee a good catch.

Here are some reasons why you should visit Southern Laos: the sweetness of a part of the world that isn’t in a hurry and has spectacular scenery.

The chance to get into areas that are still relatively untouched by mass tourism.

Footbridge on the Bolaven Plateau

The natural world: biologists and botanists continue to discover new species. And the flora and fauna that Laos contains are beautiful.

Plus you never know when you’ll sail into the middle of a local festival. We literally did just that as we headed down river from Pakse to reach 4,000 Islands. A long boat race was going on, and Uwe and I didn’t need to be asked twice if we wanted to stay for a while and watch.

We tied up alongside these other boats that were watching the races
Religious offerings make any boat even more beautiful
Joyous. Wet, but joyous….
All takes place under the watchful tender eye of the Buddha

We booked our trip with a gentle young guide and a variety of boats. The infrastructure is simple compared to Germany or Hong Kong, but with cell phones and patience it all went smoothly. When you’re in a place as lovely as Laos is, it’s all good.

One last waterfalls photo, Bolaven Plateau

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. For more about Laos’s waterfalls in the north, go to my earlier post The Waterfalls of Laos: North.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Waterfalls of Laos: South 1

On our last trip to Laos we headed south to the quiet little city of Pakse in the Chapasak province. We wanted to see old ruins – and really spectacular waterfalls!

For the latter we booked a guide to reach the Bolaven Plateau. Hiking in to some of the waterfalls was a gloriously steep, wet walk.

Later, with the same guide (and boats) we were carried to 4,000 Islands (Si Phan Don). I was beyond amused to notice the signs on some of the guesthouses in  4,000 Islands, announcing that special, magical pancakes were available for breakfast…. My German husband missed the inference and asked why I was laughing. “Guests can get their pancakes laced with the noble herb,” I informed him. [1] Sure enough, plenty of tourists in the 4,000 Islands region spent all their time literally hanging out in hammocks. They were all way too relaxed – or something – to be ambitious. They were in no hurry to explore.

Or move.

The Mekong River splits into branches at this end of Laos and tumbles over  boulders and channels cut through rock.

When the French colonized Laos they came up with a bold (and ultimately quixotic) plan to build a railway through the region. They  wanted to go around the waterfalls and create a faster, easier way to travel and ship goods either to the north, or to the southern Vietnam port of Saigon. The result is what a CNN article wryly refered to as “Laos’ first railway: 14 km of rust” [2].

The Mekong defeated the engineers, and 4,000 Islands is a beautiful sleepy area.

But the waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau. We hiked in to as many as our young guide was willing to take us to.

Part Two to follow.

NOTES: [1] I turned 16 the year that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was released. If you know me, you know this fact explains everything, including what makes me laugh. [2] travel.cnn.com ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. For more about Laos’s waterfalls in the north, go to my earlier post The Waterfalls of Laos: North.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

The Animal Kingdom: 26

Somewhere my father is grinning with approval at my never-ending blog thread for him! I present installment #26 describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.

  1. The scurry scurried off.
  2. I always fall for a fall in fall. [1]
  3. A hood lived under the hood.
  4. The cover covered the shoreline.
  5. The sawt sawed at the meat.
  6. Is a cowardice cowardly?
Cowardice member, U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar

Answers:

  1. Scurry of squirrels
  2. Fall of woodcocks
  3. Hood of snails
  4. Cover of coots
  5. Sawt of lions
  6. Cowardice of curs
Scurry member, Granary Burying Ground est. 1660, Boston, USA
Cover, North Island, New Zealand

NOTES: [1] Known also by the coolest name on the planet for a game bird: the timberdoodle. But no matter what you name it, the species is in decline worldwide. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.  Fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Animal Kingdom: 25

I present installment #25 from my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.

  1. The float floats as it waits….
  2. The trip tripped down the trail.
  3. He was squeamish with the squirm.
  4. At their own sound the rhumba rhumbaed!
  5. A movement can move a lot of earth.
  6. The watch watched.
Trip, Mrauk U, Myanmar

Answers:

  1. Float of crocodiles [1]
  2. Trip of goats
  3. Squirm of worms
  4. Rhumba of rattlesnakes
  5. Movement of moles
  6. Watch of nightingales
Float, Laos

NOTES: [1] Sigh. Crocs are on the endangered list. Over half the world’s species of crocodiles will soon go extinct. www.theguardian.com © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.  Fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Baum, Bats, and Monkeys

NOTE: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first appeared in print on 17 May, 1900; the film premiered on 12 August, 1939. Here is one of my very first posts, about author L. Frank Baum, bats, and monkeys…. — Jadi

Both sides of my family hail from the Northeast. We lived for a while in Cazenovia, one of the most beautiful small towns in upstate NY. Caz is just a few miles from Chittenango Falls, and that town was the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz.

My sisters and I first saw The Wizard of Oz film on an old black and white television set we called Lucille. Lucille was temperamental (“Dad! Lucille’s on the fritz again!”), but her screen was big.

It was years before I finally saw The Wizard of Oz on a color television. How I gasped when Dorothy opened that door and stepped out into Munchkin Land! But in color or black and white, to this day I don’t much like monkeys.

Balinese Barong

Some years ago my husband and I traveled to Bali. The Balinese fill their temples with statues of the strange half-bird, half-god creature known as Garuda, a lion-like Barong, lots of sinuous snakes, and Hanuman the monkey god. The cultural heart of Bali is Ubud, home to the Monkey Forest which contains the Monkey Temple. I wrapped a sarong around my waist before we entered to show respect, and I know I was curious as to what we’d find.

The temple grounds were filled – no, overrun – with crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis) monkeys. Dozens of them rested on the platforms to the Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal temple. Many more watched us from up in the canopy of thick jungle trees and vines. But worst of all, a horde of monkeys scampered our way as we drew near. They were used to people and accustomed to visitors who bring them food. We walked slowly, not making any sudden movements, keeping our arms stretched out with our hands opened. I hoped my empty palms signaled: no food here!

Monkey Temple Gang
Monkey Temple Gang

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we left the grounds. But I wonder about the sanity (to say nothing of the later health) of tourists who bring bananas and fruit to hand to the macaques. Those critters are feral!

Bali has another disturbing indigenous species: bats.

Text
Bali bats from hell

A huge colony of the largest fruit eating bats I have ever seen, all with wingspans of an easy three feet, hung upside down in a very tall tree. I was horrified by their size.

Then they began flying. In the middle of the day. Bright tropical sun highlighted the reddish membranes of their webbed skins. They flew in loops, more and more gigantic bats, circling lower. I began to feel dizzy as a scratchy voice in my head murmured, “I’ll get you, my little pretty …”

Macaques and bats had morphed together into L. Frank Baum’s flying monkeys. Never underestimate the power of imagination in children…or adults. That movie scene still haunts me. Like I said, to this day I don’t much like monkeys.

PS: But, do go to Bali!

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Rocket Fest (Bun Bang Fai!) – Part 3

This is the third and final installment of my posts on the Bun Bang Fai, the Rocket Fest that takes place to usher in the rainy season all over Laos and parts of Thailand. We literally stumbled into the Bun Bang Fai on our first visit to Laos…

This 3-day festival celebrates the start of the rainy season by shooting rockets off into the heavens. [1]  Teams compete for awards with home made rockets. HOME MADE.

Take a moment to contemplate that fact.

Contestant teams have to tie their home made rockets to shoot off…. from a bamboo tower.

Got a light?

Each team is required to climb the scaffolding, tie and light the rocket themselves. Take another moment and contemplate that fact. While you’re at it, please pray that the rockets head up in the sky and not down into the watching crowds….

Holy crap! Where’d it go???

The bringing in of the rockets is part of the entertainment. The festivities include plenty of face paint, dressing up in women’s clothing and lots of gleeful music.

Oh yeah: and plenty of alcohol. During the festival there’s lots of dancing and singing, bands perform, and the road is lined with make shift stands, set up by people to sell food and goods.

The bamboo scaffold for shooting the rockets was set up a goodly ways away from the crowds (no doubt due to past experience). You need a spot in a clearing with no ground vegetation.

But what a terrific way to mark the change of seasons: throw a village party, give out some prizes (and these were significant: our guide told us a new house and a water buffalo were among the prizes to be awarded), and shoot off some fireworks. Just make sure that they’re home made, by a team of you and your friends.

Bun Bang Fai!

NOTES: [1] The imagery of impregnating the heavens and bringing the rains to fertilize the crops is too wonderful for words. ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.