Wat Muang – a big Buddha and another Hell garden

In August, I went with a friend to Ang Thong, a province about 100 km north of Bangkok. The province is known for its temples. Most notable is Wat Muang, site of the largest sitting Buddha figure in Thailand—84 meters tall, sitting atop an eight-meter high pedestal. To give another sense of perspective: the statue is enormous. There is a mirrored sanctuary hall with wax figures of the deceased chief monk and his acolytes. Wat Muang also has a Hell garden—a warning to immoral visitors of what will happen to them in the afterlife. The kids don’t seem too worried;…

A bike tour in Vietnam – day 6

After the visit to the My Lai Massacre Museum, the visit to the Heroic Mother Statue was a more uplifting exposure to the Vietnamese experience of the war. The statue and accompanying museum opened in 2015 to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. It honors Nguyen Thi Thu, whose 11 children and grandchildren all died fighting against the U.S., as well as the other “heroic mothers” of the war who fought in the war or otherwise contributed to the Vietnamese effort.

A bike tour in Vietnam – a sad day 5

Note: Some of the photographs below are disturbing. Leaving Tam Quan, we biked a few miles to what was in some respects the most significant stop on our tour: Son My, the district that was the site of the My Lai massacre. (Click on this link for a detailed Wikipedia history.) On March 16, 1968, soldiers from two U.S. Army battalions attacked a number of hamlets in pursuit of Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas with orders. Colonel Oran Henderson of the 11th Brigade told his officers to “go in there aggressively, close with the enemy and wipe them out for good.”…

A bike tour in Vietnam – day 4

Today was about rice and boats. Our trip coincided with one of the rice harvesting periods in central Vietnam, so we saw lots of ripe fields and harvested rice being dried. The Vietnamese typically dry their rice in the road, which is flat and warm—even, if that means having the occasional car or bicycle ride through it. In case you want to see what a sea of rice plants looks like, watch this: Other things we saw: a shrimp farm; boats; water plants; propaganda. We ended the day in a village called Tam Quan, which is known for its fishing…

A bike tour in Vietnam – day 1 (and 2)

Recently, we rode through the highlands and central coast of Vietnam on a Grasshopper Adventures bicycle tour. Our first day was spent cycling around the highlands town of Dalat and getting used to riding on the e-bikes we’d rented. Our trip was only a few miles, during which we realized that if we hadn’t settled on using e-bikes, we would never have made it through the highlands: some of those hills were ridiculous. Also, thank god for padded bike shorts. If I’d had those in Greece, my trip would have been a lot easier. On the second day, we awoke…

A little more from Paramount Studios

One highlight of the Paramount Studios tour is the Paramount Studios backlot. The backlot recreates a number of generic city neighborhoods that have been used in movies and television shows. If you’ve flown on United Airlines recently, you’ve seen some of the backlot in the airplane safety video: We also visited the (physical) film and video library, which staff were digitizing. The organization of the collection seemed a little haphazard—one shelf contained, in order, “Top Gun”, “Paranormal Activity 2”, “Iron Man 2”, “The Perfect Score,” “Ghost”, “Hotel for Dogs”, “School of Rock”, and so on—but overall, the visit felt like…

Paramount Studios

So, you’re walking down an unexceptional street in Los Angeles. Fast food, cars, some nondescript houses and buildings, and a curious-looking character or two. However, the view of the Hollywood sign and the large white trucks might give you a clue as to what’s nearby … as might the globe atop the building or the small but familiar logo on one of those nondescript buildings. Welcome to Paramount Studios! While we waited for the tour to begin, we enjoyed some history, including costumes designed by Edith Head, famous props, and (not shown) clips from famous Paramount films and television programs….