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3…2…1… Action: Children of Palm Tree Orphanage

Rumor has it Cambodian children are among the world’s cutest. Rumor no more.  The videos below were compiled during our one month stint as volunteers at the Palm Tree Orphanage in Phnom Penh.

The youngest child residing at Palm Tree is Da (1 year of age), whom has learned to protect himself amongst the 90+ kids:

After Greg composed an award winning vignette of basic colors, he instructs the little ones in unison:

Sophoan instantly became Ashley’s little buddy at Palm Tree. Watch this adorable video of her tiny friend reciting her English ABCs:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Working with children takes a ton of patience. Working with kids when your primary language is their second amplifies this patience quota. Repetition is paramount and use of simple English words helps the cause.

Whale Sharks & Thai Politics

Excitement nearly ruined a whole night of sleep on Koh Samui. In ten hours I would be on the hunt for the elusive whale shark off Thailand’s Koh Tao. All the dive operators work together, relaying the latest location info if a sighting is made.  Fingers crossed.

Greg Swims Into Rock Mass of FIsh

Sweet CD CollectionSadly, Ash had a head cold, preventing her from participating in the diving excursion. So at 5:00am, I sat alone on the damp wooden planks of a picnic table as the morning fog slowly lifted from a valley below the Baan Taling Ngam Resort. Finally, a beaten pickup truck arrived and we rambled across Koh Samui for forty minutes to Chaweng Beach to fetch a beginner diver. I was enamored with the driver’s soft rock CD collection: Byan Adam’s Greatest Hits, Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over, and Rod Stewart’s The Best Of. Rod and I became acquainted once more as the poor driver waited patiently for the tardy diver to appear. With a bounty of excuses, she flew out of the hostel door, her hair in tangles. Pulling up to the lively dock, we barely made the transfer boat across the Bay of Thailand to Koh Tao.

Japanese Gardens Blue-Ringed Angel Fish

Koh Tao - DockHaving exchanged the speedboat for a retrofitted junk vessel, we were aboard the scuba mothership where I met my personal instructor, Scottish Scotty. Because everyone else on the ship were either attaining their PADI certification or doing a recreational dive, just Scotty and I boarded the tender and sped off to a coast line of beautiful coral called the Japanese Gardens. Wearing a shorty wetsuit, we quickly descended into the warm blue saltwater. The visibility was decent as my experienced guide pointed out blue spotted stingrays and hidden white eyed eels among the colorful coral. Over fifty minutes passed as we hugged the depths of the alluring coastline. Although the whale shark remained our of sight, the other scenery proved deserving.

Coral & Fish Amazing

Chilaxing Between DivesBetween dives, terrible coffee and buttery biscuits (cookies) were shared atop the dive boat as we bobbed in a pristine bay. The instructors awaited info over the radio waves concerning the whale sharks, but it never came. Bummed, I dawned my dive equipment once more, spitting in the mask as an anti-fog mechanism. Scotty gave me some pointers on how to perform a front flip entry, which was rather thrilling once the twenty-one pound tank strapped to my somersaulting back gained momentum. Once again, the Mango Bay dive site was all ours as the other divers reviewed lessons. Saddle back clown, triger, blue ringed angel, parrot, coral rock cod – fish of every variety welcomed our presence. Besides the British Virgin Islands, I have never seen so many dang fish in the ocean. After an exhilarating sixty minutes (sixty minutes!) in the remarkable ocean playground, we came to a school of jack fish that formed a seemingly impenetrable wall around me. No matter which direction I peered from my mask, bits of blue sunlight appeared thru the swarming sea creatures. It was a moment that will stay with me for a long time. Scotty, an extraordinary guide, timed the dive with precision. As we were performing our safety stop twenty feet below sea level, I had to suck rather than breath from my life supporting oxygen tank. It was the longest dive of my career.

Fins White Eyed Eel

Koh TaoResting top deck with yet another awful cup of Joe, I spoke with Scottish Scotty about his experience living full-time in Thailand. Our blunt conversation covered the positives, but focused on corruption. His Thai girlfriend of six years, has been paid for every vote she has cast. And not just her, her entire family and neighbors too. Though a democratic state, it was easy to understand how the violent Red Shirt protests that dominated the news in early/mid 2010 grew to such large numbers. Many Thai citizen’s loyalties lie with the highest bidder. That is, many of the Red Shirt protestors were paid for their appearance, just like political parties are known to compensate for votes. To have government power is to control the flow of money. This is not to say that ordinary Thai’s do not have legitimate beefs with the government or cannot think for themselves. But the fact remains, when three months of your annual income is offered for a single vote, it makes the decision for poorer people a bit easier. Such was the conversation as we motored back to Koh Samui. This stark reality greatly saddened me as I remarked to Scotty how much Ash and I enjoy the people of Thailand. They deserve so much better.

Thousands of Jack Fish Lurking Fish

No whale sharks, though two hours of scuba diving in the Bay of Thailand was unforgettable. I’ll remember the mass of swarming fish and be thankful I come from a country where my independent vote still counts.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Talking domestic and/or international politics in a foreign country, is a slippery slope. Choose your conversational partners wisely as differences in opinion can escalate quickly. We have found it interesting to speak with expatriates from Western countries about their political viewpoints in their new home. Oh, and everyone wants to discuss Obama and Bush. Beware.
2) Koh Tao is #2 in the world behind Australia’s Cairns for the number of PADI scuba certifications issued per year. Thailand also happens to be one of the cheapest locations worldwide for the worthwhile education. Before spending the time and money on PADI, you can perform recreational dives, which require absolutely no experience, nearly everywhere scuba diving is offered. Dip your toe, so to speak, to ensure it is something of interest.

Operation Koh Samui: Ash’s Birthday

Baan Taling Ngam Resort - PalmsAdjusting our travel plans on a daily basis is nothing new for us. We have acclimated quite well to the windy, and sometimes unknown, world path. But for Ash’s 27th birthday, we were determined to celebrate in a relaxing and charming environment. That required endless hours of research and what resulted was a brilliantly executed plan. After re-routing Southeast Asia and India, Ashley’s birth anniversary would be observed in gorgeous Koh Samui, Thailand.

Baan Taling Ngam Resort - Beach Room 103 View

Shot Through ResortAshley’s folks provided me with a birthday budget and I whittled down the list of potential Thai islands and hotels. Knowing that yours truly would share in the birthday spoils, I was resolute in stretching the money. We boarded a bus in Ao Nang on Thailand’s West Coast with Ashley having no idea where the wind would take us. Not until we transferred from bus to ferry four hours later did she know Koh Samui was our destination. With cuckoo clock precision, a driver from Baan Taling Ngam Resort awaited our arrival and whisked us to the clifftop perch. Having found a steal of a deal on the World Wide Web (invented by Al Gore), Ash was ecstatic to rest her dogs in decadence for five nights after a ½ year globetrotting on a shoestring.

Infinity Pool Sunset from Baan Taling Gnam Resort - Dock

Infinity Pool - Greg's SplashThe incredible pools, immaculate rooms, warm ocean, heavenly sunsets, britches busting breakfasts, sandy beach, accommodating staff… we were thrilled. Some guests turned a weary eye when our worn backpacks were unloaded. As they should, we didn’t fit in here so well! That feeling set sail once we uncorked a bottle of complimentary wine and we relaxed in the lap of luxury. We had seen sunsets on five continents, but the intense colors over the Bay of Thailand were something else while perched high above the sea. And there was an unannounced comedy show for all guests to enjoy, except for me.

Beach Baan Taling Ngam Resort from Beach

Greg Trying to WindsurfThe beach briefing lasted all of five minutes and in no time I was crashing into rocks, docks, and coral trying to windsurf. The northwesterly wind was steady as was my determination to succeed. Going down wind was thoroughly enjoyable, but finding the proper angle and balance while traveling into the wind proved frustrating. My feet, previously diced by the Andaman Sea, paid a heavy price with the sharp coral just two feet below the blue waves. Up, down, up, down, up, cruise for thirty glorious seconds, splash. After forty tumultuous minutes trying to windsurf, I was defeated and humiliated. No doubt, those imbibing on pina coladas beachside had a good laugh at my expense. Upset with myself, I gave Ashley the silent treatment for two hours.

Nursing Greg's Feet Back To Health Sunset over Taling Ngam Beach

Couples MassageAlas, the birthday girl’s day was upon us. The resort offered “breakfast in bed” at a king’s ransom, so I did the next best thing and prepared plates of food from the delicious (and included) buffet. Waking the newly 27 Ashley, she was touched by my thoughtfulness. Enjoying the breathtaking view as the morning slipped away, Ash was brought to tears as she read emailed well wishes from family and friends. Two particularly exciting bits of info were also disclosed on the special day. First, Ashley’s entire family was booked on a flight into Switzerland and out of Italy, a Miller invasion of Europe would reunite us for 11 days. Secondly, though early in the gestation period, my Brother and Sister-In-Law were expecting their first child! Elated, the time for our couples massage had arrived. Who knows where that sixty minutes went… it was that relaxing. Having notified the resort it was Ash’s birthday, the spa provided a free milk bath. There was no way we could have afforded this service, so it was an absolute surprise to the birthday gal. Now guys, I know you are thinking, a milk bath? Really Greg? Yeah, really. It was incredible. The bath was prepared overlooking the Bay of Thailand, rose pedals floating in the suds, a chocolate heart, and a chilled bottle of champagne. Way to go Baan Taling Ngam, making me look good!

Milk Bath With Love Milk Bath

View of Bay of ThailandCompletely at peace with the world, I ordered room service for our terrace to be delivered at sunset. Without a doubt Ashley’s favorite item for ambiance, I was able to locate a few small candles for the occasion. Surf and turf, fresh vegetables, red wine, outstanding seafood soup… it was a meal of meals. Earlier in the day, I secretly had a birthday cake delivered (again, compliments of Baan Taling Ngam) to the room. I had Ash close her eyes as I lit the multi-colored candles and when those blue eyes revealed themselves, I knew she had enjoyed a Thai birthday to remember.

Sunset from Baan Taling Gnam Resort - Ash Ash's Bday Candlelight Dinner

The next day, reality reared its ugly head as we rode an overnight 2nd class sleeper train from Surat Thani to Bangkok. But ah, it was good to live the high life for five days and celebrate Ash’s birthday in style!

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Smile. A smile is universal and goes a heck of a lot farther than an angry tone when something goes wrong. Sure, there are times that require raising your voice, but we have found that a reasonable approach coupled with a genuine smile usually gets the job done. When the AC in our room broke, we nicely informed the staff and asked what they could do for us. Ten minutes later we were in a new room with a $60 bottle of Argentine malbec (our favorite wine).

3…2…1… Action: Operation Koh Samui

Inhabited fifteen centuries ago by fisherman, Koh Samui, located in the Bay of Thailand, is a dream come true.  As you will see in the three videos below, the island has come a long way.

The Western facing shore of Koh Samui is rated high amongst windsurfers.  Greg, is not a windsurfer, as seen below:

Norah Jones fingers a perfect background on the piano as Thailand says goodnight:

Ash’s #1 prerequisite for her 47th birthday was a bathtub in our lodging.  So she got one, it just happened to be inhabited by a demon tub snake:

- Ash & Greg

Learn from our Footsteps:

1) Koh Samui is an incredibly happening place these days.  If tranquility and splendid sunsets are your desire, opt for the Western coast of Thailand’s 3rd largest island.  If searching for all night parties, Chaweng, on the Eastern coast is your bogey.

Thai Island Hopping

Maya BayMost folks with an active pulse have heard tales concerning Thailand’s picturesque islands. Problem is, these tales aren’t “tall” and for that reason, the sandy islands beneath stunning karsks are flooded with tourists clamoring for their corner of paradise. Of course, these stories of wonderment drew Ash and I to see for ourselves.

Ao Nang Beach SunsetEleven days in incredible India made even these grizzled backpackers desiring a cold beer, a cleanish room, and a clear head. Not so fast. An overnight flight from New Delhi to Bangkok, a four hour layover, a short hop flight to Krabi Airport, and a ninety minute bus ride later, we arrived in Ao Nang on the Andaman Sea. We found it as advertised… stunning, but so did thousands of others. Ash rested after her sleepless night while I opted for a sunny nap on the nearby island of Koh Poda. Returning at sunset, I roused the drowsy Ash for the sunset that seemed to melt the bobbing longtail boats in the natural harbour. Three negotiating sessions yielded an attractive price for a full day of island hopping including the acclaimed Koh Phi Phi the following morning.

Koh Poda - Rescued Bottle While Snorkeling Pi Ley Bay

Monkey Bay Snorkeling with Medusa StingersDespite the live music of Ao Nang rocking until 4am, we managed to feel rested as we boarded the powerful outboard speedboat at sunrise. If I weren’t awake yet, Monkey Bay sure did the trick, what with its teeming water of medusa jellyfish. With our guide’s assurance that the stings aren’t too bad, 10% of the boat’s patrons found ourselves dodging the translucent ocean beings rather than snorkeling. In fact though, the stings felt like more than pin pricks, hundreds of pin pricks in the span of fifteen minutes. Next location on our whistle stop tour was the famed Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi. The Beach turned this ridiculously beautiful locale into a zoo of tourists. As the boat powered down making the turn into the secluded bay, the focus of our engaged eyes fought valiantly between the amazing sight and the rows of speedboats, longtails, and densely populated white sand. To make the most of the experience, we waded out into the bay until Ash could barely stand. Here, Maya Bay felt void of the rabid holidaymakers. After short stops at Pi Ley Bay and the Viking Cave, the speedboat’s bow nestled into the white sand of Phi Phi Don where we dined on a surprisingly delicious lunch.

Maya Bay - Gregorio Maya Bay - Ash Hin Klarng - Open Water Snorkel

Phi Phi Don - Level of Water in 2004 TsunamiHaving ate our money’s worth, Ash and I took a leisurely walk around Phi Phi Don, a completely restored island after the devastating tsunami on December 26, 2004. Every Thai island now has clearly marked tsunami evacuation signs in case of an earthquake. However, the low lying nature of Phi Phi Don coupled with its beautiful yet terrifying attribute of having the sea on two sides demonstrates its vulnerability. In fact, a simple blue post displays how deathly high the water rose on that fateful 2004 morning. Three minutes and three powerful waves later, the entire island was nearly destroyed leaving 700 dead. With much of the island rebuilt, Ash and I could only look at post tsunami images to understand the gravity of the tragic event. Back in the speedboat wondering what must have crossed the minds of those caught in nature’s fury, we arrived at Bamboo Island for some lounging before a late afternoon open water snorkeling session at Hin Klarng. Suitably worn out after a sensational day island hopping, we hung around Ao Nang for yet another terrific sunset.

Phi Phi Don - Beach Shot Tsunami Evac Plan

Sunset Reading at Dawn of HappinessFed up with the tourist feeding frenzy of Ao Nang, we hopped a ten minute tuk-tuk and met up with my good buddy from college prep school, JRob, at Dawn of Happiness. This secluded and uber cheap beachside bungalow was perfect for the next two nights. We arrived just as two of the four vacationers from Shanghai bid adeiu to “the land of smiles.” Taylor, JRob, Ash, and I rented scooters for an afternoon of cruising the coast line. On a Thai backroad, we happened upon a local company offering rides on their proud elephants. JRob and Taylor climbed atop Thophaothong after Ashley and I were welcomed on Singjai’s back as we rumbled through a rubber tree plantation. Singjai was a well behaved elephant while Thophaothong acted up by grabbing anything he could eat with his powerful trunk.

After a relaxing night in the secluded Dawn of Happiness, we chartered a private longtail boat and headed for Chicken Island. Though the island has no chickens, it does feature clever monkeys. While some poor old sap was cooling off in the blue sea, one such rogue devil snuck in amongst the foliage and snatched his sandwich and banana. Having spent three hours in a cloistered area of Chicken Island, the tide had moved against us requiring a twenty minute chest high wade through the surf to reach our transportation. After a snack stop at Railay Beach, we arrived back at home base and showered up for a night to remember.

American Motorcycle Gang Feeding Elephants Lone Tree in the Andaman Sea

Chicken Island - Rogue MonkeyNa, the genuine proprietor of Dawn of Happiness, offered to accompany us to his favorite karaoke establishment. The cover charge? Join him in taking a shot of his “home made whiskey.” Whiskey me thinks not. It was a jar of cough medicine, water, and who knows what. Not wanting to be rude, we congratulated Na on his skills in creating the worst spirits ever and headed for the singing spot, gagging all the way. The record literally turned off as the four white folks waltzed into the local saloon. Ten minutes lates, JRob and Taylor were perched behind the computer selecting hits from the 80′s. Extreme, Elton John, Chumbawumba, and the late Michael Jackson were all burned down. Serenades, group sing-a-longs, and peculiar dance moves were all part of the act. Ash’s duet with an adorable elderly Thai man topped it all off. Despite the accommodating waitress ensuring our mugs were filled to the brim with Chang beer, our bill after three hours was laughable. It was a great night with local Thai people who were more than happy to share the microphone.

En Route to Turtle Island Ash's Serenade

The tales of Thailand’s beauty are not overblown. Discovering it for ourselves proved worthwhile.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Koh Phi Phi’s Maya Bay is certainly worth a visit, despite the throngs of people. You could opt for lodging on Koh Phi Phi and avoid the touristic times. Or when securing a boat trip, select one that visits Maya Bay first or last on its list of stops.
2) The Thai islands and coast in the Andaman Sea are strewn with small bungalow retreats. Determined Internet mining will yield a cheap and beautiful bungalow that you can call your own.

That’s Amore – Engagement Back Story and Video (Part II of II)

Almalfi CoastLet’s take a trip back in time to May 2009. On a leisurely Sunday stroll down Michigan Avenue, Ash and I found ourselves talking about our post round-the-world-trip lives. Among the obvious questions, we wondered what city we would call home. Then a round item that goes on a girl’s finger took over the circuitous conversation. Next thing I know, Ash had seemingly tricked me into a detour down Chicago’s most expensive street full of clothing, hand bags, and jewelery boutiques. There on Oak Street, Ash had designed her dream engagement ring after two hours. My mental camera took a flurry of photographs and visions of living like a pauper clouded my vision.

Our Vessel View from Positano from Harbour Bryce Showing Off His Abs

Throughout that Summer, I exchanged several emails with my Brother’s talented jeweler in the City of Seven Hills. During our Cincinnati farewell tour, I was able to sneak away for an engagement ring design meeting with Rachel. With the size four platinum setting and accompanying shiny stones created one month later, I patiently waited for the perfect round-brilliant diamond to present itself. Jeff (my brother) took a trip to inspect one potential winner in October, but it did not past muster. But in November, I smashed my piggy bank and purchased a stunning example of Earth’s toughest mineral. It has been said that once a man buys a ring, the proclivity to exchange it for a “yes!” is nearly insurmountable (seems like a fair trade). Gladly, I faced no such difficulty with the ring locked in the Franklin Savings & Loan safe deposit.

Capri's Tunnel of Love Cathy Reading the Inscription

Ash's Engagement RingEight months passed and my only route to see the finished product was a heavily guarded online photo. With the assistance of two covert collaborators (Sue, my mother and Cathy, Ashley’s lovely mom), a plan was hatched to discreetly ship the goods to Kansas then subsequently flown to Zurich, Switzerland with the Miller family. To mask Operation Taxes, all emails related to the mission were held under the subject of “Taxes.” This ensured Ashley’s prying eyes were never awakened. A white lie to throw Cathy off the scent was told when I informed her the extraordinary moment would take place in Greece. While in our villa on Italy’s Almafi Coast, I took possession of the ring and got my first look at it. I was blown away… it was precisely what Ashley desired. I couldn’t wait to pop the question!

I Think She Likes It! An Engaged Couple's Embrace

June 14th was a brilliantly sunny day along the Almafi Coast, perfect for an all day boat adventure to the island sanctuary of Capri. Once on board the 33 foot vessel, I alerted Captain Antonio and First Mate Barbara of my prearranged plan. A basket of shells was arranged with the ring box buried under the eight envelopes containing pictures with meaningful inscriptions. Barbara informed me that two hours would pass before we reached the natural rock feature, the Tunnel of Love. Nursing a few Peroni beers and my heart pounding, I did my best to absorb the beautiful coastline as the minutes ticked by. When the obvious rock formation came into focus, my nerves turned to excitement. Antonio, a masterful boat Captain, rocked the vessel into a shaded position just short of the watery tunnel. Barbara snuck around port side and delivered the goods. The Millers, Ashley included, were clueless to the gravity of the event ahead when the envelopes were disseminated. But once Kiley began reading her picture’s testimonial to love, the situation became clear. One by one, each Miller read aloud and as the final moment drew closer, tears welled up in my previously determined eyes. Once Ash fought through the terrible handwriting, my rehearsed speech turned into a jumbled mess of emotions. Then I spun around until I rested on one knee. With a flurry of tears and grins on board, Ash and I embraced for the first time as an engaged couple!

Braden's Dance with Death Capri's Blue Gratto Game Over

This video says it all:

The rest of the day was unforgettable including Capri’s luminous blue gratto, Braden’s tango with a jellyfish, and celebratory toasts!

June 14, 2010… the happiest day of my life.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Making such an important purchase of compressed carbon certainly takes reassurance that you have selected the right ring. If possible, find a confidant to view the ring before buying. My circumstances obviously required this assistance to the nth degree. Many thanks to Jeff and Kim for their invaluable help.

That’s Amore – Engaged! (Part I of II)

Ash's Ring Plan A (Winter 2010): Place the engagement ring in a clean diaper of my nephew-to-be and tell Ash he needs to be changed. I jokingly ran this one by Ash and she wasn’t buying what I was selling. Contrary to what you may be thinking, this was a serious idea.
Plan B (July 2010): Hire a donkey peasant in Santorini, Greece to tie the ring around the animal’s neck and meet us on a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. This wouldn’t work because there was no way I would carry such precious cargo in a backpack for months.
Plan C (June 2010): Incorporate Ashley’s five siblings and parents in a hands-on moment near the island of Capri on Italy’s Almalfi Coast. Bingo was his Name-o.

After perusing thousands of photos, no joke, I settled on eight that told our story while exemplifying one of Ashley’s traits that I adore. While Ash was having her blond locks sheared, I snuck away to have a strange man at a Hong Kong Kodak film shop print 4×6 copies and cut them to the proper size. Then on three early mornings in Dubai, I penned the inscriptions below on the back of each photo. Aboard a private thirty-three foot pleasure boat made in Sorrento, we approached Capri’s Tunnel of Love (cheesy, I know). Next, the Captain’s First Mate revealed a basket with colored envelopes containing the photos and sea shells disguising the ring box.

One by one, each Miller opened their personalized envelope, displayed the photo, then read the printed text. Here are the photos and the corresponding inscription.

1) Falling in Love – Reader: Kiley (oldest sister) – Photo dated: July 31, 2009

Falling in LoveThis picture is from the British Virgin Islands. We may have met in Chicago, but the moment I fell in love with Ashley Elizabeth Miller was on February 17, 2008 aboard the ferry from Tortola to St. Thomas. Through all the mayhem of that listing ship, my feelings for you were steadfast. My heart and life became entwined with you and you alone. Like most things I enjoy in life, I have given you 100% of me since that moment and you have returned that love in an incredible fashion. My love for you will never end.

2) Overcoming Fears – Reader: Remington (middle brother) – Photo dated: January 17, 2010

Overcome FearsOne thing I truly admire about you is your willingness to overcome your fears. This picture from our extraordinary night dive on the Great Barrier Reef exemplifies your desire to confront things that make you sweat. It took some real soul searching for you to jump into the black abyss with sharks, but you did it! Your #1 fear of scuba diving, while it continues to test you, is just one example. New Zealand’s tallest bungee jump, stinky tofu, and downright horrifying guesthouses are others. We will confront and discover new fears and trials in the years ahead, but I am confident in our ability to triumph together.

3) Beautiful In Every Way – Reader: Bailee (youngest sister) – Photo dated: April 23, 2010

Beautiful in Every WayOuch. This picture after our moto crash in Laos may not show off your beautiful face, per se. But what it does show is that your beauty encompasses your whole self, not just your exquisite exterior. Your loyalty to friends, fierce defense of your family’s well being, and your selflessness are among the things that make you beautiful. In my heart, mind, and eyes, there couldn’t be a prettier girl. I find myself being taken aback by your beauty at the strangest of times: bleary eyed after a transcontinental flight, bamboo rafting, or hiking in Patagonia.

4) Common Interests – Reader: Braden (oldest brother) – Photo dated: August 31, 2009

Things in CommonThis is the very first picture taken by us on foreign soil during our Round The World jouney. The Lima International Airport, taken on August 31, 2009. The list of interests we share are too long to list, but sushi, travel, and adventure come to mind. I couldn’t think of a better person to share the experiences we have had around the world. But our differences are what make our relationship strong and lasting. You can educate me on fashion, pen all notes, and urge me to sleep more. I will take care of details, push the envelope of fun, and annoy you about the Reds and Bengals. The Jayhawks versus Hoosiers argument could be the only divider.

5) Values & Family Fusing – Reader: Cathy (mother) – Photo dated: July 30, 2009

Importance of FamilyOur folks are going to love this picture from the life sized Jenga game. You and I would be a great tandem alone. But we are far from being solo. We are both blessed with caring, giving, and loving families. And oh, the future is bright, what with the way our families already interact. Underlying all this is the fact we share the same values. Family is #1 to both of us and that will never change. Your excitement about Jeff and Kim’s first child is palpable. And I find myself grilling you with questions about your extended family, siblings, and parents. Both of these examples exhibit how we each care for each other’s family.

6) Chicago and Great Times Together – Reader: Brad (father) – Photo dated: Autumn 2009

Having Fun in ChitownAh, the Windy City. Where it all began. This picture was chosen because it features many things, including Jacalu, our mutual and dear friend whom, in a roundabout way, introduced us to each other. Also featured in the picture is the fact that I have so much darn fun with you. Be it the Recession Pub Crawl, a cheap bottle of red coupled with a terrible romantic comedy of your choosing, or hiking SouthWest China’s Tiger Leaping Gorge. Knowing that you and I can laugh with each other and at ourselves / odd situations makes the future alluring.

7) Future Family – Reader: Bryce (youngest brother) – Photo dated: December 12, 2009

Future FamilyHow many times have we talked about a return visit to New Zealand? But the next visit will be with our own young family. This picture of Bazils at Lake Moke reminds me of our #1 goal for the future together. That is to raise a beautiful family of our own. Three kisses for three healthy babies, that is how we go to bed each night. I would be honored if some day in the future you are the Mother of my children. And what a great mother you will be! I am thankful to have met someone who shares the same ultimate life goal.

8 ) Big Heart – Reader: Ashley (bride-to-be) – Photo dated: April 3, 2010

BIG HeartNala, the thing I love about you the most is your BIG heart. Your love rubs off on everyone, even orphaned Cambodian children as seen with Poun’s sincere embrace. Even while you were getting your cheek stitched up in Laos, your heart was with the grieving people that lost their family member. This picture couldn’t do a better job describing your big heart. If your friends and family could only know how much you truly care for them, they would blush for eternity. You say sometimes that you love people so much it nearly hurts. I don’t doubt that with your big heart. And I know your love for me is unconditional. Please know that mine is too.

Part II of II shall paint the moment in more detail, including the climatic proposal in video. Thanks to all our dear friends and family that have wished us well. Now it is my job to keep Ashley focused on train schedules, hostel bookings, etc. and not on bouquets, seasonal colors, and table arrangements. That ought to keep me busy.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Planning the logistics of this engagement took a monumental effort. From creating a custom ring while continents away to finding the perfect venue for the occasion. But all that work is certainly worth it for the one you love.

3…2…1… Action: Thailand’s Andaman Sea

Watch Ash and JRob feed Sinja and Keawa after an impromptu elephant ride while cruising on motos near Krabi, Thailand:

Spring Break 2010 aboard a private longtail boat to Chicken Island! Warning, JRob’s pale skin may be blinding:

Walking Koh Phi Phi’s jungle to Maya Bay, made famous in Leonardo DiCaprio’s backpacker hit, The Beach:

Another look at Maya Bay, this time from the azul water:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Thailand is chalk full of islands… and plenty of tourists to occupy the white sand beaches. A little research will yield lonely beaches as fantastic as their well known brethren. Even a ten minute walk away from where the longtail boats arrive will ensure a private experience.

Gandhi & Khan

India is a sensory overload. There is no other way to describe the uniqueness of this proud country.

Indian BoySight: cats eating sewage soaked garbage, men openly urinating in the street, people riding atop train cars, amazing clifftop views.

Hearing: loud belching, incessant car horns, different Hindi dialects.

Smell: delicious Indian food and raw sewage at the same time.

Touch: marble of the Taj Mahal, friendly then aggressive monkeys, filthy squat toilets.

Taste: naan, curry, tea, dangerous tap water.

India GateWhat better place to wrap up the insanity of India than in its capital, New Delhi? With a burgeoning population showing no signs of slowing, this metro city area of nearly nineteen million can be chaotic one moment and peaceful the next. Unlike most Indian cities, New Delhi is relatively fresh having been founded by the British in just 1911 (there are older parts of Delhi). There are a multitude of interesting sights to spy so we hired Tumar as our driver for the day and saw much of the sprawling metropolis. Our first destination was the Laxminarayan Temple which was inaugurated in 1939 by Mahatma Gandhi under the condition the sacred place would be open to every person, regardless of caste. Next we spent some time around the red sand stone India Gate that honors the 90,000 fallen soldiers during World War I. It was an impressive monument to say the least. After a quick stop at the Qutb Minar, the world’s tallest brick minaret, we took a pit stop at a textile shop. After a marathon negotiating session, Ash picked out a gorgeous bed cover adorned with exquisite beads. Carrying around six pounds of fabric in an already full pack was a joy not to be missed.

India Gate From Afar New Delhi from Rooftop of Pearl Plaza Hotel

By far our favorite sight on the tour was the immaculate Lotus Temple. We checked our shoes at the underground dugout then performed a loop around the enormous white flower. The reflecting pools surrounding the 27 free-standing white marble petals gleamed in the bright sun. Ash and I found a bench from where we spent twenty minutes watching the interesting people admire the temple. The next hour was spent inhaling the life of Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma) inside her residence turned museum. As the first female Prime Minister in the otherwise male dominated India, the assassinated Indira Gandhi represents feminism in the Subcontinent. The sidewalk on which she took her final stroll is now clad in crystal and a sheet of clear glass marks the spot where she fell.

Indira Gandhi Crystal Path Lotus Temple

Finally, we made it to the spot I was looking forward to all day, Raj Ghat where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. During India’s independence movement, Mahatma was their fearless leader who pioneered the idea of non-violent civil disobedience. At the age of 78, Bapu (as he is referred to in India) was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist prior to his leading a prayer meeting. After cremation, urns were sent across India for additional memorial services in his honor. The grounds of Raj Ghat are pristine for the most part, yet we witnessed a woman shove a styrofoam cup into a bush not more than ten feet from the cremation spot. We made one last quick stop at New Delhi’s Red Fort with its intimidating entrance before bidding adieu to Tumar.

Raj Ghat Red Fort

The following day was spent on foot exploring Connaught Place. This center of finance and commerce was under much construction yet it was easy to see its urban garden appeal. From the first day in India, every television and newspaper had broadcast the controversy over My Name is Khan. The ruffled feathers were a result of the lead actor, Sha Rukh Khan, supporting the inclusion of Pakistani players in the Indian Premier League (cricket). This created such a stir that no theaters in Mumbai would screen the movie for fear of violence. So we found a theater near Connaught Place where we even had to smuggle our point-and-shoot camera through metal detectors by separating the battery from the camera. The controversy over the actor wasn’t very significant to us, but once we viewed the Hindi film (no subtitles though much of it is in English), Ash and I were filled with our own angst. The feature picture, filmed partly in the USA, is about a Muslim man who suffers from Apserger’s syndrome. His disability is mistaken as suspicious behavior and he is subsequently detained by LAX airport security. As the main character journeys to meet President Obama in order to clear his name as a terrorist, Americans are depicted as religious bigots post 9/11. The message was so powerful that an anti American feeling was palpable in the room. Part of me wanted to stand before the packed house and rebuke many of the film’s themes and the other part wanted to flee for fear of bodily harm. Once outside the theater, we both calmed down and two helpful Indian men assisted us in getting a rickshaw at the local price. Once again, the kindness of the Indian people shined through. Do yourself a favor and rent My Name is Khan and see for yourself how this Bollywood film unfairly portrays ordinary Americans.

School Boys, LOVED Posing for Photos Streets of New Delhi

India will forever hold a special place in our hearts and minds. One minute Ash is dry heaving from the filth and the next our taste buds are watering in anticipation of scrumptious food. Without a doubt, the locals are the friendliest and most helpful people we have met on the world road.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) If you want to push your comfort limits, go to India. If you want some of the best food in the entire world, go to India. If want an authentic experience hard to find elsewhere, go to India. It won’t be a vacation in the traditional sense, but more of an adventure.

2) In the bigger cities, hire a personal driver with air conditioning for around $30 for eight hours. You will cover a lot of ground while learning about India firsthand from a tried and true resident.

3) Be careful with your timing when traveling to India as the Summer can be brutally hot, hitting well over 100 degrees. If some of the smells were intense at 70 degrees, we can only imagine what baking trash would smell like in triple digit temperatures.

3…2…1… Action: Taj Mahal, Rickshaws & Monkeys Monkeying Around

The sun is rising on Agra’s majestic Taj Mahal in this dawn video:

Check out the streets of Agra during this evening rickshaw ride:

Monkeys monkeying around Agra’s Red Fort:

This time the monkeys play King of the Shrub then Ash and I realize that we are in such a historical place:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Though cute and fun to watch, monkeys that have grown accustomed to a human presence can be quite aggressive. While Ash was enticing a young monkey to come closer to the camera, the baby’s mother jumped on her back while unleashing a terrible howl. As I helped spring the angry creature from Ashley, another monkey scratched my leg. You have been warned, beware monkeys!

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