Armchair Travel – A Journey into the Heart of Southeast Asia

The latest Armchair Travel presentation was presented by Panorama resident, Phyllis F. who went on a three week Road Scholar trip to Southeast Asia this past January. Come along as Phyllis takes us on a perception-altering journey along the shores of the Mekong River.

LaosWe begin with an introduction to the river itself. This “Mother of all waters” takes form in the Tibetan plateau and stretches through parts of China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, nurturing 60 million people along the way.  Resources from the river provide income and food accounting for up to 80% of animal protein available to the people of the lower Mekong Basin. The river accounts for 25% of the global freshwater fish catch, making it the world’s largest inland fishery. It is second only to the Amazon River in biodiversity but is in grave danger of losing this position. The construction of multiple dams on the river over the past decade has caused an interruption in fish migration, endangering the aquatic population. This is expected to continue increasing as additional dams are built for hydroelectric power. With this brief introduction to the context of the Mekong region, we begin our journey in Laos.

Alms giving

Alms gathering in Laos

Phyllis paints Laos as serene and spiritual, with majestic scenery and traditions that cleanse the soul. The group was welcomed with a customary baci ceremony which is meant to invoke kwan, or protectors of the body.   As part of the ceremony, white threads that symbolize peace and harmony are tied to the wrists and worn for three days without being removed. After three days, the strings are untied (never cut) and placed in a spiritual place. Phyllis found the perfect resting place for her strings in an old forgotten altar on the grounds of a monastery.

Every morning, Phyllis enjoyed breakfast at the dining area of her lodging that faced the river. She recalls reflecting in the tranquility of her surroundings, as the mist gracefully rose from the water and enveloped the area in a peaceful and majestic haze. Other highlights of her stay in Laos include delivering much needed supplies to a local school and seeing the daily custom of 1,000 monks traveling through the streets at sunrise, receiving alms of food and prayers from the people.

“It was easy to be emotionally swept away by the beauty and grace.”

Shadow puppets

Shadow Puppet Show in Thailand

This feeling of peace and spiritual growth to be felt in Laos comes in spite of its burdens of widespread poverty and dangerous remnants from the past. Known as the most heavily bombed place per capita on earth, Laos is said to have received one B-52 every 8 minutes, 24 hours, everyday between 1964 – 1973. That’s about 1 ton of explosives per man, woman, and child.  Although the bombardments ended, the country was left with about 80 million bombs that failed to detonate upon impact. Since 1974, 20,000 people have died from delayed explosions of these leftover mines.

We leave Laos and continue on to Bangkok, Thailand, a city of “pulsating energy and terrible traffic,” but also a city with a continuous sea of street vendors and avid shoppers. This city, with its emerging economy and high rise skyline, is unique to the region. Here, Phyllis took an authentic Thai food cooking class, watched an unbelievably intricate shadow puppet show, and rode on the back of an elephant.

Riding Elephants

Elephants in Thailand

  “It was pure joy, on the back of an elephant.”

In Cambodia, Phyllis was taken aback by the sight of floating villages and towns on stilts but the awe-inspiring view of Angkor Wat stands in the forefront of her memory. Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century, is the largest religious monument in the world, and what a site it is!





Floating Village

Floating Village in Cambodia

Our trip with Phyllis ends in Vietnam where she experienced the energetic and mysterious city of Hanoi, with people hustling about on mopeds. A magical water puppet show and an overnight cruise in Halong Bay brought her unforgettable trip to a conclusion.

As with every Armchair Traveler, Phyllis left us feeling as if we were actually experiencing these phenomenal sights. She also left us with a stronger idea of the culture and greater understanding of the struggles faced even in such breathtaking landscape.




Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat- Buddhist temple in Cambodia and largest religious monument in the world


Two Friends Joined by Adventure and Meteorology

Active RetirementCharlotte and Betty have been friends for over 50 years. Their unique journeys have taken them all over the world, leaving them with extraordinary experiences and memories.

Charlotte was in college, majoring in pharmacy, when she joined the Navy and was sent to weather school. This was in 1943 and it was extremely rare for a woman to be involved in meteorology. As Charlotte recalls, “Women really didn’t get into meteorology without the military.”

During her time in the Navy, Charlotte worked in the field of aerography, studying the air and producing reports for the recommendation of safe and unsafe flying conditions. She was stationed at Lakehurst Naval Base in New Jersey, headquarters to US dirigibles (blimps) during WWII.  She was allowed to perform analysis tasks only, as forecasting was restricted to officers.

Around the same time, Betty was beginning her route to meteorology with a set of different circumstances.  After 10 years in accounting, Betty decided to join the Air Force with her eyes on the field of meteorology. “I wanted to know what made clouds. As long as I was making a change, I might as well do something different.”

With so few women in the industry, Charlotte and Betty were bound by common interest and circumstance. Throughout their careers, the two were housemates off and on, as their job locations permitted. Once out of the service, both Charlotte and Betty returned to school, this time majoring in meteorology. Betty earned a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and a master’s from University of Washington. Charlotte received her bachelor’s from University of Washington. Ever since, they’ve made a point to attend many UCLA vs. UW football games.

After college, both women were qualified forecasters destined for very different careers. Charlotte worked for SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA before taking a job with Los Angeles County Air Pollution Control District in the early 50’s. There was a problem emerging in L.A; people were having difficulty breathing from exposure to pollutants in the air. A committee of meteorologists, including Charlotte, was commissioned to forecast levels of pollution in the air and devise an advanced warning system for the public. Charlotte remembers the group discussing ways to communicate danger to the public without the use of scientific jargon. The group decided to coin a new laymen’s term for poor air quality by combining the words “smoke” and “fog”, thereby creating the hybrid word “smog.”

Not many details can be shared about Betty’s work, as most of it was top secret at the time. However, she did study the effects of nuclear waste and worked to develop methods of forecasting these effects 10,000 years from now. The big question she recalls dealing with is “How do you warn whoever or whatever is here in 10,000 years of the dangers of leftover waste?”

When asked what they enjoyed most about their field of work, Betty and Charlotte agree it’s the challenge.

“It was a challenge not only daily but hourly.” – Charlotte

“You had to have a strong ego to stay in the business. You’re out guessing God every day and you’re going to fail about 51% of the time.” – Betty

After busy careers in a common field, Charlotte and Betty retired in Portland and Vegas respectively. Although they spent their careers in varying parts of the country, the two remained close and came together again shortly after retirement. It was then they decided together to make a decision about their future. They shopped around for retirement communities and every place had something of its own but Panorama was the clear choice. What sold it for Betty and Charlotte is the complete continuum of care that allows them to confidently remain in place as they age. So in 1990, at the age of 65, they both moved to Lacey and became Panorama residents.

The two have enjoyed an active and adventurous retirement. Betty was on the Panorama Resident Council for 9 years and Charlotte provided tax aide through AARP for 13 years. They don’t hesitate to take advantage of the many events and trips offered by Panorama’s Lifestyle Enrichment program but their real adventures come from trips of their own. As volkswalkers, “we’ve walked in every state,” plus Canada, Mexico and six European countries. Charlotte and Betty are two prime examples of brave, intelligent women living life to its fullest, well into their 80’s.

Introducing our new Director of Pet Therapy

Pet Therapy Coconut is the Director of Pet Therapy (in training) at our Convalescent and Rehab center. Boy has she received a warm welcome from her fellow staff members! She is a 15 week-old miniature Goldendoodle who is still teething, so we have to watch her closely but some of those adult teeth are starting to come through. Coconut is registered for puppy kindergarten at Paws-Abilities in Fife, which she will start on June 8th. This is the first in a series of classes she will take in order to receive Therapy Dog Certification.

For now she is just enjoying the life of a very lucky puppy with lots of admirers. She loves to visit different areas of campus and say hello to everyone.